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A slimmer & trimmer Peter Jackson got a standing ovation from 2,000 fans of his work on The Lord of The Rings after a revealing two hour conversation last Saturday at Sydney’s State Theatre, guided by David Stratton, talking about his filmmaking life, especially details of the birth and execution of the LOTR trilogy – interspersed with blooper footage from the set which has never (and will never) see the public light of day elsewhere. Andrew L. Urban reports.

The Evening with Peter Jackson was a highlight of the final stages of the exhibition, running till April 3 at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, devoted to the LOTR trilogy.

Among the detailed anecdotes about the development of the project, Jackson recounted confrontations with Miramax bosses Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The Disney-owned Miramax had a US$75 million cap on projects they could greenlight, and this project – at that stage two movies – would cost twice that. When Miramax shoved a three page treatment in front of Jackson showing how it could all be done in a single two hour movie, Jackson and Walsh headed back to a remote New Zealand cabin (for Walsh’s birthday) to consider their options. It didn’t take more than a walk along the nearby beach to reach a decision.

"I rang our agent and told him to ring Harvey to say we won’t do it."

The poo hit the fan; ultimatums were issued and games were played. The latter involved a risky tactical decision when Jackson and partner Fran Walsh were in Los Angeles for meetings to salvage the project. Miramax had given them the impossible deadline of four weeks to restructure the project with another studio (and it had to be more than one movie), within which time they also had to repay Miramax the US$10 million already spent on development. Or Miramax would throw them off and do it themselves.

Jackson and co spent the first week shooting a ‘making of’ (for the film that had yet to be made), in the belief that a video showing the design elements already in place would help secure a deal. On arrival in Los Angeles in week two, they found that their agent could only set up two meetings; every studio but Polygram and New Line had passed on the idea, sight unseen. The Polygram execs were interested, but as they were about to be sold off as a company, they couldn’t do anything firm for months.

That left New Line. But Team Jackson played a deadpan poker game, deferring each meeting with excuses of having to see other studios urgently, until the very last day. "We hoped this would make us look like the hottest thing in town."

Who knows what the New Line boys thought at the time, but big boss Bob Shay looked in silence at the 35 minute video Jackson had brought from New Zealand, and when Shay was shown the scripts for two movies, simply asked: "Two movies? I thought it was three books … shouldn’t it be three movies?" Jackson just shrugged and quietly agreed.

Published Sunday March 13, 2005

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