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20 QUESTIONS WITH PETER JACKSON
FROM AINT IT COOL NEWS

 

Here we go ...

1. It seems that a ton of readers are concerned about the physical portrayal of the main characters within the ‘Fellowship’. Specifically the following: The use or lack of use of ‘small people’ to accomplish Hobbits, and the decision to use CGI to shrink folks. Then there is the ‘pointy eared’ elf thing. Not to mention whatever Gandalf is, how you plan to deliver dwarves. Basically the question is how do you plan on delivering the different types that make up the ‘company’? And why you decided to go in that direction, and is it ‘faithful’ to the look that’s been established by the cartoons, illustrators, etc?

As everyone has read, we have made a decision to portray hobbits by reducing "normal" sized actors. This decision was made for several reasons:

1/ It seems to be what Tolkien had in his mind, from the way he described hobbits.

2/ It gives us the greatest pool of actors to choose from.

3/ The hobbits are our chief heroes, who we must totally connect with over the course of 3 movies. That ruled out the use of CGI hobbits as I felt any artificial method of creating a character would be an impediment to our bonding with them. They would be a gimmick, rather than a real character.

Dwarfs like Gimli will either be a real little person, or a normal height actor reduced like the hobbits. A decision has yet to be made. Elves will be actors, but with a certain "Elven" look.

Hobbits, Dwarfs and Elves will probably all have subtle prosthetics, but these tests have not yet been done. I know that battle rages over pointy ears. We have yet to decide on the final looks for all these different races.

I do want to make them "real" ... not too fantasy-like or cartoony. They must be believable. My favourite illustration of a hobbit is in the edition of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING with Alan Lee's illustrations. Look at the picture of Frodo and Gandalf sitting in Bag End. That's not just a good guide for how I imagine a hobbit - it's also a good reference for the tone or atmosphere I'm aiming for in the films.


2. Another major question that fans have had, has to do with the decision to make “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” prior to “THE HOBBIT”. Describe what made you decide to go with the trilogy first, what made you step over ‘THE HOBBIT’ and do you think that after your filmic journeys into Middle Earth with this trilogy, do you think you will want to visit Bilbo and his adventures from the first book?

United Artists have owned the US distribution rights to THE HOBBIT for many years (but not the right to actually make it). I know that Miramax approached UA a couple of years ago about doing some kind of partnership, but was not successful. That made up Miramax's mind to do THE LORD OF THE RINGS first.

I am happy to be doing the trilogy first, since it is much more complex and interesting than THE HOBBIT. THE HOBBIT has a very simple story with very little character development. It would actually be harder to adapt into a satisfying movie than THE LORD OF THE RINGS (and that has not been easy!).

New Line Cinema have the right to make THE HOBBIT (UA still owns the distribution rights), and have every intention of doing it following the trilogy. I don't know if I would be involved. It depends on my mental condition in 3 years!


3. There seems to be quite a bit of doubt about ‘only’ having $130 million to make the trilogy. How do you plan to stretch that money out, while still giving these films the rich world that Tolkien envisioned? I.E... Cite examples of enhancing New Zealand locales with CGI, How much practical effects work vs CGI, and what will you try to do practical and what will you try to do CGI?

This is a very understandable concern. Let me explain:

Dollar for dollar, New Zealand is a cheaper place to make movies than the US. A camera that costs US$3000 per week to rent in the States may only cost NZ$2000 here. Add to that, the exchange rate savings ($US1 = $NZ2) and that camera in New Zealand only costs $US1000 to rent - a third of the price. Following me?

It basically means that the $US130m will buy 3 movies that have the screen value of closer to $350m. It is only this economy that has made THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy affordable. Believe me, nobody in Hollywood would commit $350m to make 3 movies back-to-back. It would never happen. These books have been "unfilmable" for 45 years, and would continue to be unfilmable.

But please don't be concerned about the "quality" of these movies. It is enough money to make 3 mind-blowing films! There will be money on screen to compare to anything that has ever been made.


4. This one comes from Julian of Sydney... Though he plays a massive underlying role in the books (he is the Lord of the Rings after all...), the character of Sauron's appearance (the Dark Lord) is never described in any detail (except for his catlike, yellow eyes [windows into nothingness] and his burning hot, black skin - black as in not african american black, but jet black). Also there is no direct dialogue with Sauron in the book, only flashbacks to historical events ie. his interrogation of Gollum, his fight with Isildur when the One Ring is taken along with his mind-communication through the Isenguard Palantir orb. So, my question is - how will Peter depict Sauron visually in the movie, and what will his voice sound like? I think part of the reason why Sauron was so intriguing and impressive as a character in the books, was very much because his presence was always felt, rather than personified as one being - the reader was left pretty much to imagine what he may have looked like. I can see that Peter will probably have to portray him in the movies, but I just hope he doesn't make him into a stereotypical cinematic villain. After all Sauron's power and historical descent from goodness to hellish evil, makes Satan look like a cute little puppy dog... And remember one of the biggest and most powerful cinematic scenes will inevitably be the party's confrontation with the Balrog in Moria - but the Balrog was a mere servant of Morgoth and then Sauron.

This is a great question, and one that we have been grappling with for 18 months. We still don't have a definitive answer. The Sauron of the books is sketchy at best, which makes it hard to turn him into a screen villain to carry 3 movies. Imagine not really seeing Darth Vader for all 3 Star Wars films. You just can't do it.

We obviously have Sauron's various emissaries to represent him, but just how Sauron himself appears is still a puzzle we are trying to solve. I agree that you can't reduce him to being a big guy striding around in black armour - but he cannot be limited to a flaming eye either. It's tough. We'll keep working on it.


5. Lots of people wrote in with this one, so I’ll summarize it on up. You mentioned in your statement that you want to make movies that you think Professor Tolkien would be proud of. What about the Tolkien estate? How closely are you working with Christopher Tolkien and what is your relationship with him going to be during this project? If you have talked with him about the project, what has he thought thus far?

We are dealing with the "estate", rather than Christopher personally. They have made their position very clear: While they are in no way opposed to a film(s) being made, they do not want to be involved.

The reason is basically simple: if they had any involvement, then the films would become "official" - in other words, they would be seen as being endorsed by the estate. This is a situation that the estate does not want, as they consider themselves to be protectors of Tolkien's written word, not film makers. I don't think the estate will be reading scripts or commenting on the movies. We keep them informed on progress, which they appreciate, but they want their involvement to be very arms length.

I said something here in NZ in an interview, which is worth repeating: You shouldn't think of these movies as being "THE LORD OF THE RINGS". THE LORD OF THE RINGS is, and always will be, a wonderful book - one of the greatest ever written. Any films will only ever be an INTERPRETATION of the book. In this case my interpretation. The Tolkien estate has no reason to want to get involved in somebody else's interpretation of the Professor's work.


6. Here’s one of the chief fears from fans, and lots of them are curious about what you think. Fantasy film has been with us straight from the beginning. It has been mined by Korda, Fairbanks, Harryhausen, Pal, etc. At that time their films were quite successful. But in the last twenty years the fantasy film has nose-dived into granite. What is wrong with the modern fantasy film, what is missing, and how is this going to be any different from the parade of fantasy duds that have been kicking sand in the face of fantasy lovers for a generation now?

One of my chief reasons for wanting to spend nearly 5 years of my life making these films has been that I don't think that fantasy has been well served by cinema. So I agree with your comments. I can't get into a deep debate about the last 20 years of fantasy, but I have been disappointed by the films as well. Either the style has been wrong, or often the scripts have been terrible. Starting out with strong scripts (and we are obviously dealing with great material) will put us ahead of a lot of other fantasy films. Not making the movies self-consciously fantasy will help too.


7. This comes in from Chyren, and is echoed by a good 40 others.

“Given that the books in LOTR are long and deeply indebted to Tolkien's technique of creating 'Literary Depth' by having a complex backstory, how can this be even slightly presented in a film version? In other words, LOTR was the end-tale of a huge three-millennium history of Middle-Earth. How can you allude to this on screen without just creating another Sword & Sorcery style crappy Willow film that is just plain confusing?

A good comment, and one that we feel strongly about too. As we have written drafts of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, we have layered in more and more depth with each subsequent draft. Some of it is important to the story (Isildur, Elendil, etc) and some is not. However, it creates the feeling of a real world. No movie can ever go into the depth than Tolkien did obviously, but we are going to use prologues, flashbacks and narration to paint a picture of Middle-earth that will hopefully be more than superficial.

Not being confusing is vital. That has been a fault of many fantasy films. We have to make movies that both readers and non-readers can enjoy and understand (I know the concept of having to cater to non-readers is frustrating, but it is important. Don't worry - we won't allow it to "dumb-down" the material). There are ways of doing that, and I am confident we will get there, without compromising the integrity of the work too much. It's a huge help to have 3 films to work with.

"AND..the books themselves are not structured to easily equate to a screenplay. Most of the first book is a gentle stretch of journey and masses of exposition (which occurs mainly when the Hobbits reach Elrond's House). There not much full-on action or even interesting stuff until the end of the second and third books. How much junk are you going to have to cut out? How much of the books will ACTUALLY reach the screen?”

It is true that most of the cuts will come out of the first book. We have to reach Rivendell a little quicker than the book does, as that is the point that the story picks up. I don't agree that there's not much interesting stuff in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, but it does lack a urgency. That is one of the biggest problems with adapting the books - Tolkien gave his characters a fairly leisurely journey - I don't mean the length of the journey, but rather the lack of dramatic tension, especially pre-Rivendell. For the movies, we will have to make motivations a little tighter and more urgent. We have to focus on The Ring, Sauron and the threat to Middle-earth. There is not much room for other stuff that is not directly connected to this narrative spine.

“Chyren comments: I realize that movie making is totally different from the art of a book, and that books can't be translated onto the screen totally. That's me, I know these things. You do realize, don't you, that whatever you do, some percentage of rabid Tolkien fans are always gonna attack you for 'butchering' their bible?

I'm in no doubt about that. Remember ... it's just my interpretation.

God, I wouldn't be in your shoes for quids, mate! Still, as long as it's better than that Ralph Bakshi debacle, I personally don't mind what you do!”

Making it better than the Bakshi version would be good.


8. Probably the most asked question, even though you asked not to ask about it, is about Casting. So this question won’t be “Who is Gandalf” “Who is Aragorn?” Instead I’m going to try to weasel some info out of you that will stir the debate pot a bit. What is your casting philosophy going to be with this series of films. For example, while I was on THE FACULTY set, Elijah Wood often talked to me about this project. He cited over and over about how much he loved the books, and how he’d love to be anything in it. This is most likely a feeling that a lot of talent in Hollywood will have. Will you, if talent lowers it’s wages, cast big name actors in smaller parts? (ie Sam Jackson in Star Wars Episode One) Or do you plan on avoiding the Where’s Waldo style of casting?

The basic philosophy is to cast unknowns as the hobbits and use better known actors for the smaller roles, i.e. Elrond, Theoden, Denethor, etc. I would be happy casting unknowns for all roles, as fresh faces will bring a sense of reality to the films, however I'm sure New Line will want some names. We won't be able to afford huge stars. Sean Connery won't be Gandalf (one of the most enduring pieces of net mythology). We couldn't afford him, he wouldn't live in NZ for a year, and I don't think he's right for the role. I love Connery, but I want Gandalf to be fresher than that. I like the Patrick McGoohan idea somebody mentioned ... that type of thinking is the right way to go. We have a couple of other strong ideas for Gandalf (I won't say who, but I've never seen their names on the net). We will no doubt audition a 100 actors to find the ideal Gandalf.

The idea of "stars" stepping forward and declaring themselves Tolkien fans is interesting ... let's see what happens.

Depending on the answer, is this because of a sound you want to the dialogue? And speaking of dialogue will it be in Tolkien’s tongue?

We have written the scripts in a reasonable "Tolkien" style ... on occasions using his dialogue verbatim. The older characters, i.e. Gandalf, Theoden, Denethor are pure Tolkien in their dialogue style. The younger hobbit characters slightly less so, but still not hip or modern. Sam will be pure Sam, and Gollum will be pure Gollum in style.

We will use other languages, particularly Elvish, on occasion, with English sub-titles.


9. Another major vein of curiosity has been the scale of these films. Using terms that will light our imagination and paint a picture for us, how big will these films be? This involves the scale of battles, vistas, creatures.

They will be very epic in scale - but one of the great things about THE LORD OF THE RINGS is the fact that they are very grounded in character and relationship. So imagine a tight personal, very emotional story set against sweeping vistas, huge cities and vast armies.

The battles will be the biggest you have ever seen (I promise).

We have two wonderful artists working for us on conceptual designs ... Alan Lee and John Howe. Both have done many Tolkien paintings before, and I loved their interpretation of the characters and places. We are creating original designs, not copying their earlier art, but a look at the previous work of Alan and John's will give you a strong sense of the visual style I am aiming for.

It also deals with the texture of the film, the aspect ratio and the score. What are your thoughts on how you’ll bring this to screen?

We will shoot in Super 35, giving us a 2.35 ratio. We have flirted with the idea of 70mm, but the problems with CG effects at that resolution are too daunting.

The score will be classical sounding. I'd like a create a Celtic feel without being Celtic if you get what I mean ... something non-cliched. No composers have been considered yet. There are no plans to use any of the existing Tolkien-inspired music.


10. Jason out of Australia had this question for ya: “Will any of the poetry/songs in Tolkien’s work be kept in the films?” And to follow up on it, if you do keep them how will you portray them?

There will be a little of it, but not much. A little on screen, a little on the soundtrack. It's a difficult thing to work into a dramatic telling of the story.


11. Given the massive following these books have, and the fact that this is the number one most inquired question, and the fact you’ve stated that you’ll need 15,000 extras for certain scenes, I’ve chosen Mike of Finland to ask the question. “Where and when will the casting take place?

It will start in October in LA, London, Australia and New Zealand.

What should I do to appear in the film?

You would need to audition and be the very best person for that particular role, out of the 100 - 200 actors that we will test for each character.

Do I need an agent to be considered for a speaking role? Do you hire only professionals for the major parts or do qualified amateurs have a chance as well?

There are no rules, but you would have to connect your nearest casting director and convince them you were good enough.

What requirements do you have for the extras?” Of course I have to admit that just about everyone I know wants to be an orc, it’s akin to being a stormtrooper. The surest way to increase tourism to New Zealand is to announce a desire for extras, and there will be fans booking flights instantly.

We will find our extras in the New Year. They will be cast in New Zealand and will have to be precise physical types depending on if it's for Orcs, Elves, Men, etc. It is possible that we may approach the army for most of our extras.


12. This question comes from Ryan of New Zealand: “A lot of things are not described explicitly in the books, but hinted at or told second hand, and I'd like to know how you will go about showing us show us those things.

Some of the "second hand" stories will be told on-screen in a more straightforward chronology. Others will be left as narration. You will definitely be seeing a lot of things dramatised on film that Tolkien related as expositionary dialogue.

Please tell me whether the Balrog will be a solid creature or a shadowy one, and whether it will be winged,

We are still working on the Balrog designs. He will be a real creature, but we will try very hard to capture the feel that Tolkien describes in this sequence. Our designs have wings at the moment, but that can be changed if it is not correct.

whether Legolas - who is never really described - will have blond hair and pointy ears like all those Dungeons and Dragons freaks out there picture him,

Don't know yet. It will start with casting an actor and working from there on his final look.

and whether we will get to see - perhaps in a flashback - the combat of Gandalf and the Balrog after they fall from the bridge in Moria,

I don't think so.

and likewise if there will be visual flashbacks of the ent's storming of Isengard,

Yes, that will be seen.

and of the history of Middle-earth as related in various parts of the story by Gandalf, Elrond, and Aragorn?

Most of the Middle-earth history we show will be related to events important to our immediate story, i.e. Isildur's death, defeat of Sauron during the Second Age and the history of Gollum and the Ring.

We will be detailing some of the Elven history as well as a sense of the Numenorians and the rise, and decline, of Gondor. That will mostly be in narration and not on-screen.


13. This comes from Sir Etch-a-Sketch: “Describe the tone that you will be using to tell this story. You’ve stated that you don’t see it as a Fantasy Film, but as telling a true story. What do you mean by that, and cite examples.”

It might be clearer if I described it as an historical film. Something very different to Dark Crystal or Labyrinth. Imagine something like BRAVEHEART, but with a little of the visual magic of LEGEND. (LEGEND had a lackluster script in my view. It looked great, but the visual style was too unreal, overwhelming and not suitable for this story).

It should have the historical authority of BRAVEHEART, rather than the meaningless fantasy mumbo-jumbo of WILLOW.


14. Jacob of W. Virginia asked this one, which is echoed by about 20 others. “What types departures will you be taking with the telling of the story and how did they come about?”

This is the 64 thousand dollar question I guess!

I'm not going to answer this in huge detail, as we are still working on the scripts. We have about 300 pages written as 2 long movies. We now have to convert them into 3 scripts of maybe 110 pages each - so we do have a little more room to explore new ideas.

Our philosophy is simple. We don't want to make any radical changes to the basic events or characters in the books. So Sam will NOT become a girl (another piece of rumour-mill bullshit that's been floating around for a year), or have a gay relationship with Frodo, or anything silly like that.

We will have to remove certain events or characters, but they will be clean lifts. As somebody pointed out earlier, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING will need the greatest pruning.

Any changes that we do make will be centered on developing characters or events in the spirit that Tolkien created them, but maybe taking them further than he did. For example, the Aragorn/Arwen romance is a lovely part of the story ... but if it was filmed exactly as Tolkien wrote it, they would have maybe 10 minutes screentime together over 6 hours of film. So we have to find a way to include Arwen in more of the story, to have a chance at creating a meaningful screen romance. However, we won't do anything radical like adding her to the Fellowship, as that would be departing too much from what we all know and love. It's a fine line that we walk.


15. To gore or not to gore. There are gigantic battles in this film, how will you film these and what is the threshold of gore for the films?

These films will be PG13, but I would like them to be a hard PG13. The battles can't be BRAVEHEART violent, but we could maybe think about a slightly "harder" version for laserdisc release.


16. In getting New Line to sign on the dotted line, it has been said that their faith came from the script and the reel of tests that you and WETA showed them. What was on this reel, and what work has Weta and the 50 some odd people that have been laboring away come up with?

When we talked to studios about getting involved, we screened a 36 minute video documentary we made very quickly before we left. This documentary style video had interviews with key crew and design people and lots of footage of design paintings, models, armour and CG tests.

Cool stuff included on the tape: An Uruk-Hai in full armour and prosthetics, and Orc make-up test, models of Helm's Deep and Rivendell, marquettes of Elven armour and weapons, Gollum marquettes, a Cave Troll and a Balrog concept. CG tests included a CG Troll and a couple of huge Helm's Deep battle shots using a piece of WETA software called MASSIVE that has been developed over the last 2 years expressly to achieve huge battle scenes for THE LORD OF THE RINGS. MASSIVE allows us to have 200,000 CG extras that we don't animate, but they use a complex form of Artificial Intelligence to fight each other. You basically press a button, sit back and watch these huge battles unfold before your eyes. It's amazing and a little frightening as it ushers in a new era in CG effects.

Bob Shaye watched the tape in total silence and then declared that he wanted to make 3 movies. Bob deserves the credit for making a trilogy ... it was his idea.

The 36 min tape would be a great addition on a laserdisc box set.


17. What made you go, “Peter Jackson needs to make THE LORD OF THE RINGS”? What are you most excited about this project?

It gives me a chance to break new ground in the movies. Every film genre has been done well over the last 100 years, but not this type of fantasy story. If we get it right, it will be the first time. No film maker could ask for a greater challenge than that.


18. How open will this project be? Meaning what types of things will you be showing us fans in the years leading up to this film.

It will be like the SW Trilogy I suppose. Expect the same level of secrecy/revelations. I will try and kept a steady stream of information flowing. I know how frustrating it is.

How quickly do we get to see designs, models, sketches, stills, trailers, toys, a rough cut, etc...

I don't know the answers to that ... a trailer? That seems a million years away to me right now. New Line will control all of this and our relationship with them is only just beginning.


19. Richard of New York asks: "Will the films be titled “Fellowship of the Rings” “Two Towers” and “Return of the King” or will you go with LOTR1, LOTR 2, LOTR 3? What do you theorize the running time to be?"

I assume that we will use the book titles, probably with THE LORD OF THE RINGS kinda of a wrap around title, like STAR WARS.

For those who are interested, when we were making 2 movies with Miramax, we were thinking of calling them THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and THE WAR OF THE RING.

I imagine the films will have an approx 6 hour running time.


20. What gets you shaking like a kid on Christmas Morning on this project? In otherwords, when you look at the films, what are you dying to capture on film, and how will you do it?

These types of intangible questions are the toughest. I guess I'm lucky to have only one!

I want to take movie-goers into Middle-earth, in a way that is believable and powerful.

Imagine this: 7000 years has gone by. We take a filmcrew to Helm's Deep ... it's now looking a little older, but still impresses as a mighty fortress. The Art Dept set to work, patching up holes and removing tourist signs. The current owner strikes a hard bargain, but New Line money finally gets us permission to film there for 6 weeks. Rohan heraldry is studied and faithfully reproduced. Theoden's original saddle is in a museum - far too valuable to use in the movie, but an exact copy is made. Archeological expeditions have unearthed an incredibly preserved mummified Uruk-hai carcass. We make exact prothestic copies of these viscous killers ... use CG to give us a 10,000 strong army. We have cast actors who look like Aragorn and Theoden. In an amazing casting coup, Legolas has agreed to return from Valinor with Gimli to recreate their part in this cinematic retelling of the events at the end of the Third Age. They stand on the battlements of the Deeping Wall, wind blowing in their hair, leading a group of extras proudly portraying the brave garrison of Rohan soldiers ... Uruk drums roll up the valley ... huge lighting rigs flash simulated lightening ... rain towers send gallons of water into the air ... on an assistant director's signal, twenty 35mm cameras start rolling simultaneously ... the battle of Helm's Deep is about to be captured on film.

Sure, it's not really THE LORD OF THE RINGS ... but it could still be a pretty damn cool movie.

Cheers, Peter J

 

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