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.