Earlier this year, I wrote a blog about the movie that had the most impact on me as an editor in response to my attendance at Editfest NY. In the post, I stated that Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring was my first instinct, but it was a wrong choice if we were talking specifically about being inspired as an editor. I also mentioned that Lord of the Rings deserves a blog post all of its own, because it was a whole different phenomenon.
Well, The Hobbit comes out this week, so in an attempt to be topical, here is that blog post. Fellowship of the Ring wins the prize for inspiring me to tell stories.
I was a freshman in high school when Fellowship was released. I had never read the books. Other than a healthy obsession with X-Files and a couple of books here and there, I wasn’t really into anything overly fantastical. But then one day when I was standing in my cousin’s living room on Thanksgiving break, I caught a TV spot for it. It was basically a shortened version of the “Shortcut to Mushrooms” bit toward the beginning of Fellowship where the four hobbits first encounter a wraith and Frodo nearly puts on the ring. I had no idea why, but I was completely hooked.
I told my friends we should go see the movie. I think a couple of them had been interested, but largely the group was just as in the dark on the plot as I was. We went to see it during Christmas break sometime in January 2002.
I can’t recall a time before that when I was so utterly captivated by a movie.
Sometime before this, I had started playing around with video production and filmmaking in general. I had put together a few little shorts and been shooting a lot of random stuff, playing around with assembling it. Fellowship flipped a switch somewhere in my brain: storytelling mode ENGAGED.
Funnily enough, my circle of friends and I became slightly obsessed with everything related to Lord of the Rings. We all read the books, bought the merch, and speculated about the adaptations while we eagerly awaited December 2002 and The Two Towers. We were all bookish drama nerds, so this was a pretty good fit to say the least.
I found a home video recently from a Lord of the Rings party we threw. The day the theatrical edition came out, I was assigned to retrieve it as I was the only one who had a drivers license. I ran to Target after school, grabbed it, and ran to my friend’s basement. Teenaged girls laid all over the dark floor, swooning over Viggo and Orlando, bawling at Gandalf, and lamenting the months until Two Towers.
Screenshot from our party video. It’s not much, but you can see how emotionally invested we are, right?
I went to a midnight release of Two Towers. My (female) friend dressed up like Gandalf. To this day, I’ve never been in a more engaged, dead quiet movie theater. When Haldir died in Helm’s Deep, the collective gasp of the audience actually scared me. It was fantastic.
Anyway, back to Fellowship. The months in between seeing Fellowship and buying it on DVD were probably the most important to me as a storyteller. Remember here that I was 15: I downloaded a bootleg version of Fellowship (recorded in the back of a movie theater, had Chinese subtitles!) and watched it repeatedly. Then I made mash-ups with it. I recut it, made my own trailers and promos, and intercut things I had shot with it. No, I don’t bootleg anymore. I only really ever did the once, for that film.
I’ve seen Fellowship about a million times (lost count around 75) because of this experimentation. I’ve torn it apart and put it back together. It didn’t teach me editing, but it taught me how to tell a story. A big, complicated story with a lot of moving parts. All the stuff that goes into telling an effective story I learned here.
But what it really showed me and what really inspired me to keep pursuing filmmaking full on was the understanding that large portions of this movie are completely made out of thin air. Like Rivendell, when Frodo is on his balcony? All that stuff is computer generated or miniatures someone built or a matte painting or a combination of everything. What the CRAP man! All the creatures populating Middle Earth? Pretty much built by people. The amazing landscapes? Meticulously scouted and enhanced with computers. Everything from the architecture of Lothlorien to the impossibly ancient ruins of Moria to the simple forced perspective camera trickery absolutely blew me away. None of this stuff exists, but it does. It could have all been AWFUL, but somehow these people managed to put it all together, and it’s nearly seamless.
It felt real, but it was a movie. It was fantasy, but it was built on real emotion. And people built it for my enjoyment. It felt flawlessly expansive, and it inspired the hell out of me to keep creating.
After Fellowship of the Ring and the months that came after, I made more stuff, and I thought about it differently. I read more, wrote more, and played around with Premiere a lot more. I made a lot of stuff and I put it on the Internet. Things that had a beginning, middle and end. Things that had rising and falling action, twists, character development, and emotional appeals.
I’ve occasionally heard from people my age that Lord of the Rings was their Star Wars. It took me a while to understand that, but I really do feel the same way. Like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings became this all-encompassing experience of an entire world built just for you, unlike anything you’d ever seen before. If I hadn’t seen Fellowship when I did, I’m not really sure I would have been all-in with the whole media thing because I might not have realized my own creative storytelling ambitions.
Despite all the controversies of frames per second or 3D or 2D or too many movies, I’m getting pretty excited for The Hobbit. I’m really happy I can enter that world again and experience a new story in Middle Earth.
My butt will be firmly planted somewhere in the upper middle of a 2D showing for The Hobbit by 11:30 PM this Thursday night. I hope you’ll join me. Hairy feet optional.