NewsWire: Fans flocking to 'Rings' Web site - The Hollywood Reporter
by Stephanie Scherer
LOS ANGELES - When Joram Manka was a Minnesota high school student reading the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, little did he know that his fascination with the author would lead him to a full-time job as the webmaster of a site devoted to New Line Cinema's upcoming film adaptations of Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
Manka is not unlike other fans getting the chance to have their say online. While studios scramble to create Web sites for their films, fans are posting their own sites and weighing in on everything from casting decisions to script developments for such highly anticipated efforts as "Star Wars: Episode II" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
Manka said he wanted to create a site that offered Tolkien fans "great content and a place where [they could] discuss something they love." In 1998, when he heard that director Peter Jackson would be adapting "Lord of the Rings" and shooting all three installments simultaneously in New Zealand, Manka started a Web site to give fans an inside peek into the films.
This summer, Manka received an offer from Fandom.com, an Internet company catering to fans of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, to move from Minnesota and run his site from the company's Santa Monica headquarters. He now works on salary for Fandom as the sole content provider for fandom.com/ringbearer.
Michael Regina runs another "Rings" site, TheOneRing.net, out of Montreal. The site began as a venture among Regina and three partners and has since transformed into a corporation with a staff of about 30 contributors from throughout the world. TheOne Ring.net profits from advertising on the site, but the money goes mostly to charity.
Manka receives much of his site's rumors and news from other publications, but a great deal of his information comes from "someone on the set" or New Zealand correspondents. Likewise, Regina credits "intrepid Kiwis" and other anonymous "regular contributors who are in the production."
An average of 5,000-10,000 unique visitors log on to the "Rings" sites daily to view set photos, read interviews with cast members and discuss how faithful the cinematic adaptations of the books will be.
Perhaps the biggest kick for Regina is the effect TheOne Ring.net has on Jackson and the actors appearing in the films.
"When we do something that kind of ticks [Jackson] off, I get phone calls late at night from various people saying, 'Peter wasn't too happy about this,' " he said.
New Line vice president of worldwide interactive marketing and development Gordon Paddison said, "We have the complete support of the production in terms of our strategy in dealing with fan sites."
That strategy involves Paddison remaining in contact with webmasters like Manka and Regina and even linking their sites to New Line's official site for the films.