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Wellington

Absolutely Positively

Sir Peter Jackson: a blockbuster tale

In an unassuming peninsula suburb in the world’s southernmost capital, an unassuming man leads an army of internationally acclaimed film-making talent.

Peter Jackson at Hobbiton 2
Sir Peter Jackson pictured in the Bag End set.

How The Hobbit director Sir Peter Jackson went from making movies on a budget of NZD$12 to some of the biggest grossing and most talked about films of all time is quite the tale.

Jackson’s films are known to be epic, but often the insights and access into his own world are brief. There’s the odd press conference, you can see what Wikipedia has to say, and fans can follow behind-the-scenes production videos posted on his Facebook page. But generally speaking Peter Jackson is private and unassuming, successfully avoiding the limelight.

An epic tale

The story of how a man from Wellington, New Zealand came to lead some of the most ambitious and successful film-making projects the world has ever seen, is part-fairytale, part-adventure, part-political thriller. It’s a story of an average Kiwi bloke doing extraordinary things; not just in recent years but from the age of 8, when Jackson made his debut film on his parents’ Super 8 Movie Camera in 1971. It was somewhat unsurprisingly a war movie of sorts, filmed in his garden. Already a multi-disciplined creative talent, as well as acting in and directing the film, Jackson designed the props and costume, hand-making wooden guns and borrowing old war uniforms from relatives. Toying with special effects from a young age, the 8-year-old poked pin holes through celluloid onto the barrel of his ‘gun’ frame-by-frame to simulate gun-fire.

This and many other anecdotes are found in the 2006 authorised biography Peter Jackson – A Film-Maker’s Journey, in which author Brian Sibley documents a life of perseverance, passion and preparation.

…throughout his childhood and adolescence, Peter Jackson was unwittingly auditioning to makeThe Lord of the Rings,” Sibley writes. “His hobbies and interests – passionately, even obsessively, pursued – were consistently preparing the man for the task.

Childhood fantasy

Fittingly born on Halloween on 31 October 1961, Jackson grew up in the small seaside community of Pukerua Bay, half an hour’s drive from central Wellington – New Zealand’s compact capital, recently hailed by travel publisher Lonely Planet as the ‘coolest little capital in the world’.

“I remember a lot of fun things from my childhood,” he tells Sibley in A Film-Maker’s Journey. “Pukerua Bay was a great place to grown up because it was a very small town but it was also surrounded by bush and forests; there were steep hills and deep gullies; there were the beaches and the rocks and the ocean and, only five miles away – but totally inaccessible – a mysterious fantasy island…”

That fantasy island was Kapiti Island, now much more accessible thanks to Kapiti Island Nature Tours. Ironically the Skull Island of Jackson’s boyhood fantasies would provide a landing refuge when a ship started taking on water and began to sink during filming for his 2005 re-make of King Kong.

Teenage talent

Film-making experiments dominated Jackson’s childhood and teenage years. Movie posters lined his bedroom walls, while home-made stop-motion puppets, masks and even a Kong atop the Empire State Building filled the shelves. As his late mother Joan recalls in A Film-Maker’s Journey, Jackson would often take over the whole kitchen, with dinner plans working around the baking of foam latex alien heads in the oven.

He left school and took up a job as apprentice photoengraver at the Evening Post (now The Dominion Post) newspaper to fund his ventures and ambitions. At 17 he was sent to a course in Auckland and decided to buy a book to pass the time on the train trip north. The book was The Lord of the Rings. The journey that lay ahead would be longer and more exciting than he could imagine.

Peter Jackson at King Kong Premiere Wellington NZ WCC Photo
Sir Peter Jackson at the premiere of King Kong at Wellington's Embassy Theatre.

There from the beginning

Jackson’s production company, WingNut Films, was formed when making the 1987 cult comedy horror film Bad Taste, which launched his international career. It was also in these early years that he began working with partner Fran Walsh, Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger and Jamie Selkirk, with whom he would in 1993 establish the now world famous Academy Award-winning Weta Workshop and Weta Digital for the making of Heavenly Creatures. Jackson and Walsh received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Heavenly Creatures; the digital effects for the film were made on a single computer, financed with a loan that was still being paid off some years later.

An the awards go to...

Weta Workshop and Weta Digital are now part of a neighbourhood of creative companies that Jackson and his colleagues have established on the Miramar Peninsula, including WingNut Films, Park Road Post Production, Stone Street Studios and Portsmouth Rentals.

Jackson has won three Academy® Awards in his career, and nominated for several more. He has also won the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Saturn Award for Best Direction. He was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002, and later knighted in 2010. He also received the Order of New Zealand in the 2012 Queen’s Birthday Honours, New Zealand’s highest honour.

Filmography

Jackson's films also include Bad Taste (1987), Meet the Feebles (1989), Braindead (1992), Forgotten Silver (1995), The Frighteners (1996), King Kong (2005) and The Lovely Bones (2009). The upcomingThe Hobbit trilogy will include The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and The Hobbit: There and Back Again (2014). He has also produced District 9 (2009) and The Adventures of Tintin (2011).

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was the second major world premiere Jackson has brought to Wellington’s Embassy Theatre, which hosted the world premiere of the multi Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.

To get the full story pick up a copy of Peter Jackson: A Film-Maker’s Journey by Brian Sibley from the Weta Cave.