Filming of The Hobbit in New Zealand still hangs in jeopardy as hundreds of film technicians marched through Wellington highlighting fears that disputes over actors’ contracts will send production overseas.

The Hobbit films, a prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, are expected to cost about $US500 million (NZ$669m) to make, the most expensive ever, and will be filmed in 3D. They will be directed by Sir Peter Jackson, a co-founder of Weta Workshops.

Actors have been involved in an ongoing pay and conditions dispute over the Hobbit films. A meeting was planned by the Actors’ Equity union to discuss “new industry standards” as it seeks a collective agreement for actors and it has asked its members to boycott the two Hobbit films.

However, Actors’ Equity organiser Frances Walsh said the meeting had been called off but refused to say why.

Another meeting, of Wellington film technicians, was organised by the head of Wellington’s Weta Workshop, Sir Richard Taylor.

Sir Richard said he felt The Hobbit was in jeopardy due to the action of the Actor’s Equity and he “could not sit idly by”.

“Within three hours of putting out the call approximately 1000 people gathered at Stone Street Studios and they collectively agreed our industry could not be held to ransom by a limited few in an Australian Union,” he said.

Actors’ Equity is part of the Australian union Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.

“Everyone present within the Wellington technicians’ community wanted to see our industry continue under our own management as it has in the past,” Sir Richard said.

The group planned to attend the actors’ meeting and “verbalise their concern” outside this meeting, he said.

Sir Richard said that when the actors cancelled the meeting the technicians instead chose to march through the streets of Wellington, ending up at the cenotaph near Parliament.

“Everyone gathered felt that they had done their part in assuring the New Zealand film industry that they care passionately about seeing the Hobbit made in New Zealand and that the industry as a whole should be left as it is for the successful and ongoing future of film making in New Zealand.”

– Jahn Vannisselroy