Cunning Vixen writes: Yesterday, at the Auckland International Film Festival, I got to see Costa Botes’ documentary, “The Making of the Fellowship of the Ring,” of footage never before released from behind the scenes of the LOTR filming. This documentary has been released for the NZ-based film festival only, and New Line Cinema asked that it have the caveat of being a “Work in Progress.” Costa Botes, the filmmaker, was there to have a discussion with the audience after the film was shown.
Costa Botes is a longtime associate of Peter Jackson. He received permission to do his own documentary project around the Lord of the Rings moviemaking, with some caveat involving New Line Cinema permission to distribute the results. Costa Botes, working on his own without New Line input, used a different documentary editing style than that usually seen for the LOTR filmmaking material. Instead of packaging snippets like jewels on a CD, or smoothing them together with voiceovers and shots of luscious New Zealand countryside, he went for a raw approach, letting the material speak for itself, without voiceover or apology. The results were fascinating for an LOTR fan.
This documentary showed the gritty, hardworking, industrial side of the LOTR filming. Living in NZ, it really brought it home to see LOTR work going on in the distinctive New Zealand warehouses and cheap cinderblock offices, hearing the whine of machinery in the background. There was a lot of hilarious footage of extras being trained by the set swordmaster. All these people, in a New Zealand rugby club gym and wearing sweatpants, armed with Middle-Earth style weapons and practicing their orcish growls…Not all of the industrial footage was charming. It was a bit strange to see the Bag End set with wires and ventilation channels running through it, and the scene where the set of Galadriels glade was taken down was shocking.
Another shocking thing was how, even when the costumed cast were mingling with the crew, they still came across as otherworldly. This was especially true of the battle scenes – there were glimpses of the Elvish charge at the Last Alliance, and of the orc/human scrimmage at Amon Hen, that were, even with film crew visibly mingled in, still stunning. “It’s the biggest low-budget movie ever,” one of the film staff said.
The hobbit actor cuteness just did not stop. Billy, Elijah, Dom, and Sean, all in costume, clowning around with their also-costumed size doubles, or singing in barbershop quartet style. Sean lent a serious note as an on-set accident involving one of his hobbit-made-up feet was shown. Their funniest bit was a series of sly asides that took the piss out of the The-Cast-Were-Really-Friends mythos promoted by New Line. It was obvious both that they were really friends and that they were making fun of the fact that everybody knew it.
There was a great section where we got to see Viggo Mortenson sneaking off to the side of one set to cast a few trout flies, and a long section showing Liv Tyler filming the flight to the ford scene. Poor Liv, it turns out, endured being smacked in the face with branches repeatedly to get that one good branch-in-face shot. Then theres the priceless sight of all the Nazgul standing around under bright blue and green umbrellas as it starts to rain. (At the Q&A, someone asked if any of the actors didnt like being filmed backstage a pointed question considering the near-absence of Sean Bean and Orlando Bloom in this documentary. Mr. Botes said no.)
At the end, Mr. Botes took our questions. I asked if this work-in-progress was going to keep its raw, speaking-for-itself feel in the final version. Mr. Botes replied that this was, according to him, the final version, and that the workin-progress had been what New Line demanded to have the film released at this film festival. Later questions revealed that Mr. Botes has two more documentaries in the same style and that he is flummoxed by New Lines not allowing him to release all of them as a DVD set. This is understandable considering that the documentaries are 5 years of Mr. Botes’ work.
Perhaps New Line Cinema is intimidated by the bulldozers and the sight of the hobbit actors making very casual jokes, and thinking that it would ruin the impact of the films. Well, the films are out; their mythos is established; and all the other LOTR fans out there will really enjoy Mr. Botes’ documentaries. His different approach made for an enjoyable documentary, both serious and showing the humor of the LOTR filming teams.