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Germany's Cinema Magazine Goes Behind the Scenes

Heroes stink. At least Viggo Mortensen is spreading an odour as if he has spent the night at the pigsty. The actor playing Aragron in the LOTR triology, however, does no longer perceive his perspirations. The costume of leather and linen has never been washed, and it has conserved the dirt and sweat of four stenuous years. Jus now, Mortensen had again scrabbled over the battle fields of Pellenor and crawled through wet grass and horse droppings.

Even though the shooting have officially been finished on 22 December 2000, Mortensen and most other LOTR actors have returned to New Zealand to shoot additional scenes, so-called “Pick-ups” for the third part “The return of the King”: “When we had finished editing part 3 at the beginning of this year, we wondered how we could improve what we had”, director Peter Jackson explains the efforts. “There is for instance one scene where Gandalf waves at men while driving his cart. That is a wide angle shot showing a person in white, but you do not explicitly recognise Gandalf. So today, we are shooting a Close-up that we will add to the sequence.”

Not always, blunders can be straightened out with such easy tricks. “In parts, we have to shoot additional dialogues or completely new scenes in order to increase the dramatic art”, Jackson says. “After we realized that some characters had bewildered the audience in the second part ‘The Two Towers’ because we had personated them differently from the book, we currently work mainly on the characters – our goal is to make them more coherent and plausible.”

We are at the Stone Street Studios, Peter Jackson’s very own kingdom. Shielded by numerous security people, this has been the command centre of the operation LOTR since 1999. Specially for this purpose, the 41-year old director bought the former colours factory in Wellington’s district Miramar, absurdly in direct neighbourhood to the international airport.

An approx. 40 metres high hill separates the Studios from the end of the runway. That every ten minutes the work is disrupted by the rumbling of a jet, is hardly upsetting anyone here. Least of all Peter Jackson who already knows the crafts by their engine sounds. “We have to edit the sound at post production, anyway, so the noise is irrelevant”, Jackson says, Kiwi-typically cool. For the case that it is relevant still, he has posted an overseer on the hill who warns the crew by Walkie-Talkie if an aircraft rolls to start.

Jackson can now afford such extravaganzas. After FOTR has grossed 860 million $ worldwide, and TTT almost 950 million, the director needs not to be stingy. And he isn’t. That there is enough money for these Pick-up shoots, one can feel anywhere on the set. For instance, there are no more studio monitors. Even crew members can follow the shooting in cinema format directly on expensive flatscreens and plasma screens.

“This shoot alone is more expensive than the most expensive film from New Zealand”, producer Barrie Osbourne exclaims, not without pride. His colleague, Executive Producer Mark Ordesky who secured the financing of the overall project, is not troubled by the investment, either. “Allowedly,” he claims, “hadn’t been the first two parts been that successful, we would’nt be here today. Then we had released the three movies which were shot back-to-back like they were. Now, however, we are in the lucky position to improve our product and we are able to release it in increased quality.”

These days, production is done with almost all of the male cast – even though some of the most important actors are not on the set: “There’s an extremely high demand on you as an actor here”, Viggor Mortensen tells us. “It often happens that we shoot with six or seven teams at the same time what can cause me to talk to a tennis ball instead of ‘Gimli’ John Rhys-Davies who is just shooting somewhere completely else.”

There actually is an intense activity as Stone Street Studios. On Stage 1, Co-Author Fran Walsh works as Second Unit Director at a sequence with Gollum, Sam and Frodo. On Stage 2, where Meduseld the Golden Hall of Edoras has been set up, Lord Jackson himself is working. Here, Aragorn and Gandalf are the main characters.

Both scenes do not seem to claim much from the actors. On Stage 2 there is an air of holiday mood, some men drink and laugh while Viggo moves between them towards Gandalf Ian McKellen and exchanges some words.

Peter Jackson sits in a dark corner of the stage, very unimposing, in a soft armchair, the much-too-large-ever-smudgy round glasses on his nose. He steers at the monitor fully concentrates and conducts the actors with quite commandoes. Ian McKellen is quite nervous at the start and foozles. But already seven takes later, the director is satisfied.

On Stage 1, the stage designers have created an astoundingly authentic ledge and placed two artificial trees on it. Fran Walsh directs a short scene where Sean Astin and Elijah Wood sleep in the background while Gollum crawles mumbling out of the picture. For this, Gollum-performer Andy Serkis wears a flesh-coloured overall that covers his whole body except for the face. That costume is necessary so the digital department can give Gollum his gnome-like looks.

The firs take seems to be well done, but Fran Walsh shakes her had. The assistant director has the scene repeated. And then again and again. In incredible 21 times, the scene is shot by Fran Walsh. Elijah Wood who the day before had worked for more than 13 hours, has really fallen asleep in the meantime. “Fran will not make any allowances to the actors,” Peter Jackson gins. And Elijah Wood laughs: “Her perfectionism has earned her the nickname Franley Kubrick.”

After four years of working together the mood on the set is friendly, familiar and bright. These days, however, there is a certain melancholy. Soon the shootings will be finished, and the actors have to say their definite good-bye. “I’m sad it’s over”, Elijah Wood says. “But all of us will be bonded forever in our memory of this adventure.”