New Zealanders rally behind Hobbit shoot

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Thousands of New Zealanders have taken to their streets to protest against possible plans to move production of Peter Jackson's Hobbit films elsewhere.

The demonstrators hoped to reassure Hollywood studio executives as they decide whether the Lord of the Rings prequels should be shot in the country.

Last month, acting unions threatened to boycott the films in a row over wages.

Though that threat has now been lifted, Warner Bros said the unions' actions had caused "substantial damage".

Their actions, a studio statement issued last week continued, had "forced us to consider other filming locations for the first time."

According to organisers, the nationwide action was timed to coincide with the arrival of Warner Bros executives for meetings to determine the movies' fate.

The three Lord of the Rings movies, which were all filmed in New Zealand, earned billions of dollars at the box office.

Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch were among the New Zealand cities to host rallies on Monday.

Image caption,
Oscar-winner Richard Taylor was among the speakers in Wellington

Richard Taylor, the Oscar-winning technician behind many of the Lord of the Rings trilogy's special effects, told protestors in Wellington he hoped The Hobbit would stay in New Zealand.

"The alternative is just too bleak to consider," he said.

Taylor also read a letter from Peter Jackson thanking people for their support.

"This is where Middle Earth was born and this is where it should stay," he continued.

The New Zealand government has pledged to step in to try to keep the production in the homeland of its recently confirmed director.

Prime Minister John Key will lead a delegation scheduled to meet Warner Bros executives on Tuesday.

"The threat of industrial actions... have substantially undermined the confidence that Warner Bros has in New Zealand," Mr Key said last week.

Filming on the two-part prequel is set to begin in February after it was finally given the go-ahead. British actor Martin Freeman was confirmed in the lead role of Bilbo Baggins.