Tolkien filmmaker puts out call for New Zealand hobbits

Peter Jackson's Wingnut Films has issued a call for diminutive New Zealanders to audition for his troubled "Hobbit" movies, although the two-film project is yet to receive a studio green light.

Wingnut invited short people to attend a weekend casting call in Wellington for the films, a prequel to the Oscar-winning "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

The casting department was looking for men who were 123cm (four foot) to 158cm (five foot two inches) tall and women measuring 123cm to 153cm, an advertisement in the Dominion Post newspaper on Wednesday said.

A Wingnut spokesman said all applicants must be aged 16 or over and anyone not meeting the height requirements would be turned away from Sunday's casting call.

He said the call was for "scale doubles" for actors with speaking roles in the J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy and further auditions extras in "The Hobbit" would take place separately at a later date.

"Scale doubles appear in some wide shots in place of our actors and with other adult actors when we need people to look smaller or taller," he said.

Despite the casting call, the spokesman said "The Hobbit" had not received an official studio clearance to begin full pre-production and shooting.

"But we do need to be prepared in the event that we get one. That means having a little look around Wellington for scale doubles," he said.

"The Hobbit" has been stalled by movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's financial woes. MGM is facing a debt of 3.7 billion US dollars and is negotiating a streamlined bankruptcy with creditors.

Mexican-born director Guillermo Del Toro quit as director in May, citing almost two years of delays, with "Lord of the Rings" director Jackson expected to replace him at the helm.

Actor Ian McKellen, who is likely to reprise his role as the wizard Gandalf, reportedly told a British newspaper this month that back-to-back shooting of the two movies was set to begin in January.