My own personal writing journey during the making of this movie on release London 13 December 2012.
Feb 20, 2011
February 26, 2011 sees the start of a new round of auditions being held for Peter Jackson's two-part Hobbit movie. The first will be held at Te Whaea - National Dance and Drama Centre, Newtown, Wellington on Saturday. This is an official Hobbit elf actors' call, seeking to find people to play elven horse riders and elven extras in the J.R.R. Tolkien story.
This is part time, temporary contract work. People who have already been seen at a previous casting call need not re-apply, as they will be on file. Those who cannot attend the casting call and do fit the elven requirements should email the casting contractor via the "Apply online" button on the official advertisement in Trademe.co.nz to be sent an application form. CVs or cover letters are not required.
Aspiring applicants need to be legal for work in New Zealand, which means they must have NZ residency or a valid NZ work permit. Specific appearance criteria for the elven physical build is tall and slender. Men and women applying need to be aged 17 to 40 years old; men should be at least 6ft (183cm) or taller and women should be aged 17 to 40 years old and at least 5ft 9 (175cm) tall.
Reminders that "if you do not fit into the height ranges you should not apply" are reminiscent of the previous occasion, in November 2010, when appearance criteria caused friction at auditions for The Hobbit. The print advertisement that asked for "light skin toned" women actors to apply caused no eyebrows to raise, but the auditions video posted online (now removed) clearly showing a mixed race woman being told no, "It's the brief, I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do," raised a media storm. An official apology was issued by Wingnut Films, who denied applying such racist criteria, the NZ Herald reported.
Queues and a long wait are characteristic of these auditions. Seven hundred hopefuls had turned up for the November Hobbit casting interviews at the designated basketball pitch, where the agent's representative was filmed rejecting the woman on a glance at her face. Naz Humphreys, a Brit with Pakistani heritage, was in New Zealand on a work permit and hoped to take part in the Hobbit project as an "extra." That casting contract agency was fired.
Photo of models of fantasy creatures mainly from LOTR taken by Val Williamson in the Weta Cave, Miramar, Wellington, NZ
The Wellington casting call for Saturday 26 February 2011, 9.30 to 12 o'clock and 1.30 to 3 o'clock, is the first of a round of calls for the movie. There will be casting calls in other cities as required.
August 2011 Update
The new call advertised in Trademe.co.nz for male elf actors only, no auditions, photos must be supplied. Only Wellingto based residents invited to apply. Also required are men aged 30 plus, medium to large build, 5'8" - 6 foot (175cm - 183cm). Character faces, beards, missing teeth are all OK.
January 2012 Update
Auditions on Saturday 28 January 2012 at the Belmont Hall, Hutt City, next to Belmont Primary School, 709 Western Hutt Road , from 1pm to 4pm. Only Wellington residents aged over 17 years with a valid work permit and fitting the physical criteria in the advertisement need apply.
February 6th 2012 Deadline
Call for extras. All the above stipulations apply - physical type, age limit, residency in Wellington, work permit. Must print out, fill in and send by post the application form supplied in the advertisement, to be received by the February 6 deadline. Includes confidentiality stipulation.
Following the chaos and police intervention that occurred at the January 28 2012 auditions, this article will no longer be updated with new Hobbit recruitment details.
One hobbit and thirteen dwarves entertain press to a glimpse behind the scenes as Sir Peter Jackson's beleaguered Hobbit movie finally goes into production
Feb 11, 2011
Wellington New Zealand ,10 February 2011, a large group of actors interrupted training for their roles in The Hobbit movie to answer questions at the first cast press conference. Thirteen dwarves and one hobbit are the characters they are in rehearsal for, and together they launched the production phase of the film with great humour and camaraderie.
The Hobbit movie cast praise filmmaking facilities
The actors were introduced one by one, with no hierarchy evident in their response to the questions, although Ken Stott and Martin Freeman were clearly held in some awe by their fellows. Ken Stott, cast as Balin the Dwarf Lord, said that New Zealand has the best filmmaking facilities in the world, a theme that these fourteen members of the cast returned to, obviously impressed by the technological reality of the whole Weta ethos.
This core cast has been working together for over four weeks, allowing "lots of time for character development." Challenging training includes physical training at the gym, stunt fighting and horse riding, while dialect work has also begun.
New Zealand technology and creative talent impress
Asked about the experience of acting against green screen, Thorin actor Richard Armitage spoke on the technological aspects of the job. He said being in the mo-cap (motion-capture) studio for the first time was like being in Avatar. Armitage revealed how his first ever part in a stage production was in The Hobbit as a child at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham (home of the original author, J.R.R. Tolkien).
The massive crew of over 1000 people all working hard, was mentioned, and the team of "incredibly talented people." They paid tribute to the creative genius in the art department and the technological department, and the "jigsaw of talent and craft and skill" which has been put together by the director, of which they obviously feel privileged to be a part.
Sir Peter Jackson announced last week that filming will soon begin at Stone Street Studios in Miramar despite his recent surgery, the Guardian reported, 8 February 2011.
While the BBC suggests that Sir Ian McKellan and Orlando Bloom will be flying out to New Zealand for shooting set to start on 21 March, speculation still surrounds the casting of Bloom to reprise his Lord of The Rings role as Legolas, along with whether Hugo Weaving will reprise his role as Elrond.
A full video of the press call is available at 3news.co.nz
Who has been cast in The Hobbit movie? Martin Freeman earlier turned down the role of Bilbo Baggins, but will star in New Zealand's next Tolkien blockbuster
Oct 30, 2010
The Hobbit movie project finally comes together with most of the principals announced while a few others iron out schedule conflicts or contractual details. The project lost director Guillermo del Toro when it ran over time, but gained Martin Freeman to take the lead role of Bilbo Baggins, who otherwise had a conflicting commitment to his BBC television hit series, Sherlock.
Several of the leading characters continued from this first Hobbit adventure into Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it seems likely that the actors who played them in the LOTR movies have been biding their time before signing contracts for this so far troubled project.
The Hobbit Movies
Producers of the Hobbit Movies:
Director of The Hobbit and There and Back Again
Peter Jackson took over from del Toro who terminated a long involvement with The Hobbit under the weight of uncertainty and delay that beset the pre-production phase of the project.
The Hobbit or There and Back Again (1937) JRR Tolkien, also author of its Lord of the Rings sequel trilogy
Confirmed Cast of The Hobbit Movie
The confirmed signed up casting for the Hobbit was jointly announced in Warner Brothers/New Line press releases October 2010 to January 2011.
Photo of life-sized model of Gollum taken by Val Williamson in the Weta Cave, Miramar, Wellington, NZ
Musical Score of The Hobbit Movies
Canadian composer, Howard Shore, composer of The Lord of the Rings Symphony and the LOTR sound-track, returns to compose the score for The Hobbit.
Key Creative Personnel
Confirmed locations: Matamata Becomes Hobbiton
Hobbiton is being built at Matamata New Zealand as a permanent inhabitable site unlike previously, where it was burnt down (as part of the storyline) before its tourist potential had truly been recognised. The Green Dragon near the Bywater Bridge will be remade as a permanent stone structure rather than the polystyrene blocks used for LOTR.
New Zealand Lord of the Rings tourists are known to return again and again to key locations that form the nucleus of their focus, but a substantial Hobbiton, where they can actually stay in houses built to conform to normal building regulations, will be an important new factor. Whether the party tree set will remain is as yet unclear.
Weta Releases Grateful Hobbit Movie Statements
The Hobbit bill has passed its first reading, yet controversy and developments from this week's film industry events in New Zealand raise more speculation
Oct 29, 2010
29 October 2010: As the country's key movie industry players make statements of gratitude for taking action to secure The Hobbit, local press backlash hits the government. Conversely, the positive effects include confirmation from James Cameron that he wants the Avatar sequel projects to go to New Zealand.
Sir Richard Taylor and Sir Peter Jackson have released statements thanking New Zealanders and others for their support in keeping The Hobbit movie-making project in New Zealand. Both statements through the website of Weta, the digital effects company that only days ago believed that it's future involvement with the project could be in jeopardy.
Sir Richard Taylor, creative director of Weta, with Tania Rodger, said, "Everyone here has tried to stay optimistic for a positive outcome but in the darkest days of the past week it has been the amazing support from the fans ofLOTR (Lord of the Rings) and our family and friends which has given us the resolve to stay cheerful and positive about the outcome for these films.
It is a fantastic result reported tonight by our Prime Minister, the Honourable John Key, and we are grateful for the support of our Government in recognising the challenges our film industry was facing. We are also very pleased that Warner Bros are happy to continue to see these films made in New Zealand – and thank them for their efforts.
Weta Digital Special Effects
Weta is not a studio, it does no casting or film crew hiring and does not make its own productions. But it does provide permanent employment for a range of craft technicians from local and international origins. It will be handling a range of work, from character creation to 3D effects for the new Avatar projects if talks with Cameron are successful. The company reports continued growth and success since its participation in the first Avatar film.
The Los Angeles Times quotes significant figures for Weta's contribution to New Zealand’s screen industry, which it says, employs 7,000 people and supported 2,673 companies in 2009. Most of the growth in the NZ industry has been in the digital graphics, animation and effects business, where revenue swelled to $196 million in 2009. Weta Digital is the largest of these players, having continually attracted globally prestigious contracts since the Lord of the Rings.
Sir Peter Jackson was a founder partner in establishing the Weta Workshop in Wellington in 1993, and was a key player in securing government support for the then highly speculative proposed Lord of the Rings project in the late 1990s, yet was somewhat vilified in the NZ press in the recent Hobbit dispute.
Weta's fan-friendly website quotes that Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh stated on 28 October, "We are grateful to the Government for introducing legislation which shall give everyone in the film industry certainty as to their employment status. This clarification will provide much needed stability and reassurance for film workers as well as investors from within New Zealand and overseas."
Jackson continued, "I feel enormous gratitude to the film technicians, actors and fans who came out in support of making these films in New Zealand. To the thousands of people who took the time to write and let us know they were with us - thank you. It made all the difference."
Film Industry Legislation
Ironically, the law governing employee rights need not have been tampered with if an Australian union had not waded in and fostered international unrest among certain key workers. Now, legislation specific to the film industry, passed in the New Zealand parliament on 28 October 2010, renders contract employees in New Zealand, especially actors, potentially worse off in the long-term.
All because the initial protests made a huge movie company nervous about investing $500 million in a NZ based project. Or maybe everything in Hollywood is not as it may seem, in this instance?
Complexity in The Hobbit situation was also fuelled by the dire financial straits of MGM, which could be about to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy if its investors continue to fend off a variety of bids from alternative sources. One of these bids is from Spyglass, who were instrumental in getting MGM into the deal for The Hobbit, the Wall Street Journal reports.
MGM's involvement in the Hobbit movie, currently financially underwritten by Warner Brothers, could then boost its flagging DVD and video sales with the likely longevity of such a family-friendly product.
Mike Spector and Lauren A.E. Schuker 'MGM Drama Nears Climax' Wall Street Journal 28 Oct 2010
Richard Verrier 'Hobbit' casts cloud over New Zealand's 'filmmaker's paradise' Los Angeles Times 26 October 2010
Economics of film-hosting stressed as Warner Brothers gain NZ government agreement to legislation securing tax break and labour law changes to seal the deal
Oct 27, 2010
It is announced today, 27 October 2010, that the new Peter Jackson production of The Hobbit, the two-part prequel to his Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, will after all be produced in New Zealand. The announcement follows weeks of speculation and industrial action, culminating in a visit to New Zealand by Warner Brothers executives for talks with government and other stakeholders.
On Tuesday New Zealanders took to the streets to demonstrate their support for the project, due to begin filming in February 2011 whatever the choice of studio facilities. The London Harry Potter studio is vacant following the wrap of the final episode in June, and began to be mooted as an alternative when Australian and NZ actors' union boycotts sparked a heated debate.
A statement in support of the project remaining in New Zealand was read out to the demonstrators on behalf of NZ born Jackson. It read: "New Zealand is where "The Hobbit" films should be made. The creative DNA is here. This is where Middle Earth was born, and this is where it should stay." (American Public Media)
Industrial Action Fails for New Zealand Filmmakers
The original protests held by a NZ actors' union and supported by powerful UK and USA industry unions hinged around a specific feature of New Zealand employment law that could impact expensively on production costs for this and future movie projects. Employment law specialist Jane Latimer told Derek Cheng at the New Zealand Herald that a new law would have to be introduced to ensure film workers hired as contractors would retain that as their legal status.
"It would almost have to be The Hobbit Amendment Act. It would have to be a special amendment to the law just for this case. Then that is a guarantee," Ms Latimer said.
It seems that laws to protect contract workers from long-term negative effects in the local employment environment will have to be revised, since their current benefits were successfully invoked by craft workers in the Wellington film and television industry. A ruling in 2005 declared a movie model-maker's contract to be long-term, whatever the employer had intended, a possibility which has far-reaching financial implications for such a complex yet economically fragile industry.
Tax Benefits Further Inducement for Warner Bros.
After talks with Warner Bothers' representatives yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, agreed that the decision rested largely on legal clarification that contracts signed could not later be overturned by the courts. Hence 'The Hobbit Ammendment' will need to be enacted.
The Minister also awarded an extra $25 million in tax benefits to the movie companies involved in the project as an additional inducement to keep not only the Wellington film industry healthy but boost the multi-billion dollar tourist spin-off continuing from The Lord of the Rings.
The Hobbit part one begins filming February 2011 for exhibition in December 2012, with part two due for exhibition in December 2013.
Following the mammoth success of The Lord of The Rings, produced in New Zealand, anticipation for production of The Hobbit there caused a lot of excitement!
Oct 27, 2010
The Hobbit marches in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2010 concerned terms and conditions of employment for film industry workers. Wellington has the largest movie production facilities in the southern hemisphere and a large number of trained studio crafts-persons with production and post-production skills. The protests, however, have been driven by an actors’ union alleged to have less than 200 members.
Warner Brothers issued a press release 21 October 2010 casting doubt on whether NZ gets the studio work for the Hobbit. Their company New Line, together with project partners, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, wish to take the project to New Zealand, which has called itself 'the home of Middle-Earth' since the first of The Hobbit sequel Lord of the Rings movies was launched in 2001. They cannot, however, countenance the cost of allowing full unionisation of labour on the shoot given certain constrictions of New Zealand law.
Are Film Industry Workers Employees or Contractors?
The Hobbit strike revolves around an argument about whether workers in the film industry are legally employees or contract workers. This affects their long-term rights and is a re-emergence of a problem that had been thought settled by a Supreme Court judgement made in 2005. It was then judged that, whatever the job description, anyone in New Zealand working long-term, whatever the type of contract they signed, is regarded as an employee.
The cost implications for the filmmaker would be astronomical if that judgement were to prevail upon the arrangements for the forthcoming two-movie version of The Hobbit. The economic loss to New Zealand of the movie not being made there is estimated to be even higher. In a country of relatively small population with thousands of film industry craft workers at all levels, from actors to animators, the loss of so lucrative a project would be crucial.
The Screen Actors Guild finally lifted its ‘Do not work’ directive, which had supported the New Zealand Actors’ Equity action, on 21st October 2010. Had the implied further global union action continued, it may have spelled the end for the project. After a series of marches and demonstrations continuing for over a month, peace is breaking out in the Shire, it seems.
The Hobbit Production Benefits to New Zealand
Warner Brothers representatives met with the NZ Prime Minister for talks on 26 October, a visit that invoked further marches and demonstrations, this time in favour of the deal. The two-movie production deal is said to involve costs of at least $500 million, which investment in the two movies in New Zealand would be significant for the NZ film industry.
Finally the announcement has been made that Warner Brothers are committed to these movies being made in Wellington, probably sweetened by Prime Minister John Key's guarantee of a change in employment law to recognise the contractual nature of many filmmakers' jobs, the so-called 'Hobbit Amendment', and a further tax inducement to bring the deal to New Zealand.
Warner Brothers will be handling the distribution of these two 3D movies, and have made a good start on their marketing with the protracted casting process, which has had the 'scuttlebut' rattling for several months. Several noted British actors will star, led by Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown.
Val Williamson (2006) 'New Age Netizens or Cultivated Community? Keeping the Dream Alive, Online' in Inter-Active Audiences edition of Diegesis: Journal of the Association for Research into Popular Fictions, Vol. 9 (based on a research project about The Tribe, a product of New Zealand Film and TV company Cloud 9 Screen Entertainment Group, at studios based in Wellington)
Richard Verrier, 'Warner Bros. says 'The Hobbit' may not shoot in New Zealand after all' Los Angeles Times 21 October 2010
Fans of film and television shows travel across the globe to inhabit screen landscapes. How may a film student interpret this expressive audience behaviour?
May 6, 2011
Initially, many film-makers may have disregarded the importance of the places they chose as filming locations outside of their usefulness in the actual creative process. After all, the filmmaker does not usually benefit financially from any tourism that ensues. What is certain now is that, in a world of global travel and global communication, screen-tourism is such a major economic factor for governments that screen industries are benefitting by way of incentives to film in certain locales.
I have recently taken screen-location tours while on vacation in Australia and New Zealand, which brings to mind courses I once taught around the theme of 'space and place in narratives'. Before I write about my individual screen-related tours, it seems useful to consider the overall phenomenon of screen-location tourism, some of the factors operating to promote it, and the dilemmas it seems to pose in academia.
Theorising Screen Location Tourism
Cinematography of place is a special art, presenting a range of technical challenges, yet delivering significant pleasure to the audience. As Beeton points out in her introduction to Film-induced Tourism, the link between tourism and popular narrative has long been established. Beeton draws on the anthropological work of MacCannell that suggests that the fictional association adds meaning to a place, even if the evidence of place as experienced in the fiction has been removed. Cinematography of landscape seems to add further to this 'meaning', yet the majority of research into screen-location tourism tends to disregard the expressive function of place in this context.
Researching and theorising screen-location tourism has proved problematic, falling between the disciplines of media audience research, tourism industry research, and theories about place and culture, raising many questions:
The film student perspective finds focus within audience studies and cultural theory, ranging well beyond basic uses and gratification theory.
Screen Location Tourism in Britain
Stefan Roesch shows, in his overview to The Experiences of Film Location Tourists, that the British Tourist Authority, Visit Britain.com, which has developed movie location maps and guides for several decades, was the first tourism agency to do so. It was the first to share the map via the internet and is now providing a frequently updated resource for a variety of screen-location tourists from all over the world, most recently fans of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 1.
Film location tourism has had a major impact on many parts of the UK, rather more on settings than actual sites. Interest in visiting locations used for popular films, including landscapes such as the Scottish Highlands, Derbyshire Peak District and the Lake District, has continued to grow. Classic film and TV productions made on location in the UK have dramatically increased film tourism at certain historic sites and towns, and this effect continues for years afterwards, UK Film Council research found.
Screen's Active Audience Inhabits History
A new production of Pride and Prejudice increases visitor numbers to the actual stately homes and country houses that feature in that production, while fans continue to visit the houses used by filmmakers in previous productions. The successful 2010 television series, Downton Abbey, will have increased visitors to Highclere Castle, where it is filmed, and other similar houses where the servants' quarters and work-places are accessible. It seems that viewers like to insert themselves into the past through the fictions.
So how does an intending film industry professional understand what this signifies? Does screen-location tourism constitute a similar type of audience activity as attending a Star Trek convention, for instance? Or is wearing fancy dress and meeting the actors of favourite characters a different audience experience?
There seems to be a difference between visiting a movie or television series studio set and taking part in tours of landscapes that provided actual screen-locations. This difference will be further discussed in considering Neighbours and Lord of the Rings tourism, but it suggests a complex relationship between fantasy and reality.