Previously confidential report reveals intense labor dispute on the set of "The Hobbit"

Director Peter Jackson called a local actors' unionization effort a political ploy filled with "toxic nonsense"

Published February 28, 2013 6:11PM (EST)

After a Jan. 31 government ruling, New Zealand officials have released a previously confidential report on a 2010 labor dispute between local actors in "The Hobbit" and the film's producers and director, Peter Jackson. The Hollywood Reporter describes it as "an unusual glimpse behind the scenes of a nasty public dispute," explaining that it "ended in a stinging defeat for the local actors union -- and in a stunning outcome for the country’s government, which ended up paying Warner Bros. an additional $25 million in tax incentives and other fees to quell the threat that the production might be moved to another country."

The government has also passed legislation making it nearly impossible to unionize motion picture production in the country, according to THR.

Jackson and his wife, producing partner Fran Walsh, maintain that they are "not anti-union,” however.  In a message to the country’s attorney general they said they are “very proud and loyal members of three Hollywood Unions -- the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild [which is not a actually a union] and the Writers Guild. We have always supported the Screen Actors Guild.”

Instead, the effort -- which Jackson in 2010 described as “toxic nonsense" -- was seen by the film's director as “not about Actors Equity, nor is it about 'The Hobbit'. It is about an Australian trade union making a blatant play to take a controlling hand in the NZ film industry -- for their own political and financial gain.” (Jackson's reference is to the fact that the local actors union, NZ Actors Equity, is itself a subsidiary of an Australian union, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance.)

Upon the release of the documents, Jackson has said he hopes this will “put to rest the unfounded conspiracy theories that sought to characterize these events as a Hollywood studio dictating terms to a sovereign government -- a charge that is as spurious now as it was then.”


By Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at

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Hobbit J.r.r. Tolkien New Zealand Peter Jackson Unions