Peter Jackson has always been pretty open with fans about his process of making films. He answered 20 questions for anybody interested way back in 1998 on Aintitcoolnews back when film fans had just climbed out of the internet’s primordial ooze. He followed this up with a series of interactions with communities definitely including TheOneRing.net (highlighted by attending our Oscar parties and allowing founder Tehanu set access) and our sister site, KongIsKing.net where he posted twice-weekly production diaries while shooting that film. The behind-the-scenes effort was as demanding as shooting a many films — done while his team was shooting a film. Think what you want of “King Kong,” but the innovative work to share it with fans may never be equaled. You can see the old diaries running down the right side of the KiKn page. We (the all-volunteer TORn staff) would have loved to host again but by the time the three movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” were shooting, social media provided Facebook for many millions around the globe and gave Jackson a direct link to fans.
He continued to release production diaries, and he was able to simply showcase them directly on his own Facebook account. With nearly a million likes, he found a way to self publish, directly to his audience, with or without the studio’s help — but likely with its blessing.
Today marks the final day of shooting the films in New Zealand. The day caps off a ten-week period planned from the beginning to shoot pickups for both remaining films and also capture the great Battle of Five Armies on film. For weeks now Twitter and some announcements have been signaling final shooting days for specific actors from the films. Jackson has now used Facebook again to publish many updates about how his day has progressed and what the two units are shooting as the final shots get ticked off the list in an almost Twitter-like fashion. (Except that his post are much more wordy!)
The first post is an early-morning announcement that he can’t sleep, is watching fight rehearsals and what he hopes to accomplish with the feed. view from his own house with another shot of his cat saying its goodbyes as he heads to the lot to shoot. He says,
“Ever since starting these blogs, there’s been something I thought I’d like to try one day (as well as answering the other 19 questions I owe you!) – blogging throughout a shoot day in real time. Try to give you all a feeling for what we deal with on an average day.
Today is not exactly “average”, given it’s our last day of shooting, but if I don’t do it today, I never will!”
We go on to see a view from his home, a view from his cat into the lens and then on to work, arriving at the security gate at the studio. He continues with updates much of the day, appropriately sharing those final hours on set. There is a lot of work to be done but there is something that resonates even with fans about the moment when the cameras turn off. Film crews can work only work certain numbers of hours with a lunch and then overtime kicks in. This means everybody must be fed as the hours reach over 12 worked for the day. This seems likely on the final day and at last posting, only two set ups (getting the lights and sets and everything else ready to shoot) were left for Jackson’s unit while something close to the same number remained for the action unit. As Jackson said,
9.21pm. Getting very near the end …
Jackson also gives great insight into his own personal film process and has a great shot from his director’s tent. I have spent time in that tent and not only is the shot great, but the explanation of his tent crew are as well. They will never be recognized as widely as they deserve but they are excellent, each in their own way.
When the final shot ends, after several takes where he says something like, “That was great, lets do one more,” Jackson will call “cut” and despite being digital, he will tell the camera people to “check the gate,” a term for film cameras to make sure everything was captured. “Clear” will come the traditional response, “gate is clean.” After that, expect hugs and tears and cheering and probably bubbly beverages. If I don’t miss my guess, a lot of party-time too.
A lot of work will remain of course, but that will end the work of many, many hundreds of people who helped made the illusions that we see as Middle-earth on film. Sets will no longer be built, costumes and makeup and prosthetics and hair and set dressers and lighting and camera departments will all be done working on a live set.
And, for the present and perhaps long into the future, the rights for further Middle-earth stories aren’t available. That ends the process of shooting the adaptation of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Fans world wide, many of whom feel part of these efforts or at least connected to them, will also celebrate and feel sad.
Those of us attending Dragon Con in Atlanta over Labor Day will be pleased to welcome Hobbit actors William Kirtcher, Graham McTavish and the Doctor / Wizard Sylvester McCoy. TheOneRing will have a fan table there and the Tolkien Track will have daily panels with parts or all three of the trio for four days of the convention.
Jackson will continue to update as the cast and crew shoot long into the New Zealand night, perhaps for the final time in Middle-earth.
UPDATE: The shooting did finish. Jackson went home to daughter Katie throwing a party at home. Jackson ended things like this:
Back with Mr Smudge.
A long day. A great day. Thank you all for being part of it! Now for some sleep!