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While, I wasn’t at the actual awards ceremony I have the joy of having several friends report back to me and also having the local newspaper at my hands. One story a friend told me about was quite funny and thought you guys might like to hear about it…

It seems that while doing the main filming of Fellowship, the large group of cast and crew was going to a specific location for filming. The majority of the cast was flown in these rather crappy airplanes while another group (including P.J, Sean Bean, and Orlando Bloom) went by car to the location. Sadly it was during a rather heavy storm. While driving though a mud slide happened coming between Peter Jackson’s car and the car containing only Sean Bean and Orlando Bloom. S.B. and O.B. tried backing up and going back, but there was another mudslide behind them. So, trapped inbetween two mudslides and the coast on the other side S.B. and O.B. had to go to this little rickety house where a little old woman lived. As all phone lines were down and there was no way to contact Peter Jackson and the crew. S.B. and O.B. stayed for three days with this little old woman until the phone lines came back up and the roads cleared.

I found that a highly amusing story that you guys might enjoy. If you’d also liked I can type up a copy of the news article that came out after the awards ceremony. It proves to be very hilarious with mentions of John Cleese presenting the Modern Masters award along with a fake Kiwi Bird.



Last night I was lucky enough to attend the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Modern Master Award presentation to Peter Jackson. Possessing only general admission tickets and not the coveted “Platinum Pass” my wife and I arrived at the theatre two and a half hours before the scheduled start time to stand in line. Unfortunately that was not early enough to get the prime red carpet viewing area so we only got fleeting glimpses of the special guests as they entered. I can confirm that Sean Astin and Barry Osborne arrived to support PJ. Rumors were flying that Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler and Elijah Wood would also be there, but I did not see them. Philippa and Fran had been at a screenwriter’s panel earlier in the day, but I cannot confirm if they were at the evening event.

Once we got into the sold out Arlington Theatre and got settled, we got the usual welcome and thank you to the festival sponsors from the president of the festival board. Then he introduced Sean Astin as “my choice for best supporting actor.” Sean came onstage and took the mike amid lots of cheering. He thanked the Festival president for the supporting actor comment and told how he had been doing remote voiceover work with Paul Giamatti recently and took the opportunity to tell him he thought he was robbed of an Oscar nomination. Paul said that Sean was also robbed and that they should consider picketing. This drew approval from the audience. Sean moved on to thank the festival board for inviting him to come and honor Peter Jackson. “How visionary is the Santa Barbara Film Festival?” he asked, “to honor a movie so overlooked by the mainstream media and critics.” He said a few words about how honored he was to be there and left the stage.

Next, New York Times Film Critic Elvis Mitchell was introduced. Mitchell wasted no time in introducing a montage of clips from PJ’s films and then introduced the honoree himself. There was plenty of time for a standing ovation as PJ made his way up to the stage.

PJ and Mitchell took seats in some comfy looking leather armchairs on the side of the stage and began the evening’s interview. Mitchell asked PJ about his beginnings and influences. PJ talked about getting his dark sense of humor from watching Monty Python as a kid with his father who didn’t get it. He also talked about his love of movies and, particularly, special effects from King Kong and the Sinbad films, Jason and the Argonauts, etc. He told the story of being rejected for a job at the NZ Film Unit and later buying the company. He told how he took a job as a photoengraver’s apprentice because it had the word “photo” in the title so that appealed to him. Then he told of how he bought a 16 mm camera and recruited friends to help him make Bad Taste on weekends which took them 4 years. After showing a clip from Bad Taste, PJ offered that if the Festival board wanted to reconsider their decision to honor him he was happy to just shake a few hands and leave it at that.

Then they moved onto to talk about Meet the Feebles. The NZ film board was willing to back them in another project after Bad Taste became a modest hit for them. But the Film Board balked at the budget PJ and his crew were asking to make Braindead. So instead they decided they could get the money to make a puppet film. (PJ described his first visit to Richard Taylor’s apartment/puppet workshop and how RT lived in a room filled with glue fumes.) But they ran well over budget and had to complete filming in secret after the Film Board had pulled the plug and insisted they edit together what they had already filmed. Then they showed a clip from Meet The Feebles.

They talked about PJ finally getting to make Braindead and how it was his chance to make his own zombie movie after the ’80’s heyday of the low budget horror film. They showed a clip from the movie set in a cemetery. After the clip PJ told how that scene landed them in court when the family of one of the residents of the real cemetery used in the film objected to what they interpreted as necrophilia in the scene. PJ described the comedy in the courtroom as they had to convince the court that what occurred in the scene in question was a disemboweling, not necrophilia.

They then talked about Heavenly Creatures and how it was a based on a case that had fascinated Fran Walsh for some time but about which very little had been written. So they had to do the research themselves, including interviewing those involved and gaining access to the girls’ diaries. PJ also talked about the emergence of CG in the nineties and his fear that his old style low budget locally made special effects would be left behind. So he used Heavenly Creatures as a way to break into CG and purchased one computer on which to do the CG effects for that movie. After seeing a clip from Heavenly Creatures PJ noted that while “morphing” was all the rage at that time it looked a little cheesy now.

The Frighteners apparently started out as a script commissioned by Robert Zemeckis for a movie version of “Tales from the Crypt.” But when PJ and Fran delivered the script, Zemeckis changed his mind about the “TftC” connection and offered PJ to direct it as a stand alone film. He noted that he had intended to deliver a PG13 film, but that the MPAA insisted that it get an R rating due to its overall tone. PJ thought that this left them with a rather toothless R rated film and that contributed to the disappointing reception. He said that had they known they were making an R, they could have let go and really made it a more intense movie.

After a clip from The Frighteners, Mitchell turned the conversation to LotR. PJ explained that Miramax had picked up HC for distribution in the states and had signed him to a 3 year first look agreement. After The Frighteners PJ and crew decided that the technology was in the right place to make a full blown fantasy film. In their early discussions as to what kind of film to make, they kept coming back to “something like Lord of the Rings.” So they decided to find out if LotR was even available to them. It just so happened that Saul Zaentz owed Harvey Weinstein a favor and the rights were available. PJ did not go into the now familiar story of the switch from Miramax to New Line. Instead he talked about how his approach to storytelling had always been to make the world in the movie as real as possible and how this was most important in LotR. He said it was important not to stress the magical elements in the story. This did lead to a confrontation with Ian McKellen who wanted to know why Gandalf was hitting people with his staff in the battle scenes instead of blasting them with magic. PJ said he had to think fast to come up with a reason. All he could think to say was that since they were in the middle of a war his magic staff was out of batteries and he could not get replacements. Apparently Sir Ian just said “Right then” and went back to filming. He also said that for this reason he was reluctant to include the scene where Gandalf uses the magic from his staff when he rides out to rescue Faramir’s men, but that that is such an iconic moment from the books that he went ahead and filmed it.

PJ also reiterated Elijah Wood’s well known quote that these were the most expensive low budget movies ever made. He talked about flying to locations in a WWII era troop transport plane and not knowing if the plane could lift all their equipment. That led Sean Bean and Orlando Bloom driving to locations and getting stranded by a storm at a country farmhouse for three days.

After some final clips from LotR and some testimonial video clips from Ian McKellan, Hugo Weaving, Richard Taylor, Elijah Wood and others, the festival Artistic Director Roger Durling came out to thank Mitchell and to introduce Santa Barbara resident and Monty Python alum John Cleese to present the award.

John Cleese said that it was amazing that a New Zealander could make such masterpieces as the LotR films, and that this was like a person from Bakersfield painting the Sistine Chapel. (Bakersfield is a small city in the central California valley that gets no respect, much like Fresno.) Cleese presented the Modern Master Award trophy on behalf of the festival board and — as his own award to PJ — a stuffed Kiwi bird. Cleese pointed out that it is ironic that the Kiwi is a flightless bird and yet a Kiwi (New Zealander) is capable of such extraordinary flights of imagination.

PJ took the trophy and the Kiwi and proceeded to the usual thank you speech while holding the Kiwi. He kept gesturing with the Kiwi bird until the audience could not help but start laughing. PJ noticed this and pretended the bird was attacking him and said something about a killer Kiwi. Funnily enough, he continued with his thank you still gesturing with the Kiwi until the audience started laughing again. This time he pointedly put down the bird and picked up the trophy to finish his speech.

It was a very nice evening. All in all, there were no big revelations that the TORn readers would not have already heard, but still it was great to see PJ telling the stories in person and see his reaction to the clips. He admitted not having seen his earlier films for at least 10 years. Later in the evening PJ was to host a late showing of Dead Alive (Braindead) at another theatre in town and then a private afterparty in Montecito. I was unable to go to either event (not that I actually rate an invitation to a private party in Montecito — Santa Barbara’s equivalent to Beverly Hills) so that was the end of my PJ evening.

I hope you can use this. Thanks for the terrific work you do at TORn.



I attended the Modern Master Award given to PJ at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this weekend. I had gotten my ticket when they first went on sale on Ticketmaster in early January, so I was prepared. I figured there would be some kind of line, and there was when I got there at 1:30. It gradually got longer, and then they started moving us around. First, we were on one side of the walkway, then the other, then they shoved us outside along the side, while they set up two red carpets. Finally, they “unwound” us, supposedly so that the people in front would be up front and able to see and talk to the stars as they came in–but nobody along the walkway would move so the front people were all jammed together; that was where I was.

About 7:15 they started letting us in, and so I got my seat and came back out to take pictures of the people who showed up. First was Barrie Osborne. As I was taking his picture, some young guy said, “who’s he,” and I told him. He muttered to his friend, “Gee, I’m surprised that some chick knows about producers.” Then Sean came and was mobbed. It’s so clear what a very nice guy he is: he was patient with the fans, willingly signed autographs, and took pictures with them.

I wanted to wait to see PJ, but I figured I better get back to my seat–just as well; it took a while to find out where I had left my stuff. The way the stage was set, there were two large stuffed chairs on the left (where I was–I had a perfect line of sight to PJ) and the announcer on the right. Finally at 7:45 people were finally urged to sit down and the program began. The head of the SBIFF said that PJ was the only person he wanted–and he was delighted that PJ could accept. I think about this time they did a montage of PJ’s pictures–the first five–and PJ is in some of those clips (from Bad Taste–and all gory and bloody). Then they did a LOTR montage–and everyone was cheering and applauding.

Then he introduced Sean, saying that even though Sean had been snubbed by the Academy, he thought Sean had given an Oscar-worthy performance. Sean came out and gave the usual plaudits about PJ. Then Elvis Mitchell, the NY Times film critic, who had praised ROTK (and I believe put it at the top of his 10 best list, or very close to the top) came out to take PJ through his filmography.

Then PJ came up onto the stage–and got a standing ovation from everyone. He does look like a hobbit, with his bushy black hair–and shoes. Then Elvis started talking with Peter about his career–starting with his childhood and early adulthood. He worked at a photoengraving place for a number of years, and later at a newspaper–and 2-3 years ago, he bought the photoengraving business.

We got to see clips of all of his films. Peter said that he hadn’t seen these pictures since he made them, so it was interesting to him to see clips from them. They were Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, Braindead (or Dead Alive– same movie, alternate title), Heavenly Creatures and the Frighteners. Then after each clip, Peter would say something about the movie. And then Elvis would move on.

One of the comments that Peter made about Meet the Feebles (the puppet movie, which presumes to show the offstage antics of a TV show like the muppets–very scatological and of-kilter) was that the key was not to do it tongue-in-cheek, but to treat it like these were real people in a real world–a theme that is pivotal to LOTR, which he later addressed in more detail.

When we saw the clip from Heavenly Creatures, which was the first time he used CG, there was an overhead shot of the girl running over a hill–as both he and Elvis said, “a Lord of the Rings moment”. He said that in 1994 he realized from Jurassic Park and T2 that it was time to get out of stop-motion animation and into CG, so they bought one computer and did the animation on that. (It so happens that his animation on Heavenly Creatures got a lot of praise.) By the time they moved on to the Frighteners, he had 35 computers.

He said that he and Fran who had started with him in Bad Taste on the sets (and he discovered that she was a better scriptwriter than painter–[and presumably other things too]) had learned to start writing the next script during post production because when they went shopping the completed film, people would ask them what they were working on next, and they could whip out a script. Bob Zemeckis asked them to write a script for him to direct for a Tales of the Crypt segment, and that turned out to be the Frighteners–which Bob suggested PJ direct because Bob had gotten busy on other things. Then came the KK debacle–after 6 months they shut it down. So PJ and Fran were searching around for something else–PJ wanted to direct a fantasy “something like LOTR”–and finally they decided to try LOTR.

I think we know the story about how he got it–he went to Harvey Weinstein, who had distributed Heavenly Creatures and wanted his next film and asked him to work on the rights to LOTR; Harvey had just bailed out Saul Zaentz (for the English Patient), so Saul owed him. Saul had been unwilling to give up the LOTR rights, but did so as a thank you to Harvey. And the rest is history.

Then they started showing the LOTR clips. From FOTR, the Council of Elrond from the argument to the end; TTT, Gandalf driving out Saruman from Theoden to Grima’s departure; from ROTK, 3 clips–after Sam has bashed Gollum with the frying pan until “he’s a villain”, Theoden using his sword as he rides down the row of spears until they start advancing, and Sam and Frodo on Mt. Doom (do you remember the shire…) until he picks Frodo up, and then a montage, obviously from a trailer, of the rest of the movie.

Peter had a few stories and comments to make. One of the things he said was that it was very important to treat LOTR not as a fantasy, but as history, a truth, actually existing. This is history, 6-7000 years ago, not someone’s fantasy. Thus, everything had to be treated as real, as true–and envisioned from the bottom up. He talked about the elves culture–what they wore, what they sat on, wore, their glassware, their silverware, everything–and for them they chose art nouveau from the 20’s (actually turn of the century). If everything and everyone was conceived of as real, you could accept them reality, their truth–and that made all the difference[–which we can certainly see in LOTR]. He also wanted to get away from the idea of “fantasy” and “magic” –that’s why there’s very little of Gandalf doing much magic. He particularly commented on the moment when Gandalf rides out and uses his staff to send out the beam of light to drive away the nazgul. In the later scene Gandalf is bashing orcs with staff and sword. Ian McKellen came up to him and said, if he had this magic staff that could shoot out light, why wasn’t he using it to obliterate everyone. Peter thought awhile and said that [and I’m paraphrasing] Minas Tirith was at war, and the batteries in his staff were low and the chemist shops were closed so he couldn’t recharge them. Ian said “OK” and went away. You can, of course, imagine that it got a big laugh.

Peter also talked about the first time they flew from the north island to the south island–they ended up on a DC3 that, he said, had first been used bringing American troops to the Philippines in 1943. And the pilot was very nervous about the weight. He had a very difficult time getting them off the ground. When they had to fly to another location, PJ and 2 others and Sean Bean and Orlando chose to drive in 2 cars. They drove right into some torrential rains. It turned out that Sean and Orlando got caught between two landslides and they ended up at the house of a little old lady for 3 days–they couldn’t get out, and couldn’t be picked up by helicopter.

PJ described what he did as “exalted child’s play”–that’s what he’s been doing all these years as a filmmaker.

Finally, the SBIFF director came back out. PJ had mentioned that Monty Python had been one of his influences, and the director said that to give PJ his award was a member of Monty Python –John Cleese. Cleese said he had two awards to give PJ. He first presented PJ with the Modern Master award (lots of cheers) and then he said he had another, personal award–which turned out to be a stuffed kiwi. Cleese made some cute jokes about NZ, and then Peter thanked everyone for the award. He mentioned that the Golden Globe, which is a globe, has Australia on it, but not NZ. While he was talking, he was holding the kiwi, which he kept poking himself with. Finally, he poked himself in the neck with it, humorously, and then dropped it.

And basically that was it. We all cheered and clapped again. I left, and as I was walking around the building to my car, I ended up by the side door, where a few people were waiting. And then they started coming out–Philippa and Fran, then Sean: he said, “I need a pen,” and I gave him mine, and asked if he could sign my program too, and he said, “That’s how it works”–and did. All the teenyboppers chased after him, so that when PJ came out, there were far fewer people, and he signed my program. I got to personally thank him for the gift he had given us.

Then I went home. I took pictures, but they aren’t very good, and my camera battery died just after I took the picture of Fran. I hope to send them to you soon.



I attended a couple of events yesterday (Saturday, January 31) as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The first event, which took place at 11:00 a.m. in the Lobero Theater, was a panel discussion titled, “It Starts with the Script.” The panel included Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (besides lots of other great screenwriters). Here’s the description of the panel from the festival’s web site:

[begin quote]

Trace the journey of writers and their scripts as they make their way to the big screen. Top writers will talk about their most recent screenplays. Panelists include: Fran Walsh, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King; Philippa Boyens, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King; Jim Sheridan, In America; Denys Arcand, The Barbarian Invasions; John August, Big Fish; Anthony Minghella, Cold Mountain; Patty Jenkins, Monster; and Tom McCarthy, The Station Agent. Moderated by Frank Pierson, President, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

[end quote]

With all the talent on the panel, there wasn’t much time for Fran and Philippa to speak, but there were several questions from the audience directed at them. The following are paraphrased from my notes; apologies for not being able to give you a complete transcript.

The moderator, Frank Pierson, is a great screenwriter in his own right, having written the scripts for such films as Cool Hand Luke and Dog Day Afternoon. He joked about how difficult he’s always found it to work with a co-writer, and asked Fran and Philippa how they managed that part of the process.

Fran said it was pretty much a “war of attrition,” in the sense that they would fight for what they believed in, and whoever (among the three of her, Philippa, and Peter Jackson) believed in his or her position the strongest would eventually wear the other two down.

She mentioned that they’re still in the early stages of writing King Kong, so it’s actually pretty difficult for them to work on the script, since they all have to be together to do it. She said that after so long working together on The Lord of the Rings, they pretty much were all “on the same page,” so they could work independently and then bring what they’d done to the others for comment. But at this early stage on King Kong, Peter is telling them, “Oh, no, you can’t work on that yet, because I can’t be there to discuss it with you.”

In response to a question from the audience about what their favorite scene was from the book that they were _not_ able to get into the movie, Philippa said there really weren’t any, because they worked so hard to find ways to get their favorite parts of the book into the film, even if it ended up being used in a different scene or being spoken by a different character than in the book. She specifically mentioned what is probably my favorite example of that from all three movies, the scene in The Return of the King where Gandalf talks to Pippin about death and the afterlife as the forces of Mordor are pounding on the gate inside Minas Tirith. She said that scene was Fran’s idea, because Gandalf had actually died, so he could talk about that from a position of experience. And that passage in the book (which is the description of Frodo’s arrival at Valinor, and which Philippa interpreted as really being about Frodo’s death and passing over) was so beautifully written, Philippa said, that it made her really happy to have that language in the film.

Fran, in answering a question about how she knew what to take from the book and what to leave out, talked about how as a screenwriter you write what you think will work, then you see it on film and it’s different, and you have to make changes, and then you see it in edited form and it is different again, and you have to make more changes. You have to put aside your preconceptions and see how it actually plays.

She talked about how, in the early stages of making the three films, it seemed so unlikely, some ways, that it would be successful. There were many, many characters (“too many, really”), and many risks associated with the production. No one knew if it was going to work, to make any money. And the pressure to produce something that would be commercially successful was very strong, because New Line had basically gambled the company on the films’ success.

Philippa Boyens, in talking about some of the criticism that purists had made regarding changes from the book, spoke specifically about the scene where Frodo sends Sam away on the stairs of Cirith Ungol. “‘But that doesn’t happen in the book’, people say. ‘Sam would never leave Frodo like that.'” But the way it works in a movie, Philippa said, is that without that, you’d have this long climb up the stairs, with nothing really happening. Gollum is using all these machinations to try to split Sam and Frodo apart, and if it doesn’t actually happen, there’s no payoff on-screen payoff. (One thing my wife has observed about this change is that it also helps heighten the sense of jeopardy in Shelob’s Lair, since Frodo is alone, rather than with Sam.)

Late in the event there was a question from the crowd about King Kong, leading to Fran making what was, to me at least, a rather startling comment. She said they had thrown out the old script they’d had, and hadn’t really started on the new one yet. And since they were scheduled to begin filming in August, they were up against some pretty intense deadline pressure.

Philippa commented on having watched the original 1933 King Kong, and the 1976 remake, and apparently she wasn’t very impressed with the latter movie. “I loved that silver lame [“lam-may”, that is] dress, and possibly nothing else [about the film].”

At the end of the session there was a question for all the panelists about how the process of screenwriting had changed for them now that they were so successful. Fran said that while things were definitely different for her now when she comes to the United States, that back home in New Zealand people are harder to impress. She told a funny story about how when she got her first Oscar nomination (for the Heavenly Creatures screenplay), she talked to her father about it, saying, “Dad! I’m up for an Oscar!” And his response was, “Well, you’ve been nominated. You haven’t won anything yet.” And then, after the ceremony, she called him up to say, “Dad, did you see me on the Academy Awards?” And his response was, “Yeah. You were fifth.” Which got a laugh from the crowd.

* * *

That night I also attended the presentation of the Festival’s “Modern Master Award” to Peter Jackson. I was there with my daughter, who was there with a big group of her friends from her school. The event was held at 7:30 p.m. at the Arlington Theater. The mother of one of the other girls waited in line starting around 1:00 p.m., so when we arrived (at around 4:30 p.m.) we were able to join up with her near the front of the line. Near the start of the event my daughter and five of her friends were lining the railing along the red carpet near the entrance to the theater, acting giddy for the local TV news and screaming excitedly at pretty much anything. Sean Astin arrived and did an interview down at the other end of the carpet, but they opened the doors of the theater and started seating people before the girls had a chance to scream at anyone famous. (Later, however, one of the girls, who had done a work internship with the local TV station, was given a chance by one of the cameramen she knew to go say hi to Sean Astin, and he was nice enough to give her a hug and sign a bunch of autographs for her, including the Two Towers DVD booklet that my daughter had brought.)

The event itself was pretty fun. They introduced Sean Astin (to a huge ovation), who gave a very nice and heartfelt introduction of Peter Jackson (to an even bigger ovation), after which Elvis Mitchell, a New York Times film critic who also hosts a program called “The Treatment” for Los Angeles radio station KCRW, came out and interviewed Peter on stage.

The interview covered Peter’s entire film career, and included projected clips from each of his movies. It was pretty funny seeing my daughter’s reaction to his early “splatter” films; she’s only 12 years old, and thought most of that was pretty disgusting. I’m not really a fan of that genre either, but I found myself defending the films (which were, after all, pretty disgusting :-), pointing out to her that they were _supposed_ to be that way, and that some of what she was being put off by was the films’ low-budget production values.

Elvis asked Peter about what the early influences were that led him to be a fan of splatter movies, and Peter mentioned his parents letting him stay up until 11:00 p.m. on Sunday nights as an 8-year-old to watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He said he didn’t know what his parents were thinking in letting him do that; his father, he said, certainly thought Monty Python was “complete rubbish.” But Peter loved it, and mentioned one skit in particular that involved lots of over-the-top mayhem and gallons of blood, which at the time he thought was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.

He said he’d never really been able to do a straight horror film without subverting it with comedy. And he mentioned how much he’d like to do another zombie movie.

He talked about how he got into the film industry, and how in 1970s New Zealand there weren’t really any movie jobs to be had. He said he’d tried to get a job as a color balancer (I think? I don’t have notes from this part) at a film processing company, because that was the only way he could think of trying to break into the business. And he wasn’t sure why, but he was turned down for the job. He said he could understand why they would have felt that way; he was young, and probably came off as wanting the job a little _too_ much. And anyway, he said, laughing, he’d recently been able to buy the company, which got a big laugh from the crowd.

He said he’d started out wanting to work in visual effects, but that he’d figured out pretty early on that what he was really interested in was telling stories, and that as a special effects guy he could end up working on things he didn’t really like, telling someone else’s stories. So that led to his learning to be a director.

When they showed clips from his early movies, the audience laughed at the funny parts and groaned and laughed at the disgusting parts, and gave polite applause (at least) after the clips from Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, and Braindead. Peter Jackson commented several times about how much fun it was working on those movies, doing “guerilla filmmaking” on tiny budgets. He also told a funny story about how he ended up in court after Braindead came out, when a family whose ancestor’s grave was shown during a graveyard fight scene sued the film for depicting what the suit described as necrophilia. Peter laughed at how surreal it was to be in a New Zealand courtroom, with judges and lawyers in traditional wigs, arguing over whether a particular scene actually showed sex taking place between the zombie and its victim, or whether (as Peter’s producer testified) it was actually only a _disembowelment_ being shown. After a few days, Peter said, the suit was thrown out.

Peter commented several times on how he hadn’t seen these films in 10 years or more. He said he has a personal quirk about viewing his previous work; after he has made a movie he enjoys watching it with an audience to experience their reaction, but then he wants to move on to the next thing he’s working on.

Peter talked about how he came to make Heavenly Creatures, researching the characters in the film. The newspaper accounts from the time really didn’t explain the motivations of the two girls involved in the murder, he said, just describing them as “evil”, so he and Fran Walsh traveled to the area where the film’s events had taken place, and went around interviewing people (quite old, now) who had been involved in the events to try to reconstruct things.

He talked about casting the then-unknown Kate Winslet for the part of Juliet Hulme. He said he knew he wanted English actors to play the recently-arrived-from-England Hulme family, so he went to England and auditioned around 50 actresses for the part of Juliet. When he saw Kate’s audition, he said, it was obvious that she was going to be a big movie star; she brought so much intensity to her work.

Peter talked a bit about how The Frighteners got made, and discussed how, in the clip that they showed, the little baby in the jumper was his then-two-month-old son Billy (“he can’t believe that’s really him when he sees it now,” said Peter), and the ghost having trouble with his jawbone was Sean Astin’s father John.

Eventually we reached the Lord of the Rings movies. It really was very powerful seeing clips from all three movies in quick succession. And it was nice to be able to applaud the films with Peter there, on the stage, giving him a token of the deep gratitude many of us in the audience feel for what he has done in adapting these books.

Between the clips, Peter told some stories I hadn’t heard before. He mentioned the same Elijah Wood quotation that Philippa Boyens had mentioned in the screenwriting session that morning, about how these were “the most-expensive low-budget movies ever made.” He told how, after they’d done the first few weeks of filming at their studios in Wellington, the cast and crew had filmed the Merry-and-Pippin-dancing-on-the-tables scene, and then packed up at lunchtime and headed off to the airport to fly a chartered plane to the South Island for some location shooting. And they arrived at the airport and turned a corner to see their charted plane, and it was a camouflage-painted WWII-vintage DC3, which prompted an outburt from Orlando Bloom of “Are you —-ing kidding me?” (Peter didn’t censor the comment, but I know how sensitive you can be at about harsh language. 🙂

So then they’re loading up the plane, and the pilot is looking dubiously at all the crates of equipment being put on it, and he says, “You know, this plane can only carry 8,000 pounds. How much does all this stuff weigh?” And Peter said they were looking around at each other, and saying, “Gee; we don’t know. How much _does_ this stuff weigh?” So they ended up leaving a few crates behind.

Peter continued: “And so we’re rolling down the runway, and trying to get enough speed to lift off, and the pilot hauls back on the controls and the plane lurches up into the air and then, bam! [Peter slams his hands together] it comes back down onto the runway, and then lifts off again, and bam!, back down again, and meanwhile Elijah and some of the younger actors are shouting, ‘Woohoo! This is great!'”

Peter also told the story about how, when they subsequently needed to move to a different location on the South Island about 300 miles away, they decided that they’d rather just drive, rather than taking the same plane again. And how, when torrential rains fell during that drive, Sean Bean and Orlando Bloom ended up being trapped on a remote, winding mountain road between two landslides, and as darkness was coming down they went to the only light they could see, and knocked on the door of an 80-year-old woman who lived alone in a farmhouse there. And the woman subsequently took care of them and fed them for the three days until they could be rescued.

After the Return of the King clip was shown, along with clips of several cast members praising Peter Jackson, and the audience had given the biggest round of applause so far, Roger Durling, the artistic director for the festival, came out and gave his own very moving thanks to Peter Jackson. Audibly emotional, he explained how, when the festival was deciding who would receive the Modern Master Award this year, there really was no one else the could consider. He said that Peter Jackson epitomizes the phrase “modern master,” even if he (Peter) tends not to acknowledge it. He thanked Peter for his courage, his conviction, and for the purity and childlike exuberance of the vision that he brings to his films. And then he said that, given Peter’s having mentioned the major influence that Monty Python had played in his life, he was proud to introduce John Cleese, who would make the actual presentation.

John Cleese was very funny in his remarks, commenting on how he first visited New Zealand in 1965, “twelve years after that island’s discovery, actually.” He said how fortunate we were that Peter Jackson had agreed to come all the way to Santa Barbara to receive the award, since otherwise, “all of us would have had to go there to give it to him.” After some more-serious remarks praising Peter, he gave him the award, and then gave him a second award consisting of a stuffed kiwi, commenting that it was perfectly apt that a flightless bird should be given to someone capable of communicating such amazing flights of imagination.

Peter accepted the award and made some very nice remarks thanking John Cleese, Elvis Mithcell, Sean Astin, the other participants in the event. He said how nice it was to receive a kiwi, and how when he received the Golden Globes award recently, he’d looked at the award (which is actually a globe) afterward and realized that although it shows Australia, it doesn’t actually show New Zealand. He said it was probably a good thing he hadn’t noticed that at the time, or he probably would have said something at the ceremony. Anyway, he said he’d fix it now, getting a Sharpie or something and adding it.

He said that when watching his own earlier work he certainly didn’t feel like a master. He said that he felt incredibly lucky to have been able to make movies that were true to his own vision, without being forced to compromise and do things he didn’t want to do.

As he was giving these remarks he was holding the award in his left hand and the kiwi in his right hand, and he was gesturing with the kiwi to make a point, and poking the air with its beak, and it was pretty comical-looking, which caused a laugh from the audience, which made Peter realize what he was doing, so he put the kiwi down and switched to gesturing with the award, which got a bigger laugh.

He said that as a boy he’d loved to imagine fantastic stories, and movies were a way to share those stories with an audience, and that he was just doing exactly the same thing now he’d done when he was making his first movies with an 8mm camera. He said how lucky he was to make movies, and how great it was that we can go to beautiful cinemas like the Lobero Theater, and sit in an audience together and experience our own individual reactions, but do so as part of a group, rather than isolated the way we are when watching TV or DVDs. And he encouraged any aspiring filmmakers in the crowd to stay true to their own visions, and not to let people turn them aside, but to persevere.


Paul F.

I’m a regular ToR.n reader who attended last night’s “Modern Master” ceremony at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, which honored Peter Jackson for all of his achievements. The 2000-seat historic Arlington Theatre was packed with an enthusiastic crowd, and an enjoyable night was had by all. After a short intro by a member of the SBIFF’s board of directors, Sean Astin appeared, and made some heartfelt comments about what PJ had done for him. Then Elvis Mitchell (a film commentator with NPR) came on, made some introductory comments, and brought PJ up on the stage.

What followed was an insightful retrospective of PJ’s work, all the way from “Bad Taste” and its home-filmed predecessors to LotR. Elvis had a lot of interesting (if sometimes pandering) questions for PJ, who, being the champ that he is, gave fully rounded accounts of his earlier filming experiences. The audience could really witness the evolution of PJ’s skills as a filmmaker, and not just because he was getting progressively bigger budgets… he was subconsciously honing his craft. Even when one watches snippets of “Heavenly Creatures”, some camera techniques (e.g. ‘flyover’ filming of characters on hilltops) that later appeared in LotR are evident.

Once the retrospective was over, none other than John Cleese appeared, who presented the Modern Master award to PJ. He also gave PJ a stuffed Kiwi bird, which Peter obviously enjoyed getting, and held onto tightly as he gave his acceptance speech. In fact, at one point he became aware that he was waving it around wildly to emphasize his points, and he then put it down in favor of the “real” award… quite a comical moment, and one of many during this incredible evening.


Greenleaf’s Cat

Awesomely entertainingwonderfully funa night to remember foreverunder the stars within the courtyard of the beautiful Arlington Theatre in downtown Santa Barbara, we spent an evening with Peter Jackson… thank you Santa Barbara International Film Festival! After waiting in line in the brisk evening air with hundreds of other eager Ringers with general admission tickets, the evening truly began as we walked down our own red carpet parallel to Peter Jackson as he made his way through the gauntlet of paparazzi about 10 feet to our right. Snapping pictures with cameras held aloft, hoping to get even one that turns out focused and with the worlds favorite hobbit centered in the frame, we made our way to the carved oaken doors of the theatre. As we entered, happy SBIFF volunteers handed us free full-size programs filled with memorabilia honoring Mr. Jackson as a Modern Master.

Passing through the lobby to enter the cavern of the theatre proper, my friend and I passed within a foot of none other than Monty Python legend  John Cleese, who as it turns out, was to later present Peter Jackson with not only one, but two, awards that evening (well get to that later). After finding seats, my friend went on a quick and dirty mission to see if Mr. Cleese would bestow his autograph upon us. It turns out she was one of two lucky fans to get autographs before others were gently escorted away from the somewhat shy, reclusive actor. Sitting back in our seats, the announcement was made that the evening would begin as soon as the audience had gotten settled in.

The lights went down and, to our great surprise and appreciation, Sean Astin was called forward to the stage to welcome the participants to the event. Cheers, hooting and thunderous applause all around as Sean took his position behind the podium. What a great, unassuming man is Sean Astin…we could have listened to him all evening! Lucky for the two of us, it would not be our last encounter with Sean for the evening.

As Sean Astin exited the stage, lights were focused on the other side where a small seating area with two comfortable leather chairs, a table with flowers and water, and a large viewing screen behind had been set up. Film critic from New York, Elvis Mitchell, was introduced as the host for the evening and was joined on stage by the great man himself, Peter Jackson. The evening was a combination of vignettes from all of Mr. Jacksons films from Bad Taste to The Return of the King; interview questions from Mr. Mitchell about Peters development as a film maker from his youth to present day; and, tons of interesting, personal stories and insights from the honoree that we would never have heard in any other TV interview, documentary or article. We sat there in awe, in tears of hysterical laughter, in joy from getting to share such a personal evening in a wonderfully intimate environment with Peter Jackson. It was truly an evening for the fans!

After 2 hours or so, the time for the award ceremony had arrived. My friend and I were overjoyed to hear the announcement as John Cleese was introduced and took the stage to present Mr. Jackson with the Modern Master Award. After some witty and very Cleese-like comments about New Zealand, its distance from the rest of civilization, its recent discovery  early 1950s according to John, its dimunitive size, the unique nature and understanding of its people, its lack of restaurants remaining open after 6 p.m., Mr. Cleese started to introduce Peter himself. Comparing the likeliness of a Modern Master film maker coming from New Zealand to the chances of a resident of Bakersfield having painted the Sistine Chapel, Mr. Cleese announced that he had not only one, but two awards to present that evening. First, he honored Mr. Jackson with the official award from the SBIFF Board of Directors. With appropriate applause, the audience honored Mr. Jackson as he accepted and took his bows. Following, to the chagrin of the SBIFF board  I would think, Mr. Cleese presented his own award to Peter in the form of a stuffed kiwi bird, thus totally overshadowing the official award. More witticism and laughter followed Peter to the podium as he readied to make his acceptance speech.

Unassuming as always, Mr. Jackson graciously thanked everyone who made it possible for him to be where he was at that moment. Setting the Modern Master Award reverently onto the podium where he was speaking, he seemed oblivious of the fact that he still held the stuffed kiwi award in his right hand. As he got more emotionally involved in what he as saying to the audience, he started gesturing with his hands  both hands, quite emphatically. Titters, giggles, roaring hysteria overtook the audience as he continued to speak while flailing this poor stuffed bird about in the air to emphasize his speaking points. It took a few moments for Mr. Jackson to become aware of the cause for the joyous response of the audience. Blushing and stammering slightly, he realized he still held the bird aloft. Bringing it down to the podium with his hands under control, he continued on with his speech and we were treated yet again to the site of the flailing kiwi as Peter once again forgot he held it. Finally, he laid the bloody stuffed bird down on the podium and finished his speech with no further mishaps.

To a standing ovation, Peter Jackson said good night and left the stage. The main evening was over for the majority of the audience. A warm glow permeated the atmosphere as ticket holders praised the event and filtered out of the theatre. However, for us the evening could not yet be over. Where and how could we continue the magic? Having been a resident of Santa Barbara for many years and having a locals familiarity with the Arlington Theatre, I lead my friend to the rear, outside door of the theatre which happens to be next to the parking lot where, maybe…just maybe, the great mans car was parked and waiting for him to take his leave.

Waiting hopefully with about thirty others  mostly teenage girls  we were blessed first with the appearance of Sean Astin. He graciously signed autographs and took pictures with fans as he made his way to the waiting vehicles  two large, black SUVs. Finally, we were blessed with the appearance of Peter Jackson himself, who also was amenable to signing autographs and taking pictures as long as he had room to move towards the waiting transportation. I took pictures while my friend made her way through the crowd to seek signatures from the two great men. We had created and printed out copies of our own collage of LOTR cast members with Peter Jackson included and brought them in hopes of getting at least one signed. Not only did we get one signed by Peter Jackson, Sean Astin and John Cleese, but both Sean Astin and Peter Jackson accepted one as a gift of appreciation  of course our cards were stapled to the back in case anyone ever wanted to get in touch.

In an evening of memorable moments and quotes, one of the most cherished for us as LOTR fans came from Sean Astin as he took a moment to actually stop and look at our pictorial tribute and said, Look, youve put me right in the middle.