Interview

Interview with Chris Bouchard

E. L. Dollard

University of Chester, Chester, United Kingdom

[0.1] Abstract—Interview with Chris Bouchard, conducted by Emma Dollard.

[0.2] Keywords—Adaptation; Appropriation; Fan film; Filmmaking; J. R. R. Tolkien; The Lord of the Rings; The Hunt for Gollum

Dollard, E. L. 2009. Interview with Chris Bouchard. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2009.0168.

doi:10.3983/twc.2009.0168

1. Introduction

[1.1] Chris Bouchard is the director and executive producer of The Hunt for Gollum, a 40-minute independent film inspired by The Lord of the Rings. The film is available on the Internet for free viewing at http://www.thehuntforgollum.com.

[1.2] The Hunt for Gollum was released on the Internet on May 3, 2009. The film follows Gandalf and Aragorn's search for Gollum after he was released from Mordor. In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn explains this quest in the chapter entitled "The Council of Elrond." Aragorn and Gandalf searched for Gollum for some time before Gandalf went to Gondor looking for proof that Bilbo's ring was the One Ring. This left Aragorn to track Gollum through the Wild alone, and eventually capture him.

[1.3] Bouchard's combination of Tolkien's text and Peter Jackson's visual interpretation of Middle-earth is an impressive accomplishment, given the low £3,000 budget and part-time filming. The accomplished feel of The Hunt for Gollum is aided by the performances of professional actors, particularly Adrian Webster as Aragorn, and by the collaboration with the makers of sister fan film Born of Hope (http://www.bornofhope.com/) for props and costumes.

[1.4] Chris was interviewed via e-mail by E. L. Dollard.

2. The making of The Hunt for Gollum

[2.1] Q: What led you to decide to adapt The Hunt for Gollum? Did you explicitly look for a gap in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film?

[2.2] CB: Yes. Once I realized that such a film might be possible, I started looking for passages in the books and appendices that had been left out. I had seen how the other big fan film, Born of Hope, was already in the planning stages and talked to them about collaboration. [Born of Hope is another Lord of the Rings–inspired film, still in production, to be distributed freely on the Internet at http://www.bornofhope.com]. Luckily they were open to it, and so I already had lots of costumes in place. Eventually I settled on The Hunt for Gollum, purely because it was a prequel, and it had the three characters that really interested me in The Lord of the Rings.

[2.3] Q: Did you find it difficult to accommodate the differing levels of viewer knowledge of the text, or did your adaptation of Tolkien's text work because viewers would already be familiar with Jackson's film?

[2.4] CB: I didn't want to repeat information from the films, so I assumed the audience would already have seen them and tried to give them more information. My editor, Lewis, and I had lots of discussions as we were editing the film together and rescripting some scenes about how to stay true to Tolkien's world, but we also wanted to make sure fans of the films would find something they could connect with.

[2.5] Q: The film is remarkably consistent with Jackson's vision of Middle-earth. Do you think that Jackson's The Lord of the Rings is inescapable stylistically?

[2.6] CB: For a short film such as this, it seemed sensible to stick to the world as had already been established. For starters, this saved us budget and time on the design and art department stages. Jackson and Co. created a wonderfully rich world, so why change something that works just for the sake of change?

[2.7] Q: What was the most challenging aspect of filming The Hunt for Gollum?

[2.8] CB: Organizing a cast and crew of over 100 volunteers, plus learning a lot of the processes as we went along. Many of the crew hadn't even worked on a film before, so it was a case of trial and error a lot of the time. Also, this is my first proper film, so polishing it to completion in the edit suite, with all the CGI and sound, was a long and rather arduous experience.

[2.9] Q: How was Gollum created in the film?

[2.10] CB: We used every trick we could dream up. In the wide shots, where Gollum is far away from the camera, that's either Matt or Chris done up in a mask with makeup to look like Gollum, and crawling around either in North Wales or in front of a makeshift green screen I put up on the rooftop of my flat. The shot at the end when you see his face was done at the last minute by a small team of very talented CGI artists. There were several moments when I thought we wouldn't be able to achieve that shot and nearly gave up.

[2.11] Q: Did you find it difficult to "create" Middle-earth in only 40 minutes of film?

[2.12] CB: It was tricky to get the length and pacing right. The script was only 25 pages long (25 minutes), but the rough cut turned out to be 55 minutes. We had to ruthlessly cut down the scenes so that it didn't feel too slow, but still showed the richness of the world. I called on help from friends and Lord of the Rings fans in the editing stages, to ensure that the edit and pace of the film were about right before we released it. When you've been working on the same project for almost 2 years, the hardest thing is to watch it with fresh eyes and imagine how a real audience would see it.

[2.13] Q: What parts of the film are you most pleased with?

[2.14] CB: I rather like the scenes with Gandalf in them, purely because it was a rare chance to get the actors together in a film that's mostly just Aragorn wandering around by himself. I suppose I'm quite proud of the fight scenes, as they were a huge technical challenge.

3. Fans, adaptation, appropriation

[3.1] Q: Could you tell us more about the script-writing process? You said it was originally conceived as longer than 25 pages. Who wrote the script, and how much did the script writing and the approach to the story influence and shape the final film?

[3.2] CB: I adapted the script myself, although I had lots of help and input from my coproducers and editor Lewis Albrow, who helped restructure the story, which we developed constantly during the final year of production. I originally wrote it as a 15-page script, trying to keep things simple on our microbudget, but as things went on, I got more ambitious, and new ideas were incorporated. So the script went through about 20 versions, and then we changed around the order of scenes a lot in the edit, experimenting and eventually even reshooting a couple of scenes to fit the new structure. The ending of the film changed substantially while we were editing the first scenes shot, and the final Black Rider fight was only added to the script at the last minute when I realized we might be able to pull it off. Originally the Orc attack was halfway through the film (before Aragorn captured Gollum), but we decided ultimately it was better to save up the Orcs until near the end. At one point, I had a rough cut at 55 minutes, but Aragorn spent most of that time alone, tracking, and we realized it was dragging, so we brutally chopped it down to 38 minutes a few weeks before it was released.

[3.3] Q: One remark by reviewers is that the cinematography really strives, and in many cases succeeds, to match that of Jackson's films. Can you talk about why, in the context of a fan work, this would be considered high praise? Why do you think viewers of Gollum would prefer an homage rather than a wholly new look or style?

[3.4] CB: As a fan, I wanted to see more of Peter Jackson's trilogy, so that's what I set about trying to achieve. Most of the viewers seem to have wanted the same thing. However, our cinematography is not yet quite up there with feature-film quality, so we had to cut many corners, and use whatever natural light Mother Nature provided. Everything was done on the bare minimum, with the cheapest HD cameras we could borrow; however, there are tricks to try to make digital look more cinematic, and on every shot, I was thinking about how to avoid the home video look.

[3.5] Q: Fan films have been described as essentially derivative by nature. Do you think this is a fair assessment?

[3.6] CB: Certainly. Fan films are designed purposely for audiences to experience an extension of an already established world. If they did not derive their stories/characters/worlds from those existing works, then they would not be able to reach out to an audience on the Internet and would not be recognized at all. Of course there's the opportunity for filmmakers to put their own mark on the way things are shot and made, how the stories are told, but the main aims are to please the existing fan base and to do that you have to remain true to the world of the original works.

[3.7] Q: Do you see yourself as part of a process of adaptation (the conscious transformation of material into a new medium such as book to film) or appropriation (the act of knowingly or unknowingly making reference to a specific text such as Jackson's 'nod' to Bakshi's animated The Lord of the Rings [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077869/])? Do you think that your work is in a lesser league because it is an amateur/fan effort—not just because of lack of resources, but also because of your own more fannish perspective?

[3.8] CB: With this film, it was definitely a process of adaptation, and this was intended from the outset. The film industry doesn't recognize nonprofit films, fan films, or media as being in the same league simply because they don't generate any revenue. I don't think of the film as being in the same league as Hollywood feature films because it is a fan film. It can't stand alone.

[3.9] Q: Was it a difficult process to draw the narrative together? The story of Gollum's capture by Aragorn is relayed in a number of places from The Fellowship of the Ring to The Unfinished Tales to the appendices. What was the most challenging aspect of adapting the story to film?

[3.10] CB: I suppose the difficult thing was to make it interesting when most of the film was Aragorn traveling alone. So characterization was difficult, as was pacing it to keep it interesting. Also, there's so much background history and information to get across that it was difficult to balance that with elements of characterization. Plus getting it all into a short film was tricky. It could have been feature length if we'd added a few more characters. The other difficult thing was writing for a budget; Gollum had to remain in the sack because a fully CGI Gollum in multiple shots would have been impossible. So that limited the dialogue we could write between Aragorn and Gollum, which was a shame.

[3.11] Q: What led you to the changes you made to Tolkien's story? I'm particularly interested in the places where The Hunt for Gollum diverges from Aragorn's account in "The Council of Elrond," such as Aragorn's conversations with Gollum—which I personally found to be engaging and compelling, but which do not appear in Tolkien.

[3.12] CB: It was hard to imagine these conversations, and it was difficult on set because most of the time, Adrian was acting with an immobile sack. I decided that Aragorn would have attempted to talk to Gollum, first because Aragorn is an intelligent man and knows much of Gollum's state of mind. If he were taking the creature on a long journey, I imagine he would have been curious and tried his hand at questioning Gollum. I only wish we could have perhaps taken this a lot further, as Gollum is a fascinating character, and in some ways, there are parallels with Aragorn. Both are lonely and lost, and their fates are tied up with the Ring. Gollum is obsessed by it and Aragorn's forefathers once possessed it. I wish we could have taken that further, but we ran out of time and money.

[3.13] Q: Can you discuss process of filling gaps, as opposed to any other possible strategies that a fan filmmaker might take? We are interested in the different approaches that your movie and the companion production Born of Hope take.

[3.14] CB: Filling the gaps was the fun, creative challenge of writing the script, I drew on my own love of the books to imagine what might have happened, based on Tolkien's incredibly deep development of the characters we were using. I was always careful to try to please the fans, sometimes at the expense of showing more interesting character arcs. For example, we could have had Aragorn refuse the journey and give him an arc of overcoming his self-doubt. While this would have been more dramatic, it wasn't true to the original, so I rejected it to avoid losing the fan base, while knowing the narrative arc of the short film would be weaker as a result. Born of Hope does not have key characters from the original films to write about, so they've had more freedom. There are many differences in that Born of Hope is actually a feature-length film, with a large cast of Rangers, so it's got the opportunity to have a lot more interesting character stuff going on. Plus the books give very little detail, so producer Kate Madison has been more creative with fleshing out an original narrative and adding additional characters, while still remaining true to the events Tolkien specified.

[3.15] Q: How much collaboration did The Hunt for Gollum and Born of Hope have, apart from your project borrowing costumes? Were there discussions between the two groups? Did you share or exchange ideas? Do you see yourselves as supplementing one another?

[3.16] CB: There was some collaboration in that I did some camera work on their shoots and we shared some equipment, and Kate Madison helped with wardrobe and production management on some of our shoots too. We also ended up using the same locations for forest scenes—getting permission is very difficult if you don't have money, so we shared our research, and at least 20 crew members, artists, and technicians have worked on both productions. At the same time, there was a healthy sense of rivalry happening, with each of us trying to outdo each other in terms of ambitious shoots and large-scale fight scenes. Born of Hope has gone for something far more ambitious than The Hunt for Gollum, both in terms of length and scale. They have orchestrated fight scenes on a scale I've never seen on a volunteer film.

[3.17] Q: Obviously, one the biggest issues surrounding fan films such as The Hunt for Gollum is the issue of copyright. There have been any number of high-profile fan films in the last year, and even Be Kind Rewind took it as a central theme. (Be Kind Rewind [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0799934/] is a 2008 film where the main characters attempt to recreate a homemade version of hit movies such as Ghostbusters.) How important do you think it is that filmmakers have the freedom to appropriate texts and rework them?

[3.18] CB: I think it's very important, purely as a learning experience. It's so hard to establish oneself as a filmmaker in the industry, especially if you don't have contacts or family there already. So making a fan film can be a way to showcase skills and talent that would otherwise have been undiscovered.

[3.19] Q: Again on copyright: could you talk about your relationship (if any) with the Tolkien estate, which is disclaimed on The Hunt for Gollum's Web site?

[3.20] CB: Tolkien Enterprises reached an understanding with us, but I can't comment further than that on the details.

4. Cast, crew, audiences: A gender divide?

[4.1] Q: How did you come to be involved in cinema? As a filmmaker, who do you think has particularly influenced you?

[4.2] CB: I was studying engineering and music at university and joined a filmmaking society that made digital short films. I got addicted to it there and haven't stopped since. Influences: lots of people. Some of the filmmakers I've worked with are Shane Felux and Adam Dymond. And from the wider world, there are the directors I admire: Ridley Scott, and of course Peter Jackson.

[4.3] Q: Some of your early work in film has been as a composer. What led you to move across to directing? As a composer, were you particularly conscious of the effect of the soundtrack in the film?

[4.4] CB: I think that as soon as I got the opportunity to play around with a camera and edit software, I was nurturing a desire to direct a film. Before that, I'd been musically trained and found film music an interesting way to take part in the filmmaking process. Coming from that background, I did try to put more thought into the soundtrack, and initially I wanted to compose it myself. However, I soon realized that I'd never have time to do that as well as finish the editing and the rest of the postproduction; composing for film is incredibly slow. So I got Adam Langston and Andrew Skrabutenas to kindly lend their musical talents to the score. Luckily they let me be involved and went to great pains to understand what I wanted for the film.

[4.5] Q: The cast and crew of the fan film are clearly mostly men (while we understand Born of Hope has a higher percentage of women in the cast and crew). Of course the plot you chose to emphasize, the gap you chose to fill, was male centered, but why are women, traditionally associated with fan works, so absent?

[4.6] CB: While you're right, our cast was five men and one woman, our location crews were almost a 50/50 male-female split. There are a lot of female Lord of the Rings fans out there, and talented producers, crew, costume, and makeup artists. To be fair, the postproduction team was more male dominated.

[4.7] Q: Again on gender, this time looking at the audience. When shooting Gollum, did you have a specific audience in mind for your film—hard-core fans, industry pros, or others? Were you keeping in mind the need to make it accessible to a wider audience? If we look at this in terms of gender, was there a difference in your mind between a female and a male audience? This is interesting because both genders share their love of the source text, but—if I may generalize and simplify a bit—it appears that most of the male fans see their transformative work as a means to an end, like a step up to a professional position, whereas most female fans see the work as a gift to their fan community and as an end in itself.

[4.8] CB: I was hoping to make it accessible to the widest audience possible—the fans. I aimed to please fans of the films without alienating fans of the books. In terms of gender, I didn't really think about it at all, apart from deciding to expand the love/dream scene with Arwen at the request of my female coproducers. The scene was actually written by my coproducer, Julianne Honey-Menal. I love the way it turned out.

5. What's next

[5.1] Q: Did the people who worked on the fan film see this as a kind of entrée into the professional world of filmmaking? A few seemed to be in the industry. What was their motivation for doing a fan work? How many of them self-identify more as fans than as movie professionals?

[5.2] CB: Definitely. For most of the crew this was their first film, their first ambitious film, or their first chance to do something they haven't done before. So it was an opportunity to get experience, learn the filmmaking process firsthand, network, and express themselves creatively. Plus it's another credit to add to their CVs and show reels. Most of the crew would probably not self-identify as fans but saw it as an opportunity to contribute to an unusual large-scale production. But the core contributors were hard-core fans as well as skilled artists, and that showed through in their work.

[5.3] Q: On the basis of your experiences, would you make another The Lord of the Rings fan film, and if so, what would you most like to film?

[5.4] CB: If I had the money to make another fan film, then I'd probably want to do The Scouring of the Shire. I really missed that last chapter from the trilogy. Anyway, I've no intention of doing another fan film. Instead, I'm starting work on an original feature film. Hopefully I can make something that gets distribution in a more conventional way, although we are looking at the Web as a possible launch platform.

[5.5] Q: If you didn't think The Hunt for Gollum would attract the interest of pros, would you have made the film anyway? You say you have no intention of making another fan film. Why not? Generally fan writers, artists, filmmakers, and vidders do not stop at one effort.

[5.6] CB: The Hunt for Gollum actually hasn't attracted very much interest from the film industry. It hasn't been mentioned in any industry papers I'm aware of. The awareness in the general press is higher. Why not make another fan film? Money! It's a ridiculously expensive hobby. I've invested 2 years of hard work and funded the film myself. If I am to continue making films, I need to do something that will recoup its investment. So an original feature film will be my next move.





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