Elbren: First, thanks so much for taking the time tell us more about Ancanar! Many Tolkien and Middle Earth fans are very excited about your film, and I suppose that’s because it is touted as “made with the hearts of the fans of J.R.R. Tolkien in mind.” Besides being Tolkien fans yourselves, why make that statement? Is it due to the depth and richness of the Ancanar world, (languages, history, epic tale); or, will Tolkien fans recognise the tale itself, or something else entirely?
Sam: This movie wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the fans of Tolkien’s world. Back in 1999, I was prepping to shoot a short (15-30 minute) film called Elessar, about the younger days of Aragorn when he dwelt in Imladris. I had brought Raiya on board to play Arwen, and didn’t really plan on doing much with the film besides showing it for free online (since the rights were obviously tied up elsewhere…). But when members of the online community heard about it, I got flooded with emails and kicked off Hotmail. So I thought, well, if there’s such a huge community as much in-love with this kind of material as I am, why not shoot a feature? We tried to get the rights to The Silmarillion, my favorite book, but there’s no way the Tolkien Estate is letting go of that. So I wrote an original story.
Raiya: There is a definite spirituality to Tolkein’s ideoology, a way of seeing the world that is unique to his works. It was written in a different time. During World War II, the demarcations between good and evil were clearer than they are now. His writing, whether he believes it himself or not, reflects that. “…There’s still some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for.” are the words of Sam Gamgee and it reflects what the heart of Tolkien’s writing is about. It’s why we make this film.
Elbren: As I mentioned, the Ancanar world is rich with a history and language of its own. Were these elements ‘born’ due to the very nature of the Ancanar concept and the subsequent tale; or, did you purposely create them to add a more epic feel to the movie?
Raiya: I think Ancanar feeling “epic” is secondary to its story. The story begins small, with one character’s journey. It’s a journey about life and death, why we’re here and how magic, be it great or small, places a role in it. In order for the nature of this tale to take place, Ancanar‘s world must be believably mystical itself.
Sam: A lot of the creation happened without my knowledge. I’d be trying to think of, say, Curugon’s motivation, and all of a sudden a century of back story appeared. The entire Books of Lore on Ancanar.com chronicle the history of the Rammoth and its people, their relationship with the Elves, up to the early life of Ancanar. There’s pages of it; not the easiest stuff to read, I think. But we put it online not only to get people familiar with the story and characters, but to show that we’re not interested in creating a “fluff” sword-and-sorcery tale with little to no substance. Each character has a father, grandfather, great-grandfather… Ancanar’s entire journey is based upon his legacy, and couldn’t exist without it.
Elbren: I wouldn’t imagine that Ancanar is an “action/adventure flick”, based on what I’ve seen on the website, it seems to be more of a character based movie and observing those characters nature and make their individual epic “hero” journeys, (refering to the Joseph Campbell concept of the epic hero journey). Is that an accurate image? What will we experience, or what do you hope that moviegoers will experience, when they see Ancanar?
Sam: Very often, when Raiya and I are faced with a hard creative choice, we make our decision based on the idea we set out with: that this movie is a character movie, not driven by action or special-effects. I don’t necessarily think that moviegoers will connect with every aspect of Ancanar’s character — he’s very much an anti-hero — but there are some pieces of humanity in his story that we can all relate to. My favorite story in The Silmarillion is Turin Turambar; it’s so immensely sad, poignant, moving. I was inspired by how Turin only wanted to do what he felt was right, but his decisions often went awry and everything he possessed passed away. Whatever he gained, or wanted, he would lose.
Raiya: My parents used to say, “Magic still exists. You just have to know where to find it.” I would like people who see the film to come away with this feeling. Through the course of the story, it becomes a hero journey. Most of the characters in the film are on their own “hero journey” that happen to cross paths when our story unfolds. Tolkien, through his writing, has been an enormous influence on us. We love fantasy. The dark fairy-tale. Much like the original Brother’s Grimm stories, it’s about good and evil and the convergence of the two within each of us.
Elbren: Tolkien fans have been made privy to one director’s vision of a glorious, heroic epic tale, (for instance, Peter Jackson’s Fellowship and TTT and Bakshi’s LOTR animation movie), and seen how ‘pace’ can become the overriding factor in the film experience, as opposed to story and character. For that matter, epic films cannot be easy to transcribe to the big screen; or, are they? How did you approach bringing such a tale through the camera? In your approach, is pace/action so critical to a movie that one (sometimes) must sacrifice character portrayal?
Raiya: We actually never thought much about time. We would shoot a scene and however long it took for the truth of the scene to reveal itself is how much time we took. It was never: “Hey, would you hurry up and have your cathartic moment? We got lunch coming.” In this way, the scenes would never feel contrived or forced. This is a character driven piece, therefore, we make darn sure there’s enough time for that.
Sam: Take a look at earlier “epic” movies, such as Laurence of Arabia, Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Cleopatra… They are all paced MUCH slower than films today. We are in a time where the audience can take in more information at a faster pace. I don’t think, on the whole, it’s an attention-deficit issue — more of an evolution in thinking and processing. But there are times when you need to slow down, to take the necessary time for two people to fall in love, or become enemies, or learn trigonometry. If it happens in a series of quick cuts the suspension of disbelief is broken.
Elbren: What is the (projected) running time for Ancanar?
Sam: We can’t really say at this point. Definitely under three hours.
Elbren: Is there a score already written/recorded? Can you tell us about it?
Sam: The score has not been written yet, but Stuart (our composer) is already working on a number of themes and motifs. We’re all very adamant that it should sound unique, with authentic ethnic instruments from many cultures, not a traditional Hollywood score. Stuart composed the music for the trailer, which you can listen to on our Hear the Music page; it’s got some great subtle choral work using speech from the Rammoth dialect (Reamilya).
Elbren: You had 300,000 downloads of the new Ancanar trailer not too long ago; which was enough traffic to actually bring the server to a halt. Was that a surprise to you? How did the Ancanar team feel about that?
Raiya: It was definitely a surprise. A wonderful surprise. We had no idea that it would get that kind of traffic. It was quite the mixed blessing. “Hooray! Folks are watching our trailer! And it lasted for a whole whopping two days! Um, OK…”
Sam: By the end of that weekend, the trailer was downloaded over a million times. We had no idea that was going to happen. We didn’t really advertise, but I guess someone was paying attention, because we received a lot of write-ups. That whole weekend was a juggle, swapping the trailer from one server to another. But wherever it landed, the traffic would crash it. Fans started setting up mirror links, but they would get bombarded as well! Overall, once the smoke cleared, we were all very happy that so many people got to see it.
Elbren: When do you plan to make that trailer available again?
Sam: The trailer will premiere (for a second time) on IFILM this Friday, May 2nd.
Elbren: The rumour among Tolkien fans, or one of them, is that Ancanar has not been released yet due to distribution arrangements still pending. Can you confirm or deny this and elaborate on what the release plans are?
Sam: Is that the rumour? Actually it is because the movie is not done! There’s a lot of special-effects work to do, we have to score the film, loop it, mix the sound… So we’re still a little ways off. But we can say that, due to fan response, we plan on getting Ancanar to every continent, either in theaters or DVD.
Raiya: No, we’re just not finished with the film, yet. We don’t have the large scale crew that most Hollywood productions have, so needless to say, we have more on our plates than you might think.
Elbren: If you are unable to contract a distributor, will you release Ancanar directly to DVD/VHS? But then, I am sure that a digitally filmed movie should be seen on the big screen, yes?
Sam: You need to find a distributor even to sell the film on DVD/video. Usually you sell the film to a number of distributors — an American one, a foreign one, and an ancillary one (DVD, video, cable, etc). Sometimes one company can release a film in all those markets, but it’s rare.
Elbren: What has been the reaction and communication that you’ve received from Tolkien fans about this film thus far?
Sam: Very positive and supporting. We’re a big family, those of us who live by Tolkien’s works, and that’s the kind of support we get from the community. Our biggest concern is that we don’t come off looking like we’re trying to cash in on the current LOTR popularity, or that Ancanar is a knock-off in any respect. As I mentioned, pre-production began in 1999, and we’ve been in no rush to ship this out into the market. This is our baby, something we’ve loved and lived by for years; if it doesn’t honour Tolkien’s themes and respect those that worship his books, we haven’t done our job.
Raiya: We’ve gotten emails from people all over the world. There was an older gentleman who wrote us from Germany. He had read Tolkien’s stories when he was a boy. Now older, he delighted in seeing the style of fantasy he had loved as a child translating to the screen. It’s reactions like that that have kept us moving forward. Making Ancanar – it’s the hardest work we’ve ever done. But, when we know that somewhere out there that work matters to someone. It’s what fuels the fire.
Elbren: If Ancanar is a success, will there be other Ancanar-ish films, made with the hearts of Tolkien fans in mind? Any concepts for that at this time?
Raiya: Yes. But, as much as I love Tolkien, there are other kinds of fantasy that need to make their way into the world. Other lands, other places, dreamed up in the minds of many – new places that Tolkien fans would want to visit while taking their retreat from Middle Earth.
Sam: Honestly, I want to see more independent films made like this, by other people than us. If you’re a filmmaker, and you love this genre, you should just go make a movie and not let anything hold you back. We started this project as two people, lovers of fantasy, and now we are blessed to have millions of people interested in the story we have to tell. I think that should inspire any aspiring filmmaker to go pursue that dream that has always seemed just out of grasp.
Elbren’s note: The ANCANAR teaser trailer WILL be back online and available for download this Friday, May 2nd at IFILM: https://www.ifilm.com/
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