Sunday, August 30, 1998
Harry here, with the results of the 2nd Peter Jackson Q & A about THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Peter and you fans did a wonderful job with this, and well.... I am sure you will be pleased with the results you will see below. Peter will be in RED and the questions will be in BLACK, to make it as plain as possible. When you click on the TALK BACK function, your TALK BACK will be posted to the first page you clicked on, to see this Q & A. That way we won’t be crowding this already stuffed page.
Without further ado, here’s that guy that will be bringing us THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Peeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeter Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaacksonnnnnnnn....
PJ: Here we go again! Before I launch into the questions, let me bring you up to speed with where my brain is at. As most of you know, we had developed LotR as two films for Miramax, and we're now reworking the material as three movies for New Line.
As a result, we are in the process of rethinking the structure and narrative, and making some quite substantial changes to what we had done before. I mention this simply to put my answers in context: we have written one draft of The Fellowship of the Ring, we're half way through The Two Towers and haven't even started The Return of the King. Therefore, I'm doing my best to address these questions before the trilogy is actually written. We will be doing several more drafts of all three scripts before any shooting begins, so please understand that while I will give you accurate information based on what I know today, things will continue to change and develop over the next few months.
1. Alright, let’s kick this Q & A off with a good ol intelligent concern. For me, this question really gets down to the tone and seriousness of the film as Denethor is... well... an amazingly tragic character, and his sons are even more so. But Bonny here gets to it far better than I....
“I am very concerned about the way Denethor is going to be portrayed. In the Rankin/Bass production, he only appeared in one scene--the scene where he incinerates himself--and he is portrayed as a one-dimensional madman. (And Faramir is nowhere to be seen.) However, I always felt there were more dimensions to the character that needed to be explored, I saw him as a very tragic character under the circumstances: the death of his older son Boromir, the conditions of his office, his eminent removal, the assault on his city, and the seemingly inevitable death of his younger son Faramir. So the question is this: Will Denethor be portrayed as a madman, or will he be given the full dimensions he has in the novel?
PJ: I agree with you. In our old two film screenplay, Denethor is probably a little one dimensional and I think we can do a lot better when we write The Return of the King, which we will start in a few weeks. It is easy to portray him simply as a mad villain, but layering a tragic subtext throughout his scenes will be far more interesting.
The way that we often write (not just this project, but others) is to provide different layers over subsequent drafts ... i.e write the villain in one draft; get that working, then go back over the scenes and humanise him in the next draft. It makes it much easier when you're dealing with a huge volume of material.
By the way, I've never seen the Rankin/Bass "RotK", so if anyone can tell me where I can get it, I'd be very grateful. I am curious.
Also at the beginning of The Two Towers, when Boromir is killed, are you going to do it like the book, beginning with Aragorn and having him find that Boromir has been shot, or will you actually show him being shot with arrows?”
PJ: We are running that sequence in real time, actually showing him defending Merry and Pippin and getting shot. We're also sliding that sequence into the end of the first movie.
2. Bonny had this second paragraph of questions, that really gets into the structure of the storytelling, and whether or not it will mirror the non-linear story telling of the dear Professor’s. Here’s Bonny again....
“The Fellowship of the Ring is told in a very linear format, but The Two Towers and The Return of the King jump around in time a bit. (ROTK begins at Minas Tirith, then jumps back to the previous day, according to the time lines in the back.) They also split the novels into two halves: one half devoted solely to the battles in the west involving Merry and Pippin, the other half devoted to Frodo and Sam. Will the films follow this format, or tell the stories sequentially, integrating the two halves?"
PJ: We will not be following the "Book Three, Book Four" type format. We will be intercutting between the various storylines. In fact, we are grappling with intercutting between Frodo & Sam, and the events at Edoras and Helm's Deep right now in our work on The Two Towers.
"I suppose I should include this also: the two productions I have seen (okay, one was radio) both include Gandalf's capture by Saruman. Will this be seen as part of the first half of the film, or be told, as in the book, as a flashback during the Council of Elrond?"
PJ: At the moment, we have the best of both worlds: we are showing Gandalf's capture by Saruman in "real time", but showing his escape as flashback during the Rivendell council.
"Also, will you be including Tom Bombadil? The Ralph Bakshi production cut it out, as did the BBC radio drama.”
PJ: At this point in time Bombadil is out. The main reason is not just time or pace, but one of simple narrative focus ... the Bombadil sequence has so little to do with Sauron or the Ring, it is difficult to justify the screen time. It simply doesn't give us any vital new information. A very simplest rule of thumb that I use in movie storytelling is to try and further the story with each new scene.
I'm flicking through our Fellowship script ... it is 138 pages long. The Hobbits leave Hobbiton on page 30, and arrive at Rivendell on page 63. Even that 33 pages on the road feels a little long and will probably get trimmed in our next draft.
3. Alright, now we move on to the accents. Leah E. had the following to say...
“I'm really curious to know whether there is going to be any consistency in the accents of the characters, and if so what accents they are going to use. In (my) ideal world, Frodo, Bilbo, Pippin, and Merry would speak English Country Squire and Sam would speak English Country Bumpkin--it seems important since the hobbit world is so closely linked to the idealized English countryside. Then if the other species had accents peculiar to themselves, that would be pretty cool. Or failing that, it would be GREAT if no one spoke with an American accent as that often seems to bring fantasy worlds crashing down. I am American, by the way. I just don't think it would suit Tolkien. Thanks! Leah E.”
PJ: My preference is to use English accents as I think an American accent would feel as out of place in Middle-earth. If you are making Braveheart or Rob Roy, a King Arthur, or Robin Hood movie, then a basic asthetic sense says that American accents are not appropriate (as in Costner's Robin Hood). The Lord of the Rings is a classic English story. However, I think that New Line are concerned that having no American accents will alienate a US audience, so that debate has yet to be resolved. There may be a way of figuring something out.
4. Alrighty, here comes the ‘casting’ question out of the group. The following comes from Ivenshang:
“You have said repeatedly that you want unknowns for the Hobbits and would tolerate more famous (but inexpensive) people for the supporting cast. Define famous (Sean Connery is obviously famous, but would Jeremy Northam qualify?)"
PJ: With apologises to Jeremy Northam, I would not define him as famous! Not today at any rate.
"define unknown: are these hobbits-to-be newcomers with little experience (hence dicey prospects for the heavy duty acting required later in the saga) or simply professional actors who haven't gotten a big break before?"
PJ: Both of those would apply. I like working with "unknowns". It can be dicey, but also hugely satisfying and exciting. Kate Winslet had never been in a film before Heavenly Creatures, and who had ever seen Ralph Fiennes before Schindler's List? These people are out there ... somewhere in the world is the perfect Frodo and perfect Sam ... and we will find them!
"and also can you confirm or deny the following casting rumors: Patrick Magoohan as Gandalf; Kate Winslet as Arwen or Eowyn; Christopher Lee as Gandalf, Saruman or Denethor; Charlton Heston as Denethor, Gandalf or Theoden; Sam Neill as Aragorn?”
PJ: None of those rumours are true. At this point in time, NO RUMOURS ARE TRUE! If you hear rumours, then you can safely assume they are 100% FALSE!
No "name" actors, or their agents have been approached in anyway. That's not to say that any of the above actors would not be great for the trilogy. Several of them we would seriously consider ... it just hasn't happened yet.
We started casting in Dublin and London before Christmas and will ramp up first thing in the new year, with casting spreading into LA, Australia and New Zealand. At this stage, we are auditioning lessor known actors for all the major roles. In March we will review the results and then strategise with New Line about where to place "name" actors ... and who those actors might be. So assume any "rumours" between now and March to be hogwash.
And from Harlequin will you be working or casting any past Peter Jackson cast folk like “Jake Busey (my favorite for Legolas: agree or disagree?), Clive Merrison, Jed Brophy, Peter Dobson, Timothy Balme?”
PJ: I would love to work with any of those actors again. The Lord of the Rings has to be the ultimate example of the saying "the right actor for the right role" and that's the philosophy we will follow. We will find and cast the right actors for the very specific roles that LotR requires. Whether I have worked with them before, is a secondary consideration. So the answer at this stage: I don't know.
Also Peter, I’ve been being deluged with e-mail about casting for a long long time. And perhaps the question that most came to my mind about it is this. When George Lucas was casting STAR WARS, he assembled multiple ‘groups’ of actors to see how the chemistry was between them. As they went through various readings the pool was narrowed down to the group we finally got on screen. How are you assembling your final ‘group’?
PJ: That is sound thinking, especially for an "ensemble" cast - which the Fellowship obviously is. Geography might go against us ... if we have a favourite Frodo in London, a Sam in Sydney, a Merry in LA and a Pippin in NZ, then it will be hard to get them together during the auditioning. We will see. On Heavenly Creatures we got around that by having Kate read a scene in London and Mel read a scene in NZ and then we cut the two performances together on video to get a sense of what they were like as a couple.
5. Now we move on to the weapons and armor of LORD OF THE RINGS....
“Do you intend to have your people research bladed-weapon fighting so that the swordfighting, axe hacking etc looks believable, or are you just going for the Phantom Empire approach (ie let the actors do their own thing with the weapons)"
PJ: We will make it look believable. One of our artists, John Howe is a member of one of Europe's most authentic medieval reinactment groups ... and he is making sure that the weapons and equipment have a very realistic quality, whilst still looking original in terms of design.
We have had various workshops with sword masters, both European and oriental. We have also had workshops with one of the only guys in NZ skilled at firing an authentic English longbow. We are working hard at establishing unique fighting styles for the different races of Middle-earth.
"also how much stuntwork is required for the major characters"
PJ: A difficult question to answer now. Obviously the stuntwork will be dictated by the final scripts and fight choreography.
"and how do you intend to handle the Race of the three Hunters?”
PJ: I assume you're referring to the sequence where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli pursue Merry and Pippin? It pretty much follows the book.
And then Joe Piela of Lonely Mountain Forge asks this:
“How is the Weta Workshop handling the enormous job of producing huge amounts of chainmail, other armor, and weapons to equip the thousands of extras appearing in the movies?”
PJ: The armor making is well underway. "Hero" suits are being made in steel, with background suits in fibreglass. They is no better way to make steel armour and weapons than the way it was done 600 years ago ... we have a foundry set up at Weta. Steel is heated red-hot and beaten on anvils! It looks very authentic!
Our hero chainmail is being manufactured in India of all places. There is a company there that can make square-section mail very quickly and cheaply (Amnesty International have assured us they are not using child labour).
For the background suits of mail we are using the old knitted string technique. A wonderful Wellington Knitting Club is producing about one suit per person per day (all these ladies are over 70 years old!)
Background and fighting weapons are being cast in a strong, rigid rubber material, that will not wobble (did anyone see the wobbling axe in the last shot of Braveheart?)
6. Heh heh heh.... The geeks are doing pretty good thus far, so let us continue. The almighty Andy came in with this question about Sam and Frodo’s journey....
“How do you intend to show Frodo and Sams journey from the Breaking of the fellowship right through to the ascent to the pass of Cirith Ungol. In the Novel this particular part of the journey was given quite alot of time to develop indeed it was given a complete book in the Two Towers. The reason I ask this is because this entire section is a slow build up of tension were Tolkien tried to slowly increase the horrors and power of Mordor which is fine in the context of a novel but quite simply there is not enough action or excitement for a film.it would be a shame to see the first part of frodo and sams journey brushed over to make way for the more epic events that happen to their fellow friends in the Two towers".
PJ: This is the stuff we are currently writing , so we are aware of the problems that you point out. There is much more action with the events in Rohan, so in a way that becomes the "A Story" or driving narrative of the 2nd movie.
We are developing the Frodo and Sam story in two ways: We are putting a lot of emphasis on the Gollum/Smeagol schizoid personality split and how that impacts on Frodo and Sam, and also making their capture by the Faramir's troops as tense as possible. It's interesting that in the Two Towers, the greatest threat to the Ring comes not from the Orcs but from Man ... and we want to really strengthen that drama.
Our experience here is a good example of what we are discovering during this writing process. Everything is in the books to one extent or another ... we have little need to make things up, but we do need to be selective in what we emphasis. In some areas we are taking things that Tolkien brushed over and developing them more, because it supports the narrative drive of the film ... and deleting some things entirely because they don't support what we're doing with the film at that point.
"Also will you show the 3 assault's upon lorien and the siege of Dale and Erebor in the Return of the king or will you merely refer to them in passing conversation between characters?”
PJ: At this stage, they are neither shown or referred to in our old scripts, but as we have yet to write The Return of the King, anything could happen. Showing the assaults on Lorien could be great. We are definitely finding that as we now have more screen time with the trilogy, we are able to include much more of this type of detail. Keep your fingers crossed!
7. Here is a question from Doug about the whole “Children’s film” mark that he fears will be stamped on these films. So tell us Peter... How many Ewoks will you put in this movie and will you tear them up or let them kill the orcs?
“This question probably is asked a lot, but, What measure are taken to keep people from immediately thinking that this might be a children's film? Some people (and studio executives) might have some negative feelings, seeing the main characters being short people with curly hair and hairy feet. I had this fear after Entertainment Weekly said that it was a very shaky decision to give Peter Jackson 140 Million dollars to make a "Hobbit" trilogy.”
Your question really falls into the marketing domain. I know from experience that people who haven't read LotR think it is a children's book - getting mixed up with The Hobbit, no doubt. It is the job of the New Line marketing department to educate film goers as to exactly the type of movie they should expect. That is helped by having a great trailer and poster, of course.
The films we are making will be PG13. However, let me assure you that there is no pressure from New Line to gear them towards a children's audience. They are smart enough to know that The Lord of the Rings was huge in the sixties, and most of those readers are now 50 years old. The intention is to make it neither childish, nor overly dark ... a good solid action adventure with intelligence and depth.
I was talking with a New Line executive the other day, and we were saying that the battle scenes should push the PG13 envelope, not in terms of violence, but shear intensity. I also wouldn't rule out the possibility of "extra battle footage", unsuitable for a PG13, for future video releases either.
“One last thing, I would like to thank both Harry and Peter Jackson, If I did not read what people felt about the books, I would never have picked them up, and I would have never realized Tolkien's great work.”
8. I’ve been inundated with query after query about Gollum. Will he be a fishy, froggy thing. How will evil twist and turn a Hobbit into a Gollum? Will he be an actor in a costume, a puppet, a cgi thing? However the best person to ask all of this stuff was our dear man Cliff, and here’s what he had to say...
“I submit the $0.64 question: Rumor has it that all main characters will be live actors except one: which will be a completely CGI creature. This must be Gollum, then? One would assume you would not create a "Yoda"-type Gollum that was a fancy electronic hand-puppet".
PJ: Gollum will be completely CGI. His performance has to be spectacular - way beyond anything we have yet seen in CGI land. WETA are developing vast amounts of new code to deal with this. New modelling codes, new skinning code, new bone and muscle code - muscle that actually acts the same as the real organic tissue. His performance will be based largely on motion capture - an under used, under rated technique that if done badly can be terrible, but if used well is amazingly life-like.
The Gollum design is finished and approved. How do I describe him? Not too fishy or froggy - a little I guess, but we took a great deal of care to make him believable. You have to accept that he was once like Frodo, but that the power of the Ring has kept him alive way beyond his years. We were very careful to give him a range of expressions from the evil of Gollum to the sympathy of Smeagol. His design is based on a sculpture created by the WETA workshop guys. This has been scanned into the computer used a NZ invented scanner that reproduces all the detail of the original sculpture - he doesn't look in the slightest like a CG model.
Throw out any thoughts or concerns you have about CG creatures you've seen .. this is gonna be different. Gollum's going to be cool!
"And if you do make Gollum as completely CGI, the biggest question is what will you look for in his Voice? Clearly the voice-actor must make Gollum suitably wretched and vile, but at the same time pitiful, as his relationship with the Hobbits in the latter part of the story is so important. A whole generation of Tolkien fans have a strong impression of the Gollum that Brother Theodore voiced for the Rankin/Bass television movies. Will your Gollum have this guttural, twisted monster voice or will he sound like a Hobbit (which he is, ostensibly)?”
PJ: We have yet to cast Gollum's voice, but I would imagine it should reflect the same twisted deterioration that has happened to his body.
9. Alot of people are curious about your research for writing with Fran Walsh the 3 scripts for the films. Did you consult the Professors various notes, The Silmarillion, or Tolkien scholars works? Here’s what Josh was curious about...
“Are there any (at least possibly tentative) plans to feature references to Tolkien's *other* masterwork, "The Silmarillion", in dialogue, or perhaps, in flashback (such as Aragorn's recounting of the Beren and Luthien tale in "Fellowship"?
PJ: We have a vast library of every book we can find that has been written by and about Tolkien and Middle-earth. I can't claim to have read them all cover-to-cover, but we consult them when nessacary.
The Silmarillion is obviously very useful, but it does not feature in our trilogy. There is cross-over material that appears in both, like the history of the Rings and Sauron, and the Last Alliance, Elendil and Isildur. Like I said earlier, material that does not have direct bearing on our story is difficult to fit in. However, there are many references to the early Ages in our dialogue.
10. I know you have been seen buying butt-loads of model kits at modeling shows and shops. Undoubtedly this comes from being a geek. Give us your impressions, as a geek, of the modeling work that is being done on the film. Which ‘kit’ is going to be the one we’ll all die for?
PJ: The model kit analogy is very apt, since all of our creature and armour designing is based on resin or garage kit techniques. After doing a series of drawings, we start marquetting the designs as small (12") sculptures, using Super-sculpty and casting in resin. Richard Taylor's team must have produced nearly 300 such sculptures already, with many more to go. There are about 50 Uruk-Hai marquettes, dozens of Orcs and Gollums, Rohan and Gondorian soldiers. Just before Christmas they finished a series of design marquettes of Dwarves in full battle armour. They looked great! Any one would make a great kit.
WETA has a team of about 6 main sculptors who do beautiful work. This stuff is great, just as I thought their Kong dinosaurs where the best I'd ever seen.
Don't worry ... we're shooting miles of video footage of all this stuff for the "Special Edition" laser and DVD supplements!
"Will you beat NEW LINE into setting up the toy license with McFarlane toys? Ok ok ok, yeah I know... this is all stuff that is so far away you don’t want to even think about it, but when you walk into the Weta studios and you see the work that’s being done.... describe how it makes you feel as a lifelong geek..."
PJ: It feels amazing ... it's an honour and privilege to be working on a project like this. It transcends film making and becomes something you love doing every second of the day. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
11. Once again I’m being deluged with questions about scoring, but I don’t want to waste a question with it, because that’s a decision you’ll probably make in a couple of years, but if you have any thoughts comment on em, otherwise get on to question eleven which is really from Underdog:
“Peter, first I want to thank you for being human enough to get down in the mud and play with us. I’m curious. From what I have read, you started off 4 months ago with two scripts based on a 3 book series. You said that they were titled “The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The War of the Ring”. You also said that you were going to basically add 30 pages to the total page length of the scripts when converting from 2 to 3 scripts. What I’m curious about is the breaks. Obviously when you had it structured as a 2 film story, you felt like you had a great breaking point. How was it originally going to be broken down, and how has that changed?"
PJ: The first film in the 2 film version climaxed with the battle of Helm's Deep.
"Is it now going to be broken up as they were in the books? What was the most daunting task in turning the 2 scripts into 3?”
PJ: Yes. it's pretty much following the books now, which is actually a good thing. Ever since we starting working on the trilogy, it has felt like a much more natural way to tell the story. We also can include most of the key characters and events in a way that just wasn't possible with the two films.
The most daunting thing is to shape an ending for "The Fellowship of the Ring". Our original Part One had the advantage of a victorious battle to end with, but The Fellowship obviously ends in a very "up in the air" kinda way. We are not changing anything in the book, but we are trying to pitch it in a positive way, so it doesn't feel like too much of a bummer. A lot of this has to do with Frodo's character, and the way we are developing him.
Apart from that, nothing else is daunting about going from 2 films to 3 - it's a wonderful thing!
12. Ok, here we have a fella that’s willing to let you not show EVERY character mentioned in the three books, but.... Well Greg, wants to know...
“You've hinted that the first film may move quickly to the Council of Elrond, showing very little of the hobbit adventures in reaching Rivendell..which would be fine with me.”
PJ: There's more than you think. The actual council doesn't start until page 72.
“as a fan of the books, I think I’d prefer the approach, where possible, of moving a favorite character or scene or relationship "off screen" rather than watering it down or creating composite characters. In other words, maybe your film doesn't show me Prince Imrahil...but don't tell me there IS NO Prince Imrahil.”
PJ: I agree with that. The same goes for Bombadil ... when the hobbits arrive at Bree without us seeing the Bombadil episode, it doesn't mean it didn't happen ... it just wasn't shown in the film. You are certainly welcome to imagine that they have had that experience, and we do nothing to prevent that.
“As you've whittled away at the characters and storylines to complete your script, were there any characters or storylines set aside whole, to an extent that they might themselves serve as a framework for sequel/prequel/parralelquels for yourself or another film maker if these 3 films prove to be a wild success.”
PJ: Not really. The key events and characters are all there - at least in my mind. Of course the depth of Middle-earth is so great that there are many imaginative ways to create sequels (beyond the obvious Hobbit prequel).
One idea I've got (if the trilogy is successful) would be to gather the cast together again and shoot another couple of hours worth of scenes to flesh out The Lord of the Rings as a more complete "Special Edition". In other words, we would write and shoot the Tom Bombadil stuff, or scenes involving Gandalf and Aragorn hunting Gollum, and his capture by Orcs ... and any number of other bits of business that we can't fit into the 6 hour version. That would be a really cool way of creating a "sequel" - expanding the existing The Lord of the Rings from 6 to 8 or 9 hours! It would be the first time that has ever been done (except for CE3K perhaps).
Anyway - one step at a time!
“for an example..Frodo's adventure reaching Rivendell, Bilbo's HOBBIT story of course, and Aragorn's adventures in his youth.”
PJ: New Line will definitely make The Hobbit if LotR is a success.
13. Amongst all the cries and whimpers and screams about Lord of the Rings, there was a single brave soul that was curious about... Another film.
WHAT? HOW DARE HE!!!
Well, shucks, just to show the voice and question of a single type matters... well, here ya go Yakkel:
“What's happening with King Kong?”
PJ: Universal sees KING KONG as a valuable future franchise to feed into their theme parks, etc, so I'm sure at some point they will remake King Kong.
My involvement? That's entirely up to Universal. If they asked me to jump back onto Kong after The Lord of the Rings, I would say "yes!" in a nanosecond. It's my favourite movie, and I liked the direction we were taking our script. WETA have great designs and CG tests that Universal have never even seen. Whether Universal will ask is the big unknown. Did Godzilla or Mighty Joe Young do the type of business to inspire a Kong remake? Maybe ... just. I think it's a safe bet that they will wait and see how The Lord of the Rings turns out before talking to me about Kong. That's the way the system works.
I'd love to do it ... let's wait and see.
14. Ahhhhh, the sweet locations of New Zealand. So Peter, where on those beautiful isles of yours will you be shooting? And if someone were to fly down there... how different will the locations be that their eyes would see in reality from the filmed versions? Will you use exclusively digital matte paintings, or will there be any... real Albert Whitlock style matte paintings?
PJ: We are slowly nailing down our locations ... a process that will stretch on for a few more months. We will have some matte paintings, but they will be used for subtle enhancements, rather than creating an entire landscape. We have such great real locations, we don't need to struggle too much to create Middle-earth.
One interesting approach we are exploring is to digitise the ENTIRE movie into the computer - every frame - which would allow us to "fiddle" with all of our shots in some way or another. This would have great impact on the landscapes, since we could change cloud formations, add sunsets, or forests, or waterfalls wherever we wanted. It would help enormously to make all those exterior scenes a little more magical. It has never been done before on the live action film, and would require a huge data storage system. We are currently exploring the options.
“Have you settled on sites for principal photography yet? If so, can you reveal what they might be? This may be of interest mostly to Kiwis or (like me) those who have visited or lived in Godzone, but it might also give us an idea of the kind of scenery and look to expect from LOTR. “
PJ: We have a few key locations nailed down. I'm not going to be specific because I don't want to see photographs appearing on the net! It's no secret that we will be using elements of the region known as the "Volcanic Plateau" for Mordor. We have found a great Hobbiton location ... somewhere in the North Island. We've got a great Weathertop in the Waikato ... a gorgeous Edoras location in Canterbury. It's looking good ... no cause for panic!
15. Here is an essay question about loyal book readers, vs the heathens that have never read the books, this one from Steve in Pheonix, Arizona....
“Question for Peter Jackson: Is this movie going to be good? No just kidding, I have an actual question, but it comes with a bit of background, so here goes... I was first introduced to these wonderful books when I was in 4th grade. (I am 28 now) I loved being able to envision all of the awesome places and people that this story creates. When I first heard about these movies being made, I was both ecstatic, and worried, as I would assume are many fans of TLOTR. Do you think that these movies will be able to pull in non fans of the written word? I mean these are great books, but I am unsure of their potential for the big screen. There are times (blasphemy I know) when the books tend to drag somewhat. Are you afraid of alienating hard-core fans at the expense of trying to make these films more accessible to the non-literary fans? I realize that this is probably the "real trick" in making these movies, but I am curious as to how you are planning on pulling it off. I know the logical answer is "Wait and see," but I figured if we had this opportunity for questions, I may as well ask the one that seems most pertinent. Sorry for the essay. I can get a bit wordy at times.... Thank you and good luck. Here is at least 2 tickets you can count as being sold. ( I will be taking my young son, who I hope to introduce to the wonderful world of Middle Earth)”
PJ: It's a good question and the answer really boils down to the tricky tightrope I have to walk. I need to balance the expectations of the book's fans with making a movie for people that have never read the book. I have responsibility to both and I don't think it's quite as hard as you might imagine. We simply don't have time to include everything ... which helps with your pace concerns. The bottom line is that the characters and storylines are so wonderful that it should amaze, surprise and delight people that have never read the books.
Harper Collins told me that they usually sell about 100 copies of The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand per month ... since the trilogy was announced, sales have risen to 1000 copies per month! At the end of the day, a half-decent movie has got to inspire many new readers. It can't do anything else.
16. I really like this question from Brooke, so here ya go PJ:
“Lord of the Rings is a hugely complicated, sophisticated story. Even in three parts, there's no way that every detail could appear. I imagine that Jackson will follow some of the themes of the trilogy more strongly than others. Well, what are the most important themes to him? When all is said and done, and we can finally see all three films back-to-back (assuming we're all still *alive* then), what does he want us to come away with (other than awe at the effects and such, which is inevitable)? What *meaning* will he give the films, and what themes will he emphasize to do so?”
PJ: Getting to the end of this alive is something that concerns me too!
I'm interested in themes about friendship and self-sacrifice. That Hobbits would go into hell with little chance of survival is touching, especially since their sacrifice actually paves the way for the ascent of Mankind. The fact that The Lord of the Rings actually tells the story of how Humans became the dominant species on Earth (over Hobbits, Dwarves, Orcs, etc) is an interesting angle that is easily overlooked.
Questions about Mortality vs Immortality, seen through Aragorn and Arwen's eyes is intriguing. We are also making use of Tolkien's favourite Nature vs Machine themes.
“PS -- one quick question, not worth wasting one of your real ones on: Do people call him "PJ"? Somehow, it's hard to imagine.”
PJ: I don't get called PJ in conversation very often, but it is always used for written shorthand ... "PJ to attend design meeting at 3pm".
17. I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this question, but I know a lot of people that are voicing it. It’s a genuine fear that many readers of this site have given the onslaught of stupidity by Warner Brothers execs and Universal’s marketing department and... well you all know the guilty.
PJ: The guilty at Universal no longer work there!
Here’s the fear as voiced by Trevor...
“PJ, are you absolutely certain that New Line is going to back your vision all the way to the end?"
PJ: No ... I'm sure there will be disagreements. There always is.
"Do you have it in black and white on a contract that the editors aren't going to have a heyday with your film and make some butchered Bakshi-like piece of shit that has a total running time of a little under 3 hours?"
PJ: No, I don't have that in my contract, but ultimately contracts are worthless. New Line is spending so much money that it will do what it feels it needs to do to protect it's investment ... contract or no contract.
I have a feeling New Line would be making a big mistake by doing that, but never underestimate the stupidity of the head up the ass execs that exist in the entertainment industry. Just remember to stand firm on what you know will be good and tell the naysayers to go to hell.”
PJ: So much of this business is about trust. New Line are trusting us to make this book into an expensive trilogy of films ... and we are trusting New Line not to deluge us with bad ideas. The trust factor in this relationship feels pretty good. Remember that it was Bob Shaye's idea to make a trilogy - we didn't promote that. The two New Line guys working closely with us are Mike De Luca and Mark Ordesky - both are huge fans of the book. We were at a story meeting when Mark starting quoting passages from the book verbatim. Fran's jaw dropped open in amazement! And I was at a party when Mark's mother told me how he used to draw Middle-earth maps and make models when he was a kid. De Luca and Ordesky are the closest thing you get to genuine geeks in the studio system ... they simply want what all of us do - to see a great Lord of the Rings trilogy made. There is no other agenda.
Sure, they'll be disagreements ... we will probably yell at each other before this is over, because there's a lot at stake ... but I truly believe that New Line has it's heart in the right place.
18. Alright, Peter has already stated that Sam and Frodo will not be gay lovers, and Sam won’t be a woman, but some people still fear the ever-present platonic love these characters shared as best of friends. Here’s the question from John...
“How do you plan to handle the relationship between Frodo and Samwise? It seems to me that filming Sam's attitude toward Frodo exactly as in the books would be fairly risky, at least for the U.S. audience. For example, times that Sam holds a weakened Frodo in his arms, stroking his hand and saying how he loves him, is likely to get more public exposure from intolerant folks than you really want.”
PJ: We don't have the hand-stroking stuff, but the relationship is very close to how it is in the book. It's a story of great friendship ... nothing to be embarrassed about.
19. I’ve had tons of people ask about the look of the films, the cinematographer, the style, the feel, etc. But what concerns me is this. You say there will be 5 separate units filming all at the same time for months on end in and around New Zealand. Have you chosen a DP (director of photography) and how would he and you really over see all of that filming?
PJ: We haven't chosen a DP yet, but we are looking at very high tech telecommunication systems. The different units will have direct access to me via high definition live satellite feeds. I can talk to crew ... direct actors ... look at camera angles and check takes as if I was actually physically there. It shouldn't be a problem.
"How do you keep this from looking TV mini-series-ish? If you haven’t chosen a DP, who are you looking at? I presume every frame is being planned before you ever set out with your 50 Panavision cameras."
PJ: If we digitise the entire film as I mentioned earlier, then a lot of the "look" of the movies can be created in post-production, with lighting and mood adjustments being made on an Inferno suite. It doesn't minimise the work of a DP, but provides an extra tool to give the films a very special look. I'm talking subtle here ... nothing that detracts from the reality feel that I want to create.
20. Alright, here we are at the last question. This will be an easy one Peter. It’s been 4 months since our last chat. What has happened in regards to THE LORD OF THE RINGS in the last 4 months? Still on schedule, what is that schedule?
PJ: Things have progressed very smoothly ... the calmest, most controlled period in the 22 months that I have been working on the project. New Line have been very supportive and receptive to our ideas. They love our designs and were pleased with the first draft of The Fellowship that we delivered.
WETA Workshop are continuing to pump out great designs and huge piles of weapons and armour. WETA Digital are producing tests that are very exciting. We saw some stuff just before Christmas that got everybody worked up!
Alan Lee and John Howe are continuing to produce what I think is their most inspired work. They have now been on the project for a full year and return in a couple of weeks.
We are talking with New Line about extending our prep and design phase to enable us to fully work up the scripts, designs and storyboards. We did talk about shooting in May, but I feel that we would not be fully prepared. I am determined to keep this project under control in a way that rarely happens with big budget FX films. It is all about being prepared, and once we start rolling we are making 3 huge movies in a row. We have to be SO prepared! I would like to have until August or September to fully finish my storyboards and animatics. New Line are thinking about that. Contractually, we have to be filming by October, so don't worry - by this time next year The Fellowship of the Ring at least will be in the can!
I'm off to get some sleep ... I've enjoyed these questions and I hope my answers have been useful. If there's anything you want to tell me, fire away - I will read all of the comments following this.
Let's do it again!