Phillippa Boyens interver Part II
Be sure to catch Part I here.
Di: [The question was missed while I changed tapes.]
PB: I think, as I said before, the advanced[?] story is pretty clear. One of the things I did deliberately was not reread. I’d already read it several times, and I deliberately did not reread it when it came to the writing process because I wanted what I remembered to stand out. And it does, it really does. I think if you ask somebody who hasn’t read the books for about ten years, tell me the story, you would basically know, what you need is there. So, like I said, some stuff is left untold.
Di: Outdoor and location work is very difficult, because you can not control the weather. Did you find yourself rewriting at all to limit those things. So much of the story takes place outdoors, but was there any conscious effort to say, well, we can condense a few things and keep away from one or two extra days of being out here with the snow and the rain?
PB: No, we didn’t. That was the whole point of shooting it in New Zealand, the environment and the scenery. We had the most incredible crew in the world. We really did. We had a lot of unit shooting. Peter has always inspired an enormous loyalty, and everybody just picthed in. So if Peter wanted to shoot on top of a volcano then we were there.
Di: He sounds pretty spontaneous at times. If you got a location and he turned around and said, I want that angle, did you find yourself rewriting to accomodate…
PB: [laughs] Matt Cooper is sitting in the audience laughing his head off because Matt was involved with the locations, as was Blair[?], attached to the production and was involved with the contracts to secure some of the resources, etc., etc. He was telling me this story last night, where absolutely that happened, very often. And, like I said, the great thing about our crew was if you get there and the boardwalk is set up that way and you were going to shoot that way, or something catches Peter’s eye, then, you know, it’s done. But it’s just amazing the crew was so unbelievable. And so many Tolkien fans within it.
Di: I take the actors were pretty accomodating. “Let’s try something over there.”
PB: Yeah. Oh, the actors were phemomenal.
Di: Any other insider information?
PB: Insider info? [laughs, ponders]
Di: You can’t tell us anything.
PB: No, it’s not that, I’m just trying to actaully think of what that would be. It’s probably something that… I’ll probably need a question.
Di: You wanted to let the audience know something about what you were all trying to achieve.
PB: Thematically, right. It’s interesting in approaching this, I often get asked in media interviews about what is the reaction of the fans going to be to the film. Are we worried about the reaction of the fans to the film? And my response has been; the fans of the book made these films. But in this company I think I can go further and give an explication of that. I think that to say that… for the media to try to bring up sometimes a sense that fans are going to be outraged, if you change this or change that, or whatever, it devalues what Tolkien readers know and understand, in that this is a huge canon of work, a huge literary heritage for all the world. My experience with people who love this book, Tolkien fans, is that they understand that this is a reading of the book. This is a vision, that they themselves do it, that’s what it was. And always we’ve tried to stay true… What is interesting, I was reading in Tolkien’s letters his own thoughts on Truth and Story. And to me what was important in creating the film and while you would be making the film is – to me this was what was important- is to bring this world alive. To be able to see it, to be able to experience it, as you can on film, which is a new experience, it’s a different experience to reading it. So that’s wonderful, I’d love this I think. And the sense of wonderment, is something very important, I think, to be able to bring that to life. To embrace some of those themes, and to get some of those themes out there. I think the concept of the greater good has gotten a really bum wrap. Recently. It feels different from other films.
Di: I think this is going to be released as PG-13. And it is a move about war. But do you have an age range which you think that it will appeal to? Did New Line keep that in mind, to try to widen it out as much as possible?
PB: Again, it wasn’t really a studio directive so much as something Peter wanted to do. He wants this to be embraced by as many people as possible, because the books are. In terms of the audience range, I have a twelve year old. I have absolutely no hesitation in her seeing this, there’s nothing in there that I would feel… I think that ten year olds would love this film. I mean I don’t know if they’re allowed to see it.
Di: What is on the professional horizon for you? Anything exciting you can tell us about?
PB: Well, it’s interesting, I thought I wouldn’t go to fantasy again, you know, because I don’t think that’s really the right tone for these works. There are several projects out there that are really exciting, and so we’re kind of talking.
[A lot of audience members asking questions forgot to talk into the microphone, so their questions were inaudible]
AM1[Audience Member 1]: How long are the films?
PB: I can honestly say I honestly don’t know. I think at the moment they haven’t locked off the first film. It will be over two hours, the first film. How long over two hours, I don’t know.
Di: I believe there’s a rough cut right now that’s three and a half, which would not surprise me.
PB: Yeah, exactly. Actually, it wasn’t three and half. There is a very long version, but it was never perceived to be the version that was to be released. It was, as you said, like a draft really.
PB: It’s an interesting question. I think what I said, I’m not sure how it came across, is one of the things I love about this is it’s almost an anti-quest. It’s a quest to undo a great evil. And what I think I said in that interview was I don’t know whether we can do that; can we do that now, do we do that, do we look at things we know to be powerful, enormously powerful, do we have the strength and courage to undo them? I don’t know.
AM3: The books contain a lot of darkness and I can imagine in film you can treat those in a horror way. Was it possible to include a kind of sadness…?
PB: Oh yeah, that is the great gift of having great actors. I think, yes, dark. I think the way as a writer that you approach things that thematically can be quite dark is to make them as exciting, as energectic, as adreniline as possible, as edge of your seat as possible, because you need to embrace all of that but you don’t want it to weight a film down. And in terms of the sadness, oh, yes, yes.
Di: I imagine some of those actors can bring it on.
PB: It’s beautiful. It’s not depressing sadness, as everyone who’s read the book understands. There’s a beauty in it, there’s a deep beauty in it.
AM4: To some fans the songs are the heart of the trilogy. Could you say a little bit about how the poetry has been woven into the films?
PB: Sure. I find a lot of his prose to be incredibly lyrical and incredibly poetic. Yes, there are songs. I have insider information. Now I don’t know if this will…we haven’t approached the third film yet. But Billy Boyd, who plays Pippin, has one of the most beautiful voices. And the moment that Denethor says, “Give us a song, Mater Hobbit”, he does, and it’s unbelievable. Yes we do embrace that, absolutely. It is very hard, it was a hard thing to know how much you can do…
Di: Did you have a list of songs more to the forefront, so that, if we include it, we’d prefer to go with these?
PB: Yeah, very early on, because Peter likes sometimes to shoot to… to be able to hear in his ear… I see him sometimes writing at the computer with the music playing. We had A Elbereth Gilthonel, it was done by a wonderful… Play Nine[?]… who is a wonderful group of musicians in New Zealand, who also did the music for Bilbo’s party, and just hearing that inspires you. This was such a gift as a writer. You got to walk into Weta and see these incredible creations, you had these actors bringing things to life, you have musicians bringing things to it…
Di: Have you had a chance to hear any of the score?
PB: Yes, I have. In fact, Howard is brilliant. Again, fate, fate. Howard came down to New Zealand, we were talking. He very early on recgonized that he wanted to do a choral piece for the dwarves, the mines. And we had spoken a lot about choral pieces, and he said maybe we could get somebody to do something in Elvish. And we just went, not Elvish, Dwarvish, these are dwarf mines. As soon as we said that…so I was just sort of sitting there eating and I said you know, it’s male […] they’ve got male voices. And Peter just went ahhh, and immediately, if you can imagine the mines, the great Dwarvish miners, male voices like the great Welsh choirs. So one of my favorite things that I did was write some libretto that was translated into Dwarvish for the entrance into Dwarrowdelf. Which probably only the people in this room are going to be able to understand. [laughing]
AM4: I know this is not necessarily your ken, but can you talk a little about the technical side. I’ve heard a lot of rumors about Peter using new techniques in certain scenes, and ways that he’s able to deliver the fantastic side, without it being hokey or silly […]
PB: I wish I could, and I would, and I’m not stalling or anything like this. I would just hate to…I can only speak as an observer from what I’ve seen, and the work that Weta Digital is doing is phenomenal, that’s all I know. It’s like […], you just go, oh my god, it’s wonderful. So again you just get excited as well. So I can’t answer that, all I can say is what I’ve seen, it was incredibly exciting.
AM4: But what you’ve seen is unique to your view.
PB: Um, yes, absolutely, to my untutored eyes, yes, absolutely. Sorry, I wish I could say more. But I can say it’s in incredibly great hands.
AM5: In the book the prologue and the appendices are part of the way that Tolkien implies this vast historical reality behind the story that he’s telling, beyond the narrative itself. Obviously those kinds of things don’t translate very easily to film. Were there any things that you tried to do to compensate for that and imply this historical reality to the story?
PB: Absolutely, they were wonderful resources, absolutely. It’s interesting, actually, a lot of it translated incredibly well, I think, dramatically. Because it works wonderfully, it’s Professor Tolkien’s own musings, and some slightly eccentric thoughts in those, in the prologue and the appendices, whcih were fantastic! Wonderful color.
AM5: Can I ask you specifically if you use the same notion that the book itself is a translation of a historical artifact?
PB: The Red Book of Westmarch? Yes, it’s in the film, absolutely, it’s brilliant.
AM6: It’s well reported that the hobbits are effectively shrunk down with the use of a computerized [..]. Did you note any difficulties or special challenges you faced in portraying the Tolkien characters on screen such as the elves or the dwarves or the balrog?
PB: Again, I’m sorry, I know it sounds like I’m falling back on the actors, but the actors enormously informed it. One of the things that’s great about Peter’s process and the way his brain thinks is he very early recognized and identified the fact that as you read this book, you forget about the size difference. You don’t consciously keep these guys this big in your brain. And I don’t personally believe that Professor Tolkien did. And then occasionally he would remind you. And I think that’s the way that Peter’s done this in terms of the size. In terms of the different cultures, and wanting to show the huge vastness of this world, which is so utterly important, and I know for people who love these books is incredibly important, is that we had unbelievable artists working on this film, who brought the cultures to life. And as you can imagine, loved the […] of doing it. So the detail that went into that, and the interesting thing was it was one huge creative engine that everybody else was fed by. The actors would walk into Weta, you know Viggo would go in there when they were doing swords and things like that, and the writng on the swords and even understanding what those runes were, this would help him form his character. All of this sort of thing, it was great.
AM7: All my favorite parts in the book happen at night, such as Sam in Mordor at night and he looks up at the star…
PB: He sees the star.
AM7: I was wondering how much you adhered to the whole sense of night and day. […]
PB: I should tell you we shot that scene. Again, I don’t know, but it was shot. It’s one of the most beautiful moments in the book, and it informs so much of what has gone before, and so much of the presence of people like Galadriel and Gandalf himself, and Elrond. So, in terms of tonally, in terms of night and day? The gathering gloom, the gathering darkness? Yeah, I’ve got a funny story about that. We had to stop shooting in Queenstown, we had to go to wet weather cover. So very quickly we had to go the film that we were shooting in Mordor. Peter was talking to his wonderful, brilliant cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, and wonderful gaffer who was in charge of the lighting, Brian Pettigrove[?], and he was talking about the gathering gloom of Mordor. And then Brian went and talked to his boys and said, [Aussie accent] “Right, it starts off and it’s night and it’s really dark.” And then the sun comes up? “Then the sun comes up, but it’s still really dark.” [laughs] Brian Pettigrove was utterly fantastic. I remember him in Lothlorien, shooting in Paradise believe it or not, it was like […] for Lothlorien, completely appropriate. If you ever get to New Zealand you must go and see this. Beautiful, beautiful forest. And Pete went up to Brian and said, “What do you think about the lighting, Brian?” And Brian said, [Aussie accent] “Oh, I think we’ll use the avaliable light, Pete. Every available light.” [laughs]
PB: Sure, it’s interesting because there’s more than one elvish culture which we tried to observe as well. I guess it’s true to say, I don’t know if it’s fair to say, but elves I think… I don’t think timelessness is the right word to say, we needed a sense of ancientry and a sense of the world is changed, moving on. So in terms of the elvish culture, I think we drew upon Professor Tolkien’s own writings to let us see as much as we could, and what was in the book, and what the actors found.
AM9: You mentioned some of the outdoor locations. I’m also curious about some of the indoor things, did you have to build certain things, certain sets. And which one did you think was the most difficult.
PB: Yes, enormous sets. Edoras, which was built on top of a carrock of rock in the middle of an incredible alluvial valley, with soaring mountains actually all around it. And they did the most phenomenal job in recreating that.
Di: Those pictures are on the net.
PB: They’re amazing
AM9: What’s your favorite personal theme in the books that also made it into the films?
PB: OK, I’m going try some elvish. [laughs] My favorite theme? [speaks Elvish line] The world has changed… Bill, you’re going to have to help me [laughs] [speaks more Elvish lines] So, the world has changed, I can feel it in the water, I can feel it in the earth, I can smell it in the air. That’s my favorite theme.
AM10: […] the concept of magic […]
PB: Sure, no, exactly. That’s a wonderful question. One of my favorite things of the prologue, somebody mentioned the prologue, is the ordinary magic of hobbits. Ah, it’s just such a wonderful concept. And I know that Sir Ian McKellen thought a lot about this, and in terms of the power that is within Gandalf, the power that he summons when needful. The differences between Saruman, that drove a lot of the Gandalf – Saruman… Yeah, power really, rather than magic, I suspect, looking back on it, is what we’re talking about. The power of the elves, what is the nature of the power of these people. What is the nature of the power of the world? What is the nature of the power of Illuvatar? Those sort of things. So rather than magic, I mean the great line, “Do not mistake me for a conjurer of cheap tricks, Bilbo Baggins”, tells you early on that this is no ordinary visitor.
AM11: It’s great to see you here. It’s really fantastic that you came all the way across the planet to come and talk to us. And I don’t know if the crowd feels the same way, but you really should be acknowledged for making this special trip. [claps]
PB: I think Bill deserves a lot of credit for doing that and just his unbelievable enthusiasm for the project and his understanding for the project, which was great. And also New Line, they embraced this whole… I mean everything about it they’ve embraced it brilliantly. And for me it’s also a deep pleasure for me, it’s wonderful, and I’ve never been to San Francisco, and yeah, I think I want to come and live here. It’s wonderful, very, very beautiful city.
AM11: My question has to do with Professor Tolkien’s attitude about myth. And if you have read Humphrey Carpenter’s biography, you learn a lot about the real core of Tolkien’s personal belief about myth, and its appropriate, needful use in communicating to mankind, on the whole, greater essential truths than he otherwise might be in touch with. You’ll have to forgive me for paraphrasing so rudely. I wanted to know how closely, as a writer, your own work was informed by Carpenter’s biography and your own feeling as a writer about myth.
PB: Well, I love that biography. I read that biography, I had read it, when I was very young actually, which was a weird thing, because I don’t normally go and seek out biographies on authors that I loved. It was a great read. And yes it did inform, or gave me a sense of who this man was. So…the rest of that was?
AM11: I was most interested in your personal spin on myth, the way Tolkien […].
PB: Well, he has informed on a lot of that for me, absolutely, he’s like this great teacher that you can go to. I talked about immediacy as necessary in film, and making this film feel real, but you don’t want to lose the huge, enormous history that this is based on. I think that we had very early on, Peter made a decision that he wanted people to recognize this as our world, that this is our world. This is not a far off planet, this is Earth. And to do that, this is our mythology, that to recognize that this is where we came from. So I found that myth and theme, one of the great advantages working on this project was, as a writer and adapting it, was just the wealth of what you could go to, when you were looking at those things. I remember reading something of Professor Tolkien, when you said truth…he said something about fidelis, that truth, I think he was talking about something C.S. Lewis wrote (somebody here probably knows this better than I do)… but basically that the truth and beauty of something will rise above – this is what I took it to mean – will rise above and be what is received and what is remembered. Often myth is not necessarily a collection of fact, in fact it isn’t a collection of fact. So yes, to that extent, we used it.