Part 5: Quint and Peter Jackson talk THE HOBBIT and a potential return to low budget horror!!!
Published at: Sept. 16, 2006, 8:05 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the fifth and final piece of my massive interview with Peter Jackson. Part One focused on TEMERAIRE, the new fantasy series Jackson has optioned. Part Two focused on Jackson's next directorial film, THE LOVELY BONES. Part Three focused on Jackson's involvement bringing HALO to the big screen. And Part Four was all about THE DAMBUSTERS! If you've missed any of those, please click on the links provided. It's all good reading.
This one concerns hobbits, the reasons he's producing so many damned things lately, talk about him going back to make a low budget schlocker like the good old days and more. I think you'll really dig this. I love hearing him geek out about the possibility of delving back into Tolkien's world. Enjoy!!!
QUINT: You've taken a break after KONG, but you're working a lot producing films now. Was the idea always take some time off from directing, but produce in this hiatus?
PETER JACKSON: I guess it hasn't been time off at all, really. It's been time off directing is what it's been. It's really a situation that allows us to make smaller films, really. By that I mean it's meant to look after the infrastructure that we've built up down here. Up until the end of KONG, to some degree, Weta Digital, not Weta Workshop, but Weta Digital and certainly Park Road Post, our post-production facility, our studios and things have been geared towards and relied upon the big films that I've made. That's how the facilities were created and what they were created for; to make 3 LORD OF THE RINGS films.
Fran and I do want to make smaller movies. We want to make films that have lots of effects and then some of them we want to make very low budget films. So, we wanted to be able to make sure that Weta could survive and the post-production facility could survive.
Certainly us being producers on HALO, helping Christian do DAMBUSTERS, means helping a continuity of employment for everybody we've hired. It means that while that's happening we can develop our smaller movies and ultimately shoot the smaller films. We couldn't suddenly stop and make small films because we had six or seven hundred people that we were employing that we would lose and we'd lose everything we'd worked hard to build up over the last 10 years.
As it is, in actual fact, Weta Digital is doing just fine. The reality of it is there's lots and lots of work that we're being offered. We're having to turn down a lot of films now because we're maxed out with HALO and AVATAR... We are definitely feeling that the pressure is off now and it's a great feeling because it means Fran and I and Philippa can be spending our time developing these (smaller films).
One of the situations also is we've found ourselves in a couple situations we wanted a break from. One of them was that for 10 years we've been facing deadlines. We've been facing one sort of deadline or another since LORD OF THE RINGS needed to be written and delivered. We had to shoot the films, we had to edit the films, we had to deliver the movies, we had to write more scripts, we had to shoot... It's okay and when you're on a movie deadlines are very important, but we just wanted to step off the treadmill for a while.
This is largely why with TEMERAIRE and with LOVELY BONES we haven't, at this point, got a studio partner, because if we had gone in partnership with a studio on these projects then the deadlines would be back again. The studio would be helping to acquire the rights, but then they'd be expecting a draft of the script after a certain date and they'd be expecting to know when we'd make the movie and when they could release it.
Rather than go back to that, we decided to just buy all the rights ourselves, which we are lucky enough now to do. We're able to develop these projects and not have anybody imposing deadlines on us. Creatively that's fantastic. Now we're righting and developing this project and we're doing it for the right reasons. Not because we have to get it finished in 6 weeks, but because we are enjoying it.
The other thing is we've also felt over 3 LORD OF THE RINGS and KONG we felt that we've gone into production without the script being as good as we wanted them to be. Anybody who has seen the DVDs and the behind the scenes stuff on those movies have seen us rewriting the scripts all the way through, putting script pages under actors doors the night before we're going to shoot and that's all because we weren't happy with things and we wanted to make them better and we were feeling really pressured and feeling that we were running out of time.
It's felt like you were trying to throw the railway tracks down in front of the train, the train bearing down behind you the whole time, the whole time, for 10 years.
So, we made a pledge to ourselves with these projects we're doing now, we're not going to do anything on them until the script is right. That's all we're going to care about is getting the best script we can, however long that's going to take and make the films we absolutely want to make.
Creatively it's far better, far better. Without that pressure I'm getting inspired again in ways... You know, all the way through LORD OF THE RINGS and KONG it was such pressure that a lot of it was impulsive and reactive. I'm proud of the movies. I don't they turned out to be bad, but it's just nice to be able to have time to explore things and to tap your imagination and let things sit for a few weeks that you've got stuck on and then come back and come up with a fresh idea... you know, wake up in the middle of the night and say, "Okay! I'll try that!"
Really, LOVELY BONES has been a process over the last 6 or 8 months of us revising and rewriting and we've got different versions finished and outlines. The script we've got now is very different from the one we started on a few months ago. It's been organically developing. The climax of the story now is something we never dreamt was going to be the way it would end when we started LOVELY BONES a few months ago. It's great. None of this have happened if we had 12 weeks to write it. It just wouldn't have happened. It's a whole different process.
QUINT: Is that how you worked on your earlier films?
PETER JACKSON: Yeah. In the old days we'd just write our scripts without getting paid for them. We'd just write them on spec, as we're doing now, we'd just write them and take our time with them and get them ready to make the movie.
And I'm also starting to get really excited about doing stuff that I haven't done for years, like I've always wanted to operate the camera again on a film. I did that on my first couple of films, but since then I haven't been able to. The films have been so large and complex I don't think it would have been very smart of me to be the camera operator on LORD OF THE RINGS or KONG because there were other units to look after. There were 3 or 4 different screens to watch, for me to keep an eye on what was happening. To be the camera operator demands a lot of visual focus and attention.
But with these projects I'm developing now I feel like I'm going to be so well prepared going into them and they'll be less complicated and less huge that the idea of operating the camera now really appeals to me and I'm thinking on the next film I'll probably do that again. I haven't been able to think about that for over 15 years. I love doing the camerawork.
And I'm also interested in making really low budget films, too. I get really inspired by seeing Edgar Wright going out and (making) SHAUN OF THE DEAD. These guys are just having fun and I'd love to go back and do some real grungy horror films for zero budgets again. I'll figure out ways to do that...
QUINT: I think there'd be a whole group of people who would be very excited to hear that you have a new, original fucked up flick...
PETER JACKSON: I've got a few of them up there. I've had a few years for them to fester on my mind...
QUINT: As long as little dead girls and dragons don't pull you completely away from them...
PETER JACKSON: I know. I still think in the middle of all this I do want to have a nice, big epic film to be developing, too. I mean, TEMERAIRE is there because along with the small stuff... Even with that one, what I'm excited about is spending the next few months getting designs done. I want to just get Weta to throw their imagination at what these dragons are like, what these battles are like, what the characters, the scenes are like... the color palate and the composition and the drama. In a way, just like Gus (Hunter) and Jeremy (Bennett) did on KONG... So much of what Kong looks like came from the conceptual art that they did and they did a lot of that before we finished the script. I can't wait to throw these stories at the Weta team and just have them do me a whole portfolio and do that before we write the script. Again, that's what we should write the script from, this incredible body of artwork. The script should be born out of the visuals.
QUINT: Do you think you could ever see this producing thing going down the Steven Spielberg path, where you begin directing, then producing and directing and then ultimately have your own studio?
PETER JACKSON: No. No. I just don't think we'd want that degree of pressure. The reason we're doing what we're doing now is we felt so incredible pressure over the last 10 years with the big movies we were making. What we're doing now, in a way, is releasing that pressure by having other people direct some films and us help with the script and help with the production. In terms of the film I'm directing, I'm sort of partly focusing on smaller films now, so we're aiming on making our lives a little less twisted.
And partly to restore creativity because I was just feeling that the pressure and the exhaustion that we had was stifling the creativity a little bit, so we've gone back to a process that is a little more fun. Because having fun is going to translate into (the finished product).
So, no. Going the full way into a large studio situation would just be bringing all that pressure back down on our heads again.
QUINT: I saw in Variety that THE HOBBIT came up. The MGM thing. Did you see this?
PETER JACKSON: Where the guy who runs MGM was announcing their tentpoles and saying they were doing TERMINATOR 4 and they want me to make 2 HOBBIT films? I was reading that this morning on the net. It's a rather strange thing to wake to. I'm up for it, but somebody should phone me because I'm getting a bit booked out at the moment!
Everybody asks me about THE HOBBIT, you know? But the reality is I've never had a conversation with anybody about it. Not one person has ever made a phone call to me. I don't know. The irony is that we're acquiring our own projects now and we're buying the rights to books. The reality is, to be quite honest with you, we're getting ourselves now nice and busy, in a good way, for the next 4 years. So, people have not (spoken to us) about THE HOBBIT and it's making it more and more impossible for us to be involved.
QUINT: So, if you got a phone call tomorrow telling you that you could have any budget you need and creative freedom, but it has to be finished and in theaters by December 2009. Would you find room for THE HOBBIT?
PETER JACKSON: Well, it depends. No one has phoned me, which is kind of weird, but I don't know. We're very, very excited and committed about the films that we're working on now, so I don't know. I'd have to sit down and look at it all. Obviously, I'm interested in THE HOBBIT, but right now we have no emotional investment in it. For the last few years, we have put our hearts into other projects. It would seem strange to have somebody else do it, although some part of me would be interested in going to see somebody else's HOBBIT, be able to buy my popcorn and go and sit and watch the film.
I'm not against that and if our schedule is impossible, then that's what they'll do. They'll certainly go and get someone else to make it. They won't wait, which is their right.
QUINT: Could your lawsuit against New Line be a problem?
PETER JACKSON: No. It's a seperate thing. I mean, I can't discuss the law suit, but it is just about rather dull audit issues, not people or projects. New Line called us about a Lord of the Rings box set a few weeks ago. A high definition one, so we are still talking.
QUINT: Maybe they will offer a settlement that includes The Hobbit.
PETER JACKSON: No. Well, they might, but we would never do that. Never. You make movies because you love the idea. You feel kind of emotionally driven. I would never commit to a 2 or 3 year project because of a court order! I mean, what a jinx. It would bring bad karma. No, our dull audit stuff can get figured out by lawyers or courts or whatever. We'll keep our movies completely untarnished by that.
QUINT: I think no matter what you should write some dialogue for Christopher Lee and pack up the robe, staff and beard and go film about 10 minutes with him playing Saruman again while you still have the chance!
PETER JACKSON: I would love to! If I was doing THE HOBBIT I'd try to get as many of the guys back as I could. I mean, there's actually a role for Legolas in THE HOBBIT, his father features in it, obviously Gandalf and Saruman should be part of it. There's things that you can do with THE HOBBIT to bring in some old friends, for sure. I have thought about it from time to time... Elrond, Galadriel and Arwen could all feature. Elves have lived for centuries. Part of the attraction would be working with old friends. I wouldn't want to do it unless we could keep a continuity of cast. I have zero interest in directing a Gandalf who wasn't Ian McKellen for instance. Strange to be even talking about it, for three years it's been in this rights situation limbo.
QUINT: They must have figured it out.
PETER JACKSON: It looks that way. I've always thought that New Line would go to MGM and offer them some money and basically buy them out, then New Line would make the film. But I can see what MGM is doing. If I was MGM I'd do the same thing. What MGM is gotta be saying is, "Well, we'll partner in the film with you. We'll pay for half of it and you pay for half of it and we'll share it." That's what studios do a lot with these films. If I was MGM, I'd think that was the smart thing to do. "We'll share the rights," and actually become a partner in what is already a successful franchise.
It must create problems for New Line because they have all these output deals with these independent guys, who did a great job releasing LORD OF THE RINGS in all the different (foreign) territories. They release a package of New Line films over 2 or 3 years and they get 20 films or whatever. And I'm sure that New Line would prefer to offer their partners 20 films plus THE HOBBIT as part of the package, so MGM might be taking domestic and New Line international. I really have no idea, but it's interesting to see how the politics works. That stuff intrigues me. They must have figured out something I guess. I mean, there's too much money involved. If I was the Time/Warner board, I would have been hassling New Line for a Hobbit film for the last three years! It's a billion dollar franchise for the studio.
QUINT: And I'm sure they'd love the idea of two HOBBIT films. Twice the box office, more DVDs to sell...
PETER JACKSON: I saw that. Yeah, we're supposed to be writing The Lovely Bones, but of course Phil, Fran and I read the thing on the net and spent most of this morning talking about The Hobbit. We think the two film idea is really smart. One of the problems with The Hobbit is that it is a fairly simple kids story, and doesn't really feel like The Lord of the Rings. Tonally I mean. It's always may be a little worried, but with two films that kinda gets easier. It allows for more complexity. At that implied stuff with Gandalf and the White Council and the return of Sauron could be fully explored.
That's what we talked about this morning. Taking The Hobbit and combining it with all that intigue about Sauron's rise, and the problems that has for Gandalf. It could be cool. That way, it starts feeling more like The Lord of the Rings and less like this kids book. You could even get into Gollum's sneaking into Mordor and Aragorn protecting The Shire. That's what we'd do. Love to work with Viggo again.
Anyway, we talked for a while and got back into the Lovely Bones. As I said, that's where our hearts are at the moment. We're extremely happy with the projects we're involved in now and we're busy for a few years. I really have no idea. If someone else makes it, I'll be first in line! Actually, I'd try to be, but Philippa is the Queen of the Geeks and she'd definately get there first!
There you have it. The end of the end. Thanks to all that have stayed with me throughout the week as each new piece went up. Thanks to everybody for sticking through the growing pains the site has been going through. I know there's still a delay with the talkbacks that is making life a little difficult, but we are working on making everything ship-shape. And, of course, a big thanks to Peter Jackson for taking the time to fill all of us in on what's going on in his world and for being so honest and upfront about everything. There were many times, especially with THE HOBBIT stuff, where he could have just blown off the question, but he didn't.
That ends my interview with Jackson, but I have tons more still in the pipeline before I catch a plane across the Atlantic next week. You will see chats with Michel Gondry, Naomi Navik, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost and a few more surprises. Hopefully by then I'll have been able to find time to type up my thoughts on Guillermo Del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH (short review: it's a masterpiece). 'Til then, this is Quint bidding you all a fond farewell and adieu.