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If you like Peter Jackson's story, you might also like:
James Cameron,
Francis Ford Coppola,
Ron Howard,
George Lucas,
Kiri Te Kanawa
and Robert Zemeckis

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Sir Peter Jackson
Sir Peter Jackson
Profile of Sir Peter Jackson Biography of Sir Peter Jackson Interview with Sir Peter Jackson Sir Peter Jackson Photo Gallery

Sir Peter Jackson Interview (page: 5 / 8)

Oscar for Best Director

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  Sir Peter Jackson

Can you tell us about the place where you grew up in New Zealand? Did that sort of spur your imagination?

Sir Peter Jackson: I grew up in a little town in New Zealand at the bottom of the North Island called Pukerua Bay. It had about 800 people, but it was a very -- I mean, I look back on it as being very romantic, but it was. It's something like a Wuthering Heights-like Goonies type town, right on the edge of the coast, thundering waves along the beach. There's stone caves inside the mountains. There's lots of hills, waterfalls, streams going down, houses perched in amongst hills. Our house was on the edge of a cliff that sort of plummeted right down into the ocean. It was a children's playground, an adventure playground. I was an only child. So I didn't have brothers and sisters, spent a lot of time by myself reading books, imagining, and I used to imagine adventures taking place in the area that I was in.

I was convinced that at some point I'd be going through some of the bush and into a stream and I'd find an old flintlock -- a gun from the 1800s -- that somebody had dropped. I was convinced that on one of my journeys I'd stumble across an old gun, which was always in my head when I was scrambling around. I never actually did, but that was my dream, to find an old musket. Nonetheless, it was a childhood that was full of this stimulus, this environment in which I lived, which was fantastic. I used to do things without my parents knowing. Being a parent now, I'd be horrified!

When I was about eight or nine, some friends and I got into this routine where we would wake up at three o'clock in the morning, tap on our windows, you know, because we lived down the street, tap on the window. We'd get out. We'd get dressed. We'd climb on our bikes, and we'd go biking up and down the hills and down to the beach, and around at three o'clock in the morning, just a group of us, and then by four o'clock, go back, get undressed, get back in our jammies, and go back to sleep again, and parents had no idea we were doing this. We had these sort of midnight adventures, and they were just like adventures out of Enid Blyton, who was a famous British author, wrote children's adventure stories, Famous Five, Secret Seven. We were sort of heavily into that world, and that was how I grew up.

As I did that . . .

I was beginning to get interested in film, but that came through watching Thunderbirds on TV, a British TV show, Thunderbirds. When I was about five, our parents got TV. When I was five, I remember it arriving in the lounge in a cardboard box and Dad having to screw the wooden legs into the set, this old black-and-white Philips set. So from five, I had TV, watched Thunderbirds, was really captivated by the fantasy elements, and the TV show has lots of models of spaceships and interesting sort of gimmicks and gadgets. It's a great TV show, very, very inventive and imaginative. The next thing that happened really is seeing King Kong, the original King Kong, when I was nine, and that film really accelerated a burgeoning interest in special effects, models and films. I could make models quite well.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

I used to make a lot of model kits when I was a kid, and I used to sometimes make kits out of cardboard boxes and things. I didn't just make plastic kits. I made my own models.

My parents got given a Super 8 movie camera by a friend down the road, just presented it to my parents for Christmas one year when I was about nine. This camera arrived one Christmas, which was for us to do Super 8 home movies, except I grabbed the camera immediately, because I thought, "God, now I can get my spaceships that I've made, my models, and I can film them, just like Thunderbirds."

You know, I can have two things smashing together. I used to buy plastic model airplanes and set fire to them, because they'd burn quite well. They have this inky black smoke that comes off the plastic when you set fire to them, and I used to have them going down on carton lines and smashing into the dirt bank. It used to be like a World War II Spitfire crashing out of control, and the melted plastic would just be sort of sitting there, smoldering away, and so I did a lot of that sort of filming.

I got interested in stop-motion animation as a result of King Kong. Ray Harryhausen's films, two: 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts. They're all stop-motion. We move the figure one frame at a time, and my camera didn't have a "one frame" button. I could only just squeeze the trigger and squirt off two or three frames before I had to move the puppet, and then another two or three frames, so very, very jerky animation, since it was very imprecise. But anyway, this was all sort of fueling me. I wanted for a long time to be Ray Harryhausen's assistant when I grew up, and help him do stop-motion animation. Didn't think about directing films at this point in time. I just wanted to do special effects.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

I made World War II movies. I eventually got a Super 8 camera that could do single frame, and I got a sound camera, so I could record dialogue.

I did like a World War II drama film with friends of mine in old army uniforms -- kids with big helmets and uniforms that don't fit very well -- running around, dug trenches in my parents' garden. My parents were really great, and that's actually something worth talking about on this, because I think unless you have the wholehearted support of your parents, I think any nutty kind of hobby or just passion that you have, you're going to get cold water thrown on it. I was having these nutty ideas about wanting to build trenches in our garden, get Dad to help me build machine guns out of broomsticks. I wanted to make movies and to make monsters and all this. And my parents, I think, who were very, very -- just very gentle, simple, conservative people, they would have probably preferred -- they kept trying to prod me into an architecture career, but nonetheless, every single thing I did with film, they supported me.

They drove me to vacations before I had my driver's license. They helped me get the stuff I needed to do foam latex.

I ended up having to bake foam latex heads in these big plaster of paris molds in my mum's oven. So mum couldn't cook the Sunday roast that Sunday. We always had to have beans on toast or something, because the oven was commandeered by me filling the house full of fumes -- of course, toxic fumes -- as the foam latex queue is in the oven.

So just very understanding parents are important, and I think there's a good lesson for students here who are going to become parents themselves, that I think if you want your kids to achieve in any sort of way, you have to just let them find their passions. You can't impose a passion onto anybody. Somehow you are born with it, or things get triggered during your childhood.

I'm here because I'm a film maker and I want to make films, and that's been the way I felt almost since I was born, and I've never really thought about doing anything else, and so I had -- my parents supported me, and that support is really important, and I often think how many people out there have failed to achieve in later life because they didn't get that support from their parents when they were young.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

I got through my teenage years, wanting to leave school as quickly as possible, where again, I look at all the students at the Academy here, and it's like I'm definitely not the right role model when it comes to that.

I just wanted to get out of school as fast as I could, not because I hated school, although I didn't like it. I wanted to get out of school because I wanted to buy a 16 millimeter camera. This was all about the equipment. It was all about the frustration of trying to make films, but not having the best gear. My parents had got me a Super 8 sound camera for a Christmas present during my teenage years, which I used, but we're now getting up to a point that they couldn't expect to buy me a 16 millimeter camera for a Christmas present, and I needed a camera, which meant I needed to earn money. I just had to earn money, and so I just wanted to get out of school and into a job, any job, so that I could start saving up for the next piece of film equipment that I wanted. I did leave school at 16. I got a job at a newspaper as a photo lithographer, and during that seven years I was there, I basically spent two of the years saving up for a 16 millimeter camera, which cost several thousand dollars, and I was only getting paid 75 bucks a week. I lived at home with my parents all this time because I couldn't afford not to.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

They were giving me free board and free rent, and it was like all my friends were going into flats. They were leaving home, but I just realized that leaving home was going to become really expensive. I'd have to buy a car. I'd have to pay a landlord rent. It was like, "How am I going to buy a camera if I've got all these outgoing?"

So I stayed at home with Mum and Dad, who didn't charge me anything to stay at home, and was able to save this money. Got my 16-mil camera eventually, after a couple of years. And at that point I started working on a film that started out as a short movie, because I wanted to try the camera out. It was a Bolex camera, a 16-mil spring-wound camera, but quite complicated, more sophisticated than what I'd ever done. I had to set my own exposures, develop with a light meter, and had to learn how to do that, because all the Super 8 cameras were just auto point-and-shoot things. So I suddenly had to figure things out. And I didn't want to waste any money at all, because I realized with 16 millimeter that three minutes of film was basically $100 -- by the time you've bought the roll of negative, you again have to process the negative, and then you have to get a print made off the negative. By the time you'd gone through that, back in those days, it was $100 to get those three minutes done. So this was serious now.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

The Super 8 things were like four dollars each. So I had to be pretty serious every time I squeezed that trigger on that camera. It wasn't for fun anymore, really. So I thought, okay, I need to learn how the camera works, but I'll do that by making a short film, so at least at the end of the day, I get a film out of my tutorial, as it were. So I made this short film and figured out how the camera worked.

Sir Peter Jackson Interview Photo

I could only film on Sundays 'cause I had a full time job, and I had to work a sixth day overtime at the newspaper I was working at, just so I could earn enough overtime pay, 'cause now to pay the expenses of this film. So the short movie expanded and grew, and I thought it would be ten minutes long and then -- film it over two or three weeks -- and then what would happen is I'd sit all week in this boring job that I didn't particularly like, and my mind would just be thinking about the movie the whole time, and I'd come up with new ideas of things I hadn't thought about for what we were going to shoot next Sunday. So next Sunday would roll around, and I'd have a whole different bit of plot that I'd figured out that I wanted to do on that particular Sunday. And so the short film grew and grew and grew and expanded out over this period of time, and eventually we ended up shooting it for four years -- Sundays for four years -- and I had none of it cut.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Then I took a two weeks leave of my job because I was only allowed three weeks holiday a year. So I took two weeks of my holiday.

I got a very simple editing machine -- 16-mil editing machine -- and I sat on my mum's kitchen table, and they couldn't eat dinner on the table anymore. They had to eat on their laps. So for two weeks, I just simply edited the film that we had been shooting over the course of the last few years, and it came to a feature length. I mean, I knew I had shot a lot, but I thought it might have been 45 minutes or an hour, but it came to something like 75 minutes, and we still had a little bit of filming to go. So at that point, after like three years of working on this film, I realized it was now a feature. I'd been completely thinking short film, short film, and I thought, "My God, I'm actually making a feature film!"

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This page last revised on Nov 25, 2013 11:39 EST
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