Did you work on Lord of the Rings?
Waikato writer, film-maker Claire Ashton gives readers an insight into New Zealand’s movie industry.
No I didn’t …. When I tell people I’ve worked in the film and television industry in Wellington, I’m inevitably asked if I worked on Lord of the Rings, and the short answer is, no. This answer is invariably greeted with surprise and then disappointment that I don’t have tales to regale them with. And was I possibly crazy?
The story goes something like this: I was driving along, eyes peeled for a location, and eating a pie. This was a particularly good pie, an original recipe Patricia’s pie, not the imposter Trisha’s pie, when the phone rang. Of course I answered it as it was the era when talking whilst driving was okay. It was Brigit, the production manager of LOTR asking if I wanted to do locations on the movie. I was about to drive into the Mt Victoria tunnel, where I would lose reception, and think I replied, ‘Nah, it’s okay’, and hung up. Doh.
The fun part of location scouting was mostly finished, and I think what flashed across my mind was that I found it tricky enough to decide where to park one portaloo on a set, let alone half a dozen! The thing is, at the time no one had undertaken a film this big in Wellington, and I certainly didn’t know that such a thing as the transport department existed, guys who would move and park the trucks - oh and the loos. Okay, so I think I have spent enough time on the practicalities of shoots.
I never got the call again, I think they had an ‘‘X-file’’ for people who said no the first time. I didn’t disappear into Middle Earth. Instead I worked on ‘‘the other stuff’’, films like Stickmen, television series such as Skitz and commercials. There were other crew who did likewise of course too. There was enough work, more or less. And when there wasn’t, we made short films, and worked for free on other people’s short films and features. I completed writing courses, including a Masters Degree in Scriptwriting. It was there on a class field trip to the Miramar studios (where I saw lots of crew not sighted in years) that I met a hobbit. The main one, played by Elijah Woods. He was coming out of his trailer, in full costume and makeup. We had a chat, and he was friendly and nice.
As it’s a bit beyond the average writer’s budget, I have never actually made it into Hobbiton either, though I have driven past, and years ago as a member of the Waikato Hunt Club, we used to hunt over the Bucklands road property, beautiful rolling country with fantastic hedges to jump.
So... did I regret that decision? Hell yeah! My motto in life now? Always, always take the meeting.
The Hobbiton movie set remains a popular attraction for tourists.