Day 1,118: Fly, You Fools!

Mon 23.01.12:

Got up nice and early in order to move the car off the street before the Monday morning Wellington parking regs kicked in only to find out that it was a public holiday and so all parking was free! How awesome is THAT?!

After an unhurried breakfast, Mand and I drove over to the Miramar Peninsular to start our day of Peter Jackson stalking. The official Lord of the Rings tour was full, so we’d be making it up as we went along. After a scenic drive along the seaside, we invaded the The Weta Cave, the small shop-cum-museum that shows off the stuff Jackson’s FX company has been working on for the last twenty years.

No relation to Nick.

From humble beginnings making the puppets for Meet The Feebles, the zombies for Braindead and the ghosts for The Frighteners, Weta is now the world’s leading FX company, eclipsing George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic. Its CV is second to none: Lord of the Rings, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, District 9, King Kong, Tin-Tin and the special effects bonanza that was Avatar. They even did some effects for the latest Indiana Jones movie: in your eye, Georgie Boy – that’s what you get for making those damn awful Star Wars prequels.

Fookin' Prawns!

Weta Cave is a film nerd’s paradise, the only problem is that it’s just too damn small! After playing with some of the props and watching a geek-tastic behind-the-scenes video, we give Natalie, the lady we met at the Huka Falls, a call. We met Natalie and her two daughters, Valentina and Sophia at the café the cast of the Lord of the Rings films where known to frequent. We looked around for Martin Freeman and Sir Ian McKellen, but they were sadly nowhere to be seen.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Natalie asked if we were up for an unofficial tour of Wellywood, to which the answer was a slightly more polite version of ‘f–k yeah!!’. First up: Sir Peter Jackson’s house, on the promenade drive just around the corner from the café. I was outside, as usual waving my camera around like a loon and talking into it as though I’m channelling the spirit of Steve Irwin when a rather tall chap called Sebastian from Wingnut Films appeared and asked me what the hell I was doing. Suddenly feeling rather sheepish, we explained that we were trying to find Mandy’s housemate’s mum’s house, which we were told was a couple of doors down from Peter Jackson’s house. This rather improbable explanation was (strangely enough) the truth: only what we didn’t know was that Matt Hounsell’s mum, Rachel, lived next door to the house where Peter Jackson grew up, half a mile down the road.

You’re not putting that on the internet are you? Asked Sebastian, somehow growing even taller. Nope – not allowed, as it happens. Copyright and all that jazz. Incidentally, I’m going to every country in the world without flying ISN’T THAT JUST RAD? Nah, I didn’t really use the word ‘rad’, but I did want to change the subject. I was worried he’d confiscate my tape – or ask to watch the footage, impossible as my camera’s touch screen controls haven’t worked since Papua New Guinea. Luckily, I don’t think he had the power to do confiscate tapes from annoying fanboys, and so Sebastian and I ended up having a good old natter about all things Hobbit. I found out that “PJ” is currently in the US for the Sundance Film Festival and that principle photography is scheduled to go on until about next August.

A house, yesterday. Nobody's in particular.

Eventually Sebastian let me go, perhaps sensing that I’m not Kathy Bates in Misery, that naughty little bird, and our impromptu tour continued with a trip to the Roxy Cinema, an Art Deco Movie Theatre built in the 1930s that until very recently housed some tatty old shops and a veterinarian’s. Luckily for the Roxy, Weta boss Richard Taylor and a couple of his buddies bought the place a few years ago and restored it to something way beyond its former glory… they turned it into what I can only describe as one of the most incredible, most beautiful and most ingenious cinemas in the world. Check out the ceiling…!

Eat your heart out, Sistine Chapel!
C'est Ne Pas De Photoshop

After falling in love with the Roxy (and doubling my determination to save and restore the old Futurist cinema in Liverpool), we headed round to Wingnut Studios, built from the abandoned factories and warehouses of Miramar’s industrial past. And there in the car park, poking out from behind the biggest greenscreen I’ve ever seen was quite possibly the Laketown set for the climax of the movie when that bloke what shoots the dragon shoots the dragon.

Something I would like to say about the adaptation of The Hobbit, I hope to hell that when Smaug The Dragon speaks (he’s going to be voiced by Martin Freeman’s auld mucka Benedict Cumberbatch) it’s done telepathically without his bloody mouth flapping about. There’s something resoundingly cartoonish about animals talking in films, and unless you’re making Kung-Fu Panda, it’s not something that needs to happen. How crap where the daemons in The Golden Compass? In fact, how crap was The Golden Compass? Just sayin’…

We climbed a hill covered in signs telling us not to take pictures and looked down over Peter Jackson’s little empire. Impressive. Most Impressive.

I own a little black book which has the words “Development Hell” daubed on the cover on in Tipp-Ex. Inside are over a hundred concepts and ideas for films, TV shows, expeditions, plays, musicals, advertising campaigns, monuments, pubs, cinemas, public transport, the United Nations and rocket ships to the moon. If only a fraction of that book ever becomes a reality, I’d have the money and the power to do something similar – but even better – to what Peter Jackson’s done here, but in Liverpool. Then us Brits can start making our own damn movies based on our own damn stories instead of waiting for Hollywood to do it for us. Watch this space…!

So then, we said our grateful goodbyes to Natalie, Valentina and Sofia and decided that it would be an idea to actually track down Hounsell’s mum, something that we actually did! And yes, she really did live next door to the house where Peter Jackson grew up. We enjoyed a cup of tea and sat on the balcony watching the people walk by. Almost every one of them worked for Peter Jackson in some way. Why don’t you ask if you could work for him? asked Natalie earlier in the day.

Because I want HIM to work for ME!!! was my hilarious reply. I was only half-joking.

Derek, Not Running, outside the house where Peter Jackson grew up.

After tea and a natter, Mand and I returned to Wellyton proper and enjoyed a tasty curry on Cuba Street. I like New Zealand. It can stay.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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