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Jackson’s LoTR Fan Club Interview

May 31, 2003 at 3:19 am by Demosthenes  - 

This is – in the main – oldish news now, but a couple of weeks ago the LoTR Fan Club published its most recent edition. One of the most interesting reads was an interview with Peter Jackson. Grammaboodawg – one of our Board regulars – transcribed the juicy bits. And although we already new the guts of the interview, it’s nice to see some of the detail. Enjoy.

Update with Peter Jackson

Q. Peter, are you going to be doing some additional shooting for The Return of the King?

A. Yes, we plan to. We haven’t quite gotten to the point where we know exactly what it is we want yet. Philippa and Fran are looking at the footage as I cut. We work up ideas, and then get together and talk about the storyline and potential scenes we would shoot to improve it and enhance it. That process is beginning now, too. We’re still anticipating that we’ll shoot bits and pieces with most of the cast. But it’s born from ideas that come from the cut, and I haven’t done quite enough of the cut yet for Philippa and Fran to really get into the script writing. But the first seeds of ideas are starting to happen.

Q. Fans were very excited to see the incredible CG (computer-generated) work with Gollum and Treebeard. Won’t Shelob be the next big CG character you introduce?

A. Yes, that’s true, Gollum is now a member of the cast and continues through the story. The mûmakil and Nazgûl have their real center-stage appearances after cameos in The Two Towers. They will be more spectacular from a cinematic point of view. But Shelob is definitely going to be the creepiest and scariest of the creatures. We did some work on Shelob a long, long time ago when we were in pre-production.

Most of the creatures of the trilogy were designed before we even started shooting back in 1998-99. We’ve just dusted off the designs for each of the creatures as we’ve gotten to them in the post-production process, so Shelob has only just come back onto the drawing board for re-evaluation now.

I’ve got a real fear of spiders; I guess I have arachnophobia. Ever since I was a kid, spiders have freaked me out. There is a spider in New Zealand called a Tunnel Web spider, which is a common New Zealand spider but a very nasty, fat, pudgy one that lives in gardens.

Ever since I was a kid, I have been terrified of coming across these things. You find them under old bricks and old logs and leaves and such. It is a very evil-looking spider; it’s small—about an inch and a half long. About three weeks ago, we had a Shelob design meeting, and I looked at the designs and said, “You know, we have to make this look more like the Tunnel Web. She has to be more like this horrible spider.” Most of the CG guys that I was talking to were from the U.S., so they didn’t have a clue what a Tunnel Web was. So I turned to one of the Kiwi designers, Christian Rivers, and said, “Can we find pictures of one?”

The next morning, Christian poked around in his garden and managed to catch one in a glass jar! So right now, we have a live Tunnel Web at Weta being the model for Shelob. As far as I’m concerned, a photograph would’ve been just fine!

Q. How closely will you be sticking to the book in The Return of the King?

A. The Return of the King is quite close to the book. There are notable exceptions. The first thing with RotK is that we still have to wrap up The Two Towers. We have the Isengard sequence—in which they go to Isengard to deal with Saruman, who is imprisoned at the top of a tower—which is at the tail end of TT book. It is now at the beginning of RotK. Likewise, we don’t have the scouring of the Shire, which is a major chapter at the end of the book….

…When the ring is destroyed at the end of RotK, that is really the climax of the film. Those two things are the notable major exceptions as well as Shelob, which is another spill-over from TT—Minas Morgul, the stairs of Cirith Ungol and into Shelob’s tunnel are now in RotK.

When fans of the book see that sequence, I think they will understand immediately how impossible it would have been for it to be in TT. It feels so right to be where we’ve got it from a story point of view—for reasons I can’t discuss now! At this point, we don’t have Ghân-buri-Ghân, the Wild Man that the Rohirrim come across on their way to Minas Tirith in there. I don’t know if this will change with us doing pickups, but I doubt it.

Having said that, the rest of RotK movie is going to follow the book reasonably well. What I like about RotK is that the story is the centerpiece of the film, more so than in the first two films. If you thought about what the major memorable thing was about FotR, it would probably be meeting these characters for the first time, and getting used to the actors playing them—that was the memorable thing.

In TT, you’ve got Gollum and Helm’s Deep — the spectacle and the size of it. The same characters are there in RotK, the spectacle and size is there, Gollum is there — but there are not those new elements anymore. What it does have is the most compelling narrative of the three films. It has a story that unfolds in a very exciting way.

I think that is going to make it a very strong film, because you know the places, you know the characters, and you know the situation. We only meet one new character, which is Denethor — and he’s only new to these who don’t check out TT extended cut in November! We’re now just simply paying it all off with a narrative that twists and turns and unfolds in quite a thrilling way.

Q. Many of the Actors who worked on these films have spoken of their unique collaborative nature. Bernard Hill told us that the actors involved in upcoming scenes would gather at your home or Philippa’s home to go over scenes and that everyone involved was invited to give feedback. He was struck by the fact that he was offered this opportunity to contribute. How did you, Fran Walsh, and Philippa decide to take this collaborative approach, and how did it help you? Can you think of any examples where input from an actor changed the direction of a scene or a character in a particularly striking or positive way?

A. We just have a philosophy of collaboration. We ended up with some very good actors in the films, and as with any good actor, they are going to get under the skin of their character. They are going to get to know their character better than you do. As screenwriters or director, we have to give equal attention to many characters; in this particular trilogy of films, there are 20 major characters….

The wonderful thing about actors is that, obviously, the only character that they are interested in and that they really think about is their own. We find that the actors can be wonderfully useful to sit down and talk about scenes with because they are going to be approaching the scene from a unique point of view.

They are going to be approaching it from their point of view, whether they are Théoden or Gandalf or Aragorn – their take on reading a particular scene is going to be from their character’s own viewpoint. They provide insights into that character and we don’t often think of these insights because we’re looking at it from a more global perspective.

We’ve always found it very useful to discuss the script with the actors and to figure it out. It serves two purposes for me: One, it obviously improves the script because they come up with ideas and bits of business we like to use. The other huge advantage is that when you get on set, everyone knows that he or she is doing, and there is less debate.

You can easily use up the first hour or two each day talking to the actors about the nature of the scene and what they have to do. But if we have already had those discussions in the context of a meeting, then we turn up on set and can start shooting because we all know what we’re doing. Not only that, but the scene has been improved, and everybody is happy, so we can just shoot it. It actually makes the shoot run a little bit more efficiently to have these early meetings.

Actors contribute to various degrees. For instance, Ian McKellen would always have suggestions that were based on the book. Ian became a very great fan of the book; he hadn’t actually read the book at all when he was first approached about the role. By the time we were filming on the set, he became a very great admirer of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Ian would turn up for meetings — and sometimes on set — carrying the book under his arm. He would have basically looked at the scene that we had written and [then] gone to the book to look at the equivalent moment there, too, and he would see lines we hadn’t used, or he would see moments for Gandalf that Tolkien had described that we hadn’t put in our script.

A lot of Ian’s ideas and suggestions were based on the book itself. He was very funny because he would say, “There is this wonderful line. Why didn’t you put it into the script?” We would always have a reason and say, “Oh, well, the scene was too long,” or “We didn’t think that was very important.” Because he is such a wonderful actor, he would say, “Well, that’s fine, but if this line were in the script, this is what I would imagine it sounding like.”

And then he would read the line to us in the character of Gandalf, and it would be so wonderful that we would immediately want to put it in the script! He knew that and would always get that past us! He always had the ability to pull that off, because he was so great. He was a great salesman for getting us to put extra bits and pieces in the script!

Q. How do you reach the point on these films where you can let go and say, “It’s done”? Is it a matter of tweaking a film as much as possible until you have literally reached the deadline, or is it there something that you just clicks instinctively and lets you know it is finished?

A. These films are tool long and complicated to ever be able to sit back and say, “It’s finished. I don’t want to do anymore.” That moment never arrives. You literally run out of time.

You are really describing what happens in the last two months of post-production. The end of post-production is at a point that is called “the delivery of the film.” Here in New Zealand, we have to supply the studio with a finished cut negative and soundtrack of the movie. That usually happens at the end of every October or the first week of November.

The reason that date is very, very important — and really can’t be changed — is that New Line has a phenomenally complicated process that they have to go through in producing up to 10,000 prints of the film. The delivery date allows New Line the barest number of weeks to do what they have to do to release the film simultaneously around the world …The entire soundtrack of the film is on computer hard drives — every sound effect, every piece of dialogue, every piece of music, every nuance of sound is on the computers. We edit the film on computers, so the picture is on a hard drive too….

…What happens now is that at almost any time before delivery, I can say, “You know, I want to extend this shot by 10 seconds,” or “I want to cut this scene out,” or “I want to reduce this by half.” It happens automatically on the hard drive containing the picture….

All these computers talk to each other, and the process happens relatively easily. That enables the filmmaker to keep fiddling with the movie right up until just before delivery, which can be both good and bad. It gives you enormous flexibility and advantages, and we were certainly fiddling with TT right up to the delivery and the same with Fellowship.

For example, on TT, I added the scene of Saruman talking with the wildmen the day before delivery. I just have a simple philosophy that nothing is ever perfect. There is no perfect cut of the film — it doesn’t exist … We’ve shot over 5 million feet of 35mm film on this project, and there are infinite ways you could tell the story. You can generally keep improving the films the longer you can spend on them.

The most useful thing that could happen during cutting would be to walk away from it for three months and have the ability to then come back and take a fresh look at the film, because it is after the passing of time that you suddenly see things that you hadn’t thought of before.

When you have been cutting for a year, and you have a deadline approaching, you really just lose objectivity. You’re operating on gut instinct, and you have to try to guess the best way a scene should play. After the space of two or three months, a lot of the things you were confused about or just couldn’t get your head around become glaringly obvious if you see the film again.

That is why we are also shooting these pick-ups. RotK was shot over three years ago. As we put that footage together, what we are finding — which is enormously helpful – is a fresh view of the film. We’re able to look at a rough cut of the film, and it is something that we haven’t really thought of or looked at for three years. Everything that we had written and shot… suddenly it all has a wonderful sense of perspective about it.

We look at it and say, “Oh, you know we should have a scene that does this,” or “Let’s add that.” Looking at it with fresh eyes after a distance of time is a really exciting thing to do because the script problems you couldn’t get your head around at the time — because you were so tired or so busy – suddenly become obvious. It all becomes clear, and you are able to shoot the scenes that help the film.

It’s an interesting process. But I never really get to a point where I think something is perfect. I do work on it until there is no more time left.

END

Posted in Old Special Reports on May 31, 2003 by

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