Larry D. Curtis, as part of the team at TheOneRing.net, has been comprehensively covering the works and adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien for more than a decade, making the not-for-profit site the leading source about The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings for fans and film makers world wide. Curtis is one of the lead content producers for the site and represents it at conventions and press functions. You can read his The Hobbit Countdown here at Movies.com every other week.
Peter Jackson, besides just making a two-part Hobbit film, is doing something remarkable in New Zealand. Using Facebook as a platform he is speaking directly to fans, as he has in the fourth of his video series, cutting out the people in the middle who have always served as filters between entertainers and artists and the general public.
The people in the middle are of course entertainment journalists and, more recently, bloggers, who once upon a time had a stranglehold on the information concerning flicks that reached the public. Stars or directors or studio executives could speak or give interviews as they wished but they never could directly control the content that reached viewers or listeners or readers. Now Jackson and his team can start their own storm of news without a single press conference or release.
But rather than being closed and cautious in his video series or showing talking heads in front of promotional backgrounds jabbering about how great everything is like many so called behind-the-scenes content, Jackson's team is presenting a striking number of scenes directly from the set full of costumes, props, actors and stunts from The Hobbit. He involves cast and crew, making momentary stars out of folks usually never seen. Thursday was only the latest release, but all of them can still be found with a little scrolling on his FB page, where he has around 400,000 likes and can present his information as he likes.
Jackson, with the mass consumption of social media, has not only circumvented the filter of writers and broadcasters, but he has done it in his own favorite media of film — or at least video. And, it is pretty damn entertaining. The latest episode, over 10 minutes long, goes into specifics about how The Hobbit is shot in 3D. Jackson touts his personalized Red Epic cameras (named largely after relatives, pets and the Beatles) and showcases the rigs and varied techniques that allow the film to be shot to maximize the illusion of extra depth. There is also a section with a funny gag about Alan Lee and John Howe teaming up to draw the two halves of 3D concept art which they look at while wearing the cheapest glasses available. The image actually works if you have your own glasses.
The video is infused with humor but also with potential scenes from the film. In one shot while trying to illustrate the 3D rigs getting in close around an actor's face, Bilbo Baggins himself (Martin Freeman) is shown with his head above trees with a smiling expression of wonder on his face against a green screen. This is, one can surmise, a famous moment in the book when the titular Hobbit momentarily leaves behind the darkness of Mirkwood Forest to discover the wonders of the forest canopy that includes butterflies. While the scene hasn't made the finished film by a long shot, book lovers can rest easy knowing it was shot because Jackson shared it with his Facebook friends a full year before the film smashes into theaters.
And the videos aren't (relatively speaking) quick slap-dash affairs; they have special effects, sound effects and story-telling graphics. The same team that shot and produced the award-winning LOTR extended edition DVDs is on the ground with Jackson and the quality on display hearkens back to those discs as well as the nearly weekly videos that came out of the King Kong production with Michael Pellerin at the helm and are still showcased on KongIsKing.net.
The good news for media, or at least for TheOneRing.net: All that content provides copious opportunity for fans and the geek press to break down the footage and imagery with debate and dissection of what is actually showing up on camera over shoulders or in front of screen. There is plenty in Jackson's one 11-minute video to fill an entire "Hobbit countdown", but Jackson isn't the only one releasing Middle-earth news in the last week.
Aint it cool?
AintItCool.com has reporter Eric Vespe (now Fredegar Chubb) currently embedded with the Hobbit cast and crew during two months of location shooting in New Zealand. Some of the filming occurred up north, particularly on the outdoor set where the Lord of the Rings filmed Hobbiton, but most everything happening now (during New Zealand's spring or early summer) is in remote locations on the South Island. Vespe will report every other week according to his introduction but his first two reports (the second can be found right here) were released much closer together than that, so only time will tell how many episodes will be presented before shooting shuts down for 2011. The first was released on Peter Jackson's birthday, October 31st and the second on Saturday, November 5th.
Yes, it is cool
TheOneRing.net had some good fortune and great content land in its lap last week as well. Before the rest of that content for fans to drool over landed, somebody on the ground in New Zealand happened upon a set in the process of being built and snapped a lot of images and some video and sent both to TORn. The collection of images (**SPOILERS** available here) showcased the beauty of the area and demonstrates the great care that is going into set dressing and detail on the project.
The video has since been removed, but the pictures are still on the incredible side as spy images go. While nobody can be legitimately worried about the spectacular landscape shots New Zealand will provide for The Hobbit films (scheduled for release in December 2012 and 2013) its nice to see such sights as a reminder of just how amazing things may look while we watch a bunch of Dwarves and a Hobbit march forward to fight a dragon. Speculators have mostly agreed that the structure belongs either to Dwarf-friendly, man-bear-warg Beorn or perhaps to the largely undefined wizard character of Radagast, a contemporary of Gandalf's.
So after weeks and months of very little publicity released about a film that is still a year away, in just a few days time, director-produced video detailing the 3D efforts on The Hobbit, two set reports from an embedded writer and anonymous photos all crop up. There is a sudden embarassment of riches with more defiitely coming. Anticipating and participating in the swan song of cinematic Middle-earth is shaping up to be pretty fun.
Expect some stories from New Zealand as TheOneRing.net produces some original content from the island nation in December.