WELLINGTON, NZ – It’s our second day on the set of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and we’ve finally gotten a chance to chat with the man steering the ship of the massive undertaking, Peter Jackson. But it was never supposed to be the New Zealand filmmaker’s job.
Jackson, who won three Oscars in 2004 for co-writing, directing and producing “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” was just going to produce and possible co-write “The Hobbit” this time around. The principal job was given to Guillermo Del Toro who was expected to combine his vision with the original world Jackson created. But, on May 30, 2010 with partial rights holder MGM still trying to figure out its financial situation, Del Toro left the project after having lived and worked on it for almost two years at Jackson’s Wellington based studio. About two years later, that day and the years and months since seem like a “blur” to Jackson.
“When Guillermo left it was a surprise,” Jackson admits. “It was so long ago, but when they were nearly going bankrupt and they couldn't-- Warners were trying to do it without MGM and they wouldn't do that. When Guillermo left we didn't have a green light and we didn't have a movie, and so it was freewheeling, in a sense, for at least two, maybe three months after he left. I was there as a caretaker, but it wasn't like anything much could be done 'cause there was no budget, there was nothing really. We didn't know what was going to happen with MGM. But we were working on the script with Fran and Phil and Guillermo for a period of time beforehand. We were starting to work up the characters and so I was beginning to get connected to the material quite well. I never wanted to do ‘The Hobbit’ in the first place 'cause the idea of having an ensemble of thirteen dwarves terrified me and I thought, ‘Well, it's going to be much more interesting to have another filmmaker dealing with that I'll just go with it and see what happens.’ I thought it was a nightmare that I thought would be much more interesting to see what somebody else did with it, but the weird thing with this is that having ended up where I am, the fact that there's thirteen dwarves in it is the great joy of the movie. I've actually swung a hundred and eighty degrees round now. It's like I suddenly think, ‘Wow, this movie is really cool because of all these characters, these eccentric dwarves.’ And we've given each of them personalities and things and they are very much the heart of the story. Bilbo is the soul of the story, but the dwarves and their wanting to reclaim their homeland is very much the heart of the story. I like these guys now. Actually I'm pleased it ended up the way it did.”
And on that day in May, there were just two “Hobbit” films and concern over Jackson’s decision to shoot and possibly screen the picture in the unconventional 48 frames per second. How times of changed. Today, there will be three “Hobbit” films. The first, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” – and the subject of this report – opens on Dec. 13. The second, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” opens on Dec. 13, 2013. The third and final picture, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” will be released on July 18, 2014. And while some question how close to the spirit of Tolkien's original "The Hobbit"novel the movies will be after Jackson and co-producers and screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens have added other published material by the author to the screenplay, many are overjoyed at the thought of an extended return to Middle Earth.
Over 24 hours earlier, a group of movie writers and journalists arrive at Jackson’s Stone Street Studios. Before we visit the set we’re going to talk to a number of the key talent including Ian McKellen [You can read that interview here]. But, at this point the unit publicist is more than happy to provide us with a running list of facts and figures about the production so far.
*Filming began in February 2011 and will end (or ended) in July 2012. Pickups for the second and third film are expected for 2013.
*Production during that time was divided into three blocks. The longest break was two-three months over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The longest shooting block has been February 2012 – July 2012.
*The production shot on location all across New Zealand for nine weeks.
*Two units, one under Jackson’s direction, the other under second unit director Andy Serkis’ eyes are shooting at all times.
*Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving have wrapped as of mid-May, 2012.
*McKellen, the dwarves and Martin Freeman are still shooting.
*Ian Holm and Christopher Lee shot their scenes in London.