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If you like Peter Jackson's story, you might also like:
James Cameron,
Francis Ford Coppola,
Ron Howard,
George Lucas,
Kiri Te Kanawa
and Robert Zemeckis

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The One Ring
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Sir Peter Jackson
Sir Peter Jackson
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Sir Peter Jackson Interview

Oscar for Best Director

June 3, 2006
Los Angeles, California

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  Sir Peter Jackson

How did you and Fran Walsh first become involved with filming The Lord of the Rings?

Sir Peter Jackson: Well, The Lord of the Rings was an idea that came from us. I had read the book when I was 17 and thought, "Wow, this would make a really cool film. I'd kind of like to see the film," but, of course, the film didn't really come out. There was a cartoon version of it that popped up at some point that didn't work particularly well. But we got through a movie called The Frighteners in New Zealand, which was a big effects film. It had about 500 computer effect shots, and we had done that ourselves.

We're very self-sufficient in New Zealand. We're so far away from everywhere else that we tend to just think, if it's a film that needs a lot of CG computer work, we can't go down the road to hire Sony or Digital Domain or ILM to do our shots. We are in New Zealand, and even back in those days, where there wasn't the communication that there is today, it's like, well, this means that we're going to have to get a lot of computers and do them ourselves. So okay. So we sort of always have a very self-sufficient attitude where we are, that basically don't expect to be able to pull in rental equipment or anything else. Buy the gear, maintain it, just own it, and just get on with your filmmaking. So we've done that over the years.

Sir Peter Jackson Interview Photo
In this particular time, which was November '95, we had gotten about two thirds of the way through the post production on The Frighteners. Starting to relax a little bit, starting to think about our next project, because I always like to know what I'm doing next by the time I finish a film. And we didn't have a project, but we had these computers all sitting there that had been purchased for The Frighteners and were going to become available. I'd always had a desire to want to do a fantasy film. I grew up with these Ray Harryhausen films, Jason and the Argonauts, Kong.

I wanted to do something fantastical, and I thought that that would be so much fun to take that sort of Sinbad genre and combine it with computer effects. 'Cause Jurassic Park had come out. We had seen the great dinosaurs had now been done, but to actually take fantastical monsters and swashbuckling heroes, and something like Sinbad, and do a movie like that, I thought would be really neat. So I started to think about that being our next film after Frighteners, and needed to write a story -- didn't have a story -- and started to talk to Fran (Walsh) about it, and we kept referencing Lord of the Rings all the time. We just kept thinking, saying, "Well, it's got to be like Lord of the Rings," or "It should be just like that, but like Lord of the Rings, something like that's got to happen." After a few days of doing this, we thought, "Well, why don't we find out about Lord of the Rings? We talk about it all the time, and it was just an absolute assumption that Lord of the Rings would be tied up, unavailable. Just assumed that. I mean, it's such a big title, but I thought it was worth a phone call. So eventually, I called my agent and said could he find out who has got the Lord of the Rings rights.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

He made the inquiries, called back and said that they were with Saul Zaentz, and that Saul had the right for 20-odd years and got them from Tolkien himself, and Saul is not really wanting a live action film to happen. He was badly burned on the cartoon version, and really, he's not entertaining ideas of people coming to him. He has people constantly coming to him, wanting these rights, and he doesn't really entertain the notion. So you probably won't get very far. But we had a first look deal with Miramax at that stage. We were a first look deal, which meant anything we wanted to do, we had to go to Miramax and offer it to them first.

I thought it was worthwhile calling Harvey Weinstein at Miramax and just seeing how interested he was in The Lord of the Rings, and he said he was interested, and then when he heard that Saul Zaentz had the rights, he said, "Well, that's going to be no problem. I can get those off Saul," because he was doing The English Patient with Saul Zaentz at the time. This was exactly when The English Patient was being shot, and he said, "I bailed Saul out of The English Patient. I've done huge favors for him. He's going to return the favor. He's going to give me The Lord of the Rings rights."

So Harvey had rescued Saul. Fox had put The English Patient into turnaround and basically killed the movie. It was dead. Then Harvey had come in and taken it over and resuscitated the film. So there was definitely a debt there, and however Harvey used that debt, he did get Saul to agree to license the rights for a period of time to Miramax, and Miramax didn't want to do three movies. We did pitch the idea of doing sort of three, but they just wanted one or two. So we started developing a two-part script, where the first part would end at the Battle of Helms Deep. But it was two big scripts -- fat, big, epic films, the two of them.

Sir Peter Jackson Interview Photo
Following the books?

Sir Peter Jackson: Following the books, the first ended at Helms Deep, which is sort of about halfway through, and then the next one would carry on. So yeah, pretty much following the books. And anyway, we started to budget these films now, and Miramax were giving us money for the writing, and giving us money for the production design starting to work. So we sort of had a lot of information happening. There were lots of designs. Lots of characters were being sculpted as maquette form, and it simply just got too expensive basically for Miramax, and they had always been open with us.

Harvey said that he couldn't spend more than $75 million per picture. That Disney, who owned him, had put a cap on the amount of money he could spend. He was wanting for these films to be less than $75 million, and we tried. Then he found out that they weren't going to accept part one and part two as two different films, costing $75 million each. They wanted to treat it as one film, and they didn't want to spend $150 million on these two films. They wanted just $75 million. So Harvey was stuck in a really bad place, and he came to us and said, "Listen, the only thing I can do is to basically make one movie, and you guys are going to have to support me here. I've supported you. You're going to have to now do the right thing, and you're going to have to cut the script down to one film, $75 million." And I said, "Is it like the first of three? Could we just do the first one?" "No, no. It's got to be the whole Lord of the Rings as one movie, $75 million, and it has to happen now," and I just said, "I don't think I can do that, Harvey. I don't think I can do it. I don't think you can actually collapse all this into one film, get rid of so much stuff, that you couldn't even call it Lord of the Rings.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

It would be like a Reader's Digest version.

Sir Peter Jackson: Yeah. It would be a Reader's Digest Lord of the Rings. It just wouldn't feel right. It wouldn't be something I'd want to have my name on. I was wanting to make Lord of the Rings, not some horrible cut-down thing.

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