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Hobbit Exclusive: Three Directors Talk Peter Jackson
Edgar Wright, Neill Blomkamp and Bryan Singer on PJ

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The honorary 'New Zealand's finest' is a tougher and tougher title to grasp these days, what with Richie McCaw lifting Rugby World Cups and Karl Urban bringing justice to Mega-City One as Judge Dredd. Still, it's safe to say that, with a more-than-illustrious filmography behind him, an entire film industry established, three Hobbit movies striding into view and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sitting in his garage, Peter Jackson won't be relinquishing the unofficial position any time soon. Empire spoke to three contrasting filmmakers, all with a debt to Jackson, about their respect and affection for the director.

Hobbit Exclusive: Three Directors Talk Peter Jackson

What was your first Peter Jackson movie?
Edgar Wright: I saw Bad Taste on video and Braindead opened when I was at art college in Bournemouth. If you were outside London, things like Bad Taste and Meet The Feebles just didn’t play. Weirdly, Braindead played at the UCI in Poole (laughs) and I remember going to see it on my own and being so blown away by it I immediately took some people back the next night. I liked Bad Taste but I was blown away by Braindead. Its ambition and visual invention was the most amazing thing I’d seen since Evil Dead 2 – I just couldn’t believe that he’d packed that much into a low-budget film. The spectre of Braindead kind of haunted me when I was doing Shaun Of The Dead, because I thought, “Wow, look what Peter Jackson managed to do on no money!”

Actually, the guy who did the make-up on Shaun, Stuart Conran, was one of the makeup people on Braindead, a British guy who’d gone to New Zealand. As soon as I saw Braindead on his resume, I hired him for Shaun Of The Dead. And it’s funny, I asked him how long Braindead took to shoot and he said it was about six weeks. Six weeks! Shaun Of The Dead was eight weeks [and] it felt like a real struggle. I kept thinking, “How did Peter Jackson do Braindead in that time?” Later, when I met Peter, I asked him and he said, “Oh, no, no, it was more like three months!” (laughs)

I’d kind of been haunted by how Peter Jackson managed to pull off that movie... But yeah that was the film I saw that I was utterly blown away by its ambition and how kind of relentless it was in terms of the number of visual gags. I always used to be annoyed that Empire only gave it two stars. For me, it hit the right spot when I was 18 or 19. I was thinking that is a five star movie!

Neill Blomkamp: The first one I saw was Braindead. I was in South Africa and about 16 when I saw it. Then the next films of his I saw were the Lord Of The Rings films. I was 19, I guess, because I was working in digital effects, and I started to follow the early internet buzz about those movies. I loved them but I always felt like an outsider to the lore of Tolkien. As I’ve got older I’ve got more interested in fantasy. But when I was in my early twenties, fantasy wasn’t really what I was into. Well, that’s not true - Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo were huge influences on me - but written fantasy wasn’t my thing. So I remember going into Lord Of The Rings being really excited about the visuals and the world that was being created, but I always felt like an outsider. But then when the films came out I loved them.

When did you first meet him?
Bryan Singer: We met many years ago at an Academy Awards party. He’s a big jokester and I have two fond memories of being in on his jokes. I helped him in moving around Ian McKellen’s schedule to enable him to play Gandalf, and Peter wrote me a thank-you note and sent me a copy of his documentary Forgotten Silver, which postulates that New Zealander invented cinema and comedy and made film from eggs. It apparently aired on New Zealand television and people believed that it was true. Consequently I was in New Zealand when I was making Superman Returns, and met Fran (Walsh, Jackson’s partner) and Peter out there. At 3am we decided to concoct this web log idea where he would claim he was too tired to direct and I had to come help him. We said that Richard Branson, who was doing a cameo in Superman Returns, had lent me a plane to go over there. We aired it, both from his point of view on KongIsKing.com and mine on SupermanLives.net, and people believed it was real. King Kong was on my IMDb for years!

That’s what’s fun about him: he doesn’t take stuff too seriously. I got to catch up with him while he was over in London doing some stuff for The Hobbit and I’m looking forward to visiting him over there again.

Wright: I remembering going to the Lord Of The Rings premiere in Leicester Square after finishing the second series of Spaced and that party at the Tobacco Docks. This is before I made Shaun Of The Dead so he wouldn’t have remembered me, but I managed to grab him on the stairs at the premiere party and tell him that he’d done an amazing job. I didn’t meet him for real until Shaun Of The Dead.

Hobbit Exclusive: Three Directors Talk Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson on the set of 1992's Braindead

What makes his work special?
Wright: All of Peter’s films come from a deep love of cinema, which is why I think I gravitate towards him as a favourite filmmaker. Even in something like Braindead, which is kind of so extremely splattery and has lots of gross-out gags, there’s a warmth to it. Its gleefulness is really infectious and it’s not a nasty movie. I think with all of his films, from Forgotten Silver to King Kong, there’s a huge love for the medium, full stop. I always find that comes across in all of his movies.

Blomkamp: With Braindead, I really liked it because of the lawnmower stuff. I really like hardcore genre stuff, where there’s no holds barred, no sugarcoating. That particular film is a humour-slash-gorefest. I just like the way it doesn’t pull any punches. That deeply resonates with me.

On District 9, Pete was very into that stuff. The thing with him is, despite his success, he seems to have a true, childlike love of filmmaking. He doesn’t seem to come at it from a business standpoint. There’s nothing other than a pure love of the craft of filmmaking. And with D9 and some of the splat stuff that has similarities with Braindead, he got very excited about. I remember that pretty clearly. He was completely into it. I remember one discussion I had with him about the third act, where Wikus starts vaporising mercenaries. I said, “Do you think we’re in danger of losing the audience?” He said, “Dude, go to town. Let’s just vaporise as many people as we feel like. The audience will be with him.” I was like, “Okay!”

Singer: Spending time on the set of Kong, it was very inspirational and educational for me in terms of approaching Jack The Giant Killer, which is a huge movie with giant characters interacting with real people, all driven by performance-capture. We’re using a lot of the same toys. He recently explained to me about the slave-cams for the dwarves and I talked to him about Simulcam, which James Cameron introduced me to. He’s just a brilliant, funny and cool guy.

What do you like most about him?
Wright: I think the thing that’s amazing about him is that he’s managed to find a way, even on films of the biggest scale, not to lose his sense of identity or the home-movie aspect of his production – and I mean that in a good way. Even though King Kong, Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit are on a large scale, they create this real sense of family about their shoots. I went down when they were shooting King Kong and it was very clear to me that they create this amazing vibe on set. They fall in love with all of their cast and characters and I think it’s very telling that people who have been involved in the films have emigrated there. I think they’ve created the world’s most magnificent cottage industry.

Blomkamp: There’s no question that the way my career has turned out, I owe a massive amount of gratitude to Peter Jackson. He will put his force behind a filmmaker he believes in and use that compass as his only direction. There is no exterior force that can influence him. And Halo (which Peter Jackson originally hired Blomkamp to direct) was a situation where he felt like the studio had messed him around, and done worse damage to me. Because of that he was like, “Don’t leave New Zealand on this note. Let’s figure out something you can work on where we can remove all the elements that made Halo a bad experience, so you can do what you want to do.”

He is pretty calm under pressure. He was prepping Lovely Bones at that point, so his attention was split between Halo and the prepping of a pretty big film. The times that he was focusing on Halo, which was fairly often, he was calm but frustrated by a process that was overly political. He never got riled up. He’s always calm and maintains a sense of humour.

When I started spending time with him, I always found I was aware of how much I liked him. He’s just very warm and funny. And when I was hanging out with him, he was always barefoot. He’s always cracking jokes and a friendly guy to hang out with. There’s no baggage, no ego. That was right at the beginning - I moved down to New Zealand for a week to meet them all, look around Weta, that was the beginnings of Halo. And I just found him very personable and nice.

Singer: His stamina is insane. That time when were up until three in the morning, he had a shoot the next day and he was showing me all the pre-viz. He looked at me and said, “I’m so glad I did all this before I started shooting because I couldn’t possibly think of coming up with this stuff once I’m on set!” He’s very hands-on with his pre-viz, especially with the Middle-earth movies - he gets in there and acts out all the creatures. He dives into them.

What interests do you share?
Singer: We’re both into film history and he’s a great collector, so I’ve got to spend time with him and look at the things he’s collected. The planes and all that, but my favourite thing is that he has the little miniature King Kong that fell from the Empire State Building. This tiny four inch thing that’s coated in embryonic mouse-hair! It’s eerie.

Wright: Like a lot of directors I know, Peter likes talking about other people’s films more than his own, so it’s Ray Harryhausen or James Bond. [He’s] a huge Bond fan, a huge Ray Harryhausen fan and a huge Planet Of The Apes fan, and he’s got this big collection of memorabilia with props and costumes from other movies. In fact, he showed me this shirt and said, “Oh, look what I bought on an auction site.” It was one of Shaun’s shirts from Shaun Of The Dead. I think there were seven of them and Peter has one so one of Simon’s sweat-stained, blood-stained Shaun shirts is in Wellington.

Blomkamp: We both have a complete love of guns. Real ones. My armoury is not quite as extensive as his, but tanks and guns - we both love that stuff. There’s a piece of land he owns and he’ll go there to shoot. It’s not letting off steam, just a love of World War II armaments. He’s also completely obsessed with World War I. I tend to prefer modern stuff, but a complete love of military technology, whether it’s from 1918 or from now, was definitely a common trait. Is there any item he’s jealous of? No, I have to do three huge, billion-dollar films before I can outbid him for anything. (Laughs)

Hobbit Exclusive: Three Directors Talk Peter Jackson

Edgar, how did that Hot Fuzz cameo come about?
Wright: I think we just asked him because he was going to be in London when we were shooting. He asked where we were shooting. I said, “We’re shooting in Somerset, do you want to do a cameo?” and he said, “Yeah, I’d love to.” So we gave him this Santa cameo. Now the funny thing was as we were shooting in Somerset, that’s like three and a half hours out of London but, being a New Zealander, he just treated it as an afternoon drive. Matt Dravitzki, his assistant producer, came down with Peter and they stayed at the Swan Hotel in Wells where Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent and other cast members were staying. We shot his cameo round the back of Wells Town Hall before we started a night shoot. It was an extremely taxing scene and the night before hadn’t gone very well, so we were behind and had various problems. I asked Peter what he wanted to do while we were filming: “Shall we set you up a table or something?” and he said “No, I want to watch you direct”. Oh, fucking hell! I think I actually raised my game that night because (a) I was behind, and (b) Peter Jackson was there. So he stuck around and sat in the corner, and Timothy Dalton and Kenneth Cranham and most people knew who he was but Billie Whitelaw, God bless her, had no idea. She went up and said, “Are you Edgar’s brother?”

Peter went back to his hotel at about 2am. Come 5.30am we’ve wrapped and I’m walking back to my place down the high street and the only other person on the high street is Peter Jackson, walking towards me. I was like, “I thought you were in bed?” and he said, “Well, I couldn’t sleep and it’s such a lovely morning so I thought I’d come out and take some photos”. Then I was walking around my home town with Peter at six in the morning with nobody else there, showing him Wells Cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace, the Moat and he’s taking photos. It was an extremely surreal and lovely experience. Then we came back to the hotel and the actors who had all got out of make-up, were having their evening drink at 6am. So in the hotel bar was like Timothy Dalton, Peter White, Jim Broadbent, Stuart Wilson, Kenneth Cranham and they were all having a glass of wine because they’d just finished work. We ordered tea and sandwiches, so Peter orders breakfast tea and some sandwiches. And Billie Whitelaw comes up behind Peter and says, “I’d like my fucking wine before he eats his fucking sandwich!” She still had no idea who Peter was and to his eternal credit he just laughed it off and thought it was hilarious.

I have very fond memories of that day and night of him coming down to visit, just hanging around on set and being a good luck charm. I actually got back on schedule because I tried to raise my game with Peter Jackson watching over my shoulder.

Interviews by Nick de Semlyen

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