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From the TORN archives

Silverlode
Forum Admin / Moderator


Mar 29 2007, 8:22pm

Post #1 of 14 (380 views)
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From the TORN archives Can't Post

This article was posted on the front page on December 16, 2001, just three days before the world got its first look at PJ's LOTR. I know that many of you weren't here then to read it, and those who were might have forgotten about it, so I thought this was a good time to bring it out of mothballs. Enjoy!

Filming Three Tales at Once? A Little Madness Helps
By PETER JACKSON


WELLINGTON, New Zealand — In 1998 we were in pre-preproduction. Film-speak for limbo. Pre-preproduction is the tenuous time before a project is greenlit; before the studio commits to spending real money. This is the most vulnerable period for any film because it's the time when your project is most likely to be put into turnaround. That's film-speak for killed off.

The phone rang. It was Richard Taylor, friend, partner and longtime collaborator. Richard said there was a paint factory in Miramar for sale. A huge space. It would make a fantastic studio, it could be a drive-on lot, there was room enough for two, maybe three stages. In spite of the fact that we couldn't afford it, we went to have a look. The site was impressive; we immediately thought of what we could do — how we could best use the space to build sound stages, props stores, wardrobe and make-up rooms. It was perfect for our needs. There was only one problem — we had no idea if we were making a movie.

What if we went into debt up to our eyeballs, bought the site and the film fell over? It was a scenario too horrible to contemplate, but then this was a building too good to let go. What to do? We climbed the stairs that led to the empty cafeteria. No chairs, just tables, clean counters, a worn and yellowing linoleum floor. Wait! There was one thing — sitting on the table nearest the door, a book, turned over as if someone had just put it down and didn't want to lose his place. We walked over and as we drew closer, things started to feel a little strange because I could now read the title — I could see the words "'The Lord of the Rings' by J. R. R. Tolkien" on the battered front cover, and for a moment we all just stood there. I looked at Richard. I knew now we would buy the factory and that somehow the film would be made.
I first read "The Lord of the Rings" as an adolescent. It's a dense novel, a sprawling, complex monster of a book populated with a prolific number of characters caught up in a narrative structure that, frankly, does not lend itself to conventional storytelling.

Imaginatively, this story is a filmmaker's dream, but translating it to the screen is quite another matter. Nine major characters vying for screen time in a story that has not one key villain, but two (each with different agendas) who have almost identical sounding names, is by no means an ideal screen story scenario. Setting aside for a moment the challenge of distinguishing Saruman from Sauron (both of whom reside in eerily similar tall, dark towers), you are faced with the larger problem of how to be faithful to the world of the story and somehow not send an unitiated audience into information overload.

Not to mention that we were embarking on something never before attempted: making three films at once on a 274-day shooting schedule that required filming 6 days a week in more than 100 locations with more than 20 major speaking roles.
"The Lord of the Rings," published in the mid-1950's, was intended as a prehistory to our own world. It was perceived by Tolkien to be a small but significant episode in a vast alternate mythology constructed entirely out of his own imagination. A British scholar of language, Tolkien drew upon his formidable imaginative and intellectual powers to create a fabric of mythic history spanning many thousands of years. And that became our problem: What to include? And what to leave out? For the telling of this story seemed to offer up endless possibility. As Tolkien says, "The road goes ever on and on," a reference not only to the path we take through life but also, it seems, to the nature of storytelling itself.

It is late 1999 in Queenstown, N.Z., two days after record rainfall caused the worst flooding in the history of the district. We have suffered some setbacks; the weather has stuffed the schedule. Two of the actors, Sean Bean and Orlando Bloom, have been caught between two landslides and are now trapped in a tiny town in the middle of the South Island. They have been taken in by a kindly woman who has offered them food and a bed. They were last reported to be cooking spaghetti and cracking into a bottle of red wine.

We have no choice but to reschedule their scenes. The decision has been made to shoot the lake-shore scenes instead. The location manager shakes his head: "We can't do that." All eyes in the room swivel in his direction as he finishes somewhat apologetically: "The lake is under water."

There were 1,300 people employed on the crew. At the height of this insanity we had seven units shooting multiple elements simultaneously for the three different movies that make up "Lord of the Rings": "The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King." The "video village" was my constant companion on the set. This consisted of a bank of monitors relaying flickering images of indifferent quality, from second units scattered all around the country. Most of our shoot was spent on location in wildly isolated places, and we were completely at the mercy of New Zealand's temperamental weather. There were days when we could not get to a location because of unseasonal snow. There were other days when roads were washed away and sets simply disappeared in overnight floods.

It became a sort of dark expectation that whenever we turned up on a new location the weather would turn bad — and sure enough, the locals would announce: "Hasn't rained like this in 16 years!"

There were moments of absurdity that will stay with me forever. The sight of a velveteen La-Z-Boy armchair suspended in mid-air against a backdrop of towering mountains. Watching as it is slowly lowered on to plush green grass — a field in the middle of nowhere — and John Rhys Davies, lurching gratefully toward it between takes: the only chair wide enough to seat him in full Gimli costume. Or making the long drive back to our accommodations after a hard day of filming on an isolated lake. It is freezing cold, we are all exhausted, night is falling, when suddenly a figure darts across the road in front of us! I could swear that that was Aragorn, or rather Viggo Mortensen, still dressed as the warrior Aragorn, clutching a fishing rod! The figure disappears into some bush. Hours later he returns to the hotel, triumphant with his catch. And then there was the memorable conversation one of our actors had with Geoff Murphy, one of our second-unit directors, when upon asking for some clues as to his character's motivation he was told: "I don't know — just run like a bastard!"
It was always a relief to get inside a studio where shooting conditions were much more controllable, if not always comfortable. Air-conditioning, a vital component on any set for people in heavy costume, arrived in the form of long, snaking hoses that would blast out cool air at ground level. It was, at best, a makeshift measure designed to keep escalating temperatures at bearable levels. Walking behind the Rivendell set one day — the Elven refuge where the fellowship of the ring is actually formed — I was taken aback to find an extra, dressed as a dwarf, with an air-conditioning hose stuck up his tunic. The look of profound relief on his face rapidly changed into one of horror when he realized he was not alone and he quickly extracted himself, blurting out, "It's not what you think!" before making a hasty exit.
There is something inherently comic about spending all day in the company of people wearing false noses, flowing hair and ridiculously long beards. It was not uncommon to see as many as four Gandalfs in wizard regalia roaming around the studio at any one time; Gandalf stunt double, Gandalf stunt rider, Big Gandalf (a seven-foot-plus actor who was used to make our hobbits look three and a half feet tall) and even — on occasion — Ian McKellen himself. This is not taking into account the Gandalf digital double, who took on tasks in the Mines of Moria that mere humans could not expect to survive. Ian was not the only actor to find himself with a virtual "other." All the main cast had their faces scanned and body movements captured by Weta Digital, our New Zealand-based special-effects company, which grew from a staff of 30 to more than 250 during the course of production.

The 14 months it took to film the trilogy could accurately be described as a protracted bout of willful madness. Those who weren't mad going in were close to being certifiable by the end. The sheer length of the shoot and the grinding tiredness that enveloped everyone in those last weeks was a form of suffering akin to that of Frodo, the Hobbit, staggering up the lower slopes of Mount Doom. Dailies would sometimes be four hours long — only the most stoic sat through them. On more than one occasion the pathos of a moving scene would be interrupted by the honking snores of an exhausted crew member who had failed to stay awake.

Throughout all this insanity, the feeling I had when I saw that book on the table in the abandoned paint factory never left me. No matter how close we got to the edge of the abyss (and we got pretty close sometimes), fate, it seems, would always show up. It showed up in the 11th hour after Miramax had put the films into turnaround and Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne at New Line Cinema made the jaw-dropping decision to take control of "Lord of the Rings" and make not two films but three. It showed up when the project landed on the desk of a New Line executive, Mark Ordesky, a longtime fan of the books. And, finally, it showed up when a dream team of actors, along with the veteran producer Barrie Osborne, all said yes, they'd come to New Zealand for 18 months.

If Professor Tolkien wrote the book he wanted to read —we got to make the movies we wanted to see. Fate, hard work, good will and yes — madness — saw us through.

The New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson is the director of "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" and is co-writer of the screenplay with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.



You can find this article in the TORN archives here: http://www.theonering.net/perl/newsview/8/1008522263"


Silverlode

Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream:
The genius and the plan thus inspired
Depart me and I, entering a room,
Find myself on the threshold, stand still
And wonder what I came to do there.


Ataahua
Superuser / Moderator


Mar 29 2007, 9:06pm

Post #2 of 14 (124 views)
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"a protracted bout of willful madness" [In reply to] Can't Post

Sounds like a fair description. Cool

The story of the abandoned copy of LOTR in the paint factory's cafeteria is goosebumps territory. And when I remember the DVD extras showing Barrie Osbourne taking charge at the end of ROTK to ensure all the deadlines are met, the references to madness and grinding tiredness really hit home.

Thanks for posting this Silverlode. It was fun to revisit LOTR film-making just before the fandom exploded!

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauron’s master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded b*****d with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.


Ataahua's stories


Morwen
Rohan


Mar 29 2007, 9:16pm

Post #3 of 14 (112 views)
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Thanks, Silverlode [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't know how I missed that the first time around. The story about the battered copy of LOTR lying in the abandoned cafeteria, waiting to be found, gave me the chills. Those movies really were meant to happen.

I must admit I envy the "kindly woman" who took in Orlando Bloom and Sean Bean during inclement weather, offering them food and a bed. I'm sure I would have enjoyed their spaghetti.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I wish you could have been there
When she opened up the door
And looked me in the face
Like she never did before
I felt about as welcome
As a Wal-Mart Superstore--John Prine


Kyriel
Forum Admin / Moderator


Mar 29 2007, 9:54pm

Post #4 of 14 (122 views)
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Aw, great article [In reply to] Can't Post

All that talk about the early filming troubles reminded me of this parody I posted long, long ago. I don't usually like to toot my own horn, but it seems appropriate here.


Sung to the tune of "Down Under" by Men at Work

Traveling in New Zealand Country
On a hobbit trail, with our guide PJ
We met a strange lady
Said she was Arwen
She had a sword, but she was charmin'
And she said,

Do you film in a land down under?
Where waters flow and sets go under?
Can you hear, can you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.

Aragorn was a man called Stuart
He was twenty-four and a bit too short.
We said, did you read-a your Tolkien?
He got fired; now Viggo as Aragorn's smokin'
And he says,

(chorus)

Floating on a flood in Queenstown
Now the set's gone; I'm trying not to drown,
I said to the Man are you trying to kill me,
For daring to film in the land of NZ?
And he said oh,

(chorus)

Those left standing will make millions writing books on the way it should have been. --Incubus

(This post was edited by Kyriel on Mar 30 2007, 10:34pm)


Ataahua
Superuser / Moderator


Mar 29 2007, 10:20pm

Post #5 of 14 (97 views)
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*mods up!* [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauron’s master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded b*****d with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.


Ataahua's stories


Morwen
Rohan


Mar 29 2007, 11:53pm

Post #6 of 14 (99 views)
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*Applause*/ [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I wish you could have been there
When she opened up the door
And looked me in the face
Like she never did before
I felt about as welcome
As a Wal-Mart Superstore--John Prine


Radhruin
Rohan


Mar 29 2007, 11:54pm

Post #7 of 14 (106 views)
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What a great article [In reply to] Can't Post

I remember reading this when it was posted way back then, and haven't seen it since then. Thanks so much for posting it again. I particularly like this section:


Quote

Imaginatively, this story is a filmmaker's dream, but translating it to the screen is quite another matter. Nine major characters vying for screen time in a story that has not one key villain, but two (each with different agendas) who have almost identical sounding names, is by no means an ideal screen story scenario. Setting aside for a moment the challenge of distinguishing Saruman from Sauron (both of whom reside in eerily similar tall, dark towers), you are faced with the larger problem of how to be faithful to the world of the story and somehow not send an unitiated audience into information overload.



Seriously. Can you imagine looking at the project from that point of view and the immensity of the adaptation possibilities ahead? Wow. That must have been very exciting and pretty terrifying! I would have been shaking in my boots.

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."
~Oscar Wilde


Finding Frodo
Tol Eressea


Mar 30 2007, 3:05am

Post #8 of 14 (99 views)
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Wow! [In reply to] Can't Post

*goose bumps*
I don't recall hearing that story about finding the book in the factory before. Thanks for posting this!

Where's Frodo?


weaver
Half-elven

Mar 30 2007, 2:58pm

Post #9 of 14 (91 views)
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What I really want to know... [In reply to] Can't Post

...is what page the book was opened to!

Thank you for thinking to post this. I love that these films had a moment of acting only on hope and getting a "sign" like that. Very nice to know that people working to bring LOTR to the screen had their own kind of "Tolkien moment"!

Weaver


mae govannen
Tol Eressea

Mar 31 2007, 10:37am

Post #10 of 14 (76 views)
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Have they had a 'sign' for 'The Hobbit' yet?... [In reply to] Can't Post

Goosebumps and sudden tears of sacred emotion while reading just now for the first time about the wonderful, incredible 'sign they got for LOTR as a confirmation that they would do it!!! Did he tell about that anywhere else ever?
Couldn't that 'sign' qualify as one of those 'eucatastrophes' the dear Professor loved (and so do I...), as it put an end once and for all to their worries?!? Wink
The article is quite well written, by the way... The talent of PJ as a story-teller, once again!...
But I guess for the two other films PJ never got the time to sit down and write anything at all, poor man!!!
Instead, he did all the supplements to the DVDs... a treasure and a treat too, and even more so than this 'mere' piece of writing... Thanks so much for bringing it out again, Silverlode! Smile

'Is everything sad going to come untrue?'
(Sam, 'The Field of Cormallen', in 'The Return of the King'.)


Noneoftheabove
Lorien


Mar 31 2007, 12:37pm

Post #11 of 14 (72 views)
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Too good to be true! [In reply to] Can't Post

Somebody in PJ's crew had to have planted that book to inspire Mr. Jackson to buy the studio warehouse... It's just too coincidental! Perhaps the truth is indeed stranger than fiction!?. (On a side note, I wish Peter had mentioned what part of the book it was left on!)


That was a most enjoyable read, thank you for re-posting that here for those like myself who may not have caught it the first time!




Daughter of Nienna
Grey Havens


Apr 1 2007, 7:45pm

Post #12 of 14 (89 views)
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this is fantastic [In reply to] Can't Post

I really enjoyed reading this. To think, Alan Lee, who we have been discussing all week (RR), was still working hard on the films.

A link to images you movie folks might appreciate: (there is a respons post in the thread with eve more emiges)

http://newboards.theonering.net/...forum_view_expanded;

http://newboards.theonering.net/...forum_view_expanded;

Thank you so much, Silverlode for posting this...what a treat!

enjoy!

Alan Lee Discussion week: starts March 25th in the Reading Room
Discussion Ideas, Alan Lee–Introduction, Scanned images for Alan Lee Discussion.

Art Gallery Revised, ORC pic of Hawaii friends, my drawings,
Aloha & Mahalo, Websites Directory
Nienna: “ those who hearken to her learn pity, and endurance in hope . . . All those who wait in Mandos cry to her, for she brings strength to the spirit and turns sorrow to wisdom." — Valaquenta


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Apr 3 2007, 2:48am

Post #13 of 14 (73 views)
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Would you like more goosebumps? [In reply to] Can't Post

This is one of the best stories to come out of that time, and I love to tell it!

Now, how about another: this is from Quickbeam's Out on a Limb in Green Books, his series called Where the Stars are Strange. It's all well worth a read! And about three-quarters of the way down the page in Part 4 you come across this experience he had, during a break while he was an extra in the filming of scenes in Gondor (the beginning of Part 1 explains the cat):
I took off my helmet (delighted again at the beautiful wings traced along the sides) and I took her advice. I took that short walk around the outside wall. It was the most life-shattering walk I would ever take.

There stood the Main Gate of Minas Tirith.

I was a tiny figure standing mute before its glorious might. It was the most resplendent, awesomely crafted thing I had ever seen. Nay, I could never have dreamed up this. Standing almost 20 meters high (four stories), it was built into a solid wall of bleached white stone. The front of the Gate held carvings and bas relief sculptures of beautifully dressed, terribly handsome Kings of the past. These were surely figures of Númenor. Two of the figures were proportionally large, other smaller ones were inset on the sides. Different hues of grey and white helped contrast the Kingly figures against the heavily drawn designs on the gate itself.

It made me feel, in an instant, that I had transported completely into a powerful, real history that dwarfed my comprehension.

My senses locked out all sound, as if volume dial in my mind had been suddenly shut off. This was a moment that pulled me outside of my self. I felt incredibly moved at the glory and ancientry this Gate represented. I knew the history behind this Gate, the many thousands of years of turmoil and strife that was behind this noble structure. I knew what was behind it, and I knew the horror that would soon bring it down. I could feel the weight of it. I was overwhelmed.

What happened to my heart? Why am I crying?

Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone transparent, a vague figure, standing close. He was a slight, older gentleman, dressed in simple, academic attire and a tweed coat. He seemed very kind as he smiled at me. He chewed a small pipe in his mouth. I recognized this spirit immediately. In his arms he held a little orange cat, who purred softly. A feeling of comfort flowed over me.

He looked at me and then looked back up at the Gate, and smiled broadly, seeming to say, "They really got it right, didn’t they?"

I said nothing. I could only stare up at it, the tears for some reason would not stop coming.

Later, sitting in the lunch tent, I would try to explain to Sukhita and Laurelle the feelings that ran through me. I failed completely. They looked at me with a strange mix of curiosity and concern, but in all my years this was the first time I truly lost my speech.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!"


hasufel
Rivendell


Apr 4 2007, 6:16pm

Post #14 of 14 (88 views)
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Thanks! [In reply to] Can't Post

Wow, what a great story.

Jackson really does have the gift of storytelling.

Thanks for bringing that article back. I enjoy reading things like that now, more than before.

 
 

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