LOTR - A (Muddy, Rainy) Day on the Set


Last Update: 16 June 2000


12 January 2000

Source: E! Online

A (Muddy, Rainy) Day on the Set

by John Forde

The most talked about film project of the new millennium is also the
most secretive. Since filming began on The Lord of the Rings in October
1999, no one from cast or crew has given interviews, and no media
have been allowed near the set. Until now.

E! Online has been granted exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the
making of Peter Jackson's three-film epic in New Zealand. Each month,
until the first film is released in December 2001, our "On Location"
column will provide new insight about a different aspect of the
production--direct from Down Under.

This month: Our trusty Wellington-based correspondent goes tramping
through thick forests, down muddy paths and alongside goblin armies
to spend a day with the hobbits--and the stars--on New Zealand's wild
South Island.

7:30 a.m., December 11: After a bumpy flight over spectacular
snow-topped mountains, miles of pine forest and raging rivers, I arrive
at Queenstown's matchbox-size airport and begin the 90-minute drive
to The Lord of the Rings set, a place called Paradise, located in the
depths of a national park. It's perfect Tolkien country: wild, beautiful,
inaccessible. Recent flooding has washed away sections of the road.
Thankfully, we're riding in a four-wheel-drive--with big mudguards.

8:10 a.m.: We stop at a forest
embankment, where a lone
security officer with shorts--it's
the height of summer in the
Southern Hemisphere--and a
laptop guards a set. It's a
stairway leading up to ramparts
and an enormous winged
monster made of polystyrene but
painted to look like old,
moss-colored stone. Yesterday,
Jackson filmed part of the Amon
Hen battle here, with 100
Urak-hai warriors and the
heroes. As temperatures soared, stunt actors playing the Urak-hai had
cool air pumped into their costumes between takes. Interestingly, most
of the Urak-hai stunt actors are women, who have more tolerance for
the hot, heavy armor and prosthetics. Girl power!!

8:35 a.m.: We drive through the village of Glengoblinhy, into base
camp (where the actors' and crews' trailers are located), then farther
into the hills. I briefly meet director Jackson, who sits brooding in a
large easy chair under a canopy on set 1A while the crew prepares
needed equipment.

8:37 a.m.: The trees are so thick they provide cover from the morning
rain. In a clearing, the crew is working on a dolly shot of the Fellowship
running through the forest of Lothlorien, pursued by goblins. No
dialogue, lots of extras and buckets of mud. Two giant painted
polystyrene tree trunks border the set--later, the Fellowship will "climb"
the trees (with help from WETA Workshops' special effects). Because
Tolkien's Lothlorien forest features gold foliage, set decorators have
scattered thousands of gold-painted leaves on the ground. Since this is
a national park with strict rules, the crew must remove every leaf when
shooting concludes. Somebody's got a lot of raking to do.

 

9:23 a.m.: Specially made goblin armor is dragged onto set. The bows,
arrows trimmed with black feathers, halberds and corrugated shields
have been molded in plastic, then individually painted. A staffer adjusts
a prosthetic goblin mask with a pair of pliers, then tries it on for
comfort. With no ears, black hollows for eyes and clammy, ashen skin,
the mask looks realistic but frighteningly otherworldly.

10:30 a.m.: The little people ("LP") arrive. In nondialogue scenes with
the Fellowship, they play the hobbits, who must look smaller than the
humans or elves. Each LP wears a small-scale hobbit costume, a
prosthetic mask of the character's face and, of course, hairy, prosthetic
hobbit feet. Most of the LP are professional actors from India. With the
hobbit masks, they look identical to their full-size counterparts, only
much smaller.

10:45 a.m.: Orlando Bloom, the young British actor playing Legolas the
dwarf, arrives and takes a few photographs of the cast's named chairs.
Standing about five-eleven, he's the perfect elf: tall, thin and sporting
the best pair of legs since Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Makeup lightens
his complexion and heightens his (already impressive) cheekbones. A
long, blond, plaited wig and blue contact lenses complete the look. He
wears a forest-green jerkin, metal bands on his forearms and
knee-high leather boots. Slightly less pretty but no less impressive,
Gimli the dwarf's LP double arrives. With a long red beard and long red
hair tied in a ponytail, he's wearing short-sleeve chain mail covered
with armor, a sword at his left side and hobnailed boots.

11:07 a.m.: Hearts flutter when
Sean Bean (Boromir) and Viggo
Mortensen (Aragorn) arrive. Most
of Aragorn's outfit is concealed
beneath an enormous,
mud-splattered coat. The
jeweled Sword of Elendil hangs
from Mortensen's belt. With his
rugged, unshaven features and
long, greasy hair, he looks every
inch the nomadic hero. Bean
wears a red tunic with gold stenciling on the sleeves, chain mail,
leather gloves and knee-high leather boots (obviously the new look in
Middle Earth this summer) under a full-length leather coat.

11:15 a.m.: Makeup people expertly splatter the cast with more mud,
while Jackson tries out the shot. Instead of using body doubles, he
runs through the forest himself, then watches the result on large
monitors. The sight of Jackson, running wildly through a golden forest
in shorts and a ski jacket, is memorable. While he starts to take the
actors through their cues, I head down to where the goblin army is
being prepared.

11:30 a.m.: A large crew of technicians and costumers are dressing
the goblins. They wear gray, prosthetic skin, which wrinkles like an
elephant's skin. Over this, they wear chain mail and black armor
covered with sharp ridges like a beetle's exoskeleton. Their knee-high
boots expose prosthetic goblin feet, with long-clawed, blue-tinged
toes. Over the prosthetic masks, they wear two-piece, black,
lobster-clawlike helmets, with long, black, straggly hair hanging at the
hemets' backs. Part dung beetle, part medieval knight, the goblins look
terrifying.

 

11:49 a.m.: The goblins run through their cues. They are to chase the
Fellowship through the forest while making sounds like wild dogs and
waddling like crabs.

12:07 p.m.: The actors take their places deep in the forest, while crew
members converse with Jackson via walkie-talkies. Technicians operate
enormous smoke-and-wind machines, which blow mist and leaves
through the set. With "Action!" the Fellowship runs through the
clearing, with the goblins in fast pursuit.

12:14 p.m.: Jackson and crew watch the footage on color monitors.
It's crucial that Bean and Mortensen run so that they partially obscure
the LPs' masked faces from the camera. Jackson and the actors discuss
movements, and everyone prepares for a second shoot.

12:33 p.m.: The choreography is better, but Jackson says the scene
lacks urgency or a sense of panic. He advises the Fellowship to go
slowly and the goblins to trail them at a distance. He wants the goblins
to be more "feral." They are told to waddle more and keep up the rabid
chicken noises.

1:15 p.m.: It's well past the
scheduled lunch break, but the
scene still needs work. Since it
would be too time consuming to
reprepare the scene later, cast
and crew continue on in the
steadily increasing rain. Most of
the goblins are out of breath
from running in heavy costumes.
It's not easy being a bad guy.

1:40 p.m.: With five takes under
their belt, the cast and crew
break for lunch.

2 p.m.: I'm lunching with 50 Urak-hai warriors in full armor. They wear
rubber muscle shirts to enhance their imposing physiques, and they
have black rings painted around their eyes. I guard my piece of pie
defensively. The Urak-hai have been filming in 1B this morning. Elves
waft ethereally around the dessert table. I meet Elijah Wood (Frodo)
and Sean Astin (Sam), already made up for the afternoon's work,
complete with pointy ears and hairy feet.

2:40 p.m.: We head out to 1B to watch some of the Urak-hai battle.
We pass through parts of the Amon Hen set: crumbling walls,
staircases and remnants of great pillars that look as if they've been in
this forest for centuries. We walk through a quiet clearing with a
crumbling statue--constructed, of course--where Boromir's death was
filmed a few days ago.

2:50 p.m.: Heavy rain delays shooting, and Urak-hai actors are
sprawled under umbrellas and tarps, trying to keep dry. They look like
soldiers in a World War I trench. We decide to head back to the 1A set,
and we walk along a muddy forest path in the rain. My tennis shoes
are history.

3:01 p.m.: Back at 1A, they're shooting a still of the Fellowship running
through the forest, pursued by goblins. Astin, Wood and this morning's
cast are joined by Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd. They seem relaxed
and joke around--amazing, considering they were up at 4:30 this
morning for makeup. Mortensen is listening to a Pakistani song on his
portable CD player--he plays it to one of the LP, who starts singing and
dancing around the set.

3:20 p.m.: Jackson brings the actors onto the set and explains the
scene. The Fellowship are surprised by elfin arrows, which fly past them
to attack the goblins behind. Mortensen stands in close up to the
camera, so as to seem bigger, while Bloom stands on a box with his
bow aimed at the goblins. Bean's seven-foot-tall stunt double stands in
for Boromir. Of course, there are no arrows--they'll be digitally added
later by computer--so the actors must mime the arrows flying past.
Jackson, a hands-on director, demonstrates the movements he wants.
Wood asks if the arrows will mess up his hair. They rehearse, then go
for the first take. The crew blows leaves onto the scene with the wind
machine. "And...Action!"

3:33 p.m.: The first shoot goes
well. Assistants cover the actors
with umbrellas and splatter them
with more mud. Jackson wants
Mortensen to act more surprised,
as if an arrow has just gone right
past his nose. The actors talk
and joke among themselves,
except for Mortensen, who
broods mysteriously off to one
side. The second take begins.
Umbrellas disappear, the wind machine starts up, Wood jogs up and
down on the spot to appear out of breath, and Legolas raises his bow
and arrow. "And... Action!"

4:20 p.m.: Five takes down, and Jackson seems happy. There are
photos of the cast for continuity purposes (to ensure the actors look
the same for the next sequenced scene), and everyone takes a break.
There's still another nondialogue scene to film, but it's been a long day,
and since I'm not getting paid as much as Liv Tyler, I decide to take my
mud-caked sneakers and head back to Queenstown. Tomorrow, cast
and crew begin a monthlong holiday break.

 


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