Real-life “Marlborough Man” Murray Wilson says he enjoyed his experience as a horse wrangler on Lord of the Rings.
Working on film set was a ‘reel’ experience, says Murray
by Trevor Ayson
The Blenheim horseman recently worked for a week on the set as a horse wrangler during filming near Twizel, in the Mackenzie Country.
The $US200 million Lord of the Rings trilogy film project, directed by Wellington’s Peter Jackson, has been filmed throughout New Zealand over the past year, with the first instalment due to be released late next year. The production has been recently criticised by a visiting American film consultant, Anna Wilding, who claimed New Zealanders hired to supply and ride horses were being treated like slave labour, because they were paid less than their counterparts in the United States and slept in tents. Murray disagrees with Ms Wilding, saying people are queuing up to take part in the movie. He has been competing with horses for a long time, so it was no worry for him to sleep in a tent.
The terrain near Twizel is a lot like the Awatere – very tussocky, says Murray.
The weather wasn’t the best – just about every day it was blowing a gale, and it even snowed a couple of times. Despite this, the showers and meals were top class, says Murray.
The showers were in an articulated truck and trailer unit, with plenty of hot water.
The food, served in a tent, was very good – a continuous smorgasbord, with plenty available for breakfast, lunch and tea, says Murray.
He talked with other wranglers employed for the movie, and says they were more than happy with the facilities. Murray was paid $112.50 a day after tax, and says the experience was worthwhile.
“I just wanted to go.” The offer of some horse wrangling work for Murray came from the top, the film’s horse coordinator Steve Old, who phoned him after a recommendation from a friend of Murray’s. Steve asked Murray if he was interested, and he had to make up his mind quickly.
“I didn’t know what I would be doing until I got there,” says Murray. He ended up wrangling, or handling, one of the major equine stars, a black stallion imported from Australia for galloping sequences.
Murray’s job was to hold on to the horse with just a rope, as the bridle had been taken off, and releasing the rope when action was called by the film crew.
At the stabling area, 3km from the film set, the stallion was very placid, but once on set he would get agitated, as he knew he was about to gallop. Murray was up at 4am each day, and was on set at 5am. The longest day he worked was 17 hours, the shortest was 14 hours. Filming with horses in the Mackenzie Country presented the film crew with a problem – rabbit holes, lots of them.
The biggest concern for the riders was that the ground on top of the rabbit holes would collapse with the weight of the horses, so people were employed to fill in the holes, says Murray.
He didn’t see one rabbit the whole time he was there.
All the horses were well fed and watered and cared for in the stabling area, chewing through a total of between 300 and 400 bales of lucerne a day. While he enjoyed being part of the Lord of the Rings experience, Murray is not interested in the subject matter – it’s not his cup of tea.
Murray had the opportunity to work longer on the film set, but opted to come home, as he has some work for New Zealand Bloodstock in the lead-up to the annual yearling sales at Karaka.