Feature Filmmaker

Ep. 82 - Success Patterns: Peter Jackson

August 12, 2022 Anna Thalman
Feature Filmmaker
Ep. 82 - Success Patterns: Peter Jackson
Show Notes Transcript

Peter Jackson is the 3rd highest grossing film director of all time. He is an absolute legend, but he got his start following the same pattern that all best filmmakers do. 

He made movies for fun with his friends. They wore all the hats and played all the roles. They DIY-ed their own gear/props/costumes as they went. They broke all the "rules." They kept their day jobs. They made their first feature film in their spare time. They had no formal training, but lots of fun. And the rest is history.

Documentary about the making of Bad Taste

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Hi, welcome to the podcast today. We are finally going to make a podcast about Peter Jackson, which has been in the works for months. We just going to be the most epic podcast. We've done nothing but prepare for this podcast day in and day out. The Peter Jackson episode. We just have not had a chance to record it. We've had some amazing guest speakers that we wanted to share with you guys. And then. Took a break for a couple of weeks. And some shoots. Yeah. But here it is. And it's going to be good. So. Peter Jackson, I'm sure you know who Peter Jackson is, but he's most known for. His Lord of the rings. Trilogy and. He was. He's an older filmmaker. Then we usually highlight a lot of the people that we highlight are kind of more recent. Up and coming filmmakers, but yeah, I mean, like we like to focus on filmmakers that have had their break. After the 2010, 11. You know, DSLR. Sort of Renaissance because it just changed the nature of indie film. It tends to make their stories more relevant for what works now. And the industry. Yeah. But what we've noticed is that it really. I, in my opinion, I don't think it has changed in the long run. Even way back with Steven Spielberg and others. Really one of the biggest things that we feel like matters the most is not just making an indie feature all by yourself. It's just. Even simpler than that, it's make stuff and share stuff. And even today, there are some exceptions to the indie feature stuff that we talk about, but. But we want to talk about how Peter Jackson made stuff and shared stuff. And. Well, this is how he went about doing that and how he developed himself as a craftsman. And he has actually a. A pretty unique story. In some ways, even though in some ways it follows a. Pretty age old pattern for our industry. It's just a fun story as well. And he's just a fun person. So a lot of people probably aren't aware of his first feature film, but his first film was called bad taste. It wasn't just that he made stuff and shared it, but even more specifically, He made a feature film, and that was what really got his career started. And. That's not to say there isn't value in short content. It is very valuable, especially from an educational standpoint, just learning, getting your feet wet when he's, and he's a proof of concept for that too. I mean, he made a lot of short, short content, his film. That became his feature was his his 12th film. And it started out as a short yeah. And then it became a feature. I don't know how that happened. It was just a gradual, like, it just kept getting longer and longer I think. And they just kept adding to it. So. Just to give a little background on Peter and his family. His parents were immigrants from England. His dad worked in a factory and his mom was a housewife. And they're so sweet. There's a little, documentary about the making of bad taste that we'll link in the show notes, where you can hear the parents they're interviewed and they're just. So cute. And his mom talks about making baked beans for the nice boys and how she ordered a whole crate. For them and. And just really is very supportive of her son and the stuff that he was making. And. She still had some in her crate, some baked beans. She said, I look on them with great affection, really? They belong to the boys. Um, I was just adorable and it's really a worth a watch. It's on YouTube. And it's kind of just a special, I think, to watch. How special this film was to everyone. It's it's, it's pretty funny. It's also just recorded in their living room. The mom and dad sitting on the couch talking, and then you get Peter Jackson. He was sitting outside, but he's like, Laid back and sort of a chair with just. Pre Lord of the rings, a Mickey mouse shirt on it's. So. Relaxed and casuals. So it's, it's fun. It's fun. Watch. And we'll go over some of the, the highlights, but definitely it's worth checking out if you have the time. Anyway, that's how he grew up. And king Kong was his favorite film. He later tried to remake it with stop motion. He had no formal training. He was always into movies and he chose to keep living with his parents as an adult for seven years, so that whatever money he made at his job, he could put into his movies. That was just his hobby. Which I personally don't recommend doing, but if you're going to, you know, I mean, he's single. You know, so yeah, it worked out well for him. He's the third, highest grossing. Film director of all time and has made over 6.5 billion worldwide. So. His movies have. Maybe not him personally, but. His movies. So some of his first special effects, he really liked to make his own. Special effects and his own equipment. And. All the stuff that they used in the movies was kind of DIY wide by Peter Jackson and his friends. So their first film where they tried special effects was kind of a world war II thing and they poked holes in the celluloid. To make it look like gunshots. And that's where it began. And then they just started to get more and more into stop motion and different kinds of special effects they could do. And bad taste is full of some. Have there created special effects and they're really quite impressive. Even if you just check out the trailer and see. The aliens and the masks that they made it. It looks really good for something that they just baked in mum's kitchen. Kicking her out of the kitchen, making her use the grill. Yeah, they would take over her oven and bake their masks and stuff. It's kind of, I have friends like this who I am personally, like, I think I make. Films that are so based in the real world that media do tons of this crazy, special effects stuff. Even though I think I did a lot more of as a kid. I've just gotten to be too. I don't know. Snooty. I don't know what it is, but like there used to be this time where it was just so playful and I think he maintained that his whole career and it's really fun to watch. And. Those guys were crafty, crafty dudes. Like they just made every little thing and they just found all sorts of DIY solutions to everything. And I, I worked with some. Some really wonderful for a wonderful peers in film school who were, who were kind of that way, they would. It would feel like arts and crafts. I like that kind of hands-on. Filmmaking can be really, really gratifying and enjoyable. And I think. It also just shows that like it's better to like, On your first film, you, he did all of it himself. Like he didn't have some, like state-of-the-art expensive. Effects personnel on set or whatever. There's this thing in filmmaking, which is just like, I'll learn how to do it myself. Kind of an attitude. Which I think at the start is really valuable. I think. Eventually you have to learn to delegate and all that stuff, but frankly, that's not the problem. Most of us have, we don't have anyone to delegate to, or any money to hire anybody. And so. You know, figure out who's willing and with the people that are willing. Just learn how to do the job yourself. It's pretty fantastic what he's accomplished. And he carried, I think things over that he did in bad taste. And I think he carried it over into all the way into Lord of the rings and farther. Yeah. And don't even tell me you can't watch bad taste and see orcs because they look the same. And that was, you know, many, many movies before Lord of the rings. Yeah, he was really creative and I really admire that. I think it's, again, it's not about the tools. It's about the artist and he used his resources. It's not about resources. It's about resourcefulness. Exactly. So, you know, his parents got a camera gifted to them for Christmas when he was eight years old, which he quickly claimed as his own and started making little movies on and then eventually bought his own, like an upgraded secondhand camera. It was 16 millimeter. Spring loaded motor so they could wind it up and shoot for 30 seconds. At a time. Which sounds really hard. To only be able to do that. But that's what they shot the film on. And he built his own gear, which if you watch the documentary, you can actually see him demonstrating and showing you how he made the gear a little bit. And what it looks like Dolly in the tracks. Dolly crane. A steady cam thing that he could wear that helped study the camera with the counterbalance weight. It was really ingenious, all just with wood and metal and PVC pipe and stuff like that. Yeah. If anyone does that kind of gear work today, it's. Best boy, Adam's on YouTube. If you check out his work, he. Oh, there's plenty of people who do. He does. I mean, he's buying products. He's usually outrigging things like. DJI. and stuff. But he still is DIY buying a ton of it. And it's incredible. So it's just fun. I like that spirit of. Break it apart and figure it out myself. I can like break parts and solder them and make me scared because it's that whole, yeah. Use what you have. If you don't have those skills, you can still use a skateboard. Wheelchair. If you don't have those skills. Learn them right. Well now, yeah. Now we have YouTube. You can just look up tutorials. He just figured it out. Right. What I'm saying? Hardware storage. Sticking stuff together. Even easier now. So yeah. Anyway, pretty impressive that he did that. He talked about. Getting the crane shots and how. You just had to kind of point the camera in the general direction. They didn't have any monitor or focused pulling. They're just like, eh, if we do a wide enough lens, I should get something usable. And they figured it out. Even the special effects, the masks that they made, they used. Algia nine, which is what people use to make dental molds. And so it has to sit for like a minute to take the shape. And he literally filled a bowl with it and stuck his head in it. And held his breath for a minute. While making the expression that he wanted the monster to have. Into this bowl of algebra nine. And then they poured a plaster in it and baked it and decorated it and added hair and whatever, and made these pretty impressive. Masks. So all sorts of crafty stuff that he kind of shows in this documentary. Even. Towards the end of the movie, there's like a house they'd borrowed a neighbor's house. And thought that they would only probably use it three or four times. It ended up being about three or four years. They were working on this film and using the house. W whenever, they were able to, and eventually they made models of the house so that they could. Put explosives in. So they obviously couldn't blow up the actual house, but they made this replica that looks several meters tall. Yeah, they made a big one out of wood that they blew up with their own homemade explosives that they figured out how to do with through trial and error. And then they made another one. Even smaller for a different scene where it's floating, spinning around. I think it's spinning around. They had like farm machines and light and had this house spinning around. And then they made an even smaller one for a scene where it's floating through space, a medium sized, one out of cardboard, right. Yeah. And the little one too, they made it out of cardboard from the boxes of like his film. That he would order. Like, like the cardboard box and, you know, The only reason that's astonishing is that when you look at it, they look like the house. They don't look like cardboard. It looks amazing. Yeah, it's great. It looks totally great. I think it's so detailed. It's just unbelievable. To scale, the entire thing. Like it's astonishing. It's really quite amazing. So they blew one up, they spun the other one around and then the other one was for, they put it on a little crane. Yeah. So that it looked like it was getting lifted off into space and they used some fog to cover up stuff that was lifting it up and. They did some amazing stuff. They really did so very innovative, but also he used his resources and other ways he worked a day job. He was a lithographer, which is basically part of the printing at a newspaper company. And all his friends and most of his friends worked at that job too. And they were the ones making the film with him. So that's another resource. He had the day job, the day job paid for the film. His parents gave him remembered. The parents gave him room and board and beans and toast. And his friends helped to make the film. They weren't in the film industry either. I mean, he didn't have formal training, but they also weren't even in film at all. And just got his friends together and they acted in it and they did multiple roles cause they had costumes so they could switch around and. Peter Jackson plays. Even himself fighting against himself on top of a mountain. And one of his friends plays, a bunch of aliens. He died 23 times as different aliens. On the movie. So funny. So they just all played all the characters and did all the crew and craftiness. So again, This is not like what we're. Used to being taught in film school. It's kind of your standard way of making a film and yet. Figure it out the best of the best. Started this way. They also shot weekends and evenings. It was just something they did in their spare time. So we've talked about this with other directors, Christopher Nolan, being the most recent example. They didn't quit their day jobs. They still were working. They bought stuff and made it as they went. And I don't understand why we don't ever, even mentioned this in film school. I feel like the two options are. This. Enigmatic. His cereal, unspoken way of how do we court investors? Which was actually something we teach in the feature filmmaker academy that we do. We teach you how to get. There's a process to it, but, but, but it's not really what they teach you in film school. Because you have to get into the industry before the process they teach you in film, school works right on. To get into the industry. You've got to make something and making the first thing. Is the hardest one. And they don't really talk about and yeah, and then, and, but then a lot of the guys, even before they even learn how to raise a little bit of equity investments and stuff, which is something we've basically taught ourselves, we read books, figured it out kind of the same way they were building their gear, you know? And, even before that, it's like, you know, you can work a job and get a paycheck. And you can just save up the money a little bit of money and make. Because the other resource and the final one that I think you maybe were getting to was time. He just spent a super long time making it, which. Might sound bad, but what I mean by bad is it might sound like something you don't really want it to do. Like, I don't want to delay my career for four years. Know what you're progressing your career for four years. If you're going to take that much time on something that you feel proud of and you put your heart and soul into it and that's how long it took him. It's about how long it took. I think Nolan, I think it took him a solid three years to make following and it had no special effects. Well, it was just the post took him forever. And it just got hung up in post forever. I think that Jackson probably was editing as they went along. But. It's just, you just keep moving forward. And I think that that's. Something that all of these people do, they, and they're really, really resourceful. In some way or another. Yeah. They have some sort of secret weapon that they're good at. Well, and I think a lot of people, you know, I've had people. On calls. Talk about. Their favorite directors and someone mentioned Peter Jackson and. They thought his first film was the Lord of the rings. And. I was like, no. Well, that does not how it works. And, and most of our favorite directors, we think, I mean, there's a certain film where everyone starts to know who they are, but there's always a history behind that. So, His first film is bad taste that took four years. And it wasn't until 10 years and four feature films later that he made his first. Big budget, quote unquote Hollywood film, which was the Frighteners starring Michael J. Fox, which you probably haven't seen, but it wasn't that big of a film. He had several films. Afterwards. The before Lord of the rings. Nor the rings was just not even close to the beginning of his career. He had made a bunch of stuff after that. But I mean, he was making a great living, making all those other movies. Yeah. He had lots of support, but it only came after he made. Three. Or for indie films. And his first one was a no budget. Crazy action. Saifai. Gore Fest E. Well, and it's, you know, they, they started. Putting it in festivals and they submitted it to cons. And his dad warned him. Hey, you know, don't be too upset if it doesn't do well. Like he they'd spent four years working on it. He knew it would be really hard on him if it didn't do well. But it premiered at cons. It sold. Really quickly. It was, I think, sold to 10 countries in six days is what they said once I'm awards. And the crew and actors were all just surprised. First of all it was finished because they kept starting projects that they would never finish. And then. Second of all that. Anyone would want to watch it. And third of all, that they would pay money to watch. It was just surprising for everyone. And that was where he got to start. There's a lot of things we can learn. I think. From Jackson and. There are either just creative. Trial and error sort of resources. And, there's also intellectual resources that people use. I said before everyone has a secret weapon. And I just think about like, you know, in today's digital age, You know, like David Sandberg he's very much reminds me of Peter Jackson. He likes to make kind of horror films, but he. Sometimes takes his horror more seriously, even though he himself is actually a pretty lighthearted, not very serious person that I am. When you can tell from his YouTube channel, but the, The resources that he has is that he, he knows blender to do VFX really well. And he's not like a super successful VFX artist that's worked in the industry. He just has the skill and he's used it himself. Between after effects and blender and whatever else he uses. He's done a ton of VFX, on his own movies. Even. Some bigger movies, like Hollywood funded films. He'll do a handful of shots himself. And he might even draw the. The title of the film in his own little handwritten font or something with like lights out. He wrote, he wrote it out himself. And I just think that that's really cool when you just say, look, I'm going to take this Ikea trashcan. Line it was tin foil and put a light bulb in the center of it and hang it. Cause I poked a hole in the bottom. And that's my can light, you know, and like, and he'll use that. On all of his films. I'm talking about David Sandberg. And we should do podcasts on him. We should. My point is, I just don't like this attitude anymore. That, and it's hard because I think that this attitude is something that creeps into me a lot, which is like, oh, well, that's not right. Or that's not the best way I could do it, or that's not professional, or that won't be taken seriously by other people. What got Peter Jackson, his break was making a really, really silly movie. That was not taking itself very seriously. There was a bunch of friends. They weren't industry professionals using industry grade gear, doing everything the right industry way. There were no unions involved. There are no contracts. There are no investors. There's nothing formal, you know? Not really. And if someone dropped out, they probably would just replace them because you know, it's not like anyone was essential except for maybe a few people. And, When we try and act like we're making films in Hollywood, But we don't have Hollywood budgets or Hollywood support. You're probably going to fail, but if you act like you're making a film as a independent person with not very much money with a lot of fun creative ideas, and you're willing to try all sorts of. Weird things that are unique that maybe other people haven't done before. Then I think some really remarkable creativity can happen. Then all of a sudden you've made, you're making stuff that people in Hollywood are saying, wow. This person's very creative, very resourceful. And. Made this thing and got it done. Yeah. Yeah. Lost to learn there from his example. I think the biggest one for me is just patients. Yeah. You get a sense of that. Watching his interview, even the way he's. Lean back. In his chair, the way he's talks about the film. He actually reminds me of like, A habit. He could just like be. So comfortable and. And laid back and. I don't know. There's. That patients and his mom talked about how he had oodles and oodles of patients. When he would do his stop motion. Animations and that he would just spend hours and hours working on one model and then he would animate it. And the idea of spending that much time on one little piece. Of one little film. Is I think a great example of. How you can invest time. If you don't have tons of money to invest, you can invest time and the quality of the work that you're doing. And. Didn't seem like he was in a huge hurry, but he was consistently moving forward, you know, and among my peers in film school. I really feel like that was what set people apart from the others was ones that were really challenged and just spent a lot of time and effort. And that can be hard because there were a lot of, I mean, you and I were married and there was sometimes a lot of, demands on our time, especially after it became parents while you're both still in school. And yet, like, you know, the more time and effort you put into it. With homework, there are deadlines, but with this kind of work that we really are recommending other people do. There is no deadline. You know, he knew that there was no deadline. Even his friends were like, it's done. We never thought it was ever going to be done. There there's some potential setbacks to that. I mean, you can actually work forever on something and never finish it. But it wasn't being a perfectionist about it. That's not why it took so long, even though it was. Quality. And they were going to take their time to make it the best that they could. But perfectionist is usually all or nothing. Like you kind of give up. If you can't have everything the way you want it. And I think. He was steadily moving forward. And we've seen that even from just all our friends who've graduated film school and where people end up. And the ones who just don't stop. Working on stuff. Over the years have progressed a lot in their careers and some people just give up and it's still a dream, but they don't work on it. You've got to be working on it. You gotta be pushing it forward. We'll be working on a project. So I think it's a good example of that. Anything else you want to. Leave takeaways. No. I mean, we hope that it's has been as inspiring as it was for us. If not, then just check out the doc. Cause it's, it's guaranteed to just kind of make you remember what it was like to be a child and keep that childlike attitude. Which he means he's maintained. I think his whole career, which is just finding that sense of fun. In this work, which yeah. And you're not really in a hurry. If you're enjoying not having fun making films. Isn't that why we all did this? I think that, especially for 12 year old boys who wanted to go into film didn't we just all look at it and go, oh, this would just be fun. It's just fun. It's an excuse to get my friends together. It's an excuse to kind of make an action movie or a. Alien movie or something. It's always immature and silly and play, but it's play. And if you lose the sense of play in your work, I think that's the last big thing I learned from Peter Jackson specifically, is that. If you lose the sense of play in your work. I think that it can become very, Lifeless. You know, We're making something serious. There can still be a sense of play in the work it's in the end film is just arts and crafts. It's. It's smoke and mirrors. It's light and shadows. It's just, you're putting stuff together. You know, building blocks. Hopefully. You know, It's inspiring me even. I'm thinking about projects that I'm making right now and writing, and I'm thinking about how to make that more. Just playful and enjoyable and fun. So yeah, I love that. That's a great takeaway. And I just want to leave you with the invitation, if you haven't. Signed up for a call with us. That's a great opportunity to get started on your film to get started on your project. And a lot of people feel like they can't, they don't have the money. They don't have the time. It seems overwhelming. But. This call, I think will help you realize we. We can teach you about our program, if you're a good fit. And it's designed for people who want to make their first film. To start where you're at to have all the steps you need to move forward, to make it faster, more. Financially viable, sustainable with your lifestyle and fun. So that's a free resource that we offer that it's really worth taking advantage of. If you. Aren't already a member and having already done your free call, then definitely check that out. And for those who are, are already members, we've been really excited to watch some exciting progress, even just in the last couple of weeks. We've been seeing some people who have graduated kind of, some of the initial. This stage. Yeah, all these stages. Anyway, it's exciting to watch people finishing scripts, revving projects up for funding and for, production, make making big connections and. And some. Big potential opportunities here in front of everyone. And, and we've experienced that ourselves as we've moved through, the process of making our first feature film. And we're very confident that we can help others. And that there are people out there was really important stories that. Feel like they cannot. Tell them for one reason or another. And so it's just our joy to, to see people making that progress, which has been really exciting the last few months. Yep. Definitely. That could be you. All right. Well, That's it for our podcast today and we'll see you next time. Bye. Bye.