I have noted quite a bit of recent traffic to this site is coming from folks looking for information about the making of the Rings trilogy. No doubt this is motivated by the Hobbit films.
It’s been approximately a decade since I ended my work on documenting the making of Lord of the Rings. It was the longest and most complicated production I have ever undertaken, and it completely changed my professional focus since. So, no small thing for me!
I have briefly summarized my experience about this below. Hopefully this provides useful information for the curious.
This is a topic that is largely in the past for me. I’m obviously more interested in engaging with people who are interested in my current work, but I understand the continuing fascination anyone might have with the creation of what we all knew at the time was a unique and special production.
(I mean the Rings Trilogy, not my documentaries).
Therefore, I’m happy to address any questions readers might have. After all this time I think the statute of limitations has by now well and truly run out on the confidentiality agreement we all signed on commencing work with LOTR.
From 1999 to 2004 I was engaged to document the production of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth trilogy . It was the best of times, and the worst of times – for them, and for me. Initially I was tied up with another production commitment. Stephen Whelan-Turnbull and Jo Luping spent close to three months capturing footage during pre-production. Hayley French and I then took over and shared most of the on-set shooting. The production was initially planned to last two years. It went on much longer. During that time, the studio’s plans kept changing. An initial scheme to create one feature length documentary quickly morphed into something much more ambitious. Not only a feature length documentary was envisaged, but up to six hours of additional ‘behind the scenes’ content, for each film. I stuck to this plan, but long before the movies were finished New Line Cinema changed their minds again, and my unit was sidelined. All our footage was appropriated by the incoming team – very much larger. They ended up producing the excellent Extended Edition DVDs. I observed the direction they were headed in, which was heavy on oral history, and decided to push our point of difference – which was that our material was strongly visual and ‘present tense’. It also emphasised the point of view of the troops, rather than the generals. So with the creative and practical help of our indefatigable editor Jason Stutter, we ended up taking 1000 + hours of footage and turned it into not one, but three feature length verite style docos. Note – this was in addition to the 18+ hours of content originally asked for. The final delivery was closer to 20 hours – comprising some 200 self contained stories and vignettes on every aspect of the trilogy’s gestation, from Hobbiton to Mordor and back again. This material resides on a dusty shelf somewhere in the New Line archives, but the studio did eventually bring out my three feature length documentaries in what they called a “Limited Edition”. The manner of the release was rather tactless. Generally, fans responded with disgust at what they took to be a cynical exploitation of the market. The ‘Limited Edition’ was particularly criticized for its apparent paucity of bonus features in comparison to the preceding Extended Edition.
But moans of “only one” documentary per film rankled then, and now. I invite any objective viewer to add up the minutes of onset footage seen in the Extended Editions and then compare the breadth of actuality coverage seen in my films. Nearly all their footage was taken from my stuff in the first place.
If you want superb long form interviews, commentaries, and other informational content, the Extended Edition boxes are great. No question. But if you prefer more of a nitty gritty immersive experience, then come over to this side. In fact, the two approaches are perfectly complimentary.
I remain unimpressed by the criticisms of some fans who find my films supposedly ‘unstructured’. I guess this is the inevitable result of conservative, spoon fed models of programming that don’t encourage cognitive thinking. Perhaps this is an interesting question about documentary in general – is it better to make work that is sensory and visual, which I favour, as opposed to more didactic and exposition driven models of documentary?
Actually, I don’t think one is inherently better than the other. It purely depends on taste, who the audience is, and what one is trying to achieve. As explained above, I knew that the more historical, information intensive aspects of the Trilogy’s production were going to be well documented in the Extended Edition, therefore that encouraged me to follow my own taste for more ‘experiential’ documentary.
The three films are not, however, ‘unstructured’ or ‘stream of consciousness’. The principles by why they are organised are very simple and logical. Each documentary serves as a self contained companion to its parent film. The material is arranged in story order.
So the first documentary begins with the prologue and Hobbiton, and moves through sequence after sequence with immersive behind the scenes glimpses, until it ends at Amon Hen, with the breakup of the Fellowship. And so on … And that’s it really. The sheer variety of tasks, processes, conflicts, challenges … you name it … occurring through almost 3 years of production guaranteed that we could assemble three full length documentary features without any repetition. Each of the three pieces is self contained, and has a unique flavour.
It might have helped viewers who prefer a bit more spoon feeding if I’d been given the opportunity to add music, subtitles, and commentaries, as I’d originally planned. Unfortunately, the first I knew of the release, it was already happening.
Even though I wasn’t given the chance to finish things exactly as I wanted, I stand by the work. I believe these docs give the most accurate available insight into what it was actually like to make the Rings trilogy. Now ironically, via the Blu Ray Extended Edition, the two sets of behind the scenes work have been bundled together. This might help underline finally the dovetailed, or complementary nature of our approaches. And certainly adds up to a substantial library of material for die hard LOTR fans.
View Excerpts Here: This is an unauthorised rip, but it’s nicely put together, and the chap concerned had the decency not to steal the whole thing. An attribution would have been nice! BTW, for the record, I do not own these documentaries, and get no royalties from sales. Some people have asked why that is. The answer is simple. No studio in its right mind would trade away such a potentially valuable ancillary property. I was well paid upfront to do the work, and have no complaints on that score.
Video Interview: The Noldor Blog: Why Costa Botes won’t do “Making Of The Hobbit” documentaries (even if he was asked). I understand that my documentaries are included on the new Blue ray Extended Edition DVD box set of Lord of the Rings.
It appears that despite the golden packaging, none of the supplementary material is presented in Blu-Ray format. No point really, as it was all shot Standard Definition. It was also partly shot in the silly ‘fool frame’ 4×3 format at the studio’s request. I can admit now that I got to a point where I could not stand it any longer, and began shooting 16×9. Just as well, because (a) it looks a lot better, and (b) eventually New Line changed their minds and asked for 16×9 anyway.
I have not been extended the courtesy of being given a copy of this edition to see for myself, but my understanding is that my work has been presented in a more flattering way this time, compared to the allegedly fierce compression encountered on the Limited Edition box sets. I don’t know for sure because to this day I have not had the stomach to watch the Limited Editions, being too annoyed over a bunch of petty trims that were made without my knowledge or consent.
I am now, as they say, ‘over it’ (almost!), but prefer to think of these pieces in the entirety I intended.
As far as The Hobbit is concerned, I have nothing to add to the comments made in the blog link above. I believe the ‘Behind the Scenes’ effort is in very good hands, and anyone interested in the making of Peter’s new Tolkein films will be given a full serve.
Update June 28 2011 I note a little upsurge in traffic to this page. Probably as a result of curiosity arising from the Blu Ray Extended Edition release. Anyone with remaining questions about my ‘behind the scenes’ docs is welcome to post them in the comments section below. I’ll endeavour to reply in a timely fashion. Thanks to everyone for their interest.