Sunday Star Times
November 21, 1999

Satellite Keeps Director Lord of the Rings
Oskar Alley & Kim Newth

Kiwi movie director Peter Jackson is using satellite technology to be in three places at once for filming of his blockbuster Lord of the Rings. The three parts of JRR Tolkien's trilogy are being filmed simultaneously, in different parts of the country, raising the question of how Jackson can oversee the project. Telecom has confirmed that the latest in satellite technology is the answer.

Spokesman Glew Sowry said the system was effectively an advanced video conferencing system which ran off a satellite dedicated to the $360 million Rings production. Producer Barrie Osborne said yesterday the system was invaluable though there were still a few "shakedown" problems. "On any given day we can be filming for book one, two of three in very remote areas. The satellite means we can keep track of everybody."

Jackson was on location working with the actors but could also monitor other work, Osborne said. Sowry said the linkup beamed images, as they were being filmed into a satellite. A video camera was also used as a back-up. The technology used was similar to the emplyed in Packific Island countries which did not have fibre optic cables.

Meanwhile, flooded sets and forced evacuations to escape rising rivers marred the first full week of filming for the Rings cast and crew in Queenstown, Wanaka and Te Anau. Film units in the three towns were cut off from each other due to flooding on local roads, said Osborne. A horse chase sequence to be filmed in the Wanaka area was put on hold because of flooding and the threat of the unit being cut off. Sets along some rivers near Queenstown were swept away. "In Te Anau we had to stop filming -- the rising rivers were going to cut us off. Our people did not want to spend the night trapped in the middle of a paddock."

"We had tried to film one scene, but it started snowing. That was totally inappropriate for the scene. It's all pretty disruptive, but nothing can stop us from getting to Mordor," he said. Ironically, a covered set built to enable filming in rany weather had also sat idle when flooded rivers rendered it inaccessible. In Queenstown, the unit was repairing and salvaging flood-damaged sets. Publicist Claire Raskind said the cast on location in Te Anau was having to treat carefully in the soggy conditions. "they have their heavy prosthetics -- you know, special ears and feet and so on. Plus their costumes and makeup," she said.

The base camp is 30km from Te Anau, on a farm. Filming for Rings continues in the area through to mid December, when cast and crew break for Christmas.