It is not always possible to produce a lengthy, detailed Cinefex story to coincide with the release of every complicated effects film.
Some readers have taken us to task, on our Facebook page, for the timing of our editorial selections. After all, you got your Titanic issue before that movie came out, and you had Avatar to read when you got back from the theatre, right? What’s the deal with Hobbit?
Firstly, production of a Cinefex story relies on filmmaker cooperation. We cover the whole film, no compromises. Titanic and Avatar appeared on their release dates because Don has a unique relationship with James Cameron. Jim didn’t even mind Don ‘spoiling’ the ending of Titanic because everybody knew the ship sank. Peter Jackson, too, has been very kind to us. Ten years ago, we pulled off a coup with Peter’s King Kong and The Lord of the Rings films. But back then we had the budget to visit Wellington in person, and the filmmakers were able to spend time with us a few months before they completed their movies.
On The Fellowship of the Ring, Don Shay flew out to gather interviews in New Zealand, and then we all chipped in — Jody doing the writing, me doing interviews with LA-based vendors. I was solo Ringbearer for Peter’s next three films. That was a fantastic experience, particularly on The Return of the King when after a week of interviews I went on a ten-day tour of New Zealand’s South Island — for safety’s sake, I Fedexed my tapes back to Don before leaving on my hike, just in case I fell into a volcano. That allowed us, with a degree of educated guesswork, to deliver stories for those films bang on their December theatrical releases.
It was still a white-knuckle ride. Many times, I was writing blind, based on work-in-progress, which in some cases was only gray-shaded previz or pipe-dreams based on what Peter imagined might appear in the film. I had Tolkien’s books to guide me, but I vividly recall as the lights came up after my first viewing of The Two Towers I had to point out to Don that I had messed up the ending of the battle at Helm’s Deep. That page of my story had not yet been printed, so Don allowed me to rewrite one paragraph, rearranging letters like a word puzzle so he could break the type and re-set that page, at some cost, to make that portion of my story align with Peter’s film. Ironically, Peter later recut the scene for his extended edition, restoring it to how he and Tolkien originally described it: with ents attacking Uruk-hai after Saruman’s army flees Gandalf and the Riders of Rohan.
I also made a huge leap of faith while writing about Peter’s Kong. When I did my interviews for that film, three months before the movie’s completion, neither the filmmakers nor I were sure if the Central Park ice skating scene in was going to be in the movie. The miniature effects crew told me about how they built the beautiful 1/10-scale frozen lake environment, and I had to go back and re-interview the animation team to ask them about that because — I think — no one was sure how that scene would play, where the hunt for Kong through New York City essentially pauses to allow for a last moment of happiness between Ann Darrow and the ape. The scene drew some flak from critics, but I thought it was an inspired moment that beautifully set up the final tragedy, so I was very gratified to have gone the extra yard to include detail on that scene.
So it’s a high-wire act, and it’s not something we take lightly, choosing what goes into which issue of the magazine. Not only could we, potentially, sell more magazines by having a chronologically hot movie on the cover; the studios always prefer us to have ‘day and date’ delivery, hitting their release dates. It is a big feather in their caps for any publicist to get a massive 32-page cover story on their baby. But we have to pick our battles, and I am sure Don and Jody will not mind me saying our first installment on The Hobbit was a tough one, both for fact-gathering and imagery.
If you’ve seen Peter Jackson’s recent video production diaries for the second Hobbit film, you will know the filmmakers are currently working flat-out to complete their movie by the end of November. If we had been covering their film in our December issue, our story would have been written a month ago, and all images would have to be going to press right now.
This year, we decided we had a wealth of riches to choose from in our December issue – and, I must say, I am very proud and gratified to have been able to go into detail covering Gravity. We hope that by giving Peter and his team time to complete their second Hobbit film, our story on The Desolation of Smaug in March will be deeper and more accurate, with better images than we could ever have obtained for December. So be patient, gentle readers, you’re getting that one in the Spring.
Good things are worth waiting for.