Cracker by Damian Christie

Arise, Sir Peter

As promised, here's a fairly full transcript of the round table interview we did with Peter Jackson last week. I say we, as some of the questions are mine (noted with a "DC") whereas others belong to other members of the group. A few of the lamer questions have been cut out (read my previous post to learn why).

Many of PJ's responses are fairly lengthy, but I left them pretty much verbatim. This is Peter Jackson, and if anyone deserves a few Cracker column inches right now, it's him.

DC: Are you going to do The Hobbit?

PJ: We haven’t even discussed it. Everybody asks me about The Hobbit – believe me. No, I’ve never had a conversation with New Line or anybody about The Hobbit and what I do know is that the rights are fairly encumbered because United Artists, for some reason – I don’t have a clue why – since about the 70s or 80s they’ve had the distribution rights to The Hobbit in North America, so they would distribute it but they don’t have the rights to make it. And New Line bought the rights to make it as part of the package that they did with Saul Zaentz at the beginning of this, but they don’t have the rights to distribute it, and they distribute their own movies in North America. So there’d have to be some incredibly time-consuming complicated legal discussions between United Artists and New Line for it to actually happen, and I don’t know, I haven’t heard that they’ve actually taken place, I just don’t know.

DC: Would you want to?

PJ: Yes I would. Yup. Yup. I would feel really weird somebody else doing it. So I’m just waiting like you guys are, waiting to see if the phone call ever happens.

Q: Surely you can make that phone call yourself?

PJ: I’ll stay out of the legal side of it, it would be a nightmarish deal for them to do, I wouldn’t like to even think about it.

Q: Did you always have the sense that you wanted to make Lord of the Rings?

PJ: No. I read Lord of the Rings when I was 18. I was on a train to Auckland when I first read it. I was a photo engraving apprentice, and was going up there for a 12 week course at ATI. And I’d seen the Ralph Bakshi movie. I’d just seen it, it was 1978 I guess, and the Ralph Bakshi film intrigued me enough about the story. I got a bit confused by it and obviously it finished halfway through, so I bought the book at the railways station and sat on the Silver Fern and got into it on the way up to Auckland.

It never even occurred to me once that I had a desire to make it. ‘cos I was a 17 year old, photo-engraving apprentice. I didn’t sit there on the train thinking [boldly] “ONE DAY, I WILL MAKE THIS!” because it just seemed too crazy. And I didn’t read it again – people assume that I’m a geeky kinda reader, but I didn’t read it again until the idea of doing the film came up. It was 20 years later, it was 1995 and I was thinking about what we could do, I was in post production of the The Frighteners, it was November ‘95, and I was just lying in bed on a Sunday morning, – I remember the moment –lying in bed, thinking about all these computers. We had about 35 computers at Weta at that point in time, we have about 400 now [laughs], and I was really intrigued, because it was at that time that computer technology was really happening, and I was lying in bed thinking what was possible now, what sort of stuff could you do now with computers that you couldn’t do before. And the first thought that came into my head was a fantasy movie, because I loved Harryhausen’s films Sinbad and Jason and things, and I thought it’d be great to do a fantasy film now with monsters, because Jurassic Park had come out and the dinosaurs looked amazing, and I thought wow, you know, imagine what you could do with a fantasy film, and then I thought about Lord of the Rings, and I thought wow, that’s always been unfilmable and now it is filmable, and I just thought it was worth making a phone call. And I picked up the book again, and that was the second time I

read the book, it was at that point when I thought about the idea.

Q: Was there something you did to maintain enthusiasm throughout the project?

PJ: The worst thing – because people always ask what the worst thing was – was really, I had this feeling during the shooting, the 15 month shooting in ‘99/2000, which is a very, very long time to be shooting a film. And I started to feel about eight or nine months into that I was getting exhausted, but it was the mental exhaustion that was more scary, physically I could just keep on going like a tortoise, just keep plodding along, but mentally I was realising my imagination was shutting down, and some days I’d come home at the end of shooting and think ‘God, I just shot TV today’, and I felt really bad, I just did a wide shot, two-shot, singles, was all I could think about.

And I thought ‘God, I have no imagination anymore’, and it was actually quite scary, quite frightening, and I lost the ability to think of two or three things at the same time. I actually thought at one stage, ‘this must be what it’s like to be 85 years old’, it actually felt like my mind was just narrowing down. So what I started to do was on Sundays – because I had Sundays off – I’d sit at home on Sunday afternoons and put movies on, movies that I felt where the directors had really used the medium of film making in imaginative ways. And they were all films I’d seen before, like JFK, Goodfellas, Casino, Saving Private Ryan, and I just watched these movies on Sundays, and it would be stimulating. It would just be like this is what good filmmaking really is, this is people who are imaginative, who are using the camera, and it would kind of get me excited and reinvigorate me and get my brain a bit more focused on it.

Q: It’s quite a D-Day moment when the orcs land out of those boats…

PJ: Yes it is, that is Saving Private Ryan. I know, I should have had an orc throwing up over the side of the boat on the way in. [laughs]

DC: What is your favourite scene out of the whole thing now, one scene where you feel you nailed it?

PJ: My mind is mainly on this most recent movie for obvious reasons. My favourite scenes in Return of the King: I like the scene where Theoden arrives at the top of the hill and rallies his guys, his Rohirrim before they do that big charge, and he does that speech, and it was Bernard’s idea actually to go running along with the sword along all those spears, it was something he came up with, we were down in Twizel, and he said to me, we had all these horses, about 300 horses there, and Bernard said “I’ve been working something out with the horse guys, you want to have a look” and he demonstrated it to me and I thought it was really cool, and I like the speech and I like the music from that bit, it sort of does it for me all round there. I love stuff on the volcano with Frodo and Sam, my favourite bit of music is the bit where Frodo is crawling up the mountain and Howard has this wonderful pan pipe bit playing on the soundtrack. My favourite other scenes, I’ve always been very, very fond of the Mines of Moria scene from Fellowship of the Ring. Actually I was in England doing the music of this movie about two months ago and I was flicking around TV and The Fellowship was on and it was right at the Moria scene, I hadn’t seen the movie for a couple of years, and I watched that Moria thing with the bloody rock and the guys on it, and I thought it was pretty cool.

DC: I read that Palmerston North is celebrating the premiere with a floral tribute representing the evil essence of Lord Sauron, the eye, in Palmerston North Square…

PJ: Yes, flowers make total sense, don’t they?

DC: …possibly the first time it’s been represented in floral form. Are you surprised or impressed at the way NZ has got behind this film? It’s like the All Blacks, LOTR is our film, no other film maker would have this – Scarface wouldn’t have had Florida putting on a parade.

PJ: [Laughs] That’s funny. Yeah, I think New Zealanders have got every right to be proud because it is an achievement that in many ways has spanned the length and breadth of the country. I couldn’t possibly imagine how many kiwis have actually worked on these films but it does go quite deeply, from the army – because we obviously had incredible cooperation from the army for this film in particular, this is the one that the defence force is, all that stuff at the Black Gates, all that stuff when Viggo’s on the horse doing the speech to the soldiers, they’re all kiwi soldiers, we were shooting it on that live firing area up by Ruapehu, it was the only place in New Zealand we could find flat desert terrain, we needed that sandy desert, but we found it, the army let us on their land in Wairouru, you know, the land that you’re never allowed to go on, and we found this perfect bloody spot which was all just flat. And they said well, this is full of unexploded bombs. This is our live firing area, we’ve used this for 40 years, since WWII and there’s so much unexploded munitions there, and we couldn’t find anywhere else, and so the Govt ordered the army to go in and clear it all out for us, and they did all this minesweeping of this whole big area, and they just took away all this unexploded ordinance, old rusty old bloody bombs, and then we had a big lecture on the day that we arrived there, the army had a table out, and they had all these bombs on the table, and they said listen, these are all things that we’ve recovered from this area, so if you see any of

these, don’t move, just put up your hand and one of our bomb disposal guys will come over, and that was pretty surreal!

But they were great, the army were fantastic, the soldiers were great. But its gone down to the to the people making furniture – everything in the film had to be made, nothing was rented, or bought or hired, and the amount of New Zealand craftsmen, glassblowers, weavers, people doing the leather, making shoes, it’s just gone right the way through the country. And so New Zealand does have every right to be proud of it, it’s not just a pat yourself on the back, a lot of these people never worked on a film in their lives before but they just stepped up to it, and did what they needed to do to help us, and so they absolutely deserve to be proud.