Principal photography of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy

Principal photography of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy

Principal photography for "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy was conducted concurrently in New Zealand from October 11, 1999 through to December 22, 2000 for 274 days. Pick-up shoots were conducted annually from 2001 to 2004. The trilogy was shot at over 150 different locations,"The Making of the Movie Trilogy" by Brian Sibley, 2002, ISBN 0-00-713567-X] with seven different units shooting, as well as soundstages around Wellington and Queenstown. Jackson directed the whole production, while other unit directors included Alun Bollinger, John Mahaffie, Geoff Murphy, Fran Walsh, Barrie Osbourne, Rick Porras. Jackson monitored these units with live satellite feeds, and with the added pressure of constant script re-writes and the multiple units handling his vision, he only got around 4 hours of sleep a night. cite video| title = The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers "Appendices"| medium = DVD| publisher = New Line Cinema| date = 2003]

Peter Jackson described the production as the world's largest home movie, due to the independence and sense of family.cite video| title = The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King "Appendices"| medium = DVD| publisher = New Line Cinema| date = 2004 ] Barrie Osbourne saw it as a traveling circus. Fran Walsh described writing the script for the production as laying the track down in front of a moving train. Jackson also described shooting as like organizing an army, with 2,400 people involved at the height of production. Due to the remoteness of some of New Zealand's untamed landscapes, the crew would also bring survival kits in case helicopters couldn't reach the location to bring them home in time.cite video| title = The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Appendices|medium = DVD|publisher = New Line Cinema | date = 2002]

Schedule of Principal Photography

Late 1999

The first scene filmed was the Wooded Road sequence where the Hobbits hide underneath the tree from a Ringwraith. The focus was generally on "The Fellowship of the Ring" when the Hobbits try to reach Rivendell, such as a single night in Bree exteriors, this was done with the hopes that the four actors playing the hobbits would bond. Second units also shot the Ford of Bruinen chase and the deforestation of Isengard. Liv Tyler generally came to New Zealand for stunts, and spent five days on a barrel for Bruinen whilst riding double Jane Abbott got to ride on horseback.

During the first month of filming, an immediate event took place: Stuart Townsend was deemed too young to play Aragorn, and within three days Viggo Mortensen became his replacement, just in time to film the Weathertop sequence. Mortensen, who decided to take the role in part because his own son was a book fan, became a hit on set, going fishing, always taking his "hero" sword around and applied dirt to improve Ngila Dickson's makeshift look to his costume. He also headbutted the stunt team as a sign of friendship, and bought himself his horse, Uraeus, as well as another horse for Abbott.

Sean Bean began filming in November for most of his scenes. It was during this time shooting became focused on the battle of Amon Hen. Despite the focus on "Fellowship", floods in Queenstown prompted the crew to shoot mountain interiors from "The Return of the King" for Wood and Astin: a single day (November 24) of Astin's coverage from a pivotal scene. This would become a general failsafe measure if the weather disrupted the shooting schedule. Wood's coverage wouldn't be done until November 30, 2000.


A Christmas break followed, and filming resumed on January 17. Ian McKellen, fresh from filming "X-Men", arrived to film scenes in Hobbiton and the Grey Havens. McKellen did not become that close to the lead actors due to generally working with their scale doubles, but when Christopher Lee arrived in February, they became very friendly. Shooting the fight sequence in Orthanc interiors without air conditioning (for atmosphere) and with heavy wigs and robes was described by the actors as "murder". The Grey Havens sequence, which takes place at the end of "The Return of the King", was shot three times due to, firstly, Sean Astin forgetting his vest after lunch and secondly, an out-of-focus camera.

While the Hobbit leads had scenes in Hobbiton and Rivendell exteriors in Kaitoke Park with new arrival Ian Holm, Mortensen, Bloom and Rhys-Davies filmed scenes involving the Rohirrim countryside. Mortensen broke his toe kicking an Orc helmet on camera, Bloom fell off his horse and broke a rib, and the Gimli scale double, Brett Beattie, dislocated his ankle. They spent two days as the injured for the hunting sequence seen in the second film. Soon after, they spent a month of day shoots at Helm's Deep and another three months of night shoots handled by Mahaffie, in Dry Creek Quarry outside of Wellington. Mortensen himself though would get a tooth knocked out and Hill was hit on the ear with the flat of a sword. The extras insulted each other in Maori and improvised stunts, primarily as those dressed in Uruk-hai prosthetics got extremely cold.

The production got larger, with Wood and Astin shooting scenes in Mount Ruapehu for Emyn Muil and Mount Doom. On April 13 2000, Andy Serkis joined the cast. During this shoot, cross coverage was used for a pivotal scene in "The Return of the King". In the meantime, prologue scenes and the Battle of the Black Gate were shot, during which Sala Baker put on the Sauron armour. The latter was filmed at a former mine field in the Rangipo Desert, and soldiers served as extras. The Fellowship then reunited with the return of Sean Bean, as they proceeded to shoot the Moria sequence [cite news| last = Davidson| first = Paul| title = The Fellowship at Moria| publisher = IGN| date = 2000-05-29| url =| accessdate = 2006-11-14] and the Rivendell interior, including 5 days of dull coverage for the Council of Elrond.

In July they began shooting scenes with Cate Blanchett on soundstages for Lothlórien, [cite web| title = One Year of Principal Photography| publisher = The One| url =| accessdate = 2006-10-15] as well as a week of exterior shooting for the farewell sequence.

Edoras was built on Mount Sunday, and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was shot in Twizel with 250 horses.

As filming ended, the nine actors portraying the Fellowship got an Elven 9 tattoo, bar John Rhys-Davies, who sent his scale double. Jackson and Bernard Hill got an Elven 10, and Hill and Mortensen founded the C-Bago club, the c standing for 'cunt'. Originally, the cast members promised each other they would not show the tattoos on-camera. However, Sean Astin shows his (on his ankle) on an Oprah appearance, justifying the move by pointing out Elijah Wood showed his to Jay Leno and Orlando Bloom accidentally shows it in Pirates of the Caribbean .


Pick-ups were conducted from 2001 to 2003 for six weeks every year to refine each film's edit. For the first two films they often returned to sets; for the third, they had to shoot around the clock in a car park full of set parts. Pick-ups provided a chance for cast and crew to meet in person again, and during "The Two Towers" pick-ups, Sean Astin directed a short film entitled "The Long and Short of It".

Notable scenes filmed in the pick-ups included "The Two Towers" Extended Edition's flashback with Boromir, and the reshot Witch-king scenes with his new helmet design for "The Return of the King", the latter with improved Orc designs and the new character of Gothmog. Théoden's last scene was reshot just after he finished; Bernard Hill was still in New Zealand. Andy Serkis also had to shoot a scene in Jackson's house during post-production.

The final and only pick-up in 2004 were shots of falling skulls in "The Return of the King" as part of an extended Paths of the Dead scene. Jackson joked that "it's nice to win an Oscar before you've even finished the film".

Environmental impact on conservation areas

The filming was not without some level of concern over the environmental impact on the many film locations within National parks and conservation areas managed by the Department of Conservation. Wingnut Films Limited required and were granted a permit or 'concession' from the Department of Conservation to film within National Parks and other conservation areas. The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand and the Tongariro/Taupo Conservation Board considered the concession was questionably processed by the Department of Conservation. The concession permit (granted to Wingnut Films Limited) incorrectly allowed activities, such as fantasy filming and vehicles off roads at Tongariro National Park, that were not consistent with park management plans. The ecological significance of an internationally important wetland was ignored. The process was rushed through without public involvement in spite expressions of concern from the Tongariro Taupo Conservation Board. Considerations of effects and their mitigation were not rigorous. The process facilitated access to public conservation lands for a large-scale operation that ultimately had nothing to do with conservation purposes the Department of Conservation is required to promote. [Johnson, S. 2002. 'The Lord of the Rings and Vertical Limits Film Concessions and the Conservation Act 1987', 4 Butterworths Resource Management Bulletin Vol. 11:125-129, Butterworths of NZ, Wellington, New Zealand.]

The filming of parts of ‘Lord of the Rings’ in Tongariro National Park caused enough disturbance to some areas of the Park, (including one known locally as 'Orc Road') that contractors had to be hired to restore the areas later. In December 2005, a contractor won an award from the Department of Conservation for their restoration work. ["Russell and Trevor Le Quesne, trading as TPP Contracting, are local earthworks contractors who have completed work in a very sensitive and effective manner on Mt Ruapehu over the last five years. Their first job in Tongariro National Park was the restoration of areas such as ‘Orc Road’ disturbed during the filming of parts of ‘Lord of the Rings’." [ Tongariro/Taupo Conservation Awards 2005] , Department Of Conservation Regional Awards, retrieved 1 February 2008.]


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