Once upon a time, the Lord of the Rings trilogy made eleventy zillion dollars. Then someone who loved money (or maybe the novels, but probably a little of both) remembered that there was a little novel called The Hobbit that was a prequel. It featured several of the things that made its sequel trilogy popular in addition to the fantastic presence of a dragon. Should be like printing money, right?
Well as you may recall, The Hobbit got delayed in the first place because Jackson needed to take time out to sue New Line for not paying him everything he was due from the first trilogy. New Line’s response was more or less that Jackson could eat shit and die before he ever was paid another dime by New Line. Then a bunch of New Line films flopped and suddenly they were like oh we meant that other Peter Jackson, this one is a stand-up chap, and here’s an out of court pile of money to make that lawsuit go away. And then Del Toro came in to direct and geeks everywhere heaved their bosoms in joy.
Of course that’s also about the time that Tolkien’s estate dropped an industrial sized lawsuit on New Line, which blocked any work on The Hobbit for some time. Basically New Line paid Tolkien’s estate $62,500 up front and then used Hollywood accounting to generate a loss on the trilogy despite $6 billion of worldwide box office and merchandising. There’s weaselly douchebag accounting and then there’s taking it to an entirely different level. Around the same time a bunch of actors from the Lord of the Rings sued New Line for not getting paid jack for essentially the same reasons.
By the time all these distractions got put to rest, some three years after the first rumblings that Jackson was going to make The Hobbit, the green light was more or less given at the beginning of 2009. Did they start pre-production? Nope, at that point Jackson said that he could totally have that script done in like a year, tops.
So now we’re finally up to 2010 in the long chronology and Del Toro drops out of the production. And then MGM acknowledges its net worth is only measurable in belly lint, which further delays progress. What more could possibly go wrong at this point? If only Jackson could get a gaggle of cameras down to New Zealand and get filming, everything would just work itself out right?
Well, that’s the theory up until the point when the actors in New Zealand had the sheer unbelievable gall to try to unionize, choosing The Hobbit as the place they’re going to make their stand.
Says Jackson: “It sure feels like we are being attacked simply because we are a big fat juicy target — not for any wrong doing. It feels as if we have a large Aussie cousin kicking sand in our eyes … or to put it another way, opportunists exploiting our film for their own political gain.”
Okay, just to clarify, when you are helming a $300 million production and refuse to pay extras union wages, you are not the heroic underdog, you in fact may be the epitome of douchebaggery.
A bunch of other actors’ unions have swung their support behind the MEAA, including the SAG and AFTRA, issuing an alert stating that their members should not work on The Hobbit at all. The alert in particular notes that “The (MEAA) agreement for large-budget international studio films…provides for residuals that are equivalent to those under the SAG agreement. The residuals proposed by the producers of ‘The Hobbit’ are less in every respect.”
Jackson goes on to say “Whatever damage MEAA is attempting to do — and it will do damage, since that’s their principal objective in targeting ‘The Hobbit’ — we will continue to treat our actors and crew with respect, as we always have.”
Oh! Respect! That changes everything! Sign me up for that respect where I get paid less by a studio that has demonstrated that I’ll have to sue it in order to get the royalties guaranteed by my contract. Fuck that.