Motorhome Rental New Zealand - Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson - Forming a Good Hobbit
When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced he would shortly be part of a magnificent film trilogy, there was much excitement in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, which was to become home-base and principle filming location. (The biggest thrill the notoriously breezy city at the bottom of the North Island had hitherto experienced was the time it went four days without a puff of wind.)
Home to the nation’s Parliament, and subsequently home to more than a healthy share of briefcase-toting public servants, the opportunity to see celebrities, or anyone slightly more interesting than a politician, raised the adrenalin levels of the city’s café, film, art and fashion set.
It was logical that hometown director Peter Jackson (The Frighteners, Heavenly Creatures and a swag of cult special-effect movies you wouldn’t necessarily take granny to), shot his dream film in Wellington and around New Zealand. His Camperdown studios are situated in suburban Miramar, not far from internationally acclaimed Weta Ltd, comprising Jackson’s ground-breaking digital studios Weta FX, Weta Workshop and Wingnut Films. When Jackson was 18, he had taken a 12-hour train journey from Wellington to New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, during which he began reading Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He finished it while staying in Auckland, and kept imagining what a film of the story would be like.
‘I thought at the time, ‘Wow this would make a great movie',’ says Jackson, now 39. ‘I was looking forward to someone making it. An animated version came out, but I wasn’t happy with it. I ended up waiting so long I decided to make it myself.’
His extraordinary undertaking typifies Kiwi ingenuity, in a country where ‘fixing it yourself, mate’ is an intrinsic part of the collective psyche.
Rejecting the original proposal by Miramax to cram the trilogy into a single feature, Jackson stuck to his dream, boldly presenting the three-movie package to New Line, a division of AOL Time Warner, which agreed to back it.
That saw Wellington - a hilly, harbour-side city built on an earthquake fault line - become Middle Earth. In the process, around 2000 people were employed during production, many of whom were New Zealanders, and around $NZ250m was pumped into the local economy. Artisans including prop builders, costume designers and set creators worked like little elves for 18 months. Even the local army played a part - not that they have much else to do in this neck of the woods - helping lay 5000 cubic metres of soil, plough fields, plant a Hobbit vegetable garden (a year before filming began to make it look more credible as insisted upon by Jackson) and build sets. The army also got their 15 minutes of fame in battle scenes at Mordor.
Stars? They’re Those Things in the Sky…
Although the capital city’s residents were excited about having big movie names in town and the media eye trained on their earthquake-prone location, when it came down to it, they were typically laid-back Kiwis about rubbing shoulders with the Lord of the Ringers. Unlike Aucklanders, Wellington’s inhabitants are not easily star-struck. At any rate, they have their own Hollywood star in Academy Award winner Anna Paquin, who hails from Wellington’s Hutt area. And they have rugby star Jonah Lomu playing on their team, although he hasn’t quite made it to Hollywood yet.
There were reports in newspapers of Liv Tyler (who plays Arwen) being turned away from trendy upmarket bar Motel because management didn’t recognise her, but it was urban legend stuff. Tyler had been a regular at Motel for some time before being turned away one night, simply because she was in a group of 15-20 people and the intimate venue ‘doesn’t do groups’. Motel’s manager says Tyler was happily back in there the next week, holding a party in the separate private room known as Room Service.
‘We know her. She actually came here with a group of stars a lot bigger than her,’ he says. ‘We get all the celebrities here and we don’t treat them any differently.’
Early on, when Elijah Wood (Frodo) and Tyler were visiting Karaka Bay café The Chocolate Fish, not far from where they called home during filming, Wood told her: ‘You don't need your sunglasses and your collar turned up here Liv, it's quite casual’. As such, it became popular with cast and crew, and a few out-of-towners trying their best to star-spot. The Chocolate Fish had never had it so good, especially with LA actor Sean Astin being ordered to eat a lot, for his part as the portly Samwise ‘Sam’ Gamgee.
The Lord of the Rings cast certainly had plenty of choices in eating establishments. Wellington is known as the ‘café capital’, with more than 300 cafés and restaurants in the inner city area, which spans just 2km (1.24 miles) in diameter. It has the highest concentration of eating establishments in New Zealand and, per capita, more food haunts than New York.
New Yorker Tyler, 24, said she loved the city, but admitted to missing family and friends during the 15 months of filming. During that time, her home was the rented abode of a member of one of New Zealand’s wealthiest families, the Todd dynasty, in the seaside suburb of Seatoun. She moved in after Stuart Townsend (who had played Aragorn for one week) moved out, having been dumped and replaced by the capable and easy-on-the-eye Viggo Mortensen (A Perfect Murder, GI Jane, 28 Days).
Neighbours describe Tyler as ‘friendly’ and ‘girly’, with one neighbour saying she not only fell in love with the country, but took a liking to his cat, declaring she’d like to take it back to New York.
Astin, 30, brought his wife Christine and daughter Alexandra to New Zealand for the duration of shooting, returning to LA for a brief holiday midway through filming. Despite being forced to put on weight, he fell in love with the location. His daughter attended school in New Zealand, picking up a bit of a Kiwi twang along the way. He told John Forde of eOnline: ‘My wife and daughter are with me, so that's a great luxury. We're getting to spend an awful lot of time together and travel around … New Zealand is one of the last unspoiled places on earth… I'm glad my daughter's starting to sound like a Kiwi.’
Tyler’s fiancé Royston Langdon (lead singer and bassist for Spacehog) visited her while she was down under and the pair became engaged on Valentine’s Day this year. When the daughter of Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler wasn’t bolted up in the house during Langdon’s visits, she spent any spare time surfing in Wellington’s nippy southern beach waters, at the surfie hang-out of Lyall Bay. Others in the cast to take to the waters included Elijah Wood, Sean Bean (Boromir), Dominic Monaghan (Meriadoc ‘Merry’ Brandybuck), Billy Boyd (Peregrin ‘Pippin’ Took) and Orlando Bloom (Legolas).
‘They became surfing fanatics in Wellington,’ laughs Peter Jackson. ‘I don’t think any of them had surfed in their lives before this.’
Tyler also enjoyed looking out over the sea while eating at The White House restaurant, a fine dining establishment on Wellington’s Oriental Parade. There, the menu includes lacquered quail and roasted kumara (sweet potato) salad or the quintessential New Zealand Bluff oysters (reputed to have aphrodisiac qualities!).
Another favourite eating spot for Tyler, Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and many of the crew was Two Rooms, in the Miramar/Strathmore area, not far from Weta. Two Rooms was one of several hospitality businesses in the area to set up in direct response to Lord of the Rings and was frequented by many of the film’s cast and crew. The other was Eva Dixon’s Place in Miramar, an offshoot of a well-established deli in Wellington’s Dixon Street.
While in New Zealand, Wood told eOnline: ‘I don't feel that far from home. I know I am, but I'm so at home here. I feel like Wellington is my home away from home. I just got a house - I had an apartment for a while - so I'm totally settling in, and I've got a second family here as well, with Dom and Billy and Sean and the other actors and the crew and everyone. I feel so comfortable. And New Zealand's just a great place to work, it's a really relaxed and constantly beautiful atmosphere, so it's a lot of fun.’
Filming, Fun, Food and Fashion…
As well as adding to the coffers of the local hospitality industry, Tyler took a liking to New Zealand fashion, which has been steadily making a name on the world stage since the New Zealand Four (Karen Walker, Zambesi, World and Nom D) showed at London Fashion Week in 1999. Tyler turned up at a function in New York recently wearing a Zambesi jacket, and bought many items in the label’s Wellington store while she was in town. She also supported funky up-and-coming Wellington fashion label Starfish, buying several items each time she visited.
Sir Ian McKellen supported the community in other ways. The gay actor, who plays wizard Gandalf, became involved in the local gay community, even willingly opening the city’s annual Gay and Lesbian Film Festival while he was there. He was also impressed by the talent in the New Zealand film industry, telling journalists: ‘This is a Kiwi movie and that’s what’s astonishing for me. This is not an American movie that is being made here because it’s cheap and there’s some pleasant scenery.’
He loved New Zealand from the moment he arrived, and residents who met McKellen described him as charming and warm. But McKellen openly admits his original excitement about working down under was because it was so close to Australia. However, after one trip to Sydney, for the Mardi Gras, in which it rained all weekend, he changed his tune markedly.
At the final press conference after filming had concluded he said: ‘New Zealand is now deep in my heart. I’ve had the most sensational year. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t know the place.’ On the wall of his home in London now hangs a painting to remember his time in New Zealand, by Irish-born New Zealand artist Michael McCormack, which McKellen saw at an exhibition in Wellington.
‘My favourite was a large work recording a windy, sunny day along Oriental Parade, with three women turning a corner by a red-bloomed pohutukawa tree, the New Zealand Christmas tree, and it's now in London,’ McKellen told Auckland newspaper The New Zealand Herald.
Other Love Affairs…
Australian-born actress Cate Blanchett (Galadriel) put aside traditional trans-Tasman rivalry when describing her love of the location. She flew in to shoot her part in 10 days, eight months after filming began, so could have felt like she’d joined a dinner party as dessert was being served. Instead, she spoke enthusiastically of her experience, telling the New Zealand Herald: ‘I landed in Wellington - my husband Andrew [Upton] and I - and within probably about two hours and 15 minutes of being there we said we've got to move here. I feel like I should be enlisted by the Tourism Board of New Zealand. I really did have an extraordinary time there. Obviously on the film as well. You couldn't have made those films anywhere else.’
Screen legend Christopher Lee, 79, who plays Saruman, was unreserved in his praise for the setting too.
‘Every country is different in terms of filming, because of language, culture and tradition,’ he says on his official website. ‘I have filmed in many, many countries all over the world - in many languages. But as a result of working on The Lord of the Rings, I would say it would be difficult to top New Zealand. The beauty of the country, the kindness, efficiency and friendliness of the people and their relaxed way of life is unsurpassable.’
Certainly cast and crew enjoyed the relaxed environment that allowed them to walk down main streets and not be harassed. An industry source says that the cone of secrecy surrounding the movie locations had, in part, been a determined effort by Jackson to protect his cast, who were working long hours, a long way from home and often under difficult conditions.
‘If they [the film’s producers] stuffed it up and pushed the actors, thereby risking the stars’ privacy, then they would have destroyed a very precious thing,’ says the insider. ‘That would have taken away one of the special reasons for working in New Zealand.’
The other ‘special’ reason for filming there was of course the low value of the New Zealand dollar, making it more economical than shooting in England or - perish the thought - Hollywood. Wellywood, as it has become known, was just the ticket.
Beautiful, But No Limousines Here…
It was by no means all sun, surf, shopping and scenery for the cast. Most days began with them being picked up to go into make-up at 5:00am, which could take upward of two hours. Those ears take a lot of affixing. And while Wellington and Queenstown provided many of the comforts normally associated with being a movie star, on set in such stunningly beautiful but remote places as Poolburn in Central Otago, things were a lot tougher. One extra, for the Poolburn (Edoras) scenes, which are from the second part of the trilogy, says the going was fairly tough for stars like the slightly-built Tyler.
‘She didn’t always look comfortable, but personally the location blew me away,’ says Charles Cramp from Golden Fox tours in Queenstown.
‘We spent 10 days there as Uruk-hai warriors. And it was breathtaking.’
The cast then moved to the picturesque village of Glenorchy, 40 minutes from Queenstown, which became their base camp, population 200. They travelled up the world heritage area on Lake Wakatipu by jet boat, to film scenes in an area revered by local Maori for its pounamu (greenstone or jade) in days gone by. Greenstone Valley became Lothlorien, and no closer to pristine wilderness could you get. They rode horses through the wild from Dart Stables. The area is so stunning, the crew almost managed to forgive Mother Nature for completely destroying their set in a flash flood before filming had even begun there.
Similarly, filming battle scenes in Tongariro National Park in the North Island required stamina and respect for the environment and natural forces. Four weeks were spent filming on the Whakapapa side of Mount Ruapehu. Cast including Elijah Wood and Sean Astin sat on hot-water bottles in between takes to keep warm! While many of the cast stayed in the historic Chateau Lodge at the foot of Mount Ruapehu, other crew members hunkered down at Ohakune - a town popular in the ski-season, but whose main claim to fame is growing carrots.
Meanwhile, Jackson is growing a few grey hairs, putting the finishing touches on the final parts of the trilogy at his special effects unit.
‘It has taken 45 years for filmmaking technology to finally catch up with Tolkien's imagination,’ he says. ‘We are fortunate down here in New Zealand to have both the computer technology and the natural landscapes to bring the unique world of Middle Earth to life.’ And Tolkien fans are fortunate to have as dedicated and as visionary a director as Jackson.
What They Got Up To
Ian McKellen and Liv Tyler went to a one-day cricket match in Wellington.
Sean Astin went to an All Blacks game where a local news crew interviewed him about his (limited) knowledge of rugby.
All the Hobbits entered the annual Dragon Boat Festival on Wellington harbour - entering in a bath-tub ‘boat’ that sank, leaving them to swim back to shore.
Viggo Mortensen rented a motorhome during the Christmas break from shooting, and spent a couple of weeks exploring the South Island.
Some of the cast and crew including Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan, and Billy Boyd went bungy jumping with AJ Hackett at the Kawarau Bridge site, just out of Queenstown.
A party of 2000 lasted the distance at the wrap party for Lord of the Rings, held at Wellington’s Shed 21 on the waterfront. Director Peter Jackson was among the revellers, and kept things Kiwi with the music of one of New Zealand’s most popular rockers, Dave Dobbyn.
When New Zealand Became Middle Earth.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was shot in many locations around New Zealand, with Port Waikato being the furthest location north, and Te Anau the furthest location south. Others included:
Hobbiton: In Matamata, near Hamilton in the upper North Island.
Mordor, Gorgorath Plains, Emyn Muil: At Whakapapa in the Tongariro National Park, central North Island.
Mordor, Slopes of Mount Doom: At Tukino Ski Field, Tongariro National Park.
Rivendell, River Anduin: In Kaitoke, 90 minutes’ north of Wellington.
The Wellington region was location for many places including outer Shire, Chetwood Forest, Helms Deep and Minas Tirith.
Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith: In Dry Creek Quarry, Upper Hutt.
Edoras: Mount Sunday, Methven, South Island.
Lothlorien: Paradise, Glenorchy, Lake Wakatipu, South Island.
Plains of Rohan: Poolburn Lake, Ida Valley.