Suzie Denize, owner of 'Hairy Feet Waitomo Scenic Film Location Tour', shares her memories about the preparation and filming for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" at Mangaotaki, Piopio
8 months of planning, 500 people and a week of location filming...
Warrick the hobbit"All for 6 minutes and 30 seconds of actual location footage on screen! This is major air time, I'm told, and we had the honour of having the most screen time of any location in New Zealand in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" The Mangaotaki Valley starts its debut at about 55 minutes into the film with the spooky Trollshaws Forest.
Several pivotal scenes were filmed here on our farm with dwarves, wizards and a wee Hobbit running around underneath our cliffs and through the rocks and bush. The whole Mangaotaki segment lasts about 20 minutes. Lots of clever computer graphic work made the three mountain trolls, the huge wargs (wolves) and sleigh rabbits come to life on the screen."
Keeping it confidential
"Once our place was confirmed as a film location, we needed to keep everything confidential. Even though it was very exciting, we weren’t able to say a word to anyone. Rather tricky in a small community and with so much work being done to put tracks in, people must have wondered what on earth we were doing!"
Prior to filming
"The diversity of people working on the project before, during and after the filming was immense. To name just a few:
Aaron Bradcock & local contractors built tracks and car parks.
Builders, scaffolders, plasterers, painters & designers constructed the sets.
The Greens Department (gardeners) used their green-thumbs to 'dress' the sets.
The Arts Department brought the sets to life with props made by Weta Workshop and various items from their stores.
Jared Connon (Supervising Location Manager) & his team managed the logistics of the entire production on the road- everything from traffic & parking, to marquees, power, water & communications."
"Once filming began the site became a city of people all totally focused on doing the job to the best of their ability. They were true professionals and very respectful of us and our land. They were a real pleasure to have around."
Morning tea deliveries
"Our sons, Matthew and Peter, were invited to take the morning and afternoon tea platters to all the crew working at the Unit Base. After prepping and putting on gloves they then had to memorize the ingredients and tell everyone what was on offer. Afterwards, they were given a free choice of yummy treats from the catering truck as a Thank You."
Our family picnic spot by the Mangaotaki River
"My father-in-law recalls talking to this nice young man walking barefoot with his two little children, hand in hand up the river. They discussed the beautiful day and how nice the river was and basically just chatted. He later found that he'd been talking to 'Bilbo' (Martin Freeman). "Who?" he asked."
School bus fans
"Each morning and afternoon the school bus would go by with little faces pressed up against the windows trying to see what was going on. One morning I made a special coffee and flagged the bus down and handed it to the driver. She was delighted and while we talked for a minute, the kids' eyes became as big as saucers as they tried to get a glimpse of someone famous!"
"Piopio Village has a population of about 450 and we don't have a huge amount of accommodation, so when we had confirmation that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" was coming to town, we had a dilemma. Where on earth were we going to put 500 extra people?
The call went out to everyone in the community to see if they could help out. The response was incredible and before long there were more than enough homes being offered to the cast and crew. People were willing to move out of their homes for a week or two so that the cast and crew would have somewhere to stay near the film location.
Where did the locals all go? To family or friends. Some even happily slept in their woolsheds. It was seen as a chance to be part of something rather special.
I talked to some of the actors and they couldn't believe that folk would move out of their homes for them. It made their life so much easier, because they didn't need to travel far to work each day. But that's Piopio! If there's a need, they try and help out. It was a lesson in genuine country hospitality and it made me proud to be a local."
Sir Peter Jackson's birthday
While filming here the 'main man' had his birthday. The catering crew made an amazing lunch to celebrate and we made sure we were there to help them eat it!
Lunching with the actors
We were invited into the big catering marquee to have lunch with the cast and crew. The actors always had their prosthetics on - silicone noses, heavy eyebrows, big ears, fleshy cheeks, crazy wigs and way out beards and moustaches. They were very chatty and introduced themselves to us, but it was impossible to recognize the people underneath all that makeup!
Horses in suits!
"We had dozens of horses arrive at the farm and each day they needed to put on their suits. Yes, they weren't hairy enough and the clever costume people had made special stretchy body suits with long scraggly hair attached.
When their scenes were finished, they were disrobed and the suits were sanitized ready for the next day. Those horses were treated like royalty. They had a small army of people caring for them, from grooms and vets to farriers. Just like the actors, there were different sizes too. Big and little, they all were needed."
Four helicopters look at possible locations in the district
"Sir Peter Jackson and the heads of department arrived in 4 red helicopters to look at the location and see if it was suitable. We were there to meet them all and watched while they hovered along the cliff tops then swooped in to land. It was very impressive. It's not often you get to see a group of identical helicopters in formation. Our place wasn’t the only location they checked out that day and those 4 red helicopters were seen all over the district."
Can that set be moved?
"This was the question asked of the newly completed Staddle Farm house set, which appeared to be in an unsuitable place. The camera just couldn’t fit the house and the cliffs into the shot. It had taken a number of weeks to erect but, "No problem, I'll shift it" local contractor Aaron said. "Where do you want it?" So, in between shooting other scenes, he proceeded to carefully carry parts of the house to the new approved site with his trusty digger. It was all in place by the time it was needed. He usually moves dirt and rocks, not sets for film crews!"
"Warrick was driving home one day and upon seeing a new pair of security guards at the gate, decided to pull in to say "Gidday" (hello). On impulse he yelled out the window, "Hey, can I go and have a look?" Their eyes widened and they stood up tall and said in a low voice, "I don’t think so buddy." He then tried explaining that he was actually the owner, but of course they were now very suspicious and wouldn’t let him go in. He got more than he bargained for!"
Security guards in the Mangaotaki Valley!
"Once the sets started being built security guards were brought in to patrol the area day and night. These guards were from the city and they'd never worked in a place that had no street lights and was pitch black at night. So, to feel more at home, they had huge flood lights by their van. The light attracted every big fluttering bush moth from miles around, which in turn brought the moreporks (native owls) swooping in for a free meal. Often the possums would start cackling and growling in the trees too. We often wonder what those city guards thought of all the night activity!"
No room for the Techno crane
"This giant camera on hydraulic legs needs a large flat area to sit on. That's a little difficult on a farm with lots of rocks and hills! Time to bring in Aaron and his trusty digger again."No problem, where do you want to put it?" he says. Working until the early hours of the morning Aaron made sure there was a large flat area for the crane to sit on, in time to take the shot. The crew were heard saying "We need to take this guy back to Wellington with us!""
Beam me up, Scotty
"Living in an idyllic valley does have one drawback – limited cell phone and internet coverage. So what did the film company do? They placed aerials and generators on top of the cliffs to power everything. For one special week we were connected to the rest of the world with a vast network!"
The White Warg
"We were being shown around the Tech Base, where all the technical equipment was housed in big trucks. The back of a truck was opened and there stood a life-sized white Warg. It had blood red candle wax dripping down its jaws to replicate some gruesome meal it had just eaten. The thing was huge and had cold evil eyes. Creepy!"
"Hurry up and wait!"
This was a term I heard a lot. There were many other actors who came to our farm and waited. They waited for the call to be dressed and act as doubles for the main actors. For instance, each dwarf we see on screen is one of 4 people: either the actor, second unit double, stunt double or small scale double. That's 52 actors playing the 13 dwarves! While they waited they were lucky enough to have our family picnic spot to relax by. The Mangaotaki River runs right past this pretty spot and they all swam and hung out there.
The chefs catered for everyone. Not only was every meal at least two courses, there were always vegetarian and gluten-free options. There were heaps of fresh fruit and vegetables for the juice machines and the coffee machines were constantly turning out excellent brews. Being out in the countryside was no problem for these