New Zealanders Rally To Keep <i>The Hobbit</i> In The Country

Thousands of New Zealanders took to the streets in six cities today to urge Warner Bros. executives to keep production of The Hobbit in the country.

A rally in the capital of Wellington drew up to 3,000 people, some of whom dressed in hobbit costumes or carried signs with slogans like "New Zealand Is Middle Earth" and "Please Save My Precious Home."

A bitter dispute with actors' unions over pay and working conditions led producers to threaten to move the $500-million, two-movie project to Eastern Europe, Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom. Even the lifting of do-not-work orders by three unions seemed to do little to soothe director Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh, who declared, "The damage inflicted on our film industry by [the actors unions] is long since done."

The rallies were organized in advance of the arrival in New Zealand of Warner Bros. executives, who will meet with anxious government officials. According to CBC News, the loss of The Hobbit could cost the country an estimated $1.5 billion.

However, the stakes are even higher than that. "I don't think we should write off our chances of retaining the movies," Variety quotes Prime Minister John Key as saying. "My concern is that if Warner Bros. deems New Zealand is not a good place to make movies, then there is a real risk other major film production companies will also believe that to be the case."

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.

TV New Zealand spoke last week with Jackson and co-producer Philippa Boyens about the dispute. You can watch the segment below.

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