Martin Freeman (centre) stars as the diminutive Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Documents released under New Zealand's freedom of information laws show conflicting reports over whether US film company New Line Cinema was threatening to move the production of The Hobbit movies offshore.
The company denied such claims, saying it had only requested the New Zealand government consider providing similar incentives to what the Australian state government of New South Wales was offering to take the films there, the documents from 2010 showed.
This was contrary to the government's claim.
Peter Jackson in New Zealand. Photo: Maarten Holl
The series of emails, including between ministerial office staff, film studios and director Sir Peter Jackson, focus on the filmmakers' concerns about the employment status of film workers, and their worry that union Actors Equity was trying to leverage itself into bargaining on contracts for the films.
At the time, the normally media shy Jackson issued an angry four-page statement accusing Australia's Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance of "bully boy" tactics after it joined the unions in calling for actors and workers to boycott the movie before filming had commenced.
"NZ law prohibits engaging in collective bargaining with any labour organisation representing performers who are independent contractors, as film actors clearly are. The NZ Commerce Act claims it would be unlawful to engage with an Australian Union on these matters," Jackson said.
Jackson said the NZ economy would lose hundreds of millions of Warner Brothers dollars if filming did not continue and the country would be "humiliated on the world stage".
A month later, the government passed an urgent amendment clarifying that film industry workers were "contractors", not "employees".
It maintained the threat of a union boycott nearly drove the films offshore, and there was a threat that could still happen if the law wasn't changed.
However, 16 days before the ammendment, New Line's senior vice-president of business affairs, Carolyn Blackwood, emailed the office of former economic development minister Gerry Brownlee, saying there was no such threat.
She was concerned Mr Brownlee had given Sir Peter and his wife, producer Fran Walsh, "a very different impression" about a conversation they had had.
"When you asked me if the decision had been made to move the films offshore, I told you that that decision had not yet been made. And it hasn't," Ms Blackwood wrote.
"As I have said to you on every occasion that we have spoken, we are committed to NZ ... and are not making any decisions to move this production lightly."
However, the producers had received an offer of "a very attractive incentive" from the NSW government, she said, adding that Mr Brownlee had sounded "amenable" to considering a similar offer.
"I hope that you did not take my request as a demand of any sort - it was (and is) truly a request to help us explore any and all options for relief to our set of issues."
Yet on the same day, NZ's Screen Production and Development Association chief executive Penelope Borland told Mr Brownlee's office "urgent resolution of The Hobbit situation" was needed.
"Things are not looking good," she wrote.
Six days later, Sir Peter told Mr Brownlee's office: "There is no connection between the (union) blacklist ... and the choice of production base for The Hobbit. What Warners requires for The Hobbit is the certainty of a stable employment environment."
The documents were released following an order from the Ombudsman after Radio New Zealand made an application under the Official Information Act.
AAP, with Aja Styles