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PJ’s Q&A Transcript!

January 14, 2001 at 4:11 pm by xoanon  - 

Ringer Spy maestrino took the time to transcribe the PJ Q&A for everyone to read! Check it out!


I’ve been hearing all over that people are complaining of not being able to see the realplayer videos on the official site of PJ answering the 20 or more fan questions, so since I had time to spare I’ve been working on transcribing them and posting them on the the White Council forums at, but thought maybe it’d be better if I made them more widely available as well so more people could see them – maybe they could also be translated for the unlucky non-English speaking people who can access the videos but don’t understand what PJ is saying.

Since I frequent your sites the most I figured I’d send it to you, so if you want to post the following for public consumption I’d be very happy (sorry, Jon, Ted and David, I wasn’t quite sure who to send it to, so for good measure I’ve sent it to ya’ll) 🙂

Here’s what I’ve done so far – and I’ll be finishing off the last six questions tomorrow, if you want them just yell and I’ll send them over too.



The fans at the official site ask…

How do you plan to utilize Tolkien’s rich, complex mythology so as to make it accessible to the general viewer?

PJ: The way that we intend to utilise the rich and complex mythology but still make it accessible is really by not hiding from it – by making it as rich and complex as we possibly can, in a way that won’t intrude on the story, because the story is so powerful, the characters are so powerful, and the values at stake are reasonably clear; that the story for those people who have never read the books will still be very simple to follow. There’s nothing actually complicated about what happens to the characters, so the films work incredibly well as a great action adventure for people who haven’t read the books. But we are texturing this action adventure with as much of the detail of Tolkien’s world as we possibly can, and it’s not often done in a way that confuses the story, it comes down to production design, you know, if you look at Frodo’s sword Sting – we’ve put Elvish runes on the blade because the sword was made by Elvensmiths. And the Elvish language that’s on the blade means something, so that those people in the world that can understand Elvish will be able read what is on his sword. There’s layers of clothing, so that the buttons on the Rohan costumes are made to have images of horses heads on them. You know – the banners, the shields, the architecture of the worlds – there is so much that we reference to Tolkien, just within the production design, the visual look of the film, that gives it a feeling of reality – it actually makes it feel very real and historical, takes it away from fantasy quite a lot, which is great. So it’s a fine line, but I think that people that assume that the films are going to be dumbed down and robbed of a lot of that hopefully will be surprised to see how much we’ve been able to weave into it without making it too confusing.

The fans at ask…

Everyone has their favorite scene in LORD OF THE RINGS; what’s yours and why?

PJ: I think my favourite scene of Lord of the Rings is really the end, the Grey Havens, at the very end of film three. To me it’s a culmination of the entire story, it represents what it is to give and what it is to lose – that is all encapsulated in that one scene, and I think that it’s probably the most powerful part of the entire story.

The fans at ask…

Which scenes have been the hardest to “translate” from book to movie script?

PJ: The scenes that are most difficult to translate from book to screen are the scenes containing a lot of exposition – they’re the scenes that carry a lot of the weight of what’s happening in the story, and who’s doing what to whom. And obviously for a movie audience we have to try and make that as clear as we possibly can, and we all know that Tolkien’s world is very complex… And so scenes like the council of Elrond at Rivendell have been fiendishly difficult to turn into cinema, because it is a group of people sitting around, talking about the plot – which usually is very hard to do in a film anyway, and make it seem real. It’s obviously a very important scene in the books so we have to have it, and Tolkien has it as like 20-30 pages long in the book – so we needed to really condense that to get an essence of all the different characters coming together with their own opinions, and setting out the story as it is. It was also quite difficult to write scenes where Gandalf was at Bag End with Frodo, telling him what he had to do, because again they are exposition scenes – and they’re usually the ones you’re most afraid are going to come across as being clumsy and awkward, and we’ve had to try to do it in a way to make it as cinematic as we possibly could. And they’re really tough.

The fans at the official site ask…

How will you connect the three movies without losing the audience in the middle? Will there be synopses at the beginning of 2 & 3, or will you simply rely on the viewer’s memory and knowledge?

PJ: The plan at this stage is to have some sort of a little synopses catch-up kind of thing at the beginning of the second and third films, we’re not quite sure exactly what form it’s going to take yet – I mean we’re over two years away from releasing the second film [laughs] and almost three years from releasing the third film, so some of those problems are ones that we’ll deal with a little closer to the time. But I imagine that there’ll definitely be some kind of a prologue at the beginning of 2 & 3 which will bring people up to date. And even the people that have seen the movies will at least be reminded of where we are when this particular story begins.

The fans at the official site ask…

Will any of the Second Age from The Silmarillion be seen in the movies?

PJ: There are certainly events from the Second Age as Tolkien describes in Lord of the Rings that we are showing, and I’m talking about the things to do with the history of the Ring mainly – the forging of the rings and the One Ring, and the events associated with the Last Alliance, and with Isildur, and ultimately Gollum finally.. I mean there are definitely events from the Second Age that appear in the story, yep.

The fans at ask…

As with many hard-core Tolkien fans, I’m experiencing a fair amount of anxiety over the prospect of the original story being altered in the name of giving us a stronger on-screen love story between Aragorn and Arwen. As a fan of Liv Tyler I “want” to believe that any departures from Tolkein’s storyline will be done with due respect for the original material, but I would like very much to hear your views on this point. In particular, what can you say to reassure people who share my worries that you will be respectful of the original story?

PJ: I’ve read a lot of things on the internet to do with the character of Arwen, and in various newspapers and things – and all I can say, without wanting to give away too much of the movies, is that I don’t think people are going to be too upset when they see the films. There has been a lot of nonsense and speculation about what we’re doing with the characters – I mean [counts off on fingers] Arwen was NOT part of the Fellowship, Arwen will NOT be a warrior princess.. She has a very small part to play in the books if you simply look at the number of pages that Arwen is in, and in order to make her a character with some weight and to be able to simply show what is at the essence of Arwen’s story, which is the love of an immortal person for a mortal man, we have had to create more material for Arwen because there’s just not enough from the books to actually show. But where we have gone for most of our extra Arwen material is actually the appendix – the story of Aragorn and Arwen, which appears at the end of The Return of the King, and so we have gone into that appendix for ideas and material which we can actually incorporate into the plot of the movies. So I really honestly don’t think that people are going to be too upset when they see the films. Just – everyone just relax, and stay calm! [laughs]

The fans at the official site ask…

Tolkein seems to have missed the boat on creating female characters of great interest. Unlike his other characters, there seems to be an unfamiliarity with creating depth and motivation. Are you doing anything to enhance the other female characters like Galadriel, Goldberry and Eowyn?

PJ: The assertion that Tokien couldn’t write female characters very well is one that I agreed with when I read Lord of the Rings when I was younger, but having read it many many times since and having been working on the films and on the scripts I actually don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think it’s a little unfair, I think that you have to first take the approach that Tolkien is not writing a modern story in which characters are required to have psychological depth – he is writing a mythic saga, and so his characters, including the female characters, operate on a level of Norse mythology, or they are the characters of saga, not of modern storytelling. And having said that, I think that they do have depth – I think Éowyn’s character has extroadinary depth, and it’s there in Tolkien’s writing. And we are actually hoping to capture his depth of Éowyn in our movies, that’s what our goal is, because she is a very interesting character and Miranda Otto is doing a wonderful job playing her. Arwen likewise, and Galadriel – they both fulfill their very important roles, I mean Galadriel was a very powerful character. She has immense strength, she bridges both good and .. evil, or perilous, is what Tolkien describes her.. she has a very strong presence. Arwen represents a very important value of Tolkien’s world, which is love, and immortality versus death, and she really has that incredible decision to have to make, as to whether she should give up her immortality for the love of a mortal man, and these are very powerful story elements – and so I think that there certainly aren’t very many female characters, but I think that the ones that are in the movies certainly are very vivid and the actors that are playing these roles are doing wonderful work.

The fans at ask…

One of the most compelling themes of LORD OF THE RINGS is the overwhelming and consistent sense of loss and sorrow. How do you plan to stay true to Tolkein by conceptualizing this in the films, yet allow an audience that has not necessarily read the books understand the sorrow of this bittersweet ending?

PJ: I mean I agree totally that this is a very vivid part of the books, and this is something that we are acknowledging in the films, I mean we are trying to make those exact themes come across very strongly. I think what we are doing in the movies.. well for one we are using Alan Lee to do a lot of the design of the film, and Alan Lee’s paintings by their nature evoke these sorts of feelings – they are beautiful paintings, they have elements of sorrow within the paintings, of a melancholy feeling, and so Alan is bringing a lotof that to the look of the film. It’s also important to realise that a lot of so-called “Hollywood” films, they confuse sentiment with emotion, that it’s easy to be sentimental.. but what we are trying to do with these movies is NOT be sentimental but to be emotional – and emotion, genuine emotion, is very different to sentiment, which is a slightly cheaper version of emotion. And so we are trying to incorporate the emotion of a changing world, of the loss of the beauty of the Elves, of all of those really strong themes of Tolkien’s – we are trying to make them a very emotional, powerful part of these stories.

The fans at the official site ask…

Being a big fan of LORD OF THE RINGS, I was distressed at your choices of the actors to play hobbits. In the book, Tolkein states plainly that hobbits are 2′ to 4′ tall. Elijah Wood and Sean Astin are a teensy bit taller. How do you justify this, or what are you doing in terms of special effects to compensate for it?

PJ: The actors that play hobbits in our movies are all being made to look small, so we certainly agree that absolutely hobbits are smaller than normal people, and even though we’ve cast actors like Elijah and Sean, they are being made to look small. We’re doing this through a variety of techniques, like we’re doing a lot of bluescreen work where we can composite them onto scenes at a smaller size. We’re also using a lot of old fashioned techniques like forced perspective, which is a technique that you simply put the hobbit actor a bit further away from the camera than the human-sized actor, and therefore the hobbits appear to be smaller, which is a very well used and simple technique – but we’ve also made that more complex by being able to move the camera with forced perspective shots, which people have traditionally not been able to do, and we’re using computers and motion control platforms and various other things to be able to push that technique to another level. So we’re doing a lot of work to make our hobbits appear small, so that’s definitely what they’ll look like in the movie – Sean Astin or Elijah Wood this tall [puts hand up at hobbit-type height] with Ian McKellen up this tall [puts hand up at Gandalf-type height] – that’s working very well.

The fans at the official site ask…

How will the special effects of Gandalf’s magic be handled?

PJ: Gandalf’s magic I see as being subtle – I hate seeing fantasy movies where wizards are portrayed having sort of lightning bolts coming out of their fingertips, and having all these tricks – and so we made a deliberate attempt to really not give Gandalf any pyrotechnic, sort of visually cliched, magical powers. I mean he does have an enormous power, and his magic is I guess more psychological than it is visual, and that was really a decision that I think was more in keeping with Tolkien. And there’s not a lot of places in the movies where Gandalf’s magic is really that visually used – it’s often more a question of a power than a sort of pyrotechnic display.

The fans at the official site ask…

In Tolkien’s story, such characters like Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf are adorned with extra-ordinary weapons, armor and magic. The battles are fought in incredible surroundings and by races of people wearing extravagant garb. For the movies, how are you planning to make the armies and characters stand apart from other “Middle Ages” movies like Braveheart, the various Robin Hood movies, Dragon Heart, etc. ?

PJ: In portraying the costumes and the weapons and the armour in our movies, we are really basing it on the cultures that existed in the story. So whereas in Braveheart, for instance as the questioner says, you’ve got a Scottish culture and you’ve got an English culture, sort from the Middle Ages; we have [holds up fingers, counting] Elvish, Dwarven, we have Gondorian, Rohan, Orcs, Hobbits – we have all these cultures from a mythic pre-history, so we’re really designing the look to be very cultural-based. We’re saying, ok, well what would the Elvish weapons look like? If you take the Elves as to what they were represented in the story, then what sort of a sword would they actually design, what would their armour look like? How does the Rohan armour differ from the Gondorian armour? What do the Dwarves look like, what in the history and culture of the Dwarves would influence the look of the costumes that they’re wearing? So we have taken a very detailed approach to the design of all the stuff in the films, and I think it really benefits the movie, and in a funny kind of a way it helps the films look historical, even though it’s a history we have never seen before or are very unfamiliar with, and it’s a look that we haven’t seen before. It does – they do feel more historical than fantasy-based, because we have not made them superficial, we’ve actually put a lot of thought into the influences that would lead to the look and design of all the props, all the costumes, the architecture.. a lot of thought’s gone into it and I think it gives the films a very rich texture.

The fans at the official site ask…

The poems and songs are such an integral part of Tolkien’s masterpiece. How do you plan to utilize them in the films?

PJ: We don’t really have the ability in the movies to use the songs and the poems to the extent that Professor Tolkien did in his books, but we are obviously trying to acknowledge that, and to make it part of the texture and fabric of the movies. So we have a little bit of singing at different times on screen – but I would envisage that in post-production we would also be using songs a lot, like if the hobbits are walking along the fields and things that we may have a hobbit walking song in the soundtrack; that we use the music and the song of Middle Earth in ways to evoke it without necessarily having our characters stopping and singing or saying a poem during the course of the narrative of the film, though we do sneak in little bits and pieces of that as well. It’s really a case of I guess, and it applies to more than just the songs and the poems, that we don’t have time for everything in the movies, but we are trying to evoke the spirit of it, in ways that are more appropriate to the movie than to reading the book.

The fans at the official site ask…

What do you envision for the trilogy’s score? Will you consider the music of actual bands such as Led Zeppelin, Blind Guardian or Enya? (Editor’s Note: Howard Shore has since signed on to score the Trilogy.)

PJ: We have been talking to several composers about doing the soundtrack and have not yet made a decision, although we probably will very shortly. I’m imagining the score of the films to be orchestral, I’d also like to use interesting instruments, ancient instruments, to really evoke the cultures and the history of Middle Earth. I don’t think it’s appropriate to use existing music necessarily, I mean I know that bands like Led Zeppelin have written Tolkien-inspired songs, but I think just the nature of the music and the technology of their music would be innappropriate to the visual look of the film. I mean we have to make that, you know, we’ve taken a lot of care and time to give the films a very organic, real feeling and quality, and I think the music has to support that rather act against it. So I don’t think there’s any room for electronic music or any modern-feeling music, it should have an oldness, and a sort of ancient feel. So really I think that at this point in time certainly, and we haven’t started post-production yet, but I’m imagining that all of the music will be original and new to the movies, written especially for the film.

The fans at ask…

In a previous interview in which you talked about your process on LORD OF THE RINGS, you alluded to the importance of having a complete ‘animatic’ made for all three films before proceeding with the actual shoot. I was hoping you could elaborate on this a little further and tell us just how comprehensive has this pre-visualization been, and does it already encompass the entire trilogy.

PJ: What’s meant by the term animatic in this question is the concept that we started out with, which is that we write the scripts and we storyboard the films, sometimes we use like home PC’s, computers, to do very simple little animations of sequences like the Balrog sequence, and some of the mines of Moria stuff.. actually.. I’ll start that again. What’s meant by the term animatic in this question is the concept that you take your storyboards for the film and you edit them together, and then you put some music and dialogue to the storyboards, and you end up with a very rough looking movie. It’s a version of the film and it’s called an animatic and it’s a really wonderful tool to be able to plan the actual shooting of the film, it’s something that you do before you start shooting. And in the case of our animatics, we also did some very simple little computer animations on like a home PC computer, scenes like the Balrog and Gandalf in Khazad-Dum, they were all animated very roughly, with all the different camera angles, and then we put some music to that and we put some sound effects to it, and it gives you a very strong idea of whether the scene is too long, whether the angles are the right angles to use, whether the script is working – because we’re able to watch the entire movie as we had some actors read the dialogue from the script and then we cut the storyboards to it. So we’re able to watch the entire movie before we’ve even started shooting it, and just feel whether or not it’s the right pacing, whether the structure’s right or whether the characters are working well. And we did that for the first film, we did a simple animatic for the second film, and we were kind of running out of time – we’ve done total storyboards all the way through the third film, but we haven’t done an animatic for the third film. But we’re no longer working on those obviously because now the actual shooting of the movie has taken over and we’re planning our way through the film itself, but still using the animatic as a tool, it’s always been very helpful.

The fans at ask…

Can you give us a sense of how much of Tolkien’s dialogue style and specific great lines you have preserved, and how important is it to you to do so?

PJ: When we first started writing the scripts 3 or 4 years ago, we made an assumption at that time that we would have to simplify the language, that we’d have to modernise the language, that that’s really what a “modern” film would require. And it’s been a very interesting process because over subsequent drafts of the screenplays we have gone further and further into Tolkien’s language, because it is beautiful, it’s very evocative, and when spoken by good actors, it comes to life in a way that’s really fresh and exciting.. So the answer to the question is there is a HUGE amount of Tolkien’s dialogue in the films. Every time we come to write a scene, or at the stage where we’re revising scenes all the time, we always turn to the book – as our first part we either take dialogue from the book from that particular moment, or what we often do is, because in the film we sometimes have to portray a scene in a slightly different way, we may look at taking some lines from other places in the books and putting them in a scene where they originally didn’t belong, but they’re nonetheless still Tolkien’s language, it’s still his words. And so Tolkien’s voice is heard throughout the movies very very strongly – a lot of memorable lines from the books are in the films. And also what’s happened is that over the three years we’ve been working on the scripts we’ve also become very familiar with Tolkien’s writing style, his dialogue style, and so when it comes time for us to have to write original dialogue, you know, because there’s nothing in the book that is appropriate, we’ve become able to at least write in a very similar style to Tolkien’s. But the films very much evoke that language.

The fans at ask…

Considering the amount of effort Tolkien took to explain the EXACT pronunciation of the languages of Middle-earth, how close are you keeping to his instructions? If we are going to be hearing elves (and other races) talk in their native tongue, what kind of voice and language training is needed?

PJ: We’ve gone to great pains to make sure that all the languages and pronunciations of the names and place names in the movies is as authentic and real as it can possibly be. So obviously we started with Tolkien’s instructions as to how these words should be spoken and how the languages work. We have two full-time dialogue coaches – we call them dialogue coaches but they’re basically language coaches – who have been on the film since the first day. They regularly have time with the actors where they train the actors in how to speak the languages that need to be spoken. In the movies we have Elvish – both Sindarin and Quenya is spoken quite extensively, with subtitles; we have Rohirric, which is the language of Rohan, which is basically based on Old English – a sort of a Celtic language. And so if we need characters from Rohan at certain times to say things that are not part of the books or that Tolkien himself didn’t get into, we go to Celtic and we go to Old English, and we have experts advising us on what the Rohan language would be, based on those. You’ll hear a little bit of Dwarvish spoken; Black Speech is spoken, the language of Mordor.. so we really have worked very very hard at making that as authentic as possible, that every time somebody says a name or a place or a language we’re very very confident it’s exactly how Tolkien would have himself spoken it.

The fans at the official site ask…

I am very optimistic about the prospect of a live-action film based entirely on the Dr. Tolkien’s novels. I am however a bit concerned about how the most glorious race ever to grace the Earth: The Elves, exactly how have you decided to portray the Elves? Personally, I can’t wait to see what you do with the split second moment we are able to see Glorfindel in his true image…

PJ: It’s a very good question, because I think the Elves have been incredibly difficult to portray – Tolkien describes them so vividly in the books, but he describes them in ways that are very hard to put on film, I mean the way that the Elves are described as being both old and young at the same time, both happy and sad. It’s wonderful evocative stuff on the written page but a real nightmare to have to try and do in a film, and we are really taking our lead from the books in that the Elves straddle two worlds – the world of the seen and the unseen, that there is an ethereal-ness to them – light, starlight – all of the things that he describes in the books we are trying in one form or another to visualise, and to make the Elves seem just that little bit special and different. It’s been tough, and I think we’re doing incredibly well – obviously having actors like Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler portraying the Elves is very important casting, because we needed actors that are able or have the power to portray non-humans, ethereal, they have an elegance and a beauty, and so a lot of it is dependant on the actors, who are doing a great job, so I think we’re in pretty good shape.

The fans at DARKHORIZONS & ask…

In Tolkien’s work, Middle-earth is almost exclusively occupied by white-skinned people with the notable exceptions, the Haradrum, being allies of the enemy. How will you escape the almost certain protest this might cause if put on film? …
It seems that this could easily be misinterpreted as racism on Tolkien’s part instead of the function of geography that it is. Will the dark-skinned men who only appear in battle scenes be replaced by orcs in the movie in order to be PC or will you stay true to the book?

PJ: Well this is obviously a very difficult question, and a contentious one, and let me just say that I think that one of the things that’s important is that we have to realise that Tolkien himself was horrified at modern analogies being placed on his work, I mean he always rejected the notion that the stories were based on World War II and the rise of Hitler and all that. He was working in a mythic realm of storytelling, and I think to apply modern political thinking on a story that is essentially 50 years old is a little bit inappropriate, and I think people have to be careful. I mean there’s obviously as well as the racism accusation, there’s accusations of the female characters being anti-feminist, there’s accusations of the relationship between Frodo and Sam having sexual connotations – and you have to look at where Tolkien was coming from with a lot of this stuff, I mean he understood male friendships from World War I in the trenches; his female characters have a mythic quality that is totally appropriate to the stories, and it’s not appropriate to apply a political viewpoint on some of this stuff. I don’t think Tolkien was a racist at all, and therefore that is not where he was coming from, and it’s just not where criticism of these stories should lie. I think if you talk about the Haradrum, as an example – whatever the colour of their skin is described as, Tolkien has a wonderful passage in the books where one of the Haradrum falls dead in front of Sam, and he has a wonderful passage where Sam looks at this dead body in front of him and he says, I can’t remember the exact words, but it’s like ‘I wonder where he came from, I wonder if he really wanted to come and fight here, I wonder whether he would have rather stayed at home in peace’, and that, there’s nothing racist about that, it’s humanity. And so I think this is a story where its mythic qualities and its humanity shines through beyond any political beliefs that could be assigned to it.

Posted in Old Spy Reports, Peter Jackson on January 14, 2001 by

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