Welcome to the third and final Hobbit article focusing on the Matamata (Hobbiton) section of the big location shoot as The Hobbit crew moves all around New Zealand.
Main unit spent 5 days in Matamata with second unit getting aerial and pick-up shots after the circus moved on to the next location.
In true movie magic form we ended our second to last day with a big shot of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins hauling ass out of Hobbiton, chasing down the dwarves, and began our final day with Mr. Baggins returning to The Shire as his grand adventure comes to a close.
The beginning and the end within one 24 hour period.
I’ve gone ahead and put a spoiler warning on this article and while I do touch upon the end of the second movie here I don’t consider it a radical spoiler. For one, it’s in the book and for two, if you’ve seen LOTR you know that Bilbo makes it back to The Shire. I am conscious of keeping some of the surprises for the film, so I’ll be delicate with spoilers in these pieces, but this one shouldn’t be a shocker to anybody who has seen the original LOTR films.
Matamata was gray, the bright blue skies of the previous days gone. That didn’t put much of a damper on the look of the actual landscape, though.
Speaking of, after my first report I received a lot of feedback from people who have either visited or plan to visit Matamata. It’s probably the most accessible, recognizable location to visit from Jackson’s Middle Earth and it seems like future generations of Tolkien and LOTR fans will have an even better experience when they stop by for a visit.
I cornered production designer Dan Hennah to discuss the rebuilding of Hobbiton, which was quite a task. They’ve been at it since January of 2009, back when Guillermo del Toro was still directing and they thought they were going to be shooting in 2010.
The centerpiece of Hobbiton (and also the main reason this location was picked some 13 years ago) is the Party Tree and when Dan Hennah and crew showed up to begin the process of resurrecting Hobbiton they found the Party Tree was in dire condition. Limbs were falling off and leaves were dying thanks to a very bad dry season in New Zealand. An emergency fertilization regiment was conceived, something that wouldn’t shock the tree, but slowly bring it back to fighting shape.
As you can see, it obviously worked.
In terms of manpower there have been 6 greensmen in Matamata every day for the last two years keeping the grass, growing the foliage and guiding the exposed roots INTO the set design. In the months leading up to filming that crew was upped to 20 greens and 15 set dressers in order to make Hobbiton… well, Hobbiton.
That doesn’t even count the construction crews that actually built the Hobbit holes, the stone bridge and The Green Dragon. And built them to stay, I should add.
The last time out they built the Hobbit holes and structures like most movie sets. They were temporary, not functional past the time the crew needed them to work. This time out they made a deal with the landowner to make this site an official and long lasting attraction for fans of the movies.
Forty-Four Hobbit holes were built to be permanent, with retaining walls, waterproofed roofs, etc. The stone bridge was constructed with a steel superstructure covered with real stone cladding. The Green Dragon is the most impressive of them all because it was built with a functioning fireplace, plumbing, water pipes and the works.
Hennah said the plans were to actually turn The Green Dragon into a real, working pub, but that’s all on the landowners at this point, I believe. I can picture many a geek wedding happening in Matamata, vows under the Party Tree and reception at The Green Dragon. Ah, geek love!
While they did remove a lot of set dressing (meaning props like chairs, ladders and various odds and ends) the Hobbit holes will remain and all can be entered safely. They even left the curtains in the windows.
This is the website for the big tour, which have started up again, I believe. If you find yourself in New Zealand and are a nerd for these movies (if you’re reading this that means you are, FYI) do yourself a favor and walk around this set.
Hennah called the Hobbiton set the most important one he has been in charge of in all the films. It starts the story and, if he’s done his job right, puts the audience right into a believable magic world. As a set, Hobbiton makes the first impression and the final impression of each set of Middle Earth films, beginnings and endings.
How’s that for a segue? Quite nice, right? I’m pretty proud of myself for that one.
Usually during filming I tuck myself away at an off-set monitor in a tent well away from shooting as to keep myself out of actors’ eyelines and to ensure that I don’t get caught by the camera. If that should happen I would incur the wrath of Caro Cunningham, producer and Peter’s longtime 1st AD. She’s the taskmaster on the set, probably the most loved and feared woman amongst the crew. She’s got to keep this massive production moving and somehow manages to be strict, but motherly. Very quickly you get to a point where you’re more nervous about her being disappointed in you than getting mad at you for mucking about. Hopefully I’ll be featuring her in a future report and get to go a little more in-depth about her role in the production. She’s one of the most crucial pegs in the wheel that churn out these great Middle Earth films.
Anyway, I’m usually tucked away while they’re filming. I would venture out to watch rehearsals, new set ups and (my favorite) to have a wander during lunch while the crew is off chowing down, but during filming I’m typically as out of the way as I can make myself. That wasn’t the case for this shot of Bilbo running off to catch up with the dwarves.
Here was my view for this series of takes:
I set up camp with Leith McPherson, one of the dialect coaches, next to the sound guys on top of a hobbit hole, overlooking The Shire. We were down the hill from Bag End and as such the shot had Bilbo running full out towards me and his contract with the dwarves trailing out from his right hand.
He passes Worrywort, the hobbit he talks with during my big fishmonger moment, who asks where he’s running off to.
There’s an excitement in his voice as he shouts out that he’s going on an adventure, which is a slight change from the Bilbo in the book who is less than chuffed about being forced out of his hobbit hole. That Bilbo is still in the film, especially in the first scene where Gandalf asks him to join up on the quest.
However, Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens have taken the little acorn of Bilbo being an adventurous child from Tolkien’s novel, having a little bit of Bullroarer Took’s blood in his veins, and seem to have injected some of that young adventurer deep inside the otherwise content hobbit.
From what I’ve seen, I think it makes for a more interesting character and one that we recognize from Ian Holm’s portrayal in Fellowship.
Returning to Hobbiton is a little more melancholy, of course. The quest is done, friends have died and Bilbo’s exhausted, not to mention a bit shell-shocked. And he finally gets home to find all his shit’s on the lawn! How’s that for a welcome back?
Having been gone for 13 months Bilbo was presumed dead and there’s an auction for his possessions, which the Sackville-Bagginses are very happy about.
I talked briefly with Martin about this section and he mentioned that he wanted to play it a bit harder than Peter was probably expecting. He’s not happy to see people making off with his possessions and after a hard journey he’s not the same laid back hobbit as the one who left. That was Freeman’s thought, anyway, and from what I could see being filmed Jackson agreed that when he stands up for himself it should be done with more force than you’d expect.
The man’s not screaming and knocking fools out, but he’s noticeably stronger and more confident than he was before.
Hobbiton proved to be a popular location for visitors to the set. I got to see some Austin friends as Red Vs. Blue’s Burnie Burns and Brandon Farmahini came by for a few hours while heading to Armageddon Con in Auckland. On other days a few different Make-A-Wish families came through and it was quite something to see the looks on these kids’ faces as they got to look out over Hobbiton.
It made the news when the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key came by as well. In fact, they held a press conference where Jackson and Key announced that Wellington would host the world premiere of The Hobbit next November. I didn’t get to meet the Prime Minister, but I was there when he arrived with his entourage of secret service guys. That’s about as close as I came to brushing shoulders with the real movers and shakers in world politics.
All good things must come to an end and that was true of my time in Matamata. But like Bilbo, my adventure has just begun.
At lunch Unit Production Manager Bridgette Yorke and the hardworking locations crew handed out packets containing maps, keys and detailed information on the next location to each person on the crew. It’s quite an exciting moment, I have to say. It felt a little bit like a reality show since I had a vague idea of where we were going next, but no real specifics until receiving the packet with an address and a key in it.
Where would be going? Here’s a tease:
Now on to the featured crew member for this article. I couldn’t leave Hobbiton without putting a spotlight on Heather McMullen. If you read my last report you may remember she’s the one who made and applied my hobbit feet. Heather he master of all things furry footed and personally in charge of Martin Freeman’s Bilbo feet.
That’s Heather with some Hobbit ears on (of the Frodo variety. I know they look elvish, but apparently Frodo has very petite ears).
Hailing from Northern England, Heather studied at Madame Tussauds (!?!) in London before jumping down to the Southern Hemisphere to be the foot wrangler on The Hobbit. While in London, she worked making wigs for stage plays and then was hired on to the last Harry Potter film where she punched the eyebrow hair for the Goblins in Gringotts.
In my mind the predominant image I have of Heather is her sitting with a pair of floppy feet in her lap, a needle in one hand and a clump of hair in the other. She spends hours every day stippling hair into hobbit foot after hobbit foot. With a few quick jabs the process of punching the real human hair into the silicone skin begins.
When really under the gun she says she can pump out a pair of fully punched hobbit feet (toes, legs and all) in about 90 minutes.
If she’s not making footies furry Heather is watching Martin Freeman’s feet, always keeping an eye out for rips and tears in the silicone. If there’s a toe missing (that can’t be covered up with some mud or dirt) she has an extra set on hand.
So, that’s Heather. And that’s it for Matamata. It was lovely, Hobbiton. I shall miss you… but the adventure continues. Stay tuned for a report on the next location which features wizards, dwarves and horsies!