The Hunt for Gollum: An Interview with Chris Bouchard
The Hunt for Gollum is a Tolkien fan film put together by a group of British Tolkien enthusiasts and released for free download on May 3, 2009.
Chris Bouchard directed the 40-minute film, and he agreed to speak to us about the making of the film and its reception.
Hi Chris. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. The Hunt for Gollum debuted as a free web movie on Sunday, May 3rd. Did all go as smoothly as hoped? What kind of response have you received?
The free streaming of the film went smoothly for the first 2 hours, but then the server hosting our actual website buckled under the strain of millions of hits, luckily the film remained online hosted with Dailymotion but nobody could access it through our site which couldn't handle the reported millions of hits.
Anyway the site is back up and the film is now available to watch in HD. I never dreamed that the film would have over half a million views in 3 days, and to my complete surprise people have (on the whole) left very kind comments. I wasn't expecting that at all. It's cool that they can see this was a labour of love to put together by a bunch of unknown Tolkien fans.
Tell us a little bit about the origin of the film. Whose idea was this originally? How did the entire project get set into motion?
I suppose I nurtured a love of the trilogy for many years. I kept rereading it after Peter Jackson's movies, each time dreaming of filming it my own way. (Not that I didn't like his films, I loved them and was inspired.) The Fellowship of the Ring was the most true of the films to my personal vision.
Anyway I was wondering what kind of film to make next and when I returned to the Appendices and started studying the story of Aragorn & Gandalf's search for Gollum where ever it was referred to. It was really exciting to realize that this was a story that might be achievable with just a few actors and locations (ie., on a budget of what I could afford – nothing!).
I phoned up Kate Madison who was already working on Born of Hope and begged her to let me borrow a few costumes for the first shoot. Luckily she said yes, and she even came along to help out.
So we did 4 days in Wales getting landscape shots and the statue scene, wandering ranger stuff. Then I went back to London and edited that into a teaser trailer for the website and set about trying to recruit more talented volunteers to fill our the crew.
I rewrote the script to include some more ambitious scenes, and luckily found a team of co-producers Brian, Gladys, Julianne & Spencer who were crazy enough to organize the team with me. Their leadership, dedication and sheer hard work was a huge boost and meant we could pull off quite large scale shoots. The orc fight scenes involved 50 people on set and took 3 days to film.
Since this is a non-profit film it was done on a very limited budget. What was the overall cost of the film? How did you go about cutting expenses?
The film cost £3000 to shoot, most of which went on costumes, makeup, & equipment we didn't already have available to us. Luckily we borrowed cameras from various friends & the DoPs who were shooting it for us. We cut every expense we could to the minimum, searching long and hard for nearby & free locations, scripting it to not involve too many characters & costumes, and living off jam sandwiches and tepid tea!
At one point the authorities were trying to charge us £100 a day for a location, which just isn't feasible when you're trying to do something that won't recoup any investment. So we had to be inventive. The props were made from wood, costumes made from leather throw-away scraps from a Tannery, Ebay was a big help too.
All the cast and crew agreed to pay their own travel expenses to and from the set, if that hadn't happened we would have run out of cash after the first 3 days of filming. On a film like this that will never recoup it's investment, it just has to be for the love of the process, and we were having fun so that was the main thing. So most of it went on transportation of equipment, and materials for costumes, prosthetics & props to be made.
The orcs probably cost almost a third of the budget. Gandalf's wig & beard hire was actually quite a big cost at £120 for 2 days. Overall we did about 15 days of filming in the end. The Orc fights took 3 days alone.
Tell us a bit about your background a director / filmmaker. Is this your first independent fan film?
This is the first fan film I've directed and produced myself. I only realized I wanted to direct films 4 years ago, and this is my first real finished film (apart from a short and the experimental project Human Residue).
It's been a great training ground, as there has been room for me to make mistakes and even sometimes reshoot. A few years ago I wrote the music for a Star Wars fan film called Revelations which opened my eyes to what volunteers could achieve in terms of collaboration.
I haven't been to any kind of film school, I actually studied engineering & music technology, so for me this film has been my film school. It's great to learn as you go along...
Peter Jackson’s original LotR movie trilogy was an obvious inspiration for this film. The sweeping landscape shots and the haunting music seemed an offshoot of the Jackson films. Even the actors eerily resembled those used in the previous films. I assume this was deliberately done?
For the most part yes Peter Jackson's films left me (as with most fans) wanting more, so this was an attempt to do just that. Bring a new chapter of the story to life. So we purposefully followed the template set out by PJ in terms of costumes, props and locations.
Our story wasn't really long enough to deserve a unique look of it's own, although that certainly would have been interesting too. The slight resemblance of the actors is mostly down to the excellent makeup and hair work by the team Kristel & Carli, and Luke for sculpting all those Orc masks by hand. It was also a lucky co-incidence that by far the best Gandalf we auditioned also had something of Ian McKellen about him.
Fan films are an accepted staple of Hollywood & literary culture, but this film and its mass availability to the public may have pushed the envelope a bit. Do you expect or have you had any legal wrangling with the literary & film copyright holders?
Tolkien Enterprises were in touch a while back and we reached an understanding with them – the film has to be non-profit and for free streaming only, which is fine by us! I was ecstatic that they weren't going to shut us down. I think they're appreciative of the fan community, although rightly cautious. I'm not too certain whether the film copyright holders are aware of it.
Finally, are any more films of this sort in the offing? There are certainly many more “off-screen” stories in Tolkien’s writings that are begging to be told. Or do you have other personal projects that are in the works?
There are so many stories there which could be told, The Silmarillion, etc... A few comments on our website have asked us to do Tom Bombadil - and Brian Blessed was suggested!!!
If there was another part of Tolkien's works I'd really like to do a movie of it would be The Scouring of the Shire! That would be awesome!!! It's probably my favourite part of the books, and could be a great short. I'll keep dreaming about that one!
I'd love to do it, although at the moment I can't afford to do another unpaid film. A non-profit film isn't healthy for the bank balance so hopefully we'll be able to get investment to get our next feature off the ground. This would ideally be an fantasy or futuristic thriller. I love bringing worlds to life and doing an original would be a lot of fun.
I've got a few ideas and scripts I'm looking at. However for the fans there's more in the works too, because many of our team, myself included, are helping film Born of Hope, which is a feature length fan film about Aragorn's parents.
From the footage I've seen so far the scale of the project will surpass The Hunt For Gollum considerably - it's huge! I must thank Kate Madison, director of that project for letting us share resources.
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