Warner Bros., MGM to shoot pics in February

With the New Zealand government settling the dispute over “The Hobbit,” New Line, Warner Bros. and MGM have reaffirmed plans to start shooting in February.

The studios issued a joint statement Friday after New Zealand legislators voted 66-50 in favor of the “Hobbit law,” an amendment to the labor law that prevents actors and production staffers hired as independent contractors from claiming to be employees. This prevents workers from claiming additional rights.

This follows the end of a bitter one-month fight over the matter with actors unions, which boycotted the project, provoking Warner Bros. and director Peter Jackson to threaten to move “The Hobbit” to Europe or Australia.

The change in the law was hammered out by Prime Minister John Key and Warner execs. Key also agreed to provide extra tax rebates to Warners and work with the studio on a strategic partnership to promote New Zealand as a film production and tourism destination.

“We’d like to thank Prime Minister Key, his cabinet and the other dedicated New Zealand officials for their support and cooperation, which helped assuage our concerns and enabled us to keep ‘The Hobbit’ in its proper home of New Zealand,” the studios’ statement said. “We’d also like to express very special appreciation to Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and the people of New Zealand for their tireless support of ‘The Hobbit’ and their commitment to maintain and grow their vibrant film industry. Filming is scheduled to begin in February and we look forward to returning to Middle Earth.”

“The Hobbit” will comprise two pics, which Jackson will direct, write and exec produce. Pre-production on the films has been under way for months in New Zealand.

New Line, MGM and Warner Bros. (parent of New Line) agreed three years ago to join up on a bigscreen version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, who obtains the ring that was the centerpiece of New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Martin Freeman has been cast as Bilbo.

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