Hi there – you don’t know me, but I wish I knew you. I sometimes feel as if I do, but maybe that’s because I’ve seen many of your films, and we share a birthday. Well, technically we don’t – I was born two days before you in South Africa and you were born in New Zealand and given the time difference that probably makes me closer to three days older than you. Anyway, never mind that. Let’s just say that we were born a few days apart in the same year.
And we both grew up loving movies.
Growing up loving the movies – what better place for a child in the 60s! By the end of the 70s, as I was nearing the end of high school, I was hooked on plays, drama, ballet, art and movies. And then came Star Wars. Yes, the original. Not Episode this or Episode that, but the one and only. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Suddenly I had a new hero. I was ready to give up all my dreams of drama and university and run away, stow away on a ship or plane to America, hitch-hike across that land from New York to California, find my way to Van Nuys and throw myself at the feet of George Lucas at Industrial Light and Magic. I would do anything – sweep the floor, make the tea – if he only allowed me to be close enough to the demi-gods of special effects; the archdukes of animation; the moguls of model-making and stop-motion. I could have lived on the very crumbs of knowledge that they discarded, if only I was allowed to exist in the same place as those immortals whom I yearned to watch creating their masterpieces…
But it was not to be. Instead I went to University, worked hard and began a career sweeping the floor and making the tea in some of South Africa’s best theatres. Thirty years later I’m still doing it. (I have five really great brooms, several mops and an awesome squeeze-mop bucket contraption that I guard with a fanaticism reminiscent of Smaug over his hoard of dragon gold!)
I’ve honed my tea-making skills over the years too, and I’m more house-proud about my stage than I am about my own home, but sadly the only painting I do is not connected with model making or animation. After every production in the theatre where I work, it’s my job to repaint the stage floor to a low-sheen black before the next show moves in. Exciting stuff, huh? Welcome to my world…
…and then came Lord of the Rings.
Of course I’d read the book way back when I was young, and I’d even seen the Ralph Bakshi animated film of the first book, but for me it hadn’t matched up to the images Tolkien had created in my head. Like many people of that time, I had believed that a film of such an epic story could never be made. Again, like many people, I re-read the three volumes every few years just to remind myself of how great Tolkien’s vision was, and each time I re-read it, I learned new lessons at my stage in life that I hadn’t thought about before.
But I digress. Not unusual for a dreamer like me. Back to you, Peter Jackson. Sorry, that should be Sir Peter Jackson.
When your first LOTR movie hit the screens, I was amazed that someone had not only dared to do what couldn’t be done, but I was even more blown away by the fact that you had succeeded where so many others might have failed.
Not since my teen dream of running away to join Industrial Light and Magic had I fallen so utterly for the notion of running away, giving it all up and throwing myself on the mercy of someone in the movie-making business. Yes, I would have followed you, Peter Jackson, in a heartbeat. I would have followed you, my brother, my captain, my king…
But this time it wasn’t just for the special effects, the model-making, the revolutionary motion-capture or even the exotic locations. No, it was for the writing. Yes, Tolkien had penned a wonderful story, but it was what you did with it that made it come alive.
For the first time I began to research the nature of screenwriting, and why some things that work in books don’t translate to the screen. Along with your two co-writers, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, you had worked tirelessly to capture the essence of what the story was about in terms of individuals in a world beyond their control. Despite the film’s grand scale and epic tale, the very human-ness of the characters was what propelled the story.
The words that Sam says to Frodo near the end of the second movie, “There’s some good in this world, Mr Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for” became a sort of mantra for me. I’m not completely certain whether these are Tolkien’s words or yours, but either way they echo Tolkien’s sentiment and you stayed true to the book.
I began to read all the books about screenwriting that I could get my hands on, because they gave me a deeper insight into the nature of story and storytelling.
Eventually, of course, this led to novel writing. I still use screenwriting structure for the novels that I write, and when I read a great novel that later dies on screen, I analyse the film in terms of that structure to find where the problems are.
Since becoming a Jackson fan, I’ve also tracked down some of your other movies. I loved Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners but I wasn’t that wild about King Kong. Maybe that’s because I’d never particularly liked the story. The romantic novelist in me has this notion about happy endings, and we all know that no matter what you do with it, you can’t give a story like that a happy ending.
(Ditto The Lovely Bones which I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t seen for the same reason. Please don’t feel bad; I couldn’t get through reading the book either. I won’t attempt the book again, but maybe I will watch your movie of it one day.)
Oh, and by the way – I just love what you did with The Hobbit. Yes, all three movies. I have the first two on DVD and will get the third as soon as it comes out where I live.
Sometimes I’d still like to run away to New Zealand and throw myself at your feet, Peter Jackson. Not because I’m a crazy stalker lady, but because I’d love to learn from you everything that you have to teach me about storytelling. In the meantime, I would happily give my all to sweeping your floor and making the tea at Weta Digital or Wingnut Films. Heck, I’d even get out the broom and rake and apply my sweeping and tidying talents to the gardens of Hobbiton if I could. I’ve been there as a gawping, bug-eyed tourist and loved every second of my visit.
So, Sir Peter Jackson – how about it?