Quite appropriately in those times which many have been referred to as The Year of the King, the Santa Barbara Film Festival elected to honor Peter Jackson with their 2004 Modern Master Award. The sold-out event took place on Saturday January 31st at the beautiful Arlington Theater in downtown Santa Barbara. People started to line up early in the afternoon, and by 6pm the line of dedicated fans was going around the block, braving the chilly wind. Around 7pm the media and fan frenzy got ignited by the arrivals of Sean Astin and of the master himself, Peter Jackson. As always, Sean and Peter as well as producer Barrie Osborne gracefully juggled interviews with the press and requests for autographs and photos from screaming fans. The crowd slowly moved inside the theater, a huge old Spanish mission-style auditorium with a dark blue ceiling sprinkled with stars and a silver moon.
After the 2000+ audience finally settled down, the show got started with a few words of welcome by the Festivals Director, Roger Durling, who invited on stage our favorite hobbit: Sean Astin. After a rousing round of applause, Sean talked about his admiration for Peter, and how getting to play Sams part in the movies had changed his life and his career. Sean was replaced on stage by New York Times Elvis Mitchell who acted through the rest of the evening as Master of Ceremonies. A montage of clips from all of Peters movies quickly followed, ending with the three LOTR movies to enthusiastic applause. As the last images from Return Of The King faded on screen, Elvis Mitchell announced Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Peter Jackson! and Peter, who at that point was sitting in the front rows, stood up, made his way to the stage and received a thundering standing ovation.
Peter and Elvis sat down in comfortable leather armchairs, and from that moment on the audience was regaled with the rare treat of a live, casual interview of PJ, discussing his career from the rough but fun beginnings till todays fame and success. Peter candidly spoke about his youth, his early love of film, his first jobs, and how his first movie Bad Taste got made. Each discussion was followed by a lengthy clip from one of Peters movies, from Bad Taste to Meet The Feebles, to Dead Alive (aka Braindead), Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners, and finally The Lord Of The Rings. The clips from Peters early career, while famously gory, were quite hilarious (especially when the master himself acted in them as he did in Bad Taste) and often punctuated by humorous comments from Peter (for example, he explained that when he was 16 he was a geek and didnt know any girls!). He also spoke about his first collaboration with Richard Taylor on Meet The Feebles, and explained that at that time Richard was a fledging puppeteer living in a small room – both his home and his workshop – which reeked of glue and chemicals! Peter really wondered how Richard could sleep there! While these quick peeks into Peters early movies were certainly funny, at the same time they were an undeniable testimony to the mans mastery, imagination and creativity, and to his sense of storytelling.
Once the discussion got to the Lord Of The Rings films (a major undertaking after years of independent films made on a shoestring budget) Peter commented that in fact, it wasnt that different, and quoted Elijah Wood as saying that these films were the most expensive independent movies ever made. He illustrated his point by narrating a funny story that happened in the first few months of filming. The whole cast and crew were scheduled to leave New Zealands North Island to go to a South Island location, and they were all to fly there together. When they arrived at Wellingtons airport, they were shocked to discover that their plane was nothing else than an old bomber from World War 2!!! Peter remembers Orlando Bloom exclaiming I dont f%$#@&% believe it!. The planes pilot started asking them the weight of their luggage and equipment, with the warning that the plane could probably not take off with more than 1,000 pounds of freight (they had to arrange for some of their equipment to be shipped separately). Finally, the plane sped down the runway and painstakingly took off but for a few meters only! before landing down again while in the cabin Orlando and the hobbits were going Oooohhhh… Anyway, eventually the plane managed to take off and they landed safely in the South Island. I dont think my re-telling of this story does it justice, but in Peters words it was hysterically funny. Then came the anecdote which has been widely circulated, of Orlando and Sean driving together down the coast of the South Island and getting caught in a torrential storm, and being stuck for three days at the house of an 80-year old lady in the middle of nowhere
The film clip for FOTR was most of the scene from the Council of Elrond, and for TTT, Theodens exorcism in Edoras, up to Hail Theoden King!. Before showing a couple of clips from ROTK there were a few interviews of various cast and crew members including Sir Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving and David Wenham, and Richard Taylor. From ROTK the clips were the charge of the Rohirrim on the Pelennor Fields, and the scene of Sam and Frodo on Mount Doom. Roger Durling then came back on stage and announced that the Festival had a surprise: Peter being a huge Monty Python fan, they brought in none other than John Cleese himself! He delivered a hilarious speech about New Zealand, and told Peter that in addition to the Modern Master he was giving him another special Award: the Kiwi Award and pulled out a stuffed Kiwi toy which he gave to a beaming Peter, under yet another rousing standing ovation which didnt seem to ever want to end.
Peter took the microphone and made his acceptance speech, thanking the Festival and his soulmate and partner Fran Walsh, among others. Throughout the speech he was holding the stuffed Kiwi and gesturing with it, and soon the audience started to laugh until he realized what he was doing. It was quite a funny sight and Peter playfully ran with the joke. The end of the speech marked the end of the ceremony itself, and a very pleased and elated audience left the theater Yet another night to remember for LOTR fans!
Stay tuned for soon-to-be posted report of the Producers panel with Barrie Osborne on Sunday 2/1.