|Hobbit Location report|
by YA, May 2012
I thought I’d share some of my snaps of our recent holiday to NZ with all you good ladies of Armitage Fandom, where I got to visit ‘Hobbiton’ aka ‘The Shire’ and some other related ‘Hobbity’ places at the moment. No hobbits or dwarves were harmed and RA stayed well out of my way. It was good to get a glimpse into the world Richard has inhabited these last few years and I picked up a few little snippets on the film but nothing on the elusive Mr A.
Hobbiton is situated in Matamata and a devil to find as it’s very much off the beaten track, can’t be seen from the road and very well hidden. After a number of direction rows with Hubby we stumbled on the entrance to the farm. The tour meets at the café and a bus with guide takes you onto the farmland to the set past what seemed like numerous gates with electric fences.
We were guided through where the production and cast vans were camped during the last shoot. They were there only two weeks for filming as all the main filming for The Shire and Bilbo’s house (Bag End) were done on Sound Stage 1 in Wellington, which was specially built for the Hobbit.
Walking around the set is quite surreal. The little holes in the hills are all perfectly formed with so many details, little chimneys sticking out of the grass and even down to tools in the gardens and props left from filming. The set was being dismantled at the end of the LOTR trilogy when bad weather halted work. The farm owner requested permission to show the remainder of the set which was granted. Work on the current Hobbit films started two years before filming to create what we see today exactly as it was left after location shooting.
Across the lake looks to The Green Dragon pub which we were told would be open to the public from next year as a pub to actually have a local Hobbit brew, which is only 1% proof so no chance of getting merry on that!
Bilbo Baggins' house (Bag End) is the only Hobbit hole that is actually replicated in size and decoration to the set as this was used to hold the film crew (40) filming outwards as the dwarves arrive. My Hubby went missing as he wasn’t really interested and embarrassingly popped out of Bilbo’s doorway mouthing ‘not a lot to see in there then!’ just as the guide and us voyeurs arrived at the gate.
After visiting a number of other destinations which were wonderful, mostly secluded beaches, vineyards and staying in Lakeside lodges we finally arrived at our destination of departure, Wellington, for the last two days in NZ. The final day I left Hubby behind to save further embarrassment and headed off to Miramar with Wellington Movie tours. The day was wet and windy, the worst day of the holiday, as we had great weather until this day.
This is really a LOTR tour and does attract some LOTR fans willing to do anything to re-enact the film. Our first stop was Mount Victoria overlooking the city, very wooded and dark with overhanging twisted trees as described by Tolkien in the book. The entrance has a post with ‘Hobbit's Hideaway’. A number of LOTR scenes were filmed here due to the close location to the studios, so although it could not be confirmed as a location spot for the Hobbit it’s very likely to have been used in the same way. As the fans re-enacted LOTR scenes from the forest, I got to experience what it must feel like waiting around on location, tired, wet and just willing them to get it right the first time so we could move on.
Next stop, on to WETA Cave to glimpse behind the scenes production of the films. This is a tiny place, just a mini museum and shop to display some of the props and creations from the Weta workshops. There’s a life size Orc and a spooky Gollum whose eyes seem to follow you around. We were given a glimpse into working for WETA productions and how they make all the creations come to life. Amazingly around 2,000 people are employed in this area on the productions and workshops.
I chatted to the guide who was very small with a long grey beard and pot belly. He’d auditioned for the film and was still waiting for a call up. Asked by a visitor if they were still taking on extras he told us ‘no’ all the Shire scenes were complete and they were now only hiring Amazonian looking extra tall looking skinny women. I don’t cut it in any of that description other than 'woman' and I don’t really have time to commit to 12 months standing by for the calls, however, he told us the money is good $500-$700 a day for background shoots and up to $10,000 for a spoken line used.
We then moved down the road, literally around the corner, to the Stone Street Studios past the purpose built post production/editing suite which Mr A will no doubt have to do more work in sound dubbing, which I’m told happens for the majority of the film shot on location. Peter Jackson spent millions on this building and it does stand out as quite grand around the location.
The guide told us that Peter Jackson owns most of the buildings on the industrial estate where the studios sit and buys them up as soon as they become vacant. He does not refurbish or make them look any different from their original purpose on the outside and the lack of signage gives no indication of what the units are used for. They also sit side by side with suburban houses and we are told the neighbours have no knowledge of what happens there. (Likely story.) If I were a neighbour I think I’d notice all the film equipment coming and going and large luxury vehicles used to carry the stars and other important VIPs back and forth. Not to mention the number of small tour buses edging along the street each day!
We passed the Motion Capture studio (MoCAP) Richard spoke of visiting at the conference and which he will now have done much work in. We could get quite close to the studios and saw part of a set propped up (it was starting to get dark and not well lit so a picture did not turn out well), also lots of workers from the production leaving through the main security gate as it was nearing early evening.
Our tour then took us on from Miramar taking the coast road through to Seatoun, which is where we are told not only does Peter Jackson have his pile but all of the main cast are encouraged to bring out their families to stay in studio rented homes for the filming duration. This is a typical NZ suburb of pretty wooden structured houses overlooking the coast. It has a quiet suburban feel where cast can feel at home and even send their children to the local school. Cate Blanchett spent some weeks in a rented house with her family on LOTR and she may have done so on her Hobbit filming. It was dark when I visited and snaps in this area did not turn out well.
On the way out from Seatoun back to the city we passed a beach where, we were told, some of the LOTR stars used to learn to surf, but a couple of minor accidents stopped them from being able to do this as it was a risk for filming and insurance. Wonder if that ban lasted during the Hobbit?
Finally we headed back along the coast into Wellington past the Embassy Movie Theatre, due to host the Hobbit premiere in November 2012.
NZ is a wonderful, beautiful gem of a country and Kiwis should be proud of their fantastic Islands, hospitality and warmth. Having travelled throughout the North Island for three weeks I can understand why RA has felt so much warmth and feeling for this place. I can’t wait to get back to see the South Island’s majestic sights!
Hope you enjoyed this glimpse.
Many thanks to YA for sharing the experience and her photos.