Monday, 28 March 2011

Interview, with ... me?

A few weeks ago I mentioned on my Facebook page and my Twitter acocunt that I'd been interviewed by another blog (Middle-earth News).

I've been reminded that not everybody has Twitter or Facebook yet, so if you missed my awesome interview on, you can find it under the header "The Man Who Walks LOTR Everyday"...The interview touches on things like what it's like to be a LOTR tourguide, here in Middle-earth Central; Wellington New Zealand.

The short answer is "it's great!" but if you want a bit more detail than that, read the whole interview. :)

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Why Costa Botes won't do "Making Of The Hobbit" documentaries (even if he was asked)

Earlier this month, the long awaited Blu-Ray versions of the Extended Edition of LOTR were announced, and although no previously unseen extra material was mentioned, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the rarely-seen and hard-to-get “Behind The Scenes of LOTR” documentaries will be included on the box-set.

These documentaries were directed by Wellington director and long time friend of Sir Peter Jackson, Costa Botes. Costa was a Peter Jackson fan since the very early days –he had a (very brief) role in PJ’s first movie, Bad Taste, where he gets ripped in half by a lethal automobile “accident”.

More actively, Costa co-wrote and co-directed the mockumentary Forgotten Silver together with Peter Jackson, and has since created a very interesting body of work on a diverse range of subjects such as the creator of the Jelly-Belly sweets; the annual Nepal Blues Festival; and the plight of the rare Canadian Eskimo Dogs.

I recently caught up with Costa Botes online, and asked him what he thought of the unexpected inclusion of his work on the new LOTR Blu-Ray box.


JM - The first question I have for you is about your name - how do I pronounce it? Is it like "boats", or (like I keep hearing) "boh-tehs"?

CB - My name is pronounced Boh-Tess, accent on the first syllable. Thanks for asking!

JM - Good to clear that up! And it  looks like your LOTR documentaries have been re-released on the LOTR extended edition on Blu-Ray, finally, although apparently it's a “limited edition” release.

CB - Right, first I've heard of it [was when the announcement came through on March 7th].

JM - Wow, they don't even tell the director when they release them? I did wonder about that, yeah.

CB - New Line never consulted or even told me when they first released them- they originally got the aspect ratio wrong, missed a prime opportunity for commentaries, made some annoying edits ... the biggest thing is they should have made an effort to put them out as a standalone set, rather than squeezing the fans yet again to buy the original films. I did not like taking the blame for that when it was no choice of mine! Left a very bad taste (no pun intended). But in whatever form, I'd rather they were out than not, if for no other reason than my docs - I believe - properly acknowledge all the rank and file techs and artists who sweated blood to make the movies happen.

JM - I'd have loved to see some of that missing footage though... Orcs, singing Stand By Me... :)

CB – Yes. Unfortunately, the Studio obviously felt it wasn’t worth the cost or hassle of licensing the rights. But you do get to hear them sing our national anthem. I just tried to capture the truth, “warts and all”, just like PJ asked. That was his only direction to me. The Extended Editions are a terrific source of oral history, but somewhat miss the fun, and sense of humour people showed in adversity. I think that spirit was key to the whole LOTR enterprise.

JM - Yeah, you nailed it there. The New Line docos say "we're all beautiful people, and everything went great, 100% of the time", where your ones say, "the weather was against us, everything broke, people got angry - but we persevered and did it anyway". I think it tells a truer story.

CB - On balance I had a very privileged 'rings side' seat at an unrepeatable spectacle, and would not have missed it. Happy to sit out the next one though.

JM - Actually, I hope you'll get the same "rings side" seat again (nice pun, btw!) - I'd love to see the same style docos for The Hobbit! Maybe we should start a "Costa Botes needs to get involved in The Hobbit" Facebook petition...

CB - No, I really don't need to get involved in the Hobbit. That holds absolutely no interest for me whatsoever. I wish Peter and his team well, but my focus is on my own work these days. best of luck to the Hobbit, but I have no interest myself in undertaking any such project again. Been there, done that.

JM - No worries, I wasn't really about to set up a facebook page :)

CB - I'd be happier if they had let me complete my docos as intended - with music and film-maker commentaries. But grateful for small mercies. Imagine if all we had was the National Geographic special [Ed: originally included with the boxed set of FOTR].

JM - Actually, you know, I never actually saw the National Geographic one...

CB – It was malarkey. It killed me to have to supply them with footage. The people involved were pleasant enough, but their take was absolutely one-eyed. Into the cultural blender where everything comes out the same flavour – bland vanilla.  I'll have to write down the whole story one day. There's a limited account on my web site that gives the gist, though you'll have to read between the lines a bit.

JM - It would have been nice to see your take on the Making Of The Hobbit - I always enjoyed your docos more than the Hollywood stuff. It seemed more kiwi, in so many ways.

CB – Thank you. But it could be argued the studio have provided well for fans. Too much choice? Is that bad? At least my stuff wasn't buried. My take was clearly out of synch with the Hollywood way. They do things differently there! But the three docs have eventually escaped, and only a little different than I intended.

JM - True enough, and although it may not be entirely your ideal version, at least your name is forever favourably attached to it in the public's minds, at least. And to your film making skills. That can't be a bad thing!

CB - I'd like to think so. Though I’m obviously keen to move on. I'm interested in stories about compelling, passionate characters. Not so much in making movies about other people making movies.

JM - I can see that was the case in Forgotten Silver, but how did you ever agree to doing the LOTR docos in the first place then? It's not really about the person but about the process - at least the versions they ended up releasing?

CB - The aspect of documenting LOTR that interested me was showing how a whole lot of compelling, passionate people united to do the impossible, from PJ on down to the guys who hand knitted 5 million plastic rings to make chain mail. It was a hell of a story, and who could resist that? But it was made up of a lot of stories, and by and large I am more interested in singular tales where I can exercise some degree of authorship. Make sense?

JM - Yeah, a lot of sense. As a LOTR tourguide, I tell exactly those stories all day, five days a week. I think I know where you're coming from there - if they were boring stories I wouldn't still be doing it seven years later. It explains Candyman as well, which I enjoyed tremendously.

CB - No, nothing boring about LOTR. The process of making those movies was an amazing adventure, which I did my best to capture and honour in the retelling. It's national folklore now.

JM - Indeed it is. So, what are you working on at the moment then? Or is it all the usual totally secretive stuff? :)

CB – No, nothing secret. Candyman has just been released in the US, and is establishing itself as a modest cult favourite. I’ve just finished editing a feature documentary called Daytime Tiger, which is about a writer with bi-polar (manic-depression) who is forced to choose between his creativity and his wife. It’s pretty startling. And I’ve started editing a film I shot in northern Canada called The Last Dogs of Winter, about an obsessed loner who has spent the last 40 years maintaining a colony of Eskimo Dogs – the rarest breed of dog in the world. The kicker there is he keeps the dogs in an area shared with wild polar bears. Most of my work since LOTR has been done completely independently, retaining ownership and creative control. Also using digital tools I first adopted documenting LOTR. So I guess even if I was a little unhappy with some aspects of that big studio experience, it changed my life and career for the better.

JM - It sounds like you're certainly keeping busy. Your touch will be missed on the Hobbit but the other projects you've been working on sound fascinating too. Thank you so much for your time!

For those interested in following Costa Botes' other works, he has provided links on his blog to purchase them on DVD, and YouTube links for further interviews.

 - Jack M.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Wellywood Map by Daniel Reeve, now available for purchase!

The LOTR touring company I work for, Wellington Rover Tours, has always given away a map to our guests at the end of the tours. This map was originally printed by the Wellington newspaper, the Dominion Post, back in 2001 when the first movie was released.

The old map, no longer available.

Although the map was a fine reminder of your visit to Wellington as it showed the whole Wellington area complete with quite a number of LOTR locations, I was never quite satisfied with it. Some of the locations were inaccessible, or too far away for our tour. Some of the text accompanying the map was incomplete, or downright wrong. Of course, back in 2001 the LOTR shoot hadn't completed yet so the newspaper did the best they could, given the limited information available.

When my boss informed me in December last year that we'd almost run out of the printed maps again, I took the opportunity to develop an idea I've had for a while - to create a custom-made map of "our" Wellington region, done in a more suitable style, and by the best Cartographer around - Daniel Reeve. Daniel Reeve of course created the maps for Peter Jackson's movies, for Lord Of The Rings as well as for King Kong and Narnia, and almost all of the written material for LOTR - he is a supurb Calligrapher and all-round artist, and often hosts artists sessions for Red Carpet Tours as well.

I was aware that Daniel would probably be working on The Hobbit movie soon, so my window of opportunity was limited. I got in contact with Daniel late last year and incredibly, he agreed to do the work. The result is fantastic - see what you think!

The maps were published a few weeks ago, and we've been quietly handing them out to our guests. Also, if you remember from my entry on the second Welly-moot last week, Wellington Rover Tours donated a map to all attendees (at a cost of over $250 - thanks to my boss Scott!)

The response has been 100% positive, and in fact we've had so many enquiries about them that we've decided to make them available online. So if you've been on a Rover Rings tour and would like an extra copy for a friend, or if you haven't been able to make it down to New Zealand yet but would like a map in the meantime, here is your chance!

We've decided to keep the costs down to give everyone a chance to get one, but we're only making 100 available in this first instance, to see how that goes. The maps are NZ$24.95 plus NZ$7.50 shipping and handling wordwide, and there's a link on the page to see how much that will be in your own currency.

As long as they are available, the map will have a permanent link from the top of my blog here, look for the "Wellywood Map" link at the top of this page.

I'm very keen on feedback - please drop me a line with your thoughts!

  - Jack M.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Welly-moot #2, a chaotic but fun time

I've just come back from the second Welly-moot meeting, a coming-together of Hobbit fans here in Wellington, although at least one of the attendees had come from Auckland just to attend (well done, Haldirriel)! The first meeting was attended by 12 people - this time it had gone up to about 17. I think next time we'll have to find a "proper" venue! If anyone has suggestions for the next meeting, mail me!

A variety of subjects were discussed at the coffee meeting - Barbara had recently been to Hobbiton, and had printed her photos, so we all got a look at the almost finished sets there (I understand they are now completed but the photos were taken just before that). I didn't get copies - and I'd be prevented from showing them here in any case...

I'm currently trying to source a group-photo from Brian, who took a few snaps at the meeting (I'll post it here as soon as I have it). Brian is a huge Hobbit fan, and likes to collect news clippings. Brian had brought with him a large folder labelled "The Hobbit - Book 4"; yes, he has already filled three books just on The Hobbit! At home he has 22(!) large volumes filled with LOTR newsclippings!! Brian's partner Suzie was also there, as was their son Harrison.

Nicolás has recently moved from the Milford Sound in the South Island, and is currently looking for a house here in Wellington - he's hoping to get a job on the set in some way.

Also attending today were four US students from Wellington's Victoria university, three of whom I'd "rescued" off Mount Victoria a few days ago while they were taking photos of the wrong tree. The three are currently studying Film Studies here in NZ, while the fourth is a Psychology student. A bunch of Hobbit geeks together is probably a good homework assignment for a Psych student! (Unfortunately I didn't get names, so if you're reading this - drop me a line?)

Heike was there as well - I met her some time ago through the blog, she's left quite a few comments on the blog over the years. Today Heike brought me some home-made jam made from local wild blackberries - I've been eating the berries all over the region (Rivendell, the River Anduin, the Hobbiton Woods, and Brego's River all have blackberry bushes!) so the jam will go down nicely - thanks Heike! It will be enjoyed...

Jenifer and Ryan, and little Hawk, were there as well, although they were at the far side of the table (from me), so I'm afraid I didn't spend as much time talking to them as I wanted to this time - the same unfortunately went for Brendon and his partner Keryn. Brendon did bring his amazing copy of The Hobbit book, with at least twenty autographs in it!

I turned up with my lovely wife Aiko, who unfortunately had some other business to attend to for the rest of the afternoon, so she left me to it. I brought along my brand new map, recently created by Daniel Reeve (LOTR's Cartographer) for Wellington Rover Tours. I wanted to use the meeting to "officially" introduce the map to the world, so now that that has been done, I can start talking about them properly. If you look at the top of this page, you'll see a link to the "Wellywood Map" - if you want one as well, they are now available for purchase.

I'll write up another blog entry about that a bit later, but at the Welly-moot I had arranged with my boss that Wgtn Rover would donate a map to all attendees (they are usually $24.95 each). So thanks to Wellington Rover Tours there were a few lucky people there today! The other way to get yourself a map is to come on a LOTR tour, and we'll give you one!

I also tested interest for a possible Wellington Tolkien Society that I've been thinking about starting due to a total lack of a NZ chapter. There seems to be enough interest in it for me to pursue that further, so I'll be talking to the UK Tolkien Society in the next few months to see what I'd need to do.

All in all, it was a fun afternoon - it was very noisy and chaotic, there wasn't really an agenda other than "let's meet, drink coffee, and talk", and everyone had a great time! On to the next one!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Garrett Robinson should work on the Hobbit

I met up with a fellow blogger the other day, he's come all the way from the USA with a single goal in mind - to get a job working on The Hobbit. His name is Garrett Robinson - I'm expecting to see his name in The Hobbit credits somewhere.

Now, I get a lot of email from all sorts of wonderful people who ask me for a job on The Hobbit, something I'm afraid I REALLY can't help you with - if I could do that, I'm sure I'd be working on The Hobbit myself. Garrett seems different though - he basically got himself sorted out, went through the official channels to get a proper Working Holiday Visa for a year, left his life back in the USA for as long as it takes, and is currently making a video blog about his efforts to get onto the set. The blog is here:

Garrett and me on Mount Victoria, Wellington

He's got a good sense of humour about it, which I think prompted me to contact him when I found out he was in Wellington, and I spent a very pleasant morning with him. Originally it was just going to be a coffee at the Botanic Gardens, but pretty soon it was another coffee at the Embassy Theatre, and then a fun wander around some of the Mount Victoria LOTR locations. He filmed some of it, and the result is up on his blog. If you've got 6 minutes, it's a lot of fun to watch. If you've been on one of my tours, it's worth a look as well - there's some unexpected angles that I can't take everyone on during the "regular" tours, but this took us on an unexpected path, and we saw other stuff. Take a look for yourself!

  - Jack M