The Hobbit stopped shooting in July - the first of three "blocks" of shooting in Wellington and elsewhere - and resumes on September 5. Expect a lot more shooting.
Sir Peter Jackson has said it will be about 250 days in total, the equivalent of about eight months! There's still a little under 200 days to go.
In the meantime there is a way anyone can get a glimpse of The Hobbit. We've known for ages that a farm near Matamata was used for Hobbiton in The Lord of the Rings.
The skeleton that remained of the set has been a very popular tourist attraction. We also know that it has since been rebuilt for The Hobbit - and that this time it won't be removed once filming is completed. It's been designed to last 50 years.
But what surprises me is that the public can visit the rebuilt set right now before the cameras roll.
So - can you legally take photographs of The Hobbit while on Wexford Hill, a Wellington Airport-owned property that overlooks Sir Peter Jackson's Stone St studios where the film is being made?
On the face of it - you can't. But it's not as clear cut as people might think. One of the reasons I know this is that we've been here before. Eleven years ago a similar sign was erected in Taita in the Hutt Valley, at a spot where there were sets for The Lord of the Rings. The sign said people couldn't take photographs or video tape of the set, costumes or props as they were " valuable copyright works". Much of what was going on there could be seen clearly from just standing on the footpath outside, which is a public space.
Back then I went to a number of lawyers and, not surprisingly, got a number of different legal opinions - but not one came down firmly on the side of the film's makers. I doubt there have been any significant changes in the law in that time. This is what I found out:
It is only enforceable if you set foot on private property. (This would appear then to be the case as it's a Wellington Airport-owned property, not public space.)
Under the Copyright Act, you'd infringe on copyright if the photographs or video footage was of costumes, props and "mobile structures". But, because most sets are fixed structures they are defined as buildings. You are allowed to take photographs of buildings without infringing copyright - so long as it's from a public space.
After The Dominion Post and American magazine Entertainment Weekly revealed the first images from The Hobbit last week - here's some more. British film magazine Empire has some more of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Sir Ian McKellen enjoying the delights of smoking pipe-weed.
One of the significant differences between The Hobbit and Sir Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings is not just that it will be shown in 3-D. There was also excitement and some debate when it was announced it would be shot at 48 frames per second instead of the standard 24.
Jackson in April explained the decision on Facebook. With 24 frames "there is often quite a lot of blur in each frame, during fast movements, and if the camera is moving around quickly, the image can judder or 'strobe'. Shooting and projecting at 48 fps does a lot to get rid of these issues. It looks much more lifelike, and it is much easier to watch, especially in 3-D".
Well, I now hear that the Warner Bros are blown away with what they are seeing accomplished with 48 frames. So much in fact, the studio is giving Jackson and his team even more freedom to achieve what they want to do in the two part film.
The other point I've heard is almost mind boggling, but an indication of just how much things have changed since Jackson shot The Lord of the Rings.
A fortnight ago I wrote a news story that Wellington still in the running for the Avatar sequels. Nothing has changed. Weta Digital, which created the visual effects for the first blockbuster, are keen to do it again. Director James Cameron was in Wellington in May to discuss the possibility of Weta Digital being on board, as well new technological innovations.
So nothing has been signed off, but everything seems to point to Weta Digital being involved.
Cameron now has a new studio set up at Manhattan Beach near Los Angeles. Avatar co-producer Jon Landau - who I met and interviewed twice when he was in Wellington - has told Fox News this week that he anticipates more than 700 jobs from the sequels just at the Manhattan Beach base. But the work on the sequels there will largely be the motion capture process, just like in the first film. That's only one part of the visual effects process and doesn't include live action scenes.
Cameron also made an interesting comment: "We're shooting two films back-to-back, so I'm writing two scripts, not one, which will complete a three-film story arc."
So if Weta Digital gets the job of visual effects again it could be a much longer job. The first film employed more than 1500 people in New Zealand and pumped an estimated $100 million into Wellington. The sequels back-to-back could mean even more money being pumped into the Capital. Maybe even $200 m.
Sir Peter Jackson's announcement today that The Hobbit will now include Dame Edna Everage - Sir Les Patterson - I mean Australian actor, comedian, presenter, writer, artist and all round raconteur Barry Humphries is an inspired decision even by Jackson's standards.
Honestly, who could have predicted it?
And I mean inspired, even if living in Wellington means any praise of Jackson brings with it the risk of sounding like a greaser. But Jackson, and by default his casting team, have made some unpredictable and left-field decisions over the years that have paid dividends.
You can see this Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey right through to Orlando Bloom - who was barely out of drama school. Even when he's made mistakes and actors have had to leave due to (cough) "creative differences" such as Stuart Townsend as Aragorn or Ryan Gosling in The Lovely Bones, their last minute replacements have come up trumps. Can anyone now imagine anyone other than Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn?
Today's announcement also confirms finally last week's rumour that Brit actor Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Smaug. Now I won't be able to help but imagine his face morphed, through motion capture, onto a giant dragon every time I see a clip from Sherlock.
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