Peter Jackson says union boycott threatens The Hobbit films

Oscar-winning director Sir Peter Jackson says filming of The Hobbit movies may be moved from his native New Zealand to Eastern Europe because of a threatened worldwide actors' boycott organized by an Australian "bully-boy" labour union, dpa reported.

Jackson, who directed the smash-hit trilogy The Lord of the Rings, issued a statement Sunday rejecting claims that he was anti-union and accusing the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) of seeking a foothold in the New Zealand film industry by increasing its membership.

Warner Brothers is financing the two-part Hobbit movies, a prequel to The Lord of the Rings.

Sir Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving have been reported as likely to star in the movies, and the MEAA say they support a boycott because the makers plan to employ actors on non- union contracts that deny them a fair share of the profits, Wellington's Dominion Post reported Monday.

Jackson insisted he was "not anti-union in the slightest" and said he was a "very proud and loyal member" of three Hollywood unions.

He said that he always honoured union conditions if the actors he used were union members but could not enter a collective bargaining agreement with non-unionists, as the MEAA was demanding, because that was illegal in New Zealand.

MEAA Director Simon Whipp was reported as saying that actors' contracts in New Zealand, which denied them standard payments for DVD sales and video rentals, were different from "almost anywhere else in the English-speaking world."

Jackson said New Zealand would be "humiliated on the world stage" if filming of The Hobbit movies was moved to Eastern Europe: "Warners would take a financial hit that would cause other studios to steer clear of New Zealand."

Meanwhile, about 240 very short and very tall people turned out Sunday in Wellington for precasting calls for The Hobbit movies, though preproduction preparation and filming has not yet begun.

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