THERE AND BACK AGAIN: A Geek's Adventures In Middle-Earth!!! CHAPTER SEVEN!!!
Sigh… I’m beginning to be set to miss this place, this set, these people. There is one last day of principal photography. I can’t believe it really. Have I really been down here 7 days already (that Sunday was a day of relaxation) This day and tomorrow. And on Saturday, I will be climbing into a flying cigar tube and journeying off into the ether… headed for Auckland and then Los Angeles and then Austin, Texas.
It is hard to believe that Christmas is so close. I look out my window this morning, and there is the bay of WELLINGTON. From my room I see SHED 45… STAGE O. That’s where Peter is shooting. Amongst a thousand and ten fallen timbers and gigantic ship loading cranes… in a concrete building… a fairly empty shell of a building… stands a beautiful set… and there… quite soon… I will witness the last day, the last hour and the last minute of shooting.
Today on the other hand is the day we all forget… the ‘next to the last day’. The day of most aggravation, as it isn’t tomorrow.
I awoke today to the phone ringing… folks asking me to coffee… people offering me their recommendations on spellings and job titles and such. I was asleep as the phone rang… dreaming dreams of a middle earth I could smell and feel and live in. I’ve been gazing upon the paintings of ALAN LEE’s in this three book boxed set. And the difference between the dreams and the waking dream of my days is the presence of film equipment. That’s it.
Before I took my shower before heading to set, I decided to read the Talk Backs to see what I was doing wrong, right or should be hanged for… and I noticed that people were accusing me of having seen 40 minutes of LORD OF THE RINGS footage. I started pondering this… thinking back… Had I seen 40 minutes of LORD OF THE RINGS footage? I decided to research this matter further… I popped over to THEONERING.NET and saw a report that I had allegedly attended a CHRISTMAS PARTY and that while there, Peter screened 40 Minutes of LORD OF THE RINGS footage.
Fact: I have never seen 40 Minutes of LORD OF THE RINGS footage.
Fact: I have not attended any Christmas Party this year at all.
Fact: There was a Party at Barrie Osborne’s house that I attended. There was no footage screened there, as I didn’t even see a video screen while there. I did see a fireman’s pole that many slid down many times.
Fact: When I asked Peter about me having seen 40 Minutes of LORD OF THE RINGS, he was quite shocked and asked me how it was. I felt it must have been so damn good that it struck me dumb, cause I don’t remember seeing 40 minutes of LORD OF THE RINGS footage.
Fact: Harry wishes he had seen 40 minutes of LORD OF THE RINGS footage. He really does.
Also while in TALK BACK I noticed that many people like these reports and have been saying many wonderful things about me. Well, Thank You. These reports are everybit my Christmas Present to you, as they are for me. I love writing. I love writing for you. But very rarely do I get the opportunity to have a reason to write that gets me so enthusiastic… so in love with the material that I cry as I type because I am recalling the moment to moment of my experience in my mind.
It is a bit of a hypnosis sort of thing. As I sit down to type, I begin to remember every step I took, the words and conversations… The way it all looked, and at the end of it all… when I look back and read it. It brings a bit of a smile to my face and I realize that perhaps someone else might appreciate it for what it is. My experiences.
With that, I’ll paint today for you.
Once I got everything in hand, I set out for STUDIO O.
Once again this meant I would be spending time in TOWER HALL… Minas Tirith. Without a doubt the most beautiful set I have been upon… So I hired my taxi… and I drove out to the set.
The driver turned the wrong way only once… and in so doing, I got to drive by all of those fallen trees destined for Japan I’m told. Upon arrival at this unobtrusive concrete building, I retraced my steps from Monday. Through the Luncheon area… the caterers were bringing in trays of salads and steamed carrots. The sterno cans were lit beneath the stainless steel trays of food. LUNCH…
I continued past the great partition and there was the patchy field of tundra with the solemn grey clouded sky before it…
Yet, different from before, there was a new set… A cave… no… a rocky craggy face… wet and dank looking, as if formed in the nightmare of one’s mind. Lights and track were being laid down, and as I was walking past, one of the crew cried out, "Harry… we’re about to begin shooting here with Elijah."
Sure enough, there was Frodo, ring ‘round that neck of his… a greenish cloak and his ever-loving Hobbit feet. They were in the process of putting these contact lenses in for him…. The lenses achieve a strange tired look in his eye and are rather thick and milky…. Elijah says, "Harry? Is Harry here?"
I respond with an affirmative and he looks straight at me with a confused lost look… "I can’t see you very well."
"Well, I’ve lost over a hundred pounds and look great!"
The crew began laughing.
"Must be those 3 hour workout sessions you do!" Oh hell, he’s been reading the page. Hehehe…
I feel the cloth of his cloak… a really nice loose weave… very soft… My eyes are drawn to the ring. Perhaps because it is the brightest element… the only shiny thing about Frodo. Maybe it is because my mind knows what the ring is… what it represents… and how with it, I could make off with nearly every prop I wants!
This is a little mini-unit today… Peter wanted to shoot one last scene with Elijah… and this is it. A scene of Frodo… facing some rock and turning to look at us. Hidden in shadow. Kinda creepy.
I don’t know where this goes… but it is one of those pieces that he may or may not use… It is up to him and John Gilbert and Jamie Selkirk (the editing team, whom’s torture is set to begin in earnest!).
Peter is shooting the scene at 12 frames per second… then later at 6 frames per second. This isn’t to speed it up, but to add a memory quality to it. For the scene will play at normal speed but with repeated images… on 12 fps… each frame will be printed twice… on 6 fps… each frame will be printed thrice.
The playback tries to emulate this… but not quite.
Elijah takes off to get some additional work done, and I forget to hand him my book… I almost begin beating myself, when I see Peter headed to the TOWER HALL set.
As I followed, I realized they were already shooting… DAMN! Busy day! On an outside monitor I see Gandalf storming down the Tower Hall… Lord Denethor a dark pimple beside the stairway topped by an empty throne left in the distance.
Gandalf is fuming… I miss all the dialogue as I have no ears (the earphones that you listen to on set dialogue with). His robes catching the air, flowing behind him as tiny Pippin scampers to catch up. They exit the doors and CUT…
I find behind me Andrew Lesnie (BABE, BABE: PIG IN THE CITY), the director of photography and quite a nice chap. As soon as the scene is done, I head onto set, and find Ian talking with Peter about the scene… and John Noble was reading something rather intently.
I find a wooden box to place my flabbiness upon, and watch as Ian asks Victoria Sullivan (Script Supervisor and one of the most delightful people on the planet) about which hand he should have his staff in, on account of the impending flip that will take place. Victoria looks down at her notes… tells Ian which hand… and Ian looks at her with one of those…. ARE YOU SURE looks that he does so wonderfully. Ian then looks at me, "I do hope you take note of this moment Harry, because if that staff ends up in the wrong hand…" Peter begins giggling, Victoria giggles, "It won’t be my head the fans will be after!"
Peter chimes in, "Oh yes, alert the fans to a possible gaffe 3 years from now. They’ll lay in wait for that one."
Alright folks… you’ve been warned… write it down. 3 years from today, go to the cinema… when Gandalf and Pippen are storming out of the Tower Hall after an altercation with Lord Denethor… does his staff remain in the same hand? Only you can answer this in 3 years… Me? I’m on pins and needles in anticipation of the results!
This only takes a couple of shots, as the steadicam operator has his moves down. LUNCH!
I sort of hang back, and watch this animatic footage of a different scene of Gandalf riding upon an Eagle on their way for Frodo and Sam… Ah Christ… even in funky blocky pixel vision… I can’t wait. It is gonna be beautiful I know… Randy Cook and Mark Stetson and the crew of Weta Digital will not be letting us down, I know it. After lunch Ian is set to film him riding atop the lord of the eagles! But before that… I hand Ian my book! Hehehehe!
"Harry, We’ve all been blessed by this project. It is so good that you joined us at the end. Ian McKellen" and then he drew him as Gandalf with that old hat of his and the pipe… smoke drifting away in circles upon and off the title page of my FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING book. Is he great or what? Ian tells me that he’ll join me for lunch, as the makeup people remove that Gandalf the White moustache.
Lunch today was a delicious deboned chicken thing… buttered mashed potatoes and a New Zealand vegetable casserole dish that was delish! I fill my plate and pick a seat. About one deboned chicken breast later, Ian arrives with his plate and we begin talking about Politics in the United States… He is still trying to figure us Americans out. I comment upon his tattoo and how I wonder what other great casts of great movies thought about the films as they made them.
He asked me to name the films in question, and I threw out GONE WITH THE WIND, ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, CASABLANCA… and a few others…
Ian then softens his gaze a bit and comments that he imagines there was no thought of greatness on CASABLANCA, to which I agreed since the studio canned the film for months rather than release it. But then he addressed the films based on literary history or existing properties… He feels that those that set out to make a film from a pre-existing great work of some form, aspire for it to be a great film… but that often times there is a realization along the way that it won’t be that great.
Talking with Ian about LORD OF THE RINGS in particular, he states that at no point in the making of this film did the crew begin talking about Oscars or awards… he believes that it is because they are mostly New Zealanders… but that on many of the films he’s been upon… this was always being tossed about. Here, it seems they are simply making the movies as great as they can for themselves.
I concurred with him, as it has been my experience talking with many of the crew these past several days, that they don’t really care about the films being released in America or elsewhere… that they are really excited for the films to open here in New Zealand… so that the locales can see what it is they’ve been up to. Ian instantly begins shaking his head up in down in a conspiratorial manner… agreeing with me.
You see… the pride on set isn’t about the world seeing it, as much as their spouses… their neighbors… the folks they live with. Many of these people just want to show the people of New Zealand how amazing the work of a bunch of fellow New Zealanders is. And that folks is a wonderful thing… at least to my eyes.
The gaffers and the transportation folks… the catering and the like… they are making something for the world to see for sure, but to many of them… the world is New Zealand. When I was talking to Richard at Weta Workshop, he was talking about how he was going to be taking several of the sculptors out to New York for TOY FAIR this year and how many of them have never even left the Wellington area. That’s how home grown some of this is.
Meanwhile a pair of Ian’s friends come and join us at the table… and I begin to strike up a conversation with Ian’s friend and long time pal, Roger. I am painfully awful about hearing names when I’m first introduced to folks, so I steer the conversation into one of those… "root of you name" sort of things… You see, Harry Jay Knowles breaks down as such… Knowles (pronounced ‘nolls’) is derived from it’s English root Knolls… meaning ‘of the hills’. Harry is the pet name for Henry which became synonymous with King in English history… and Jay comes from ‘jolly’ or ‘happy’… so the root meaning of my name is "JOLLY KING OF THE HILL"
Roger is quite delighted by this, and as a result shares the meaning of his name… thus I get the word HAMMOND out of him… AHA! Roger Hammond! He also admits to being an actor on films like THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE and Ian’s brilliant RICHARD III. But as I stared at him, I was trying to recall his earlier work… and it dawned on me that he was Francis Bacon in that damn fine second season episode of DR WHO… and also he was a Doctor himself in that Cybernauts episode of THE AVENGERS! Hehehe…
Quickly though, they had to join Ian in his caravan where Ian was attempting to remove the chocolate sauce from lunch from out of his Gandalf The White beard… You should have seen the look on Ian’s face when he noticed he’d dipped his beard… There was this childlike… "Oops, they caught me" look that was golden.
I march back to set, to find all the statues along the left side of the building removed as the crew had redressed that area as a corridor in Minas Tirith that contains a rather poignant quiet moment between Pippin and Faramir.
The moment comes after Pippin has his chainmail and Gondorian battle outfit… no bigger than that of a child’s. Faramir comes up… amused by the little Pippin and his bravery… They share a laugh, when Pippin asks him, "Your father, Why is he so angry?" there is a pause, "I only ask because I would help if I could…" And Faramir tells him, "There is nothing you can do, Pippin (pause) look after yourself."
This scene really really got me. I don’t believe it is in the books, but there was something truly genuine about the moment. Just so you know… Billy Boyd’s Pippin is a slightly softer version of the voice Filby (as marvelously played by Alan Young) has in George Pal’s TIME MACHINE. There is a soft lightness to his tone… and a cheerful spirit in the eyes… Pippin makes me smile. And David Wenham’s Faramir is noble and tragic at the same time…. The ‘lessor son’ with the ill father. David plays it with a wonderful breadth of emotion… a killer smile, strong and understanding eyes… and it helps that his costume screams… "Coolness"
While we were shooting this scene… Alan Lee appeared on set, MUCH TO MY DELIGHT! Book, Alan… PLEASE!
Alan takes my book and my Marvin the Martian pen and sets about writing something… I get it back and… "To Harry - With Best Wishes – Alan Lee" and beside it he drew an AMAZING BILBO BAGGINS head! Oh blessed be… Wow… A little bit later while shooting the scene I am flipping through my copy of RETURN OF THE KING and I find myself STUNNED. On page 785 of the Alan Lee edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, you will find a painting of the exact moment I was staring at. Seriously… it was as if, Alan Lee had sat in my chair… and painted that which lay exactly in front of me. There is a difference though… This in front of me is in a larger scale… the Columns are about double the size in the book… as are the statues and the stairs to the throne…. Also the sides of the throne are carved with images of kings… and the Tree Of Gondor is on the wall directly behind the throne… OTHERWISE… IT IS EXACTLY ACCURATE. Peter tells me, that Alan painted the plate I was looking at 8 years ago and felt that it could be improved upon… what I was looking at was exactly that.
Folks, this was amazing. I mean… right there… in front of me was the painting realized. I’ve never been in a position like this before. I mean… CHRIST… Book… Reality…. Book…. Reality…. Never so clear before.
Peter shows some of the people on set my discovery and we all delight in it…
The shot was nearly over so I handed Peter my book to sign on the ‘Three rings for Elven Kings’ page… you know the one… And Peter wrote: "A Wonderful Book… Beautiful Characters… Vivid Descriptions… Engaging Storyline… I hope the movie doesn’t suck!!!" then beneath the classic verse… "Thanks Harry - You are ‘One Knowles To Rule Them All’ Best Wishes from Peter ‘Derek’ Jackson"
As he called the check the gate for the final time on the next to the last day, he asks me if I have a ride to my hotel… I say no, and Peter and I hope in his mini-van and Peter takes me to the hotel.
I take the moment to Thank Peter profoundly for letting me take all of you on this journey with me. This has been the best writing I have done, I feel. I mean, I can sense the energy in it. I feel my passion for the subject spilling out so effortlessly. And it is because Peter has created something wondrous to behold down here… and my excitement is knot on the backside of my nose that is only cured by writing… and sharing.
Folks, I will leave you with this… Peter is a damn fine driver. Hehehe… Cheers mates… One last day.