Could Middle Earth move to Middle England?

New Zealand's reincarnation as Middle Earth transformed the country's image and attracted floods of tourists keen to visit the locations where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. Following a protracted dispute with the actors' union, however, the rugged landscapes look set to be abandoned – possibly in favour of a British studio.

The latest Tolkien project, The Hobbit, was due to be filmed in New Zealand, but its director, Peter Jackson, said yesterday that Warner Bros – its major backer – was poised to move the US$500m (£318m) production offshore.

Jackson, a New Zealander who directed the phenomenally successful Rings series, is incensed by Equity NZ's blacklisting of The Hobbit – a two-film, 3D Rings prequel – over an argument about pay and conditions. Although the union has now lifted the ban, which was supported by British Equity and the powerful US Screen Actors Guild, the Oscar-winning director said Warner Bros's confidence had been undermined. Studio executives are flying to New Zealand next week to make arrangements for a move, according to a statement by Jackson's production company, Wingnut Films. His wife and co-producer, Fran Walsh, told Radio New Zealand yesterday that Warners wanted to shift production to Leavesden Studios, near Watford, where the Harry Potter movies were filmed.

"They've got a huge studio that Harry Potter have vacated, that they own... that they say would be perfect for us," she said, adding that other English locations were being scouted. Previously, Scotland and Ireland have been mentioned as possibilities, along with Canada, Australia and eastern Europe.

The move would be a huge blow to the New Zealand film industry, which has blossomed and prospered over the past decade. In a television interview, Jackson said the NZ$3bn (£1.4bn) industry was on its way to "possibly being stuffed" thanks to the Hobbit debacle. "It appears we now cannot make films in our own country – even when substantial financing is available."

The Prime Minister, John Key, who has fought to retain the blockbuster production, said yesterday that losing it would be a "tragedy" for New Zealand. He hopes to meet Warner Bros executives next week in a last-ditch attempt to change their minds.

Filming of The Hobbit has already been delayed for years by rows over distribution rights, reported budget blow-outs and the departure of the original director, Guillermo del Toro. Helen Kelly, president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, claimed the move offshore was motivated by tax breaks – an accusation denied by Ms Walsh.

Others in the industry are anxious to keep The Hobbit. An estimated 1,500 technicians, designers and other film workers marched through Wellington on Wednesday, waving signs stating "Ireland is not Middle Earth" and chanting "Don't kill Bilbo". Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, is the story's main protagonist, who shares his world with wizards and elves.

New Zealand's tourism industry also fears a knock-on effect. Such is the draw of Tolkien that the North Island town of Matamata, where the Hobbiton set was built, still receives 200,000 visitors a year, although the last Rings film was released seven years ago. Jackson said: "Seemingly overnight, NZ Equity shredded the reputation of a burgeoning industry which has been 40 years in the making. This will be the start of a domino effect, as word of New Zealand's unstable employment environment registers with film investors and studios worldwide."

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game