“I guess in a way we were thinking of making this as a the little bit of the Fellowship of the Ring that Peter Jackson forgot — or didn’t have time to tell,” explains filmmaker Chris Bouchard, whose 40-minute fan film The Hunt for Gollum was produced on a shoe-string budget with the help of a motley team of fellow Tolkien devotees. After the jump we ask the emerging filmmaker how he wrangled his crew of volunteers, what kind of reaction he’s gotten from Tolkien/New Line Cinema, and why he chose to focus his tale on that slimy little guy’s search for his Precious.
Flavorpill: Watching this, it’s shocking that you made it look so good for just £3,000. How did you pull it off?
Chris Bouchard: I’m quite complimented there. Well, I don’t know really. We were just using HDV cameras, which you can buy for less than a couple of thousand dollars. In other words, the cheapest cameras we could find that would shoot something that would resemble HD. But really, it was just trying to use those in a way that simulated the way that Hollywood movies are shot. We had a steadicam — a homemade one that used a weight and pole — that we used for some moving camera shots, which helped things look more slick and more interesting visually. We used that a lot and it only cost about £200. Just a piece of metal and some weights, but once you figured out how to use it, we could do pretty much anything. Sort of the poor man’s steadicam. That helped. And then we used Final Cut editing software, which is pretty common. We just did some very simple color grading on that, trying to tweak the color a bit to give it a glossy sheen. Color balancing and correcting it a bit.
FP: And the whole process took two years — pre-production to final product?
CB: Almost two years, yeah. The start for me was writing the script and trying to find a crew who’d be crazy enough to take it on.
FP: How did you decide what section to adapt from the LOTR story?
CB: Well, I’m a big, big fan of the books and the films. I was looking for a new film that I could make on a really low budget. So I read it through again, and I found this little story that could potentially be done without any money if we stuck Gollum in the sack. Which seemed like a funny idea, anyway. It was only intended to be a 10-minute short film, and then it sort of grew as more people came on board. I rewrote the script and added more scenes. Let’s make this fight scene bigger. Let’s add more orcs and stuff.
FP: Speaking of getting people involved, how did you go about finding people to work on the project?
CB: Getting the crew on board was quite hard at first. So I took a few friends out to Wales and we went camping and filming for three days. We shot loads of stuff with Adrian Webster, who’s Aragorn, roaming about the mountains. Mini-mountains. And then using that footage I made a little teaser and got some images for a Web site. That helped to get more people interested, because they could see that we were putting a lot of time and love into it. More people were keen to come on board once they realized what we were trying to do. We ended up working with about 50 people during the shooting, and closer to 160 odd during post-production. All the sound effects guys, and a big army of about 50 CGI guys all over the world. We’d send them a shot and then they’d send it back over the Internet. Then we’d put that into the film. It became a pretty massive collaboration. It was crazy.
FP: How did you manage to work an original score into such a small budget?
CB: I got two really talented two composers on board — Adam Langston and Andrew Skrabutenas in the States — and they split the score in half because it was quite a big task to try and do that kind of sweeping score without any money at all. Without any orchestras, or anything like that. They had to use computers. They did great work on that.
FP: What was your goal with this? Were you hoping to get Peter Jackson’s attention? Is it simply a passion project?
CB: There was probably several goals actually. Yeah, it was definitely a project I was doing for fun, because we love filmmaking so much. But obviously it would be wonderful to get paid to make films fulltime, which none of us really does. So it was also a way to showcase what we can do without any money at all. Maybe it will help us to get funding for a feature film or land jobs in the industry. That kind of thing.
FP: Would you ever take The Hunt for Gollum and expand it into a feature?
CB: The story we’re working with on The Hunt for Gollum doesn’t really have enough going on for a full-length feature. It’s too simple and there aren’t that many characters. An original feature would be great to do. Hopefully that would be something that we could do and then commercially release. Rather than this, which is a non-profit. We’re never going to recoup all the cash we put into it; that’s gone.
FP: Did you ever think about talking to New Line or the Tolkien people about getting permission to release this?
CB: Not really. We didn’t really ever think they would. I mean, they’ve got The Hobbit and other revenues to think about. I should probably say they did get in touch at one point, but we eventually reached an agreement with them where they allowed us to put it online for free so that people could watch it — as long as it’s non-profit. I think they’re understanding of fans wanting to express their love of the material.
FP: It’s hard to imagine them being opposed to it when it turned out so well.
CB: Yeah, but can you imagine? We would have been a bunch of nobodies knocking on their door asking, “Do you want to do this?” They were just going to say, “No way!” We didn’t want to risk it.
FP: Was there a reason other than budget that you chose to focus on Gollum?
CB: Gollum’s one of everyone’s favorite characters from the trilogy, and definitely one of mine. Once I realized that our camera man could do a good impression of him, we gave him more lines to say. The camera guy on the first shoot ended up playing Gollum’s voice as well as becoming the big orc in the movie that has that huge fight scene. He had a lot of roles to play.
FP: The big Orc was kind of scary.
CB: [Laughs] Yeah, he really got into his character. In fact, we’re thinking of doing a spin-off series of just him marching around the forest.