With Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey now playing around the world, it’s time to post the last interview I did at the NYC press day and it’s with screenwriter Philippa Boyens. While Jackson gets most of the credit for the Lord of the Rings, Boyens has been an absolutely crucial part of the adaptations, having co-written Fellowship, The Two Towers, Return of the King, all three Hobbit films, and also acting as a co-producer on The Hobbit trilogy. She’s a key player in helping to bring J. R. R. Tolkien’s work to life.
During my extended interview we talked about the themes of The Hobbit, the differences between Hobbit and LOTR, setting up the LOTR movies in the beginning of The Hobbit, the eventual Blu-ray extended cut, deleted scenes, whether The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will be the same length as An Unexpected Journey, what they still need to still film next year, changes on set, what props she has taken home, and more. Hit the jump for more.
And if you missed my video interviews with Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King Under the Mountain, and Weta Digital’s Sr. Visual Effects Supervisor Joe Letteri, click the links. Finally, here’s all our Hobbit coverage which includes hundreds of articles.
Philippa Boyens: (Laughs) I am actually, I am.
Well, you guys have been working on this for years; it must be nice to finally talk about it.
Boyens: It is and it isn’t. Because as a screenwriter you have to let go and you have to hand your baby over, and let it go off into the world, which is entirely appropriate. It’s just for a couple of years you’ve had that ability to sort of fix it, but now you let it go. Which is actually fine, and entirely appropriate, we’re letting it sail off into the world.
I saw the film the other day in 48 frames per second, thought it was great. I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan. I say considering what George Lucas was not able to accomplish with the prequels, I think you guys did a pretty good job.
Boyens: Thank you. It is hard to go back into a world that has already been explored, so to speak. And the fans are very passionate about it and you don’t want to burst that bubble, you don’t want to break that illusion. You want to get it right. You want it to feel familiar, but also surprising. That’s exactly what we strived to do and it was satisfying I would say. For me there’s been a few key people that I wanted to see it, that I was nervous to see it, that I knew were big Tolkien fans and they’re response has been fantastic so I’m feeling a bit more comfortable.
I think that one of the problems people have is that the Lord of the Rings trilogy deals with like a nuclear war in Middle-earth, the stakes are as high as they can be.
While in The Hobbit, you’re dealing with Bilbo and Gandalf trying to help some dwarves reclaim their home and get some gold and, and clearly the stakes are not as high and I do think that tends to impact what some people think of the movie. The stakes just aren’t as high, at least in my opinion.
Boyens: Yeah, I think they are, and I think one of the most incredible moments to happen in the Tolkien canon happens in that little story when Bilbo doesn’t kill Gollum. And as Gandalf goes on to point out, the pity of Bilbo ruled the fate of many. It is an extraordinary moment and I think it’s extraordinarily played by Martin Freeman. I think the notion that the seeds of impending doom exist within the film. But you are putting your finger on something that is really important, and it’s something that as writers we knew going in, which is how to tackle this story, which was written as a childrens story. Now that it’s set against the greatest trilogy, which came first. I’m pretty sure that if we hadn’t done the Lord of the Rings first this would be a very different film.
One of the things I think you guys hit a huge home-run on in The Hobbit is the way you bridged the beginning of the movie with Lord of the Rings. Obviously you know movie two and three and I don’t, but I think when this is all said and done people are going to want to show their kids The Hobbit, starting with movie one and build their way up to Lord of the Rings. I just think you guys did a great job of setting up the seeds in movie one. Can you talk a little bit about how you guys figured out how to start the movie?
Boyens: It wasn’t set in stone, it was something we tried. We had a sense that we wanted to hand the character of Bilbo—and for so many people and in so many people’s minds he is Sir Ian Holm—we wanted to hand that to the new Bilbo, to this younger version of himself. But also, we had to grapple with the backstory of the Dwarves and of why they’re doing this, why they’re doing what they’re doing. In the book it is told in a couple of places, one of which is as backstory in Bag End when Thorin explains some of what happened. And we did try that, we did actually try writing a version of where it was told there. Bag End is long enough; it didn’t need to get any longer with a flashback. But also, when I knew it was working was when you tell the story of the young dwarf friends, and then Bilbo has these dwarves invade his very tidy comfortable little hobbit-hole and you hear a knock on the door and Gandalf says, “He’s here.” And that door opens and it’s him, it’s that guy, it’s that dwarf. It’s the dwarf you saw at the beginning of the story. That’s when I knew it was working, because I imagined having that happen, having the knock on the door, having Gandalf say “He’s here.” and the door opens, and it just wouldn’t have the same impact because he would have been just another dwarf. It has resonance now.
The other thing that I liked about it personally, as someone who loves the notion of how Tolkien continued to tell the tale, I like that about him that he couldn’t help himself. He wrote The Hobbit and then he kept adding bits to it. I love it. He didn’t care; he just was a pure storyteller. What I liked about that, and what we partially pay homage to and the fun of this story, and we try to tell the audience and critics and fans and everybody who’s coming to see this story, that while you might know or think you know the whole story, there’s more. There’s more to tell. And that’s when he says to him, “while I have told you the truth, I may not have told you all of it.” And that has its seeds in all different levels and layers of Tolkien’s storytelling, including the fact that as we discover in The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo didn’t tell Frodo the entire truth of what happened with Gollum and how he got the ring.
The movie’s about two hours and forty minutes, for me I don’t have a problem; I could have watched a three hour version of The Hobbit. But there’s definitely an issue with the casual moviegoer that once you hit two hours some of them start to get sort of antsy, if you will. Did you guys ever feel any pressure to make it shorter knowing that, “Hey we had such a successful run with extended editions on the Blu-ray that we could make it two hours and twenty minutes and save twenty minutes for the Blu-ray.” How did you get to that length that finally got released?
Boyens: Well, we got to it by allowing the film to find its own level and that’s, honest to God, that’s exactly what happened. When we sat down and decided there was stuff that was left out, not a huge amount I have to say, but there was stuff that was left out and also stuff that we wanted to include that we got the chance to include because now it’s three stories. The film found its own level. It really, truly did. And it ended up that when the effects sequences came in; it came in within thirty to forty seconds of what we thought it was going to be.
I know one of the things you guys cut out was the market stuff, especially with a certain cameo by Fredegar (played by Ain’t It Cool News writer Eric Vespe aka Quint).
Boyens: (Laughs) That’s great.
I’m definitely curious, was it heartbreaking to cut out Fredegar from the movie and how long was that market sequence?
Boyens: You know what, it was one of the hardest pieces. And look, I understand that for many people Return of the King had far too many endings, and I will acknowledge that, but I cannot tell you how important those endings have been for certain people, and every day you get a letter from somebody quoting those endings because it means something to them personally. In a very similar way this film has too many beginnings, and unfortunately, that would have been yet another beginning. So that was one of the reasons that had to go.
While you know and understand that in an ideal world you would never have a story with thirteen dwarves if you were writing a regular, standard-formula film, in the same way we understood that in a normal story you wouldn’t have that many beginnings. But you have to because it’s The Hobbit and you can’t get rid of the “Good Morning” scene, you can’t get rid of the dwarves all tumbling into Bag End the way they do, you also have to introduce them to the audience, and I also don’t think you would want to get rid of the moment where you have Bilbo waking up in the morning, which I think Martin Freeman did brilliantly, by the way – that moment where he makes that choice to run out his door. So all of those moment are not what you would classically put in a film of this nature, but somehow you just eventually go back to a film finds its own level. That’s what we tried to do. And in the end you can only trust the own choices and your own judgment.
Yeah, let me just go on record, because I usually post audio with my interviews, so let me just go on record and say that I think the ending of Return of the King is flawless and screw anyone who has problems with too many endings.
Boyens: (Laughs) And I also understand. I can go on record and say I understand, I get it, I totally do get it. It’s not conventional and it’s not necessarily ideal. But thank you for saying that because there is stuff going on in there that other people don’t tell. And what did understand and did know—and thank god we did do this for a number of different reasons—for people for whom that particular story means a hell of a lot more than it would to another filmgoer and that’s mostly people either facing death or have lost somebody. The fact that you have to tell the price of what Frodo paid for that adventure, it was hugely important that we include that.
Boyens: [Laughs] I love it. Thank you.
As a huge fan of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, all of this stuff; obviously I know, you don’t have to confirm it, that there’s going to be an extended edition of the Blu-ray coming, because of course there is.
My question about how much longer can fans look forward to the extra footage being? Is there five minutes? Is there fifteen minutes?
Boyens: I can very honestly tell you that that is still literally being figured out. It’s literally an ongoing discussion in terms of the effects, and what works and what doesn’t. So how much and how long it’s going to be, you know I don’t honestly think it’s going to be hugely that much longer, because truthfully most of the stuff that we needed to get in for the storytelling is in there. But I’ve got one personal thing that I love that I wish was in there and you’ll see it, it’s a little thing between Bilbo and Elrond. It’s probably, within the context of the greater whole, the six films; it’s going to work really beautifully when you see Bilbo in Rivendell in Lord of the Rings. But we had to be very, very careful that weren’t being too self-referential and that we weren’t writing for the prequel. You know what I mean? That we weren’t just writing stuff just because it was going to have a certain resonance with Lord of the Rings. We tried to be careful that we didn’t do that too much.
Obviously you guys have two more Hobbit films and I’m sure that you’ve been looking at rough cuts of the two of them. Do you think that the length of the second and third film will be similar to the length of The Hobbit, or do you think that either of those could end up being shorter?
Boyens: No, I think they’ll be around the same or slightly shorter ideally. It’ll be interesting though, we’ll see. I know from the rough cut of film two that at the moment you could say that it will be shorter.
The next thing I’m curious about, obviously you guys decided to make three films, I’m curious how much more filming you have to do now. I did a set visit earlier this year so I knew you guys had already planned for doing additional shooting next year, my question is how much more shooting might you be doing because you’re making three films now, or is it still the same amount of filming?
Boyens: No, we have added some to the schedule, we definitely had to because as soon as we made the choice to be able to tell the story of [inaudible] and to make the choice of being able to tell the story of Azog and those sort of things, we opened up the opportunity to tell more of the tale, which is what we’re going to do.
If you don’t mind me being more specific, because I know fans really would want to know, do you guys have two months of filming next year? Do you have three months? Or have you not figured it out yet?
Boyens: At the moment, honestly, I’m probably the wrong person to ask, but I think it’s around eight weeks. So it went from like four weeks to eight weeks. A lot of it is to do with The Battle of the Five Armies, which is something we did learn from Lord of the Rings, and knowing Pete it’s just going to be even more incredible than anything he’s done before. You have to care about that action and that war and so that’s one of the things we want to do. And I think we’ve begun to set that up if you can imagine Bilbo now with the eagles.
On both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, how much changes when you are on set, or do you really lay it out and break it down so much that it’s pretty much sticking with the script when you’re filming?
Boyens: (Laughs) No, no we don’t, we don’t. No, we never let schedules get in the way of a good idea. Pete is a very brave filmmaker and he’s not afraid of changing things, especially if it’s a good idea. And we also think—you know, this is an incredibly collaborative business and we want to be able to embrace any sorts of ideas that come at you, especially when they’re good ones. So often a thought may be late in coming, but it’s often a good thought and Pete goes with it.
What props did you manage to take home?
Boyens: Ah, props that I managed to take home? Actually they gave me, I have to say. At the end of the film when there’s a beautiful piece that Galadriel has on her dress. It’s an extraordinary stone and there’s another version of it which will lead me into a story that I can’t tell you about but it’s made from a stone called labradorite which is a stone that I’ve never come across before. But anyone who’s never encountered labradorite before should go and look it up, because it’s extraordinary. It’s very dark and deep. Yes, I got a little piece of the stone.
I will leave it on that note and say talk to you next year, congratulations on the movie.
Boyens: Thanks so much, that’s really nice of you, and yeah, talk to you next year.
For more on The Hobbit, click here.