Monday, August 06, 2007

The Frodo Franchise

Henry Jenkins has done a fascinating interview (the first of three) with Dr. Kristin Thompson about her research for her new book, Frodo Franchise: The "Lord of the Rings" and Modern Hollywood. Dr Thompson, through a combination of scholarly reputation, good fortune and decent people involved in the production of the Lord of the Rings films seems to have got unprecedented access to the processes involved in the creation of a modern movie blockbuster.

"I started out not knowing any of the people involved directly or indirectly with the films. My assumption was that I would have to get in touch with one of the key people. There were only three of them who seemed powerful enough to make the decision to cooperate with my project: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Barrie Osborne.

In late 2002 I was still wondering if I could manage that. Fortunately I happened to be at a film conference in Adelaide, Australia, and met a film editor named Annabelle Sheehan. She was familiar with my work, and she said she could put me in touch with Barrie...

I won't go into the lengthy negotiation process that I went through with New Line, but it lasted from February to August, scotching my chances of being in Wellington during pickups. In late August I got the word that New Line was probably going to cooperate. That was enough for me to decide to go to New Zealand if possible, and witness some of the post-production, tour the facilities, interview people, whatever. I contacted Barrie about it, and he said I could come down. I booked my flights, bought a really good digital audio recorder, and by the end of September I was in Wellington.

Those two moments--Barrie's decisions to cooperate and to let me come down before the film was finished--were the crucial points, and I must give Barrie enormous credit for trusting and supporting me. I doubt that the book would exist if I hadn't had that support...

Barrie assigned me a point person, Melissa Booth, the main publicist at that time. She and I sat down on my first day, and she was terrific. She picked up right away on what I needed and made up a list of people and made the first appointments for me. After that I had the contact information and mainly made the appointments myself. Basically, once Barrie had made it known that I was doing the book, virtually everyone involved in the filmmaking whom I wanted to interview cooperated and indeed were very friendly and open about the whole thing.

I think it was really only after the first trip to New Zealand that I started trying to think of any comparable book that had appeared: a study of an entire film by a film historian, as opposed to a journalist. I couldn't think of any.

Now that the book is coming out, I can see why. I look back and think that getting the access I needed for my research was so close to impossible that I wonder if another such book can ever be written. The thing depended so much on some incredibly lucky coincidences, on dogged determination, on Kiwi friendliness and hospitality, and certainly on Barrie's support. That complex set of circumstances is so unlikely to come together again. I'm convinced that if I had tried to undertake a comparable project relating to one of the big franchises that are made in Hollywood or London, it wouldn't have gotten to square one.

On the other hand, if people in the industry read The Frodo Franchise, maybe some will recognize that it's really great publicity for them. I would like to think that it would inspire studio officials to give greater access to bona fide scholars. It would be somewhat like the studios' learning curve on how to deal with fans on the internet, I suppose."

Update: Other recetn Jenkins blog posts worth a read is 'Oh, Those Russians!': The (Not So) Mysterious Ways of Russian-language Harry Potter Fandom and 'Oh, Those Russians!': The (Not So) Mysterious Ways of Russian-language Harry Potter Fandom (Part One)

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