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THERE AND BACK AGAIN: A Geek's Adventure in Middle Earth! Chapter TWO!

This morning I awoke from the dream that was yesterday. Looking out my window at the harbor below… ships coming and going… a museum down below. I stumble out of my bed, and walk over to my computer to take a look at what is going on in the world I left behind for Middle Earth… Bush is President… Posters for PLANET OF THE APES and HARRY POTTER have come about online. I see reports from BUTT-NUMB-A-THON have been coming in… and all I can think about is getting back to set.

I was supposed to wait for a car, but I can not weight anymore. I call a cab and tell them to head out on the highway towards the stone quarries. I tell him, I want to goto the LORD OF THE RINGS set… As we drive I’m taking in the vegetation upon the drive… Amazing the different types of ferns, shrubbery and trees… Dollops of some red flowers atop a tree here or there… A dense tropical world.

It seems as though it takes an eternity… My cab driver, designated as James 19. He’s an older chap. I ask him about LORD OF THE RINGS… what he thinks of all this filmmaking stuff…

"You mean da Lord of the Rinnngs?"

"Yes, how do you feel about it!"

"Well, I’m really quite a bit excited by it all, as is just about everybody. It really is quite something, what with all the money that its bringing into the city and all."

Again there is this lit up eye thing. People, just regular people here in New Zealand, there seems to be a great deal of hope and expectation for these films. The man that drove me from the set yesterday back to my hotel…. He has 2 other jobs in Wellington… On some days, he is delivering bread… some days he is delivering milk to the grocers. He is a single father of 3, and for him… this film is something rather special.

Now… I suppose I should be honest. At the moment, I am sitting behind Peter Jackson in a chair made especially to support my girth. The titanium chair is supposedly Harry-proof.

At the moment, David Wenham is three feet away having his rather beautiful helmet removed. He’s watching playback of the scene … Ian is sitting next to Peter… And Peter is giving direction. First, here’s the scene.

"Faramir… Faramir… Your Father’s will
has turned to madness and evil.
Do not throw your life away so rashly"

(Riding horse back in full armor a
melancholy look of determination upon
his brow)
"Where does my allegiance lie if not here.
This is the city of the men of Numenor.
I will gladly give my life to defend
her beauty, her memory, her wisdom"

"Your father loves you Faramir…
he’ll remember it before the end"

NOW… Here is the direction. Peter to Faramir… "You know that first part of your line… ‘Where does my allegiance lie if not here’… Why not try that line like you are telling Gandalf.. ‘don’t do this, don’t try to come between me and my father’"

David (Faramir) has this look like he gets it, shakes his head in affirmation… Meanwhile… as the playback begins on the Faramir riding, the shot starts on Peter’s children… watching the men ride off in their armor.

This take jives and Peter calls for the break for lunch. David comes back in…. Approaches the monitor… Weta takes a shot of him…. His armor is being removed… and he’s focusing on his performance. Studying himself… to see if he can do it better… if he’s happy. In the shot of Faramir… you can see a look of love as he describes why he leaves… for what he fights. There’s a half distant dream and a spark of idealism. The sound of hoofs coming down… crunching the gravely ground. This really is something.

I know this scene.

Meanwhile… as all of this is happening on the BLUESCREEN Unit… They were shooting some work with Gimli, I’m not 100% sure what it was… but John Rhys Davies looked magnificent. The hair work was great… big huge shoulders… Meanwhile the 2nd Unit screen was revealing Gandalf (double at a distance) shooting a scene where they are pursuing Orcs in the streets of Minas Tirith… or at least that is what I think is going on. But enough of this… The stomach calls for food.


Ahhhh… here I am dining with fine armored soldiers… rangers… Gandalf… Faramir…. Grips, electricians, the DP… Everyone. On slate for consumption today was Roast Beef, steamed potatoes and this thing called vegetable curin (I think that’s how it is spelled.

I eat rather quickly as I want to wonder the sets alone… Nobody over my shoulder… During lunch the sets are completely empty. A fellow like me can wonder about and be in Minas Tirith. It was amazing. The birds from the tropical environs… tweeting about… the smell of horse mixed with the pollen of the surrounding area… there was a sweet odor to the city. Most of the equipment was cleared, so as I walked up the hill to the general vicinity of the ‘rat catchers abode’ I was just pleased as punch. I would shut my eyes and hear the sounds of a tranquil New Zealand… My sparkling creepers crunching on the cracked stone streets… My footsteps’ sound bouncing off the walls… my steps and mine alone. I glance to the side… and over yonder is a little garden… a small bird bath, there is a whole series of characters all about it carved in… all wearing armor, all in the same alabaster stone of the city. This here, this is my time in the city of Denethor… The last stand of man against the forces of the nameless one. I find a little corner all my own. I sit. I sit and be still.

I’ll remember this moment. The wind picked up… my hair blows about… And I can almost see the mountain that should be right there…. Towering like an enormous tusk jutting up out of the earth. I’ve read about the mountain that will be there… I know that it will be quite something to look at…. In my mind, I see it… though in reality I will not be seeing this mountain for 3 years. Here… alone, it is magnificent.

Afterwards… I decide to wonder back to the dark stone world of Helm’s Deep. Completely different style. The set is in quite a state of disrepair. Shooting here has long since past. There is now only a memory of what was here.

I here the cry of, "WE’RE BACK" and I know that the set must be live again. I make my way back to the Harry Chair… And lo and behold… all 4 monitors are active again. The First Unit cameras are continuing to shoot pieces of the Faramir and Gandalf scene where Faramir sets off, allegedly to his doom (wink wink) And then, In Unit 1B…. Ian is in full Gandalf gear… GANDALF THE WHITE… he is mounted upon ShadowFax, blasting off camera orcs with his pure white staff… He’s twisting and turning… two strong hands upon the staff… thrusting it at each offending orc or Uruk Hai. DAMN DYNAMIC looking… Gandalf and Shadowfax moving as one… all in one shot… Suddenly, the surreal nature of film returns as Gandalf holds a large red and blue umbrella… Somehow… giggle… Somehow it is perfectly wrong.

In the scene, Gandalf has such a look upon his face. No nonsense, straight to business… When the camera breaks and Ian relaxes his face… and that sterling smile of his… I bet that smile was left at the shire in the film, but here it is, where it shan’t be in the film.

A bit ago, the head of New Line Theatrical Publicity was here… and he really seems in love with the project. New Line is still working out all of the details in the releasing… But they really really seem gung ho for this one. The whole one day one world release plan will hopefully come about, but it is a logistical nightmare according to Joe Nimziki because the work involved in recording the audio track for trailers… the type face and language issues… for 40 different languages is just such a daunting task… But ultimately, it seems that this is what they want to do… Treat this film like royalty… like the event picture that we only see once or twice in a lifetime. I learned that the trailer is most definitely scheduled to be released on the 12th of January… it will be attached to 13 DAYS. Also, on the 12th, we’ll see a complete relaunch of the website. The new LORD OF THE RINGS trailer will be one of those grand Quicktime jobs. Plus between now and release we will be seeing on the official website these 5-8 minute documentaries from the set every month being handled with Real Networks technology which he tells me is just fantastic full screen quality. Also, it seems that whatever is going to happen at Cannes is going to be a BIG deal. Selected press will be given full access to the actors and talent for interviews… plus there is a chance that something quite exciting might happen at Cannes beyond the publicity event… depending if the surprise is ready.

Joe took off, and I’m back to watching the shoot. While I’ve been talking, it seems that David Wenham’s Faramir has gotten filled full of arrows and is being drug into Minas Tirith nearly and seemingly dead…. Those that know the book, know what is about to happen…. The fight and the battle has taken place at some far off location within the past 3 months… I know this, because David tells me he’s only been shooting for 3 months.

There is a misting rain during this scene that you won’t be seeing in the film… but these sweeping pinpricks of vapor are everywhere as is Peter. I’m serious… this guy might not look like he’s the personification of energy, but he is the most mobile, johnny on the spot director I’ve seen. Talking with his actors, his DP… Script supervisor, the video engineer… Weta’s makeup folks… He just did an interview with the E! journalist that’s been writing all those fantastic set reports.

GEEEEEEEK! The sound of that blasted door opening and closing… it is massive. A sound… like… "THUNK CLUNK" now add a lot of reverb and the neighing of horses in the distance. OH… and when the door to Minas Tirith closes… there is this wrenching un-oiled hinge sound that’s just a bloody shiver down the spine.

Now… I just had the HOWARD SHORE conversation with Peter. For the record, Howard hasn’t recorded anything yet. He was shown a bunch of assembly footage… a rough cut of the film, and has been off writing themes and sequences of music based on his emotional reaction to the film he’s seen. Then after he had some ideas, he’s now beginning to write music to the images… so that it all fits together. Peter is really quite confident in Howard, and he tells me that this comes from listening to Howard talk about the emotional way he writes his music. Personally, Howard Shore is a daring choice… not because he isn’t any good… Quite the contrary, I adore Howard’s scores… but because we have never heard the Howard Shore epic score before. We’ll have to hang loose and wait and see.

Meanwhile, the city is under siege in 2nd Unit A-Camera… poor Pippen is being picked up and placed upon ShadowFax. There are fires in the street and poor David/Faramir gets to be dragged behind a horse shot full of arrows in full armor. Ok… I think I saw two arrows to be specific… but man, thanks to Weta… they looked grisly awfully painful. David seemed to enjoy a nice nap while being dragged though.

This was the last shot of the day (prior to the night shift coming in… which I’ll do next week at some point!). The set day ended with Peter taking a seat and looking over the playback… We began talking about movie posters… and how aggravating it is to see things like that damn KING KONG 3-sheet from a few weeks back go for over a $100,000. Then we began discussing the one day fate of the Ackerman collections and the Bob Burns collections… How they ought to be placed in a museum en masse… Of course soon, I realized the danger of this conversation, because Peter really is the sort of guy that would buy both collections… move them to New Zealand and build a gigantic museum to honor the remnants of past films.

Tomorrow I awake at dawn to join the entire Fellowship on the Bluescreen Stage where Peter will be shooting quite a bit of drama I understand, with the full cast present. Monday is to be the coronation sequence I believe.

As for the folks in Talk Back asking about the various moments that they fear will or won’t be in the film… I’m taking notes and I’ll try to ask Peter about these soon.

As for now, I’m exhausted. The fellow that drove me back to my abode is a man named James. He handled security before LORD OF THE RINGS. He is one of the transportation guys… they shuttle actors, extras and crew back and forth over the course of the day. In addition he has been an Orc and a Gondorian Warrior. On the way back to the hotel, he just begins spontaneously clamoring on about how great it is to be a part of this thing. How everyone locally in Wellington will forget about the films till they come to a theater a year from now. And how then they’ll understand and feel proud about being a part of something bigger than themselves. "Twenty Thirty years from now, God only knows what I’ll be doing. But I was a part of this, and I’ll never forget that. Never."

That’s what this means to these folks. For real, I have never seen a cast and crew more heart felt about what they are working on. It is coming up on the end of it all for many on this job, but I sense no anxiety… no relief. There is almost a sense like… "Well we did it!" and backslaps all around. This sense of being a part of the team is terribly contagious. Makes you want to pick up a paint brush… Put on armor… just do something, just so you can point and said… I did that. That right there.

God I love being here. See you folks tomorrow. Cheers.

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