After presenting their work-in-progress on The War of the Rohirrim at Annecy last week, Kenji Kamiyama, Philippa Boyens and Joseph Chou also stopped off to give a 15-minute sit-down interview with one of the festival’s staffers.

They talk about their approach, the challenge and the reception from the Annecy audience. Thanks to Lasswen on our Discord for the find.

Join the discussion: If you’d like to weigh in with your thoughts on The War of the Rohirrim, feel free to join our Discord server or the currently active thread on our forum message boards.

Annecy interview transcript

Note: I have lightly edited the transcript to remove some of the more redundant speech without, I hope, affecting the fundamental meaning.

[0:05] Interviewer
There was once an age without Annecy Animation Film Festival. There was also an age before J.R.R. Tolkien. But lucky for us, we live today. And we have both. With us today we have Mr. Chou, producer of the film, Kenji Kamiyama, Director, and Philippa Boyens producer, also… known for screenwriting a lot with Peter Jackson. So you might be the most experienced of us on the Middle-earth and…

[0:44] Philippa Boyens
For Middle-earth. Not for anime. But for Middle-earth. Yes.

[0:49] Interviewer
Well, you’re just behind. You’re just after, sorry, a behind-the-scenes presentation with Annecy audience. How did it go? Can you give us your impression for each of you?

[1:04] Philippa Boyens

I mean, I could feel the energy in the room. And I think it was amazing. I think the crowds here are really knowledgeable, which is great. And I respect that. And actually, the biggest cheer was when Joseph asked some of the guys who are actual animators who we’re attempting to kill with the amount of work they’ve got to get done, to stand up. And the audience went wild. And that was amazing to see. It was such a good thing to do. Yeah.

[1:38] Interviewer
How did you feel the moments you two?

[1:42] Kenji Kamiyama
[Answers in Japanese]

[2:04] Joseph Chou
Translating for KK: It’s the second time for him being in Annecy and… but just, just a warm welcome from the audience, and it’s just wonderful for him. And he really is very appreciative of, you know, them just being being so supportive in the moment. And just to see them, you know, in their direction. It’s very good for him. Yeah.

[2:26] Interviewer
And for you?

[2:27] Joseph Chou
Oh, yeah. I mean, I guess. I mean, they already said it. But I think just being in Annecy, you just, it just feels so nice, because of the warm welcome. I mean, I think the community of animation is a little different from, you know, other artistic communities. But, but, you know, we come here, we do feel like we’re at home and just just being — just seeing the reaction, though, from the, you know, the fans and then in life, actually, you know, just to see their live reaction. It’s something that we don’t get to see when we’re working. So it was wonderful. And it really did give us a huge, huge encouragement, just because we’re not done with the film yet, you know.

[2:34] Interviewer
It’s quite amazing because we are in an in an animation film festival, and you are coming today to present a lot of work, but which is not animated yet. So it has this interesting equation in which you present a non-animated work. And this is Annecy’s audience with its reaction that tells you what’s going to be animated or not. Is it a part…

[3:38] Philippa Boyens
Of being able to feel what they’re responding to? You mean? Yeah, you definitely got that. I think I could feel the murmur when Helm walked into the room. He’s played, voiced, by Brian Cox. And I think they just they were just swept into it, you could kind of feel it, which was, which was great. So I don’t know whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.

[4:04] Joseph Chou
Translates Philippa’s words into Japanese for KK, who nods and smiles.]

[4:09] Interviewer
Philippa, you’ve been following the Lord of the Rings, since its rebirth with Peter Jackson. It’s been an unexpected journey if I may say…

[4:20] Philippa Boyens
I like it. Nice. Very good.

[4:22] Interviewer
What’s the following part of the journey? Because it seems there was the first part and now it’s the beginning of the second…

[4:29] Philippa Boyens
Yeah, this has been such a good way back into the world. I’ve don’t think any of us could have faced jumping into a huge, massive epic trilogy, which was going to take seven years. But it wasn’t — it’s not just about this being, you know, maybe a little smaller in terms of the scale, but it’s still a big film. But it’s been a joy because it’s fresh, and it’s different. And everything that anime is bringing to the story is working really, really well with Professor Tolkien’s world.

Actually, I tell you something that not many people know. And that is that when — I’m not sure I’ve told you guys this — when…

Professor Tolkien, he loved to draw; he was an artist as well. And he was very poor. And he got a scholarship to Oxford University. And that was the first time he had a little bit of money to spend. So he went to his what they called digs in Oxford, his room in Oxford. Guess what one of the first things he bought was? Some Japanese prints, some Japanese woodcuts, to put on his wall.

So I think that it’s, you know, he obviously loved that visual style. And I think weirdly, that sort of must have influenced him in some way. And it’s definitely working. It’s working beautifully.

[6:01] Interviewer
And, actually, I’m not sure, as you say, that a lot of [people] know that Tolkien might have been influenced by the Japan way of…

[6:13] Philippa Boyens
No! I remembered it, and I went and checked it. It’s a reference that was made in his biography [ed: by Humphrey Carpenter]. And I thought, yeah, that makes sense. It makes, it makes sense, right? And I gave Kamiyama a book of his artwork, that Professor Tolkien actually drew, as a present…

[6:40] Interviewer
And it’s, it’s really interesting, because as a very young reader of Tolkien, and I remember that there was those drawings, always. It’s, it was not a novel, but it was a novel with hints of imagination.

[6:56] Philippa Boyens
For The Hobbit, yes. Yes. [It was] his work. Absolutely. Yes.

[7:00] Interviewer
And now that The Lord of the Rings is coming back to, to the drawings, to animation, there is a lot to explore, actually. A new Middle-earth to draw…

[7:13] Philippa Boyens
There is. And, also, we need to remember that Professor Tolkien would only have conceived of any kind of film being animated, that he would have had no conception really have it any other way. And, actually, the very first Lord of the Rings films that ever existed, were both animation, you know. So it feels, it feels right. And I know that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh were, you know, hugely supportive of this project. Because they, they knew that this was, you know, a good direction to go. And instead of retreating old paths to do something exciting like this. So yeah, it’s really, it’s been great so far. So far.

[8:00] Interviewer
You are mentioning the previous animated version of The Lord of the Rings. I can think of Ralph Bakshi in 1978…

[8:10] Philippa Boyens
and the Rankin Bass [film].

[8:12] Interviewer
And is this a huge influence on what you are doing today with The Lord of the Rings?

[8:20] Kenji Kamiyama
[Answers in Japanese]

[8:36] Joseph Chou
Translating for KK: So, not particularly in terms of style, but, but really just trying to render the world in animation. I mean, [that] you’ve got to render it into drawings and the challenge of it. And so maybe that … is something that influenced him. Well, it is a huge challenge, and that there are all these things that you’ve got to learn — there is a lot to do. And it’s a huge challenge. And that’s something he took away from those titles.

[9:04] Interviewer
When you give birth to new parts of a legend, how do you manage to write the new chapters? We know that there are a few books in Tolkien’s work. And one, one title is tickling me. It’s Unfinished Tales. How do you get to finish the tale actually with authority says okay, that’s the good end. Is there a Christopher working with you?

[9:36] Philippa Boyens
[Christopher] was very responsible, I think, for preserving — not just the integrity of his father’s work — but also I think he was responsible for pulling together the threads of his father’s unfinished work. And he put out some beautiful… So, after Professor Tolkien’s death, Christopher was able to take all those papers, take all those writings and give us more, which was to everybody’s benefit. The world’s benefit, I think.

But, for us, I think we… you have a responsibility, obviously, to the source material. But you also have a responsibility to the film. And we have a responsibility to the studio too — they put a lot of money into this. So, you know, that’s always been a bit of a conflict there. But, you know, we’ve got to somehow make that … story work on film. First and foremost, it needs to work on film. With this story and why it works so well, I think, is because we only have about three or four paragraphs that are really, really relevant to the story. We know a bit about the characters. We know about Helm, we know that he had two sons, we know that that he was challenged by one of his nobles called Freca who suggested Wulf marry his daughter.

And here’s the interesting thing. We know there’s a daughter, but we don’t know her name. We know nothing else about her, which was actually a gift for us. Because we could then take her, take what we knew from the way Professor Tolkien wrote other female characters like Éowyn, and draw upon some history that was very relevant to the Rohirrim and create her and tell her story. So, hopefully, it’s a mix of being as faithful as we possibly can to his original works.

But there was a quote that Professor Tolkien himself said, and he wrote it in one of his letters (to, I think it was a fan) that he hoped other lines would come to this mythology he had created, wielding music and drama, and art, which is perfect. So I think he was open to that idea. Because if you’re going to keep a story alive, if you’re going to keep a mythology — because he didn’t just write stories, he wrote a vast world of imagination — then you need to, you need to let other people in. And, nothing we do can take away from the magnificence of what he’s done. All we can do is share our interpretation. It’s just like Shakespeare can be reimagined a million times.

And, you know, it doesn’t take anything away from him. So hopefully, our little morsel that we’re dropping into — he called story “a pot of soup”. So we’re checking in our morsel into the pot of of soup of story.

And we’ll see if people want to drink it!

[12:57] Interviewer
Thank you very much for Thank you. Mirror of the meeting. We are really glad to have you here in Annecy and we cannot wait for you coming back with the rest of the work.

War of the Rohirrim annecy panel
The War of the Rohirrim Annecy panel Source Jason DeMarco