October 16, 2000
Rings Riders Deny
They are Gondorians. Wearing armour and helmets, they await the call to ride through the snow tussock and back into the mist.
The Lord of the Rings has come to Twizel, with up to 600 people on this back-country set.
This is a film city: caravans, make-up buses, cameras, a fleet of four-wheel-drive vehicles and, below, a horse camp.
There, the horses to be used in filming the third movie in the Tolkien trilogy, The Return of the King, are tethered in squares, and within a great tent riders and extras wait for their time in front of the cameras. While they wait the cool air warmed by two great burners they listen to music on a jukebox, and can sit down to watch a movie at night.
Enter horse co-ordinator Steve Old, riled by suggestions that riders on the film were working in sub-standard conditions.
Look at that, he said, turning on a hot shower in a mobile shower block.
Some were sleeping in tents in the camp, but those people wanted to be near their horses. The riders concurred, saying it was a matter of welfare and convenience.
One said: "I'd sooner be in a tent near my horse than in a motel." All had access to top-class meals, could keep warm in the marquee, or enjoy a drink after work.
The riders, too, spoke of top-class treatment, and said they were well paid. Another said: "We are being looked after. There is great food, and this is a good company. We get good pay. It might be less than what we would get in the United States, but this film is being made here because it is cost-effective to do so."
Others agreed. On Saturday up to 250 riders were to be used in big scenes on the Ben Ohau Station site.
Mr Old said the welfare of horses and riders was paramount, and if any rider felt uncomfortable, or was worried about a horse, they could pull out of a shot.
If a horse was in trouble, its owner could be contacted immediately. There were two vets on site, and an animal welfare officer.
As the cold drove in off the hills, riders the Gondorians were issued with blankets while they waited, and kept warm with coffee and chocolate. One complained of the cold.
Some were up early for make-up, and some might still be filming until the day's light was lost. It is all in the nature of film-making: working in good and bad weather, and making the most of conditions.
Poor pay? Sub-standard conditions? Some extras get $200 a day. Some less. All get travel allowances, and first-class food.
A Gondorian, rugged up in plastic armour, with a great cape riding the wind, said: "I wouldn't miss this for anything. I'm putting on weight, and so is my horse."