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.
Here’s a somewhat overlooked piece of news from a little while back! On June 15, voice actor Alex Jordan announced that he had a part in the Warner Bros Animation/New Line Cinema feature The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.
However, it seems that his name was inadvertently omitted from the orginal English voice cast list given to Deadline at the same time. As a result, knowledge of Jordan’s involvement pretty much slipped under the radar.
More interestingly, Jordan has provided the name of the character he will be voicing — an completely original character by the name of Lord Frygt.
Seemingly a strange name, but Scandanavian friends on TORn’s IRC channel tell me that Frygt is a Danish word that means “fear”. One could interpret it as Lord Fear or Lord Fright.
At first I wondered, if the use of Danish could be related to the use of Anglo-Saxon to name the other original character we’ve heard of so far — Helm’s daughter, Héra.
Is it meant to be a Dunlending word? Unfortunately, the only Dunlending word we know of is “forgoil”. It seems to impossible to judge by extrapolating our knowledge of Tolkien. But Dunlending is supposedly related to the language of the Haladin, so it seems more likely it might be Rohirric? I’m no language expert so if anyone knows better, let me know!
A name like Lord Fear seems a little ominous as a name for someone of the Rohirrim. Could it be a Dunlending person instead? That seems a little unlikely since the leaders of the Dunlending faction are the Rohirrim lords (and outlaws), Freca and Wulf.
Instead, perhaps it’s meant to be an appellation give by either the Rohirrim or the Dunlendings to something else. Because I’m reminded of something that Philippa Boyens said when I interviewed her in June just after the casting announcement:
I can give you a little tease and let you know that, although we said this isn’t about The Ring and this isn’t about the Dark Lord … there are the White Mountains and there are creatures [out there]. We know that there were orcs around this area.
She also confirmed that these creatures she’s referring to are definitely not the dead men of Erech.
I think Lord Frygt will emerge as some non-human being feared by either the Dunlendings, or by the Rohirrim. Or both.
The War of the Rohirrim will be released in theatres worldwide on April 12, 2024.
About the author:Staffer Demosthenes has been involved with TheOneRing.net since 2001, serving first as an Associate News Editor, then as Chief News Editor during the making of the Hobbit films. Now he focuses on features and analysis. The opinions in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent those of TheOneRing.net and other staff.
According to Variety’s sources, the argument stems from disagreement about whether the studio has met ongoing obligations needed to maintain the long-term license that it has held since the late 1990s.
In a statement to Variety, a Warner Bros. spokeswoman said:
New Line Cinema has maintained the theatrical film rights, both live-action and animated, for over two decades now. We are currently in production on our anime film ‘The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim’ and look forward to bringing audiences back to Middle-earth.
As Variety points out, license deals such as this “often involve producers conducting a certain level of development and production activity by pre-determined dates, among other clauses.”
However, it is the Saul Zaetnz Co. (through its subsidiary, Middle-earth Enterprises) that holds the rights to exploit The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit “in movies, video games, merchandising, live events and theme parks.”
Variety adds that this includes limited matching rights should the Tolkien Estate make movies or other content based on two Tolkien books published after his death: The Silmarillion, and The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth.
The Saul Zaentz Co. also recently announced that it will auction all its Tolkien IP rights. Universal and Warner Bros. are both reported to be interested.
The Warner Bros. animated Middle-earth production, The War of the Rohirrim, is set to debut on screen on April 12, 2024.
The feature-length film is set to focus on the story of the Rohirrim king, Helm Hammerhand, as outlined in Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings.
Warner Bros. says that it will “explore… the untold story behind the fortress of Helm’s Deep, delving into the life and bloodsoaked times of one of Middle-earth’s most legendary figures; the mighty King of Rohan — Helm Hammerhand.”
Acclaimed filmmaker Kenji Kamiyama (especially known in anime circles for his work on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) is directing, while Philippa Boyens (co-screenwriter for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) is executive producer.
The writing team of Phoebe Gittins and Arty Papageorgiou have penned the screenplay based on a script from Jeffrey Addiss & Will Matthews. The “Lord of the Rings” returning creative team also includes Oscar winner Richard Taylor and Tolkien illustrator John Howe, while animation is being done by Sola Entertainment.
If you don’t know Sola Entertainment, they have previously worked on the 2D-styled Tower of God (for streaming company Crunchyroll), Bladerunner Black Out: 2022, plus 3D efforts Blade Runner: Black Lotus and Ghost in the Shell SAC: 2045.
On the works so far, Executive Producer Philippa Boyens says: “I’m in awe of the creative talent who have come together to bring this epic, heart-pounding story to life, from the mastery of Kenji Kamiyama to a truly stellar cast. I cannot wait to share this adventure with fans of cinema everywhere.”
Warner Bros. also revealed that animation work has been underway since last year at Sola Entertainment, and voice casting will be announced very soon.
It’s probably not well known, but Kamiyama did an interview late last year with Japanese media outlet Akiba-Souken where he touched on his work on The War of the Rohirrim briefly.
TORn has the following translation of relevant pieces from that article and Kamiyama’s comments:
What makes anime an anime?
Kamiyama is busy working on a number of projects, including directing the spin-off anime “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” from the blockbuster movie “The Lord of the Rings.”
The soon-to-be-released “Star Wars: Visions – Ninth Jedi” is based on Kamiyama’s own ideas, he wanted to go back to the original story of a young man travelling the countryside, who gets involved in the battle over the Galactic Empire. Kamiyama was given the official Star Wars history lecture but also freedom to create his own story and setting within that realm.
Kamiyama is currently working on “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.” He says that “First of all, the existence of the live-action version of the “Lord of the Rings” series created by J.R.R. Tolkien’s original work and director Peter Jackson is tremendous. For Hollywood, there is no national policy for the film industry, but it has become a core industry of the region.”
“I feel that the small scale of Japanese animation is good, and that it has a different dimension from ‘true’ (ie live action) movie production,” he says.
“However, working on “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” has the difficulty and fun that makes me realize things like ‘probably Hollywood is making movies like this’.
“It’s completely different to working on other projects. Because we are focusing on making it as ‘entertainment’, it is possible to create works that guarantee a certain level of quality depending on the budget scale and staffing. There is a lot of discussion about the screenplay, the process is similar to building a stadium or a bridge. I think “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” will create a new level of animation production.”
Newly-announced 2D animated feature to be produced by Warner Bros. Animation and Adult Swim team.
The rumors are true: Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema held onto the feature film rights to Middle-earth and are expanding Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth Cinematic Universe with a new 2D animated movie ‘The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.’ Directed by Kenji Kamiyama, who is celebrated for his work on ‘Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex’ and ‘Ultraman,’ the studio has brought on the Emmy-winning writers who universally delighted fans with ‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ (creators Jeffrey Addiss and Will Matthews) to collaborate with Philippa Boyens.
Adult Swim’s Toonami executive Jason Demarco is on board as Producer. Besides being one of the leading creatives to bring anime to America, he is a huge Lord of the Rings fan and recently produced a Blade Runner anime series.
Wait, I thought Amazon had all the Tolkien rights now?
What we’ve heard from those who know, and reading the carefully worded press releases from both Amazon and WB over the last few years, here’s what is going on with the rights to Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings… The big thing is the fans win.
Allegedly the Tolkien Estate has brokered the rights to Middle-earth in such a way that Warner Bros. keeps feature film & motion picture rights, while Amazon can make all the TV series they want. In the first press announcement of the Amazon deal it was explicitly noted that Amazon intended “5 seasons minimum plus spinoff shows” — a clear sign that the monumental price would be recouped through many TV shows. Both companies own rights to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and *anything* mentioned in the Appendices. Amazon cannot make movies, and WB cannot make TV series. The most interesting part of this new ‘War of the Rohirrim’ anime is that WB is known for direct Blu-ray releases (their excellet D.C. Comics animated films) and TV series like the popular Harley Quinn. It seems neither WB, New Line nor Adult Swim have ever released a major anime film theatrically worldwide so this will be a first as legally they probably have to release it theatrically.
Will it be set in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth Cinematic Universe (the MeCU)?
YES. Warner Bros Animation head says “We’re honored to partner with much of the incredible talent behind both film trilogies” a direct acknowledgement of the intention to stay in PJ’s MeCU. Oscar-winning writer of LOTR & Hobbit Philippa Boyens is credited as a consultant on this production.
The anime story is centered on an earlier King, Helm Hammerhand, who left his legendary mark on the history of Rohan such that his kin still talk about him centuries later. “The horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the deep…” for the first time in this movie!
Our Staffer and Livestream Host Clifford “Quickbeam” Broadway has the most direct recommendation for those wanting details from Tolkien himself. Clifford states: “The most salient details of the Ninth King of Rohan are readily found in your copy of The Return of the King in APPENDIX A: ANNALS OF THE KINGS AND RULERS — just jump to Section II “THE HOUSE OF EORL” and find the paragraph opening with: ‘Of the Kings of the Mark between Eorl and Theoden most is said of Helm Hammerhand’ (page 346 HMCo Hardcover edition). And no, absolutely no, Helm Hammerhand did *not* become a Nazgul as depicted in the video game Shadow of War. Also there is a very brief note of reference Christopher Tolkien made: look at Unfinished Tales, Part Three: The Third Age, Section V “The Battles of the Fords of Isen” and see his endnote #4 if you’re as nerdy as I am about this.”
Kenji Kamiyama directed Ghost in the Shell and Eden of the East, and wrote for Blood the Last Vampire. Three of the best animes ever made. Now I’m incredibly excited about this, it’s like I had an early Christmas
“All of us at New Line feel a deep affinity for the extraordinary world J.R.R. Tolkien created, so the opportunity to dive back into Middle-earth with the team at Warner Bros. Animation is a dream come true. Fans know Helm’s Deep as the stage for one of the greatest battles ever put to film and, with many of the same creative visionaries involved and the brilliant Kenji Kamiyama at the helm, we couldn’t be more excited to deliver a fresh vision of its history that will invite global audiences to experience the rich, complex saga of Middle-earth in a thrilling new way.”
Warner Bros. Pictures Group COO Carolyn Blackwood and New Line president and CCO, Richard Brener
Harken back in time and you will recall that “The Hobbit” Rankin/Bass 1977 telefilm is billed as an American production but indeed was animated in Japan by TopCraft (much of this animation team would later go on to form Studio Ghibli, the standard-bearers of the greatest anime films ever). The team now working on ‘War of the Rohirrim’ is some of the top talent in the industry today. Casting is currently underway for voice actors, so we expect this new film to be released in theaters worldwide in 2023 or later.