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OSCARS: Eric Saindon On ‘Hobbit’s VFX

Christy Grosz is Editor of AwardsLine

When the Academy’s visual-effects peer group meets tomorrow to vote on this year’s short list, among the films they’ll be examining is Warner Bros. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Industry audiences and ardent fans will be pleased to see the familiar goblins and orcs, but visual-effects supervisor Eric Saindon says much of the technology underneath the characters is virtually unrecognizable from the first Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Saindon recently spoke with AwardsLine about how much things have changed. Read More »

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Peter Jackson’s ‘Hobbit’ Production Blog #3

By | Wednesday July 20, 2011 @ 7:15pm PDT

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Peter Jackson’s Ulcer To Delay ‘The Hobbit’

Mike Fleming

In a development that pushes back the start of The Hobbit a bit, Peter Jackson was admitted today night to Wellington Hospital with acute stomach pains and underwent surgery for a perforated ulcer. According to a statement from the production, “Sir Peter is currently resting comfortably and his doctors expect him to make a full recovery. Sir Peter’s surgery is not expected to impact on his directing commitment to The Hobbit beyond a slight delay to the start of filming.” Between all the turmoil of: Guillermo del Toro dropping out as director; Jackson replacing him; MGM freezing production while it went into bankruptcy; local unions blackballing The Hobbit which almost pushed the production out of New Zealand; why would Jackson be getting ulcers? Here’s to a speedy recovery, Sir Pete.

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Ian McKellen Explains Middle Earth Muddle

Mike Fleming

Ian McKellen, who along with Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis and Cate Blanchett formalized his return to Middle Earth to reprise his The Lord of the Rings character Gandalf, has taken to his own blog to explain why his deal took so long. I’m still waiting for formal word on Christopher Lee to bring back Saruman, Ian Holm to do a small turn reprising an older Bilbo Baggins, and possibly Orlando Bloom to return as Legolas for director Peter Jackson. There might even be word on Hugo Weaving and his Elrond character. What I most love about McKellen’s missive is that a 71-year old brilliant actor takes the time to write his own blog, adding hot links (something I’m still getting the hang of). Here is McKellen’s dispatch:

All I had to decide was what to do with the time that is given me.

I’m 71 and fit: though at my age who knows what accident is ’round the next corner?  For a year or more, I have been arranging my professional commitments around the possibility of The Hobbit films starting at almost anytime.  We brought the Waiting for Godot tour of Australia to New Zealand early 2010, assuming I would stay on to start shooting soon after.  Then there was yet another delay: but in Wellington I met with Guillermo del Toro and later read his script for … Read More »

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Andy Serkis Signed As Gollum In ‘Hobbit’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: I’m told that Andy Serkis has closed his deal to bring back Gollum in The Hobbit, the two films that Peter Jackson will direct in New Zealand starting in February. Serkis will join returning cast members Cate Blanchett and Elijah Wood. Wood’s participation was made official last week after Deadline first revealed his negotiations. According to sources, others who appeared in The Lord of the Rings poised to return at this point include Ian McKellen (who’s still working out a deal to return as Gandalf in a major role),  Christopher Lee is in talks to reprise the wizard Saruman, and Ian Holm to return as an older version of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman is playing that title role in the two new movies). I’ve written in the past about a possible reprise of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, but it’s unclear at this point if he’ll be back.

There was no confirmation from the Serkis’ camp, but the character certainly fits a small but important role in the storyline of the JRR Tolkien book. Bilbo is on an epic quest with Gandalf and 13 dwarves led by their King, Thorin Oakenshield, to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and strike down the talking dragon Smaug (I’d heard last year Bill Nighy was a possible to voice Smaug, but have heard nothing since). During that journey, Bilbo wanders into Gollum’s lair and finds the Ring of Power. Serkis will likely be there early in the … Read More »

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Warner Bros Taking WW Distribution (And Paying For) ‘The Hobbit’

Mike Fleming

UPDATE: I’ve learned that Warner Bros will, in fact, pay the entire cost of the two installments of The Hobbit, a price-tag that is expected to exceed $500 million. Now, the question will be which cast members from The Lord of the Rings come back for encores. I’ve heard talk of conversations with Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis and possibly Elijah Wood. I’d heard Orlando Bloom was also in talks before the holidays. Returning actors will need to be locked in shortly.

BREAKING: MGM and Warner Bros have finalized a deal that gives Warner Bros worldwide theatrical distribution on  the Peter Jackson-directed The Hobbit. MGM will retain international television rights. This solves another problem on Jackson’s eagerly awaited followup to The Lord of the Rings, which has overcome an MGM freeze because of angry creditors, and the threat that the films would move away from New Zealand after local unions blacklisted the production.

Shooting begins next month, and Jackson is still in the process of locking in cast from the original movie, which is expected to include Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, Andy Serkis’ Gollum, and others. MGM, a half partner in The Hobbit, was expected to bow out of its international distribution role because the studio came out of prepackaged bankruptcy–headed by Spyglass partners Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber–with the intention of initially reviving the studio as a production company that contracts out distribution and marketing to others. Still trying to figure … Read More »

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TOLDJA! James Nesbitt Lands ‘The Hobbit’

Mike Fleming

LOS ANGELES November 1, 2010 – British actor James Nesbitt (Millions and TV’s Cold Feet), is the latest actor to join the ensemble cast of The Hobbit, it was jointly announced today by New Line Cinema, Warner Bros, and MGM.
Nesbitt will play Bofur, a disarmingly forthright, funny and occasionally brave Dwarf. “James’s charm, warmth and wit are legendary as is his range as an actor in both comedic and dramatic roles. We feel very lucky to be able to welcome him as one of our cast,” said director Peter Jackson. Newcomer Adam Brown will play Ori, another of the Dwarf Company which sets out to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the infamous dragon, Smaug.

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Official: ‘The Hobbit’ Stays In New Zealand

Producer/director Peter Jackson is celebrating. Warner Bros executives were locked in negotiations all day with New Zealand government leaders. Then Prime Minister John Key announced at a press conference tonight that The Hobbit back-to-back movies will be made in New Zealand. That’s a $500+ million project, and the Hollywood studio bargained considerable perks for itself. Tax rebates of up to an extra $7.5 million per movie are arranged, subject to the success of the pics. The NZ government will offset $10 million of Warner Bros’ marketing costs as part of the strategic partnership. And New Zealand will also host one of the world premieres of the Hobbit movies. The NZ Government and Warner Bros also agreed to work together in a “long-term strategic partnership” to promote New Zealand as both a film production and tourism destination. Said Key: “My Government is determined to use the opportunity that the Hobbit movies present to highlight New Zealand as a great place to visit, as well as a great place to do business.”

The NZ government will introduce legislation tomorrow to clarify the distinction between independent contractors and employees as it relates to the film industry only, according to news reports. “The industrial issues that have arisen in the past several weeks have highlighted a significant set of concerns for the way in which the international film industry operates,” Key said. “We will be moving to ensure that New Zealand law in this area is settled to give film producers … Read More »

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Peter Jackson Bares ‘The Hobbit’ Dispute

Mike Fleming

Warner Bros and Peter Jackson next week will try to hash out whether the $500 million budget for back-to-back The Hobbit films will stay in New Zealand or move elsewhere. Meetings are planned that will involve Prime Minister John Key. Here’s a terrific dispatch from New Zealand Close Up: it’s long but is well worth it because it puts Jackson and Philippa Boyens on the record, lays out the stakes, and gives a real sense of the backlash directed toward the New Zealand Actors Equity and Australian Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance for blacklisting Jackson and his pictures. There are certainly hard feelings but here’s my prediction: These things come down to leverage, and Warner Bros walks in with a lot of it. I bet the studio will emerge with a sweetened deal to stay. Estimates I’m hearing include incentives that shave $10 million to $15 million off the budget. Part of the charm of The Lord of the Rings was how it revealed New Zealand as a an epic location and tourism mecca, with Jackson also plowing a lot of his Rings profits into building state of the art facilities that have turned the country into a thriving film center. It just won’t be good karma to shoot elsewhere.

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New Line Fans Ire In The Shire: No Guarantee Of New Zealand ‘Hobbit’ Shoot

Mike Fleming

New Line has weighed in on The Hobbit, adding doubt that the Warner Bros-financed pictures will shoot in New Zealand even though actors guilds have lifted their boycott. I still think that Peter Jackson is so staked in New Zealand with his sound stages and visual effects operations that he won’t shoot elsewhere, but this is really dragging out. Here is the statement:

Recent reports that the boycott of The Hobbit was lifted by unions a number of days ago and that Warner Bros asked to delay this announcement are false. It was not until last night that we received confirmation of the retractions from SAG, NZ Equity and AFTRA through press reports. We are still awaiting retractions from the other guilds. While we have been attempting to receive an unconditional retraction of the improper Do Not Work Orders for almost a month, NZ Equity/MEAA continued to demand, as a condition of the retractions, that we participate in union negotiations with the independent contractor performers, which negotiations are illegal in the opinion of the New Zealand Attorney General. We have refused to do so, and will continue to refuse to do so. The actions of these unions have caused us substantial damage and disruption and forced us to consider other filming locations for the first time. Alternative locations are still being considered.

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Actor Guilds Settle With ‘The Hobbit’ But Ire In The Shire Could Still Push Back-To-Back Peter Jackson Pics Out Of New Zealand

Mike Fleming

UPDATE: There’s still unease even though SAG and AFTRA rescinded the order to stop its actor members from working on The Hobbit because of a request from sister union New Zealand Actors Equity. The labor settlement doesn’t mean Peter Jackson will move the pictures back to the New Zealand locations that are home to Mordor, Minas Tirith, Isengard, and other Middle Earth locales. Because of all the hard feelings that the local unions created, Warner Bros has been exploring other options, and while Jackson will have a say, the studio could decide to make a move if it gets a better deal someplace else. Now New Zealand prime minister John Key is reaching out for a meeting with Warner Bros to try and keep the films from shooting in another country.

Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh were clearly furious about the aggressive tactics used by the New Zealand Actors Equity and the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance. Yesterday, between 1,000 and 15,000 technicians and actors opposed to Equity’s actions picketed Equity headquarters last night, and moved that protest to Parliament. Polls conducted by local TV stations and newspapers in New Zealand showed little support for the union tactic, and high level ministers in government came out in support of Jackson. I’d say it’s unlikely that the films actually leave New Zealand. Jackson’s visual effects headquarters and stages were built there using Lord Of The Rings trilogy money. But clearly this is serious stuff. He and Walsh issued this incendiary release last night, before the unions tried to bring the agitation to a halt:

WELLINGTON – Thursday, 21 October 2010: The lifting of the blacklist on The Hobbit does nothing to help the films stay in New Zealand. The damage inflicted on our film industry by NZ Equity/MEAA is long since done.

Next week Warners are coming down to NZ to make arrangements to move the production off-shore. It appears we now cannot make films in our own country – even when substantial financing is available.

The spectacle of NZ Actors’ Equity suddenly cancelling their Wellington meeting, because film workers wanted to express to them their concern at losing The Hobbit, exemplifies the pure gutlessness of this small, self-centred group. They don’t appear to care about the repurcussions of their actions on others, nor are they prepared to take responsibility for decisions made in their name. NZ Equity constantly refer to ‘good faith’ discussions but they have never acted in good faith towards our film.

Read More »

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Peter Jackson Directing ‘The Hobbit’? TOLDJA!

Mike Fleming

I saw yesterday’s breathless reports that Peter Jackson is close to a deal to direct The Hobbit – and I am bewildered how anyone slaps an “exclusive” tag on a story Deadline broke back on June 25th. That’s when Jackson moved from co-writer/producer into the director’s chair. Recent reports by the LA Times and NY Times have added some nice details, but I laid out back then the chain of events that are unfolding now. Even before Guillermo del Toro withdrew as director, Warner Bros and MGM had set December 2012 and December 2013 as release dates, replicating the release pattern of the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Production has to begin in January or these pictures would get pushed back an entire year — and who knows if Jackson would have stayed? Deadline advised that MGM’s creditors needed to get their heads out of their you-know-where’s and either commit funding or step aside to let Warner Bros  pay for the films. It was clear those decisions would precede a long-planned prepackaged bankruptcy that won’t play out until year’s end. 

The 3D discussion also goes back before Del Toro departed, but I can confirm a NYT report that they’re locked into a 3D two-picture shoot that will cost around $500 million. Unless a third party steps in, Warner Bros most likely funds production because MGM can’t. The movement on The Hobbit doesn’t help James Bond, which is post-bankruptcy business. … Read More »

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The Curse Of ‘The Hobbit’ Strikes Yet Again

Now add fire to the latest list of woes which have beset Peter Jackson’s pre-production on those back-to-back The Hobbit films. Flames yesterday engulfed his New Zealand workshop set which would have been used for the Tolkien movies. It took 50 firefighters three hours to quell the blaze in Wellington. All that’s left now is a burned-out warehouse at Jackson’s Portsmouth Miniatures Studio which had been used in the past as a specialist miniatures shooting facility, one of the few in the world, to create special effects for his The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. Meanwhile, there’s still a standoff between New Zealand and Aussie actors unions, joined by SAG and AFTRA and others, and Jackson, New Line, Warner Bros, and MGM. (SAG & AFTRA Nix Non-Union ‘The Hobbit’ and Peter Jackson Slaps Kiwi/Oz Unions and ‘Hobbit’ Producers Defend Peter Jackson Against Actor Union Allegations)

This is after MGM went bust, and after director Guillermo Del Toro quit the project only to be replaced by Jackson, who was previously just producing and co-writing. Little wonder that overseas news media are blaming The Curse Of The Hobbit for all the bad breaks. Meanwhile, Hollywood insiders … Read More »

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‘Hobbit’ Producers Warner Bros, New Line, & MGM Defend Peter Jackson Against Actor Union Allegations: “Baseless And Unfair”

SAG & AFTRA Nix Non-Union ‘The Hobbit’ For Kiwi & Oz Actors
Peter Jackson Slaps Back At Kiwi/Oz Unions

New Line, Warner Bros. Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures are concerned by the recent allegations of unfair treatment of actors in New Zealand and instructions from the performers’ guilds to their membership to withhold services from the producers of “The Hobbit” in New Zealand.

We are proud to have good relations with all of those performers’ guilds and value their contribution to the motion pictures produced in their respective jurisdictions throughout the world. But we believe that in this case the allegations are baseless and unfair to Peter Jackson and his team in Wellington who have been tireless supporters of the New Zealand motion picture community.

To classify the production as “non-union” is inaccurate. The cast and crew are being engaged under collective bargaining agreements where applicable and we are mindful of the rights of those individuals pursuant to those agreements. And while we have previously worked with MEAA, an Australian union now seeking to represent actors in New Zealand, the fact remains that there cannot be any collective bargaining with MEAA on this New Zealand production, for to do so would expose the production to liability and sanctions under New Zealand law. This legal prohibition has been explained to MEAA. We are disappointed that

Read More »

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Peter Jackson Slaps Kiwi/Oz Unions: Threatens To Move ‘Hobbit’ To Eastern Europe

An angry Peter Jackson today is fighting back at a “Member Alert” that went out Friday afternoon from the Screen Actors Guild advising actors not to accept work on the non-union production of The Hobbit. It’s part of an international showbiz labor effort begun by New Zealand Actors’ Equity and its umbrella The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance headquartered in Australia to go public with a campaign confronting Peter Jackson, the director and producer of the back-to-back Hobbit movies. NZ Actors’ Equity is calling a meeting of actors on Tuesday to pressure The Hobbit filmmakers Jackson, Three Foot Seven, MGM, and Warner Brothers to negotiate a contract providing minimum guarantees on wages and working conditions, residual payments, and cancellation payments to actors engaged on the production. But Jackson is having none of it:

Statement regarding The Hobbit and claims by the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA):

The Australian Labour Union, the MEAA is using our production The Hobbit in an attempt to widen it’s membership, and power within the New Zealand film industry. As a New Zealand filmmaker, who has nothing to hide or be ashamed about, I’m not going to see this threatening behaviour continue without some form of sensible discussion about the “facts” and “truth” behind their various allegations.

It’s incredibly easy to wave the flag on behalf of workers and target the rich studios. It’s not hard to generate an emotive response, nor is it hard to sway public opinion, since nobody seems to like the facts

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SAG & AFTRA Nix Non-Union ‘The Hobbit’: Kiwi & Oz Actors Confront Peter Jackson

BREAKING NEWS: Peter Jackson Slaps Back At Kiwi/Oz/Hollywood Unions

UPDATE: A “Member Alert” went out yesterday afternoon from the Screen Actors Guild advising actors not to accept work on the non-union production of The Hobbit. (See below.) It’s part of an international showbiz labor effort begun by New Zealand Actors’ Equity and its umbrella The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance headquartered in Australia to go public with a campaign confronting Peter Jackson, the director and producer of the long planned and high profile back-to-back Hobbit movies and filmmakers Three Foot Seven, MGM, and Warner Brothers. NZ Actors’ Equity is calling a meeting of actors on Tuesday to bring The Hobbit filmmakers to the negotiating table for a contract providing minimum guarantees on wages and working conditions, residual payments, and cancellation payments to actors engaged on the production. Now, the International Federation of Actors (FIA) is supporting the NZ Equity/MEAA campaign, and last month issued letters to The Hobbit production company Three Foot Seven, Warner Brothers, and MGM seeking a union-negotiated contract to cover all performers on the production. That’s why SAG and AFTRA are now involved as well as Actors’ Equity, Equity (UK), and equivalent organisations in Australia, Canada and South Africa.

Equity has been trying since 2006 to negotiate minimum guarantees contracts across the film and television industries in New Zealand, but can’t get that country’s producers organisation SPADA to take part in talks. SPADA … Read More »

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TOLDJA! Peter Jackson Casting ‘Hobbit’

The Hollywood Reporter has done it again. So I’m embarrassed for the trade paper and any media outlet that stoops to content theft and won’t properly credit Deadline. peter_jackson_hobbit2Back on June 25th, Mike Fleming posted within his scoop about Peter Jackson negotiating to direct both Hobbit films that “he, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens scheduled a trip to London the week of July 4, followed by a trip to Los Angeles the following week. They will meet the most impressive actors who’ve been put on tape by casting directors.” So imagine vacationing Mike’s surprise to get an email alert today from THR claiming an exclusive that “director Peter Jackson is in Los Angeles this week quietly meeting with actors. The casting trip, which also included stops in New York and the U.K…” What makes this even worse is that the THR story doesn’t add one new fact. Nor have I forgotten that, well after Mike posted his initial scoop about Jackson directing the Hobbit films, THR tried to claim that as an exclusive, too.

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Can ‘The Hobbit’ Wait For MGM Decisions?

Mike Fleming

MgmlogosmallEXCLUSIVE: My recent scoop that Peter Jackson is negotiating to direct the two installments of The Hobbit is probably the best news for debt-laden MGM in years. But the development has put extra pressures on the beleaguered studio backers. Because making a 2-picture directing deal with the Lord Of The Rings director is no easy feat. I’m told that 30% of the gross is already committed to various participants, including Jackson (just for writing and producing!). peterjackson-9He and Fran Walsh don’t work cheap, and they once got $20 million against 20% of gross from Universal to direct King Kong (Jackson, who can’t get enough of Kong and just oversaw the renovation of the ape attraction on the Universal backlot). Insiders tell me that gross participants are right now being asked to make adjustments so that MGM and its partner, Warner Bros, can finance the film and make money. Creative deals are becoming routine on sequels like Men in Black, but they aren’t easy. There’s no certainty that MGM creditors will respond to the urgency that Jackson’s reps are ready to make a deal. Read More »

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URGENT! Now Peter Jackson Negotiating With Studios To Direct ‘The Hobbit’ Films

Mike Fleming

peter_jackson_king_kong_premiereUPDATED WRITE-THRU – EXCLUSIVE: In what amounts to a dream come true for fans of Middle Earth, Peter Jackson has decided to direct two installments of The Hobbit, trusted sources are telling me. His deal is being negotiated right now with Warner Bros , New Line, and MGM. He will shortly take the reins over from Guillermo del Toro, after Jackson extricates himself from other project obligations that caused Jackson and manager Ken Kamins to initially deny he would direct. While Jackson’s camp has been tight-lipped, I’m told that the case is being made to MGM’s owners to loosen the purse strings and make the movies happen. The impetus for these talks is that Jackson will be the director of both of The Hobbit films, which will be shot back-to-back in his New Zealand backyard. The secret’s out.

Despite Jackson camp denials that directing was a consideration, there were signs for cautious optimism from the moment del Toro bowed out. More recently, there have been major clues.  While several directors have angled for the job — the most recent rumors focused on David Yates and Jackson’s District 9 protege Neill Blomkamp — no offer was ever made. I think that’s because Jackson was figuring out if he wanted to direct two more films, and finish the saga he started with The Lord of the Rings. And then once he decided, Kamins had to make it possible. It became … Read More »

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