N.Z. government begins mediating 'Hobbit' spat

Two senior ministers meet with Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh

The New Zealand government moved decisively to keep production of "The Hobbit" in that country, deploying two senior ministers to mediate a union dispute amid reports that co-financier Warner Bros. was actively exploring moving the production.

At the direction of Prime Minister John Key, economic development minister Gerry Brownlee and attorney general/arts minister Chris Finlayson met over the weekend with director-producer Peter Jackson and his wife and producing partner, Fran Walsh.

The venue remains unsettled as brinksmanship continues. Brownlee told the local press that it would be "wait and see" over the next couple of days, with Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia and the Czech Republic reportedly vying for the production.

Hobbit co-producer Philippa Boyens said Sunday that Warners was "running the numbers on five to six different locations. That's very real -- and that has put at risk the livelihoods of countless thousands of New Zealand industry workers."

New Line was not immediately available for comment.

The meeting between the ministers, Jackson and Walsh took place at a New Zealand parliament building known as the Beehive. That building, a modernistic structure more formally called the Executive Wing, houses the offices of the country's cabinet ministers and Prime Minister. Brownlee then spoke with New Zealand Actors' Equity president Jennifer Ward-Lealand, whom he had also called prior to meeting with Jackson and Walsh.

The dispute centers on unionization of actors on the project, which the producers are resisting, citing legal advice that unionization would be illegal under New Zealand law. Finlayson agrees, but the union has secured contrary advice. In solidarity with the Kiwi union, actors unions across the English-speaking world -- including SAG and AFTRA -- have issued "Do Not Work" orders against the production.
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