N.Z. Prime Minister to Warner Bros.: We Won't Engage in 'Bidding War' Over 'Hobbit'

John Key says government won't make any money on production; meanwhile, Facebook yanks a page called 'Keep the Hobbit film shoot in New Zealand' with little explanation.

Keeping The Hobbit in New Zealand may be a gamble no better than a coin toss, but that doesn't mean the country will shell out more coin for the privilege.

Prime Minister John Key was quoted in local press as estimating the chances of retaining the production as 50-50. Before the meeting, Key said, "In reality, we don't make a lot of money out of this movie, with a 15% subsidy," referring to an existing incentive program. "It's a wash from the government point of view. What we are earning, we are basically giving back to them."

Key also told reporters that "I've made it quite clear (to Warner Bros.) if it comes to a bidding war, then New Zealand is out because I don't think that's the right way to run this."

Key said he was encouraged that the studio had sent a "fairly heavy-duty team" to meet with him, including the president of New Line Cinema, the company's chief legal counsel and a senior executive from Warner Bros. whom Key said he knew "quite well."

Meanwhile, one expression of local support the Warners executives won't see is a Facebook page called "Keep the Hobbit film shoot in New Zealand," THR has learned.

That's because the social networking site pulled the page, located at http://www.facebook.com/hobbitnz, when the number of "fans" hit 10,000. A visit to that address produced a "page not found" error.

Mark Harrison, a Kiwi actor who created the Facebook page and organized "Save the Hobbit" rallies up and down the country, was furious at the company. "We probably missed another 4,000-5,000 supporters," he said, citing the saturation coverage of Sunday's rallies in the local press.

In a country the size of New Zealand, 10,000 fans is equivalent to about 700,000 in the U.S., adjusted for the population difference. Five thousand more would bring the corresponding number above a million.

Harrison noted with dismay that that full-page pro-Hobbit advertisements citing the Facebook address are scheduled to run Tuesday in the country's two largest newspapers.

According to Harrison, Facebook has provided no explanation of its actions except to make vague reference to the site's legal terms without explaining in what way the page had violated them.

"They don't take responsibility," Harrison complained. He plans to lead a call for a New Zealand ombudsman with power to investigate.

Facebook could not be reached for comment.

Pip Bulbeck in Sydney contributed to this report.

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