One of the best days of my career:
It was early March of 2003 and my husband Bill and I were in New Zealand for a venture capital forum and to meet with Prime Minister Helen Clark. We also witnessed the America's Cup Races and visited a sheep farm, sailing and sheep being primary pursuits of New Zealanders. All of these presented glorious memories of our third trip to New Zealand, a place we love for the great outdoors.
It was merely days before the launch of the Iraq War, when I cringed at the thought of shock and awe. We were about to hit a low point in American history, but I wasn't thinking of any of that the day we visited with Peter Jackson on location for The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
To be precise, the WETA production team was in the midst of editing the third of the trilogy movies, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It was mezmerizing to walk through the huge workshops where characters and props were being assembled and where those from the first two films of the trilogy were being stored. The tools and costumes of middle earth were coming alive right there!
I was particularly compelled by the editing teams, which took time to show us their early work on the third film. What was fascinating about this show and tell, was how focused they were on creating something more exciting in special effects than they provided in films one and two. In fact, what a look back shows us is that they worked rather hard at this. The Fellowship of the Ring, number one, had 540 special effects, The Two Towers, number two, had 799 and ultimately, The Return of the King, number three, had 1488. So no doubt, they upped the ante and wanted to satisfy what research told them: The audience wanted more.
But nothing we saw and heard, as remarkably complex and creative as it was, matched the mind of Peter Jackson. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Peter for the better part of 90 minutes to talk about a lot of things going on the world at the time, and also about his vision for the trilogy and the push to be the most creative studio in the world.
Michael Lynne, then-president of New Line Cinema, the studio that green-lighted and released The Lord of the Rings trilogy, was kind enough to set up the meeting. I thought it might be just a meet and greet and good bye. But, no, Peter invited us into his study, where he showed up in his trademark shorts, shoeless and sprouting an unruly beard. Luckily, he also brought his sense of humor, his creative nature and was willing to discuss the process of shooting three movies simultaneously, then editing them on three continents, 24 hours, round-the-clock. The WETA studios in Wellington, had the lead, but the Pinewood Studios in London had taken on much of the work. It was in London, too, that the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed much of the music. The New Line studios in Los Angeles, also weighed in. It was a monstrous undertaking, and Peter appeared in every way to relish the enormity of it.
It was the highlight of our visit to be sure. The best single day of our trip, and for me, having worked for so many years in the television business as Founder and CEO of USA Network and the Sci-fi Channel, one of the best days of my career.
So off I go to middle earth to see The Hobbit, the next trilogy creation from the creative mind of Peter Jackson and collaborators Fran Walsh and, Philippa Boyens. These will be the legacy that Peter and his team built. Both trilogies built on the Hobbit characters. For New Zealand, at last another hallmark beyond sailing and sheep.