"We are doing two movies, just to clarify," Jackson said in his first-ever in-person Comic-Con appearance. "[But] you're probably going to want to know that Bilbo Baggins is going to be played by ... and I think he's really going to be good," he said, deliberately garbling the microphone as he mentioned the supposed casting choice. "No, I just thought before we got started, I'd give you a little bit of an update on The Hobbit. Because everything's a process, a pipeline, we're about three or four weeks away from delivering our first draft of the script of the first movie to Warner Brothers."
Jackson spent a few minutes explaining why the development of The Hobbit has taken so long. "One of the things which is interesting is, as you obviously know, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit first in 1936, and about 20 years later he published Lord of the Rings. He'd expanded and developed and made the world of Middle-earth way bigger and more detailed than he knew about when he wrote The Hobbit. He did a lot of retrospective detail, so The Lord of the Rings, the novel, contains a lot of information about what was happening during the years of The Hobbit and events that were happening outside that particular storyline, things that were happening behind the scenes in Middle-earth."
According to Jackson, part of the appeal of returning to the series was tying together all of the disparate strands of Tolkien's work, not to mention the narratives of his existing adaptations of it. "Tolkien never got to combine them in one book, but one of the things we were really excited about when we got to thinking about it is we got to take that expanded information that he created later on and apply it to The Hobbit and make it fuller and more epic and sort of really put The Hobbit into context of the greater activity that's happening on Middle-earth at that time. So to do all that, we figured we really needed two epic films to be able to really tell that story. So that's the plan."
At the same time, Jackson confessed that they had yet to even finalize a plan for the films. "The film's not greenlit yet," Jackson said. "The studio has to read the script and like it, and then once we have a script, we can do a budget, and we get to figure out how much the films are going to cost. It's a process that we haven't even got to the point where we're greenlit yet, so if any of you want to see The Hobbit, you can drop Warner Brothers a line and encourage them to be kind to us."
Building of Hobbiton has begun!Jackson added: "I know there's a lot of speculation about casting and who's playing different roles. I just want to say, because it may avoid some of the questions, we haven't gotten to the stage where we can offer anybody a role yet, because obviously we have to be greenlit. We have to have the authority to make offers to actors, and we have to be able to give them a schedule of when we want them to work and how long we need them to work for. And obviously actors are going to want to read a script, so we have to have a script for them."
All things considered, they were making progress and hoped to have some more concrete announcements in the months to come, Jackson said. "We're about three or four weeks away from delivering that draft, and then we can start the process of the budget and everything," he said. "So probably in about two months is when we're going to be able to actually start to offer people roles. So despite everything and all of the gossip you may have read, we honestly have not offered anybody a role in the film."
The current plan is to release the first “Hobbit” film in December of 2011 and the second one in December of 2012. This is assuming everything comes together and the JRR Tolkien heirs lawsuit doesn't derail the production.