Harper Collins launched Brian Sibley’s biography of Peter Jackson at Park Road Post last night with an interview between writer Tom Scott and the film maker.
These days PJ seems to enjoy interviews, approaching them with a relaxed, anecdotal style that makes the most of the storyteller in him. Some of what he said repeated what we’ve heard elsewhere, but he said some interesting things in reply to Scott’s questions on becoming a film maker. Jackson said it was almost a process of “natural selection” that weeded out anyone but those willing to persevere for years. Most people fall by the wayside, he said.
“There’s nothing that anybody can do at school, no exams you can sit that are really going to help you in the film industry. There’s nothing I could suggest that anyone does. Even film schools…if you’re a real film maker, I suggest you don’t need them.”
Scott suggested that by starting out being his own cameraman, actor, director and props maker, Jackson had in a sense invented his own apprenticeship and then served it.
Jackson agreed, and then added that any time he watched a movie he could make it serve as a film school. For example, just three weeks ago he’d been in a hotel room in Hong Kong, too tired to go out. Flicking through the TV channels he’d found a Spielberg movie he’d seen three or four times before, but this time he watched it entirely to see how Spielberg framed the shots, moved the camera, followed the characters and so on.
Other times, he said, he’d watch really good movies to pick himself up. Sometimes during LOTR filming he’d feel exhausted, his imagination worn out, so he’d watch something like Scorsese’s Goodfellas. “You watch those and you get jazzed up. That’s real film making.”
Jackson described how he’d failed to get a job at the National Film Unit, his first port of call when he left school. They liked him, but there were simply no jobs. That night, he opened the paper to the “Situations Vacant” pages and saw the job “Photo engraver.” He said he didn’t even know what a photo-engraver was, but just saw the word “photo” and thought that was a start, at least, even though he preferred his photos to be moving.
How did his parents feel about his photo engraving apprenticeship, Scott asked. Jackson said they were thrilled, as for most of his childhood they had thought he would become a film maker. Since they knew nothing about film, (and there was almost no film industry in NZ, he noted elsewhere) they probably found that quite scary.
Scott asked him about talent and confidence: when did Jackson develop his “extraordinary certainty” and realise he had the potential to make great movies?
“It’s not even confidence,” Jackson said. “Fear is what motivates you when you’re making movies – which is a good thing.” He went on to describe a dream he had every night while he was making LOTR. “I have an anxiety dream when I’m filming that I’m on the set and there’s all these people around, and I don’t know what movie I’m making. During the day I’m convinced I’m making the worst movie ever.”
The gala event attracted lots of Wellington glitterati (well, a minister and a deputy mayor), Harper Collins publishing people, Dominion Post folk (they’d sponsored a competition giving away tickets to the event), twenty lucky Wellingtonians who’d won said competition, booksellers, and local luminaries from the film world including Dan Hennah and Richard Taylor.
Peter Jackson was introduced by Harper Collins managing director Tony Fisk, who said the biography answered the question, “How on earth did this guy come to be making The Lord of the Rings?”. “That’s the question Peter Jackson sets out to answer in this book,” Fisk said. He also mentioned that the captions to the photos were written by Peter himself, and were in themselves a delight. “We’re treated to things like the sight of his teenage bedroom with all its projects and his birthday cake complete with Kong decorations.”
Many of us had never been in Park Road Post before, so we were pretty stunned by the small theatre where the interview took place. It is a pocket version of the vaguely oriental-fantasy film palaces of the Twenties and Thirties, complete with goddess-shaped pillars holding lamps and wreaths of greenery, faux windows with Moorish filigree-work, plush swags of velvet curtains, and a star-spangled ceiling imitating the night sky. Truly a cinema dream.
Thanks to Dominion Post reporter Tom Cardy for Peter Jackon’s quotes about film school – I didn’t get as complete a transcript from my notes. And double thanks to him for getting my copy of the book signed by Peter. I had to leave early to go to work.
I’ll post a review of “Peter Jackson: A Film-maker’s Journey” itself in a few days. The brief glance I’ve had time for so far looks very, very good.