I can say with some confidence that Peter Jackson is a director I’d like to work for. At least, if he’s anything like he appears in his incredible ‘Production Diary’ video blogs he’s been posting since principal photography began on his upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit in March last year-then, yes, in that case, I’d definitely like to work on his set. He doesn’t give me the impression of a being a director with a gigantic ego or a tyrant. I’ve no doubt he knows exactly how to get the best out of his team, and he surrounds himself with a bunch of truly talented and creative individuals. His work is testimony to the fact that he has worked out a formula for success in one of the most demanding – but rewarding- artistic disciplines.
I hope you were as excited as I was when we were given a taste of what is to come December this year and 2013 (with proviso the Mayans were wrong) when Jackson released the first eagerly anticipated teaser trailer shortly before Christmas last year to commemorate the 10th anniversary since the release of The Fellowship of the Ring all those years ago. If for some reason you’ve been living in a hole in the ground, not unlike Bilbo’s, and have not yet seen it, watch it below, now:
While this trailer looks very promising, it still reveals only a little of what I’m sure are a great many much larger-scale scenes which have yet to be finished by WETA digital, the visual effects company working on the film. For me, the following things stand out:
- The somehow chilling yet majestic song, ‘Misty Mountains’, sung by the dwarves
- Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, seeming very up close and personal with Gandalf
- The titles: they seem too simple somehow, but I think they’re designed to pop in 3D cinemas
- Beautiful cinematography featuring crane shots of Gandalf at 1:17 and Bilbo at 2:06, and breathtaking aerial shots, such as at 1:50
- The remarkable score by Howard Shore, the composer who wrote the score for the original trilogy
The Hobbit has truly been a long time coming, one could almost say it’s been through what is frequently termed “development hell” among industry professionals, with a massive fallout between Jackson and the studio which financed The Lord of the Rings, New Line Cinema, being the principal cause of delay. The project was passed on to Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro with Jackson acting as executive producer, and while fans weren’t ecstatic about the idea, there certainly could have been a lot worse directors chosen for the job.
In 2010 del Toro left the project due to time constraints and prolonged negotiations and rumours were abound as a new director search started in haste. One of the names thrown around was our very own Neil Blomkamp, director of the box office surprise hit, District 9.
Eventually, in October 2010, fans breathed a sigh of relief as Peter Jackson returned to helm the project. After witnessing the care and craftsmanship taken to ensure Tolkien’s world was properly transferred to screen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I think it’s safe to say The Hobbit, split into two films, the second being a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, is in safe hands.
Peter Jackson’s Production Video Blogs
Never before have we seen a director go to such great lengths to document the progress of a film’s production as in Peter Jackson’s production diary video blogs which he’s been releasing every few months to his Facebook page since production began last March. And never before has such a lot of material been available prior to the release of a feature.
The videos prove several things:
- Peter Jackson is very committed to his fans
- he is a very engaging and confident presenter in front of the camera
- and he clearly carries quite some weight when it comes to dealing with the studio financing the film, if the production diaries were his idea (typically studios remain tight-lipped on films in production so they can plan a carefully timed global marketing strategy).
Of course, the production diaries themselves may just be an elaborate marketing strategy, but either way, we’re certainly not complaining! And while the diaries have been extremely insightful into Jackson’s creative process, and the most must see videos for any students even vaguely interested in a career in the film industry on the web at the moment, there have been measures put in place to ensure the entire game plan is not given away. Particularly obvious was the blurring out of a lot of preproduction planning material, costumes and other props in the first diary. Luckily since then there has been little else blurred out.
The amount of detail that Jackson is giving away is, truth be told, remarkable. But then again, he doesn’t really have much to lose, and it all contributes to the hype that will only continue to grow throughout the year. Of course for me personally, as I explained in my review of The Adventures of Tintin, this may have the negative effect of killing my enjoyment for the final product, but I somehow think this will be one of those films that I will enjoy no matter how much hype builds up prior to release.
For your convenience we have collected here all Jackson’s production diaries to date. While we’re waiting for An Unexpected Journey to be transferred from Jackson’s extraordinary vision to pixels (yes, he’s shooting digital!), we can join him on another extraordinary journey in the interim that will take us from the Wellington sound stages to London’s Pinewood studios (home to the James Bond films) and back to the unparalleled wild beauty of New Zealand as the team moves out to shoot on location.
If you’re short of campus quota, we have provided a summary of what’s in each vid to help you select one to watch.
First Video Blog: 14 April 2011
I may have run out of res internet quota for my academic studies for the month of April last year, but I sure feel like this video qualifies as ‘educational’ considering I’m doing a Film & Media degree. It was with elation that I discovered this video in my Facebook feed, and at ten and a half minutes long, Peter Jackson certainly wasn’t cutting corners, he really wanted to give fans a proper insight into the production process. The four video blogs released since then have all been between 10 to 14 minutes long. This first video shows us a calm and relaxed Jackson introducing us to the video blog idea, despite the considerable time and financial pressures he would have been facing in the final stages of preproduction.
This first video is first and foremost a nostalgic flash-back to the past for both fans and the director as Peter Jackson walks us through old LOTR sets such as the beautiful setting of Rivendell and Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit hole. Then we get a glimpse of actors hard at work doing intensive training for their roles and massive costume and props departments at work.
In passing we meet Jackson’s artistic team (the people responsible for the overall look and flow of the film) which includes production designer, Dan Hennah, and John Howe and Alan Lee, the phenomenal concept artists who worked closely with Jackson on the original trilogy. Remarkably in the fourth video blog, they produce 3D concept artwork, entirely by hand.
We see Jackson at work planning fight sequences and actor blocking for the dwarves. The video finishes with a Maori blessing of the film set and crew.
Second Video Blog: 8 July 2011
I get exhausted at the end of the first couple of days and stay exhausted ’til it finishes.
- Peter Jackson
After a truly magnificent start to the video blog series, the beginning of this second video was a slight let-down as it was concentrated mainly on what the various crew members were planning to do with their vacation. What the video did immediately reveal though is actor Andy Serkis sitting in the director’s chair of the second unit, showing he has taken a directorial as well as an acting role in The Hobbit.
The film has an extraordinarily long shooting schedule – 254 days – so perhaps a holiday is well deserved a good 50 days in after all. As a comparison, a typical film shoot for a feature film usually only lasts a matter of weeks.
The second half of the video however more than makes up for the rather slow first half- Peter Jackson and his team take to five- yes FIVE- helicopters on an extensive location scout to find the best spots to convey the incredible landscapes of Tolkien’s imagination. The New Zealand scenery is a treat as always.
Third Video Blog: 20 July 2011
*SPOILER ALERT* This video summery contains spoilers, it is provided below for commentary and analysis.
Barely two weeks after the previous production diary, Jackson’s back with more commentary on developments in Hobbit world. But this time, there’s a catch, he’s no longer in New Zealand but in London’s Pinewood studios! A very entertaining bit of acting on Mr. Jackson’s part at the beginning of the video portrays him as a lost and bewildered soul in search of his friend Andy Serkis on the streets of London.
Apart from the highly entertaining intro, this diary is a bit slow-paced really and will likely only interest the hard core fans. It features particular cast and crew members reflecting back on their favourite moments of the shoot thus far, but also has some great behind-the-scenes footage showing what each person describes. Of note are the motion capture performances by Andy Serkis as Gollum and there is a special surprise appearance from Christopher Lee at the end of the video. This has pleased many fans who no doubt were relieved to see the production had included a shooting segment in England to accommodate the fact that Lee did not wish to travel to New Zealand at his age to reprise his role as the wizard, Saruman.
Who is that odd little fellow?
- Christopher Lee, as Peter Jackson dashes past in the background
Fourth Video Blog: 4 November 2011
Fans had to wait for a good few months before seeing anything more from Jackson but it wasn’t in vain: the fourth video blog remains for me the most interesting by far, especially from a film student’s point of view.
Jackson makes time to introduce viewers to the extensive camera department of The Hobbit showing off the FORTY-EIGHT Red Epic cameras being used to film the movie, each of them named personally by Jackson. The way 3D films are shown is explained by the production stereographer, as are the logistics required for 3D filmmaking, such as a double-camera “3eality” setup which makes use of a mirror system.
For me the 3D work in Peter Jackson’s collaboration with Spielberg, The Adventures of Tintin, was less than eye-popping, but it looks like on The Hobbit they’re doing a really good job of it, so let’s hold thumbs. They’re also shooting it at 48 frames per second, twice the usual film speed of 24fps, which apparently makes the motion ridiculously smooth and natural (your eyes see at 60fps). Let’s hope our SA cinemas are geared to handle projecting at that speed come December.
The people who have seen scenes of The Hobbit at 48 frames per second often say it’s like the back of the cinema has had a hole cut out of it where the screen is, and you’re actually looking into the real world.
Fifth Video Blog: 23 December 2011
Peter Jackson’s Christmas present to his fans included an amazing look at the logistical nightmare that is moving a production on the scale of The Hobbit out into the wilderness of New Zealand for on location shooting. The camp site that is set up for the production crew occupies the space of two football fields.
I haven’t witnessed such large-scale film production since I watched the behind-the-scenes on Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3, where Jerry Bruckheimer’s production team arrived with an entire container ship at a small island in the caribbean and literally built a road infrastructure just so they could move their gear around.
Peter Jackson has promised us another video, saying that video 5 is only the first half of the on location behind-the-scenes footage. I think we can look forward to the second half any time soon from within the next few days to at most, a few weeks from now. I know I’m looking forward to seeing behind the scenes on the post-production side as well, and I sure hope that these videos don’t stop coming in once shooting has wrapped.
What do you most want to see in the next Hobbit Production diary? Which part of The Hobbit film are you most looking forward to seeing? Do you prefer to not see previews and promotional material before seeing a film? Let us know in the comments below!