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 thats been established by the cartoons,
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
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
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.
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
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 Ill
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
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
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. Heres 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
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'
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
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 wont be Who is
Gandalf Who is Aragorn? Instead Im 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 hed 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 its wages, cast big
name actors in smaller parts? (ie Sam Jackson in Star Wars Episode One) Or do you plan on
avoiding the Wheres 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
Depending on the answer, is this because of a sound you
want to the dialogue? And speaking of dialogue will it be in Tolkiens 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
It also deals with the texture of the film, the aspect
ratio and the score. What are your thoughts on how youll 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 Tolkiens 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 youve stated
that youll need 15,000 extras for certain scenes, Ive 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
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, its 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
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. Youve stated that you dont see
it as a Fantasy Film, but as telling a true story. What do you mean by that, and cite
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