On the Set of the Film - E! Online Gains a Full Day of Access to the Guarded Set...
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This month:Our trusty Wellington-based correspondent goes tramping through thick forests, down muddy paths and alongside goblin armies to spend a day with the hobbits--and the stars--on New Zealand's wild South Island.
7:30 a.m., December 11: After a bumpy flight over spectacular snow-topped mountains, miles of pine forest and raging rivers, I arrive at Queenstown's matchbox-size airport and begin the 90-minute drive to The Lord of the Rings set, a place called Paradise, located in the depths of a national park. It's perfect Tolkien country: wild, beautiful, inaccessible. Recent flooding has washed away sections of the road. Thankfully, we're riding in a four-wheel-drive--with big mudguards.
8:10 a.m.: We stop at a forest embankment, where a lone security officer with shorts--it's the height of summer in the Southern Hemisphere--and a laptop guards a set. It's a stairway leading up to ramparts and an enormous winged monster made of polystyrene but painted to look like old, moss-colored stone. Yesterday, Jackson filmed part of the Amon Hen battle here, with 100 Urak-hai warriors and the heroes. As temperatures soared, stunt actors playing the Urak-hai had cool air pumped into their costumes between takes. Interestingly, most of the Urak-hai stunt actors are women, who have more tolerance for the hot, heavy armor and prosthetics. Girl power!!
8:35 a.m.: We drive through the village of Glenorchy, into base camp (where the actors' and crews' trailers are located), then farther into the hills. I briefly meet director Jackson, who sits brooding in a large easy chair under a canopy on set 1A while the crew prepares needed equipment.
8:37 a.m.: The trees are so thick they provide cover from the morning rain. In a clearing, the crew is working on a dolly shot of the Fellowship running through the forest of Lothlorien, pursued by goblins. No dialogue, lots of extras and buckets of mud. Two giant painted polystyrene tree trunks border the set--later, the Fellowship will "climb" the trees (with help from WETA Workshops' special effects). Because Tolkien's Lothlorien forest features gold foliage, set decorators have scattered thousands of gold-painted leaves on the ground. Since this is a national park with strict rules, the crew must remove every leaf when shooting concludes. Somebody's got a lot of raking to do.