The world has changed since that breathy and exciting day in 2008 when Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro announced they were directing The Hobbit.   After years of endless rumors — Dominic Monaghan will return! Viggo Mortensen will return! It will be two films! No, it will be one film! No, it will be two! —  and vanished release dates, The Hobbit lost it all.  MGM went bankrupt, Del Toro walked away, and not even Jackson has committed to directing the film.

The latest dragon sized roadblock to hit the production comes from the Screen Actors Guild.  SAG sent out a “Member Alert!” on Friday that advised its members not to accept work on non-union production of The Hobbit.  The initial campaign was begun by the New Zealand Actors Equity and its parent, Australian based Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance.  They’re pressuring actors to attend a meeting on Tuesday, and demand Jackson enter into contract negotiations to ensure The Hobbit meet minimum guidelines on wages, working conditions, residuals, etc.

Jackson fired back with a statement on Deadline Hollywood Daily.  It’s long, and very insider baseball, but Jackson refuses to negotiate and insists The Hobbit will follow the non-union rules already established by the Warner Bros and Universal on The Lord of the Rings and King Kong.  He insists the NZ Equity doesn’t speak for all Kiwi actors, and that its actually a vast conspiracy by Australia to make New Zealand look bad.

But buried with in all the talk of unions, guilds, and Australian bitterness comes an upsetting bit of news — if the NZ Equity and SAG make too much trouble, the studio will move The Hobbit filming straight to Eastern Europe.    Now, Eastern Europe is a lovely region of the world, and many fine films have been shot there. But it’s not Middle Earth. New Zealand is Middle Earth, and that’s all there is to it.

We’ll see how this sorts out (and some of our industry readers may have more insight), but for now it’s just more drama for a production that, as Jackson points out, hasn’t even been greenlit.