<i>Hobbit</i> Could Still Film in New Zealand

Less than a day after New Line Cinema announced key casting for The Hobbit comes word that production could remain in New Zealand now that a threat of a labor boycott has eased.

Although director Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh said earlier this week that a lifting of a ban by actors' unions would do “nothing to help the film stay in New Zealand,” Variety reports there's a desire to keep the two films in Jackson's home country, where The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. Publicly, however, there's been discussion of moving the $500-million project to Eastern Europe or to the U.K. studio where Warner Bros.' Harry Potter franchise was shot.

The labor problems stem from a push by the International Federation of Actors for performers in The Hobbit to seek union contracts. Warner Bros., which maintains that the New Zealand performers are independent contractors, not union members, refused to allow the New Zealand Actors Equity to negotiate on behalf of its members. The dispute quickly grew, with six international unions issuing do-not-work orders to their members. On Wednesday, New Zealand Actors Equity, the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists backed off their opposition.

Variety reports that executives from New Line and Warner Bros. will travel next week to New Zealand to meet with government executives, could offer to increase tax credits to keep The Hobbit in the country.

The two-picture Hobbit, which stars Martin Freedman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage and Andy Serkis, is scheduled to begin production in February for release in December 2012 and December 2013.

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