Holy Crap! Quint visits the set of Peter Jackson's KING KONG, Part 1!!!!
Published at: Jan. 21, 2005, 1:21 a.m. CST by staff
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the first of a few King sized reports gathered from my experience on the set of Peter Jackson's KING KONG. I visited New Zealand for one month beginning Sept. 15th and lasting through October 15th of this year. When filling out the customs form, I put down that I was in New Zealand for holiday, not business and that wasn't a lie.
Wellington is one of my favorite places on this Earth and when the decision to spend a month in New Zealand was made I didn't even know for sure if I was going to visit KONG, and if I was I didn't know if I'd be able to write about my experiences. I ran into a few hitches when I went out for the RETURN OF THE KING pick-ups last year, a weird juggling of me being onset as "guest" of the production or as an "official" journalist covering everything I saw. After going through the official channels and getting the OK, I published a couple reports before being asked to stop by some of the higher ups at New Line.
Luckily, within the first few days of my arrival I sat down with Jan Blenkin (a lovely lady who was Pete's main assistant on LOTR and is now a producer on KONG), Matt Dravitzki (Pete's current assistant, who you'll see mentioned many times in my KONG reports as I had much contact with him. The man is the bee's knees and if I were a woman... I'd probably have boobs. Ahem. Now where was I...) and the publicist from Universal.
I was told at this meeting that Universal was cool with me writing under the condition that I hold my articles for a certain amount of time. They didn't say, but I'm sure they had already granted exclusives to other outlets, which doesn't bother me in the slightest since what I saw and what they would see are completely different. That being that, I'd like to say that what you're about to read really came about due to the kindness of Peter Jackson and his respect for you guys, the readers of AICN.
Like with ROTK, every expense on my trip to and from New Zealand was paid by me, not the production or the studio. This wasn't a junket, like you can see in one of the more recent Kongisking.net set diaries, where I was flown out and put up and given huge group interviews with the stars and a massive per diem. I think what I got was even better.
I was in New Zealand for one whole month and in that month I was given amazing access to the set, going at least twice a week and as much as 4 or 5 days a week. My friends, Kraken, his wife, Mrs. Kraken (vets of the ROTK visit) and I were usually set up in an out of the way area with a pair of monitors and left to our own devices. We had complete freedom and were unsupervised the vast majority of the time.
I brought a long a book that Harry had given me for Christmas. It's nothing big, just a blank diary book.
When Harry gave it to me he said I should take it with me and have anybody who was willing draw a monkey in it to commemorate the visit. I'm pretty non-intrusive when visiting movie sets, so even though I thought it was a great idea I didn't think I was going to be acting too much on it. Nevertheless, I ended up getting a handful of people to do a quick sketch. I'll share some of these sketches with you folks throughout this report, but since I'm about to talk about the Venture (the boat that takes the crew to Skull Island), let me start off with the first sketch of the boat given to me by Jan Blenkin, producer.
People really have no idea what this movie is going to be. You might think you know, but you really don't. I thought I knew what the movie was going to be after having spent 3 weeks onset. It wasn't until I visited WETA that I realized just how small I was dreaming.
Peter Jackson is making a modern day two hundred million dollar Ray Harryhausen film. The much publicized dinos are just the tip of the iceberg. There are monsters and creatures invented for this movie that'll drive you batshit insane... in a good way. In order to make sure you have the maximum effect when you're sitting in a theater a year from now (and the fact that I signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement before allowed within 100 feet of Weta), I'm not going to go into great detail, but my favorite was the swamp monster... sweet god. Mix a scorpion, a centipede, a tapeworm and a lobster together and imagine the creature shop at Weta bringing it to life. Now imagine it attacking the Venture crew as glimpsed in these two video diaries THIS ONE and THIS ONE!!!.
That's just one small example of what's in store for us next December. What wowed me the most about the Weta visit was I had spent 3 weeks seeing a real movie, with real actors and real character moments being filmed. Sure, it ain't THE PIANIST, but everybody takes their character seriously, without any camp. Even Jack Black, while still Jack Black, reels it in as Carl Denham. I feel more like I've visited the set of a drama than a monster movie because all I saw was character interaction and the crew keeping the ship together during a big storm. All the fantastic stuff happens on Skull Island. But then I get to Weta and see shelf after shelf, preproduction drawing after drawing with big monsters that you just KNOW are going to tussle with Kong and you just KNOW you're going to see big monsters fight each other through the photography of Andrew Lesnie, the direction of Peter Jackson and the skilled labor of Richard Taylor's gaggle of genius'... and that's all before Weta Digital spins their magic.
So, my first day onset was actually a first night. The crew was on night shoots filming the Venture on the backlot of Stone Street Studios as well a few in-studio shots of the interior of the boat. I was met at the security gate by Carter Nixon, one of the coolest cats in New Zealand who moonlights as a lead singer for the band CRUMB. (You can see Carter chase down "Gandalf" in one of the funniest Kongisking.net video diaries here). He took me into the catering building (which strangely enough used to be a soundstage, where they shot Elrond presenting Aragorn with Anduril) where the crew was piling in for lunch... at 6pm. Gotta love those whacky night shoots.
Here is where I caught up with a lot of the crew I met the summer before during the ROTK pickups. Andrew Lesnie (Director of Photography), Hammond Peek (super sound guy and Academy Award winner! See him play around here) and Skot Thomas (Assistant Director and the dude who had to put up with my presence the most, both on KONG and ROTK... check him out here on this video where he cradles Jack Black!) to name a few. I also got my first look at Jack Black, Colin Hanks, Adrien Brody and Andy Serkis who were all decked out in wet suits. You'll find out why in a minute.
After lunch I was led to B Stage. The very first thing I saw shot was a simple low angle shot of an open door way as the lights flicker, the door swaying open and shut and the camera tilting to and fro to cheat ocean movement. Remember this is was all locked down stages, not on any sort of gimbal, so every bit of ocean-like movement you see is all faked. The footage coming through the monitor I was parked at showed a lot of atmosphere. I have no idea what scene it's from, but I'd guess it doesn't mean good times are in store for our adventurous seamen.
Pete got this shot off quickly and everyone went to go set up the next one, out in the backlot, but I'll get to that in a bit. In the meantime, Pete's assistant, (remember I told you we'd get back to him) Matt Dravitzki lead me on a tour through all the interior Venture sets. Most notable were the "hot sets" (ie ones still being used and vulnerable to being royally fucked up in regards to keeping the continuity if, say, a bumbling seaman decided to move around shoes and bunks and pillows... I swear I didn't touch a single thing!!!) which were Ann Darrow's cabin, Carl Denham's cabin and Lumpy's mess hall. (See Andy as Lumpy lead you through the mess hall here).
Ann's cabin was in shambles. Hat boxes, shoes, broken tea cups and books thrown everywhere, supposedly from when she gets kidnapped by those vicious Skull Island natives. Denham's cabin is by far the largest personal cabin, even bigger than the Captain's bunk, with a study room and separate bunk room. There were vintage photos of Elephants getting loaded into boats via large cranes (!!!) on the wall. What I remember most about the mess hall (that isn't really featured on the above Kongisking.net doc) was the kangaroo paw nailed onto a wall and an old newspaper resting on a tabletop next to a couple half dealt decks of cards. The paper had headlines like "Gas Bombs Used To Rob Bank." Hrmm... Gas bombs, eh? Who do we know who uses gas bombs (besides Harry)? Makes me wonder if Mr. Denham has bankrolled this expedition through nefarious means, although who knows... this headline could just be coincidence or meant as a laugh for the crew, not to be featured in the movie.
When we were finished up inside the Venture, Matt lead us out of the studio, putting up with me repeatedly bringing up his resemblance to Jack Black. "Did PJ got the idea to cast Jack Black in the movie after he hired you?" Dravitzski's resemblance to Jack is uncanny, like he could be his brother. He's got that round face and devilish eyes... you know what I'm sayin'. He has never shown his face prominently in any of the kongisking.net production diaries, so I can't point him out, but I think that's only so he doesn't start getting a fan club. He's a hottie, girls!
Anyway, during this conversation I was led up to the Venture that they had constructed on the backlot. They only built the ship from about the middle to the back as they didn't need to reconstruct the whole vessel for what they needed to shoot. I thought we'd sit on ground level looking up at the action onboard, but to my great surprise we were actually taken onboard.
Filming was being done on the deck around the middle of the ship... in the rain... in early Spring. As you can guess, the cast and crew were happy to be under the giant kite-like rain machines in the windy, chilly Wellington night air. Now you know why they were all decked out in wet suits at lunch. They'd need that extra bit of insulation under their wardrobe to survive!
I got to lean against the stern railing as the scene was set. In this scene, there are a dozen crew members rushing to the lifeboats, throwing in supplies and weapons as they're being pelted by rain. In the chaos, cameras focus on Jack Black shouting orders (with a bloody nose, by the way. Pay attention, that comes into play later), Adrien Brody looking worried and lost as he helps the crew load the boats, Jamie Bell assisting the crew and Colin Hanks as Preston who sneaks the camera equipment into one of the dingies at Denham's urging. Of course, he's caught by Hayes (played by Evan Parke, a huge Jamaican dude) and given an earful, but as Denham argues Hanks gets the equipment in.
They had a few monitors set up near the stern where I was and the cast would come back between takes and check the playback. In particular I remember Jack Black watching his performance and announcing to those immediately around him that it was a little too much. "Got to reign it in a little, got to pull it back! Cut some of the juice!"
I'm a huge Tenacious D fan and had a blast watching Jack entertain the crew between set-ups... He kept the set laughing all day. It was also weird to see Colin Hanks running about. My buddy, Kraken, was actually kinda freaking out on our first night because Colin has such a resemblance to his father, that he'd see Hanks out of the corner of his eye and think a mid-'80s era Tom Hanks appeared before him. I got to talk quite a bit with Colin later on and found out just what a cool and normal guy(/geek) he was, but that night I just saw him shivering in-between takes.
Right now I'm going to gather together a few days worth of shooting to complete this scene for you, then I'll give you a break from this massive first report. In my first week onset they were mostly doing this scene, the ship preparing to rescue Ann Darrow after she is kidnapped from the ship by the natives and the crew trying to lighten the weight of the boat when beached.
You folks who kept up with the Kongisking.net reports will remember earlier on in the process when the Dump Tanks were used. That's all for this scene. It seems that somehow the Venture is beached on a rock... in the middle of a storm. The ship is at a sharp angle (the film crew actually tilted up the huge Venture to a 15 degree angle) and the crew is hustling about trying to lighten the load. Everyone is throwing boxes, gear and furniture overboard. Of course, if everything that isn't needed is to be dumped ("Everything that isn't nailed down overboard! Get us off th is rock!" - Captain Englehorn) someone somewhere decides that Carl Denham's film equipment must go as well.
Somehow Carl's camera gets into the hands of Choy (Lobo Chan), the Chinese cook, and Choy is running like the devil with Denham close behind shouting at the terrified cook to give him back his camera. They breeze past Andy Serkis' Lumpy... that sounds rather unpleasant, doesn't it? Sorry about that... let me try again... They breeze past Andy Serkis' CHARACTER Lumpy as he's throwing his pots and pans overboard, sparring the chase a contemptuous glare just before everyone gets slammed by the water tanks. In one of the takes, Serkis actually gets washed overboard, the force of the water was that strong.
Now, shortly after Jan Blenkin did that sketch I showed you guys above, I met Lobo Chan for the first time. I didn't get much chance to converse with him during the rest of my visit, but he struck me as a very nice and funny man. He saw Jan hand me my Kong book back and asked what it was, so I showed it to him and he ended up giving me this sketch:
I want to know why she's still got her shoes on? She's apparently lost everything else... I guess she's got some super-shoes!
Anyway, Jack ends up with his camera again, but comes face to face with the captain of the Venture, Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann, the actor who played the Nazi that spared Adrien Brody's life in THE PIANIST) who calls him a "Goddamn coward!" and moves threateningly towards Denham. Jack clutches his camera protectively to his chest and screams out, "Don't come any closer! Stop, or I'll be compelled to defend myself! Englehorn grabs for the camera and Denham struggles, getting a punch in the face for his troubles (remember I told you there was a reason he had a bloody nose earlier). Keep in mind that during this fight the Dump Tanks are releasing their massive loads of water, sending them crashing down at timed intervals. Englehorn throws a nasty right hook, then a left, which forces the camera to spill out of Denham's arms and onto the deck. Denham answers back with a couple solid punches.
Englehorn goes for the camera, but is stopped by Denham who jumps on top of him and unleashes some punishment. Englehorn gets the camera while Denham is briefly stunned and runs to the rail, raises it over his head and starts to throw it overboard when he is HIT by a giant wave that sends him to the deck and the camera back into Denham's arms.
I met Jack Black around this time. He just kinda came up to me at the monitors, dripping wet with a blanket wrapped around him, and bluntly said, "Who are you?" I introduced myself as Quint from Ain't It Cool News and his eyebrows cocked up. He knew of the site and could even name a talkbacker who wrote some nasty shit about him at some point! I'll keep that name to myself so that dude doesn't feel too important for being a negative douche, but I thought it was really funny that Jack Black memorized this guy's ridiculous talkback identity and kept it with him in the back of his mind.
Anyway, Jack in person is just as you'd imagine him being. He's always on and funny as hell, but not in any mean way. His humor always seemed good natured with the sole aim of making those immediately around him laugh. He went to go shoot a scene and in the meantime I saw Fran Walsh for the first time on this trip. I can't say enough good things about Fran. I don't think there's a kinder person on this earth. So, as I was showing off Jan's awesome Venture sketch up comes Jack Black, once again soaked to the bone, and he sees the book. He grabs it and goes, "What's this? Jan did this drawing?"
"Yeah, it's good, isn't it?"
"Can I do one?" I surely wasn't going to say no to that, so he grabs a pen and sketches. The coolest thing about this drawing is it's drawn by Jack Black and directed by Peter Jackson. Here's the pic and I'll tell ya' what I mean after you take a look:
Sweet, huh? He drew the Kong first (or "Conehead Kong" as he called it) and then put in the Empire State Building... Then he put the plane shooting Kong. He actually said, "Ka-ka-ka-ka-ka" mimicking the machine gun fire as he was drawing the bullets. I told him that was great and he should put that in, so he did... Then up walks Peter and takes one look at the drawing and says, "That plane's wrong. It needs two sets of wings." Jack had not drawn a bi-plane, you see. So he quickly added another set of wings before seeing the blank spot on the left side. "Hmm... How about a cloud?" He then draws a cloud, pauses and then adds the lightning bolt. "An angry cloud."
After he finished the sketch, he went off to get warm and I went back to my monitor. On the way I bumped into Andy Serkis. I had chatted with him a bit during the ROTK shooting last year and even went to a party at his house a day or two before I left NZ back to the states, but I hadn't seen him since that visit. We mostly talked about his appearance.
You've seen him on Kongisking.net if you clicked the link above where he leads you through the kitchen, but some details you might not have noticed is he has a shark-tooth necklace (Cool!) and a sweet frickin' knife tied to his leg. That facial hair is real, by the way. That thick-ass mustache and constant scrubbly growth was on him on and off set, much to the chagrin of his wife, apparently. From what I saw of Lumpy, I'm so very glad that Andy got this role. It's really giving him a chance to show that Gollum isn't the only thing he can do and if he's half as good on the screen as he was live, then he's well on the way fixing himself as one of the great character actors working today.
It was around this time that Peter came up and had the first real chat with us on this trip. We caught up a bit and I commented on his new look. He then went into a 5 minute long, amazingly descriptive break-down of his Lasik surgery that had my eyeballs hurting. The idea of having my eyeball sliced open just gives me the screamin' heebie-jeebies, but Jackson was very technical about it. Didn't seem to bother him much, so good on him. They'd have to damn near knock me out before I'd let someone come at me with an eyeball razor.
We were inside the studio during this conversation, on a night that was deemed way too cold to shoot more dump tank stuff. The scene we had just seen was one of the crew getting ready to storm the island that starts with Serkis opening a cabinet filled with rifles and handing them back to the crew, who were lined up handing rifle after rifle to the man behind them. You know, like the mops doing Mickey's dirty work in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Englehorn breaks through the chain and into an adjoining room where he flips up a bunk, revealing a couple dozen oiled and shiny Tommy Guns. Lumpy likes. Quint likes, too. Englehorn starts unloading the crate, passing tommy gun after tommy gun back.
Apparently on the wall in this scene was a prop native shield from the original '33 KING KONG that Peter pulled from his own collection and put in the film. Being the total geek he is, Peter's first words to us were about that. "Did you see the original KONG prop in that scene?" I confessed to missing it, but I did spot the other KONG prop that he threw in later (check my 3rd and final KONG report for that one). Before he was called back to work, we were told that those tommy guns were indeed used to great effect on Skull Island. In particular, we were told to look forward to the carnage they can do against dinosaurs. Pretty nifty, eh?
I guess I could continue on with all the slinking native on a mission to steal the white woman stuff I saw, but this report is getting too big already. I believe there will be a total of 3 reports that will contain navites, a little Carl Denham douche-baggery, info on the origins of the map to Skull Island, some flirtation between Jack Driscoll and Ann Darrow, some singing and dancing and lots of mist. Not to mention a couple exclusive pics that you haven't seen anywhere yet. Check back Monday for the next one! 'Til then this is Quint bidding you all a fond farewell and adieu.