Unions to thesps: don’t work on ‘Hobbit’ | Statement from Jackson

Peter Jackson has hit back at actors unions over their boycott of “The Hobbit,” accusing the unions of a power grab and warning that production of the two films could be moved from New Zealand to Eastern Europe.

Jackson issued a lengthy statement Sunday in response to the seven major actors unions telling members not to work on “The Hobbit” due to the refusal of producers to sign a deal with local New Zealand performers.

“Personally speaking, I’m not anti-union in the slightest,” said Jackson. “I’m a very proud and loyal member of three Hollywood unions — the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild and the Writers Guild. I support the Screen Actors Guild.”

The boycott’s organized through the Intl. Federation of Actors, of which the unions are members, to support the New Zealand actors. The unions asserted that those performers — repped through the Australian actors union, the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance — have been working under contracts providing no minimum guarantees of wages or working conditions, no residual payments and no cancellation payments.

Jackson said that he believes the move represents a plot by the Australians gain control of the New Zealand film industry.

“There is a twisted logic to seeing NZ humiliated on the world stage, by losing the Hobbit to Eastern Europe,” he said. “Warners would take a financial hit that would cause other studios to steer clear of New Zealand. Seriously, if the Hobbit goes east (Eastern Europe in fact) – look forward to a long dry big budget movie drought in this country.”

Aside from MEAA, the unions supporting the boycott are Canadian Actors Equity, US Actors Equity, the Screen Actors Guild, UK Actors Equity, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists. The notice to members, sent Friday, advised actors not to accept work on the “non-union” production. “If you are contacted to be engaged on ‘The Hobbit’ please notify your union immediately,” the unions said.

Jackson — who’s exec producing and writing “The Hobbit” and may direct — focused his criticism on the Australian actors union. HE said the New Zealand branch isn’t a union and estimated that it has signed 200 of 2,000 New Zealand actors. “It speaks on behalf of a tiny minority of our actors,” he added.

“I can’t see beyond the ugly spectre of an Australian bully-boy using what he perceives as his weak Kiwi cousins to gain a foothold in this country’s film industry,” Jackson said. “They want greater membership, since they get to increase their bank balance.”

Jackson said that his sympathy goes to the 1800 New Zealand actors who are not part of what he called the “Equity 200” but who will “suffer the fallout if this Hobbit thing goes nuclear.”

“I also feel a growing anger at the way this tiny minority is endangering a project that hundreds of people have worked on over the last two years, and the thousands about to be employed for the next 4 years,” he said. “Why is this endangered? Because the ‘demands’ of MEAA cannot be agreed to, or even considered – by law – and therefore the only options that remain involve closing the Hobbit down, or more likely shifting the production to Europe. It could so easily happen.”

Jackson also said that he’s been told that Disney no longer shoots in Australia because of frustration with the MEAA.

The back-to-back “Hobbit” films have still not been greenlit by co-financers New Line and MGM. A New Line spokesperson said the studio had no comment.

Guillermo del Toro departed the project in late May as director and Jackson had been in subsequent talks to take over as helmer.

“The Hobbit” films are based JRR Tolkien’s epic fantasy novel about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, who obtains the ring that was the centerpiece of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy of books and films. Del Toro, who committed to direct “The Hobbit” pics in 2008, said in May that sets, wardrobe, animatics and planned battles sequences had all been fully prepared.

The admonition by the unions to their members doesn’t prevent actors from working on “The Hobbit” but puts them on notice that they could be punished.

The resolution by the unions reads, “Resolved, that the International Federation of Actors urges each of its affiliates to adopt instructions to their members that no member of any FIA affiliate will agree to act in the theatrical film ‘The Hobbit’ until such time as the producer has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance for production in New Zealand providing for satisfactory terms and conditions for all performers employed on the productions.”