In Praise of Michael Pellerin

Michael Pellerin

I am a big fan of behind the scenes documentaries for films.

My passion started way back in 1994 when, just a few months after the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, a ‘making of’ feature was shown on TV. I was mesmerised to see what went on behind the camera lens: the writing of the script, the set design and, of course, the creation of the dinosaurs themselves.

Since then, I devoured any behind the scenes features I came across, no matter what film it was. This occurred well before the advent of DVDs and such instances showed up few and far between.

Thankfully, we can now enjoy many a DVD extra and more in-depth production clips on Blu-ray. I’ve seen quite a few behind the scenes documentaries now and, so far, nothing – absolutely nothing – has topped the beautifully complex and detailed ‘making of’ features of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

I bless the day when, before the turn of the century, Peter Jackson asked filmmaker Michael Pellerin to document the production of The Lord of the Rings.

What we got was a treasure-trove of information that chronicles the stages from the trilogy’s inception to its worldwide distribution. It is both a technical and intimate masterpiece: a series of features that enable fans to get as close as possible to experiencing the journey of the cast and the crew.

What Pellerin and his team managed to do was monumental. Covering not only the initial stages of script writing, the 250+ days of filming, pick-ups and eventual post-production, into a minuscule 20-hour trilogy of ‘making ofs’, but also managing to capture the atmosphere on set and around the whole of New Zealand.

I’ve been working on video production for several years now and can understand the problems faced by Pellerin’s crew. Just trying to assemble a coherent narrative structure that makes sense, amid the endless hours of raw footage, is something that would drive a lesser person mad.

Where do you start from? What do you include? What do you leave out? How do you make it entertaining?

The answers to these questions are the DVDs and the Blu-rays we fans now own.

Michael Pellerin repeated this masterpiece for The Hobbit trilogy: nine-hour-long documentaries for each film, breaking down the creation of each sequence into chunks of rich information on the process of filmmaking.

It’s also essential to note that, between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Pellerin had also collaborated with Peter Jackson on the behind the scenes for King Kong: another collection worthy of unending praise.

Whilst we’re on the subject of documentaries, let us also not forget Costa Botes’ equally fascinating documentaries for The Lord of the Rings.

Truth be told, they don’t do ‘making ofs’ like this anymore. Nor have they ever done. Whether or not it’s Peter Jackson’s own insistence in providing eager fans with something to experience beyond the films themselves, it is an undeniable fact that we owe much of what we know about the history of the two trilogies thanks to Michael Pellerin.

So let this post be a fitting tribute Pellerin and his team; as well as a thank you for their hard and creative work.

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4 thoughts on “In Praise of Michael Pellerin

  1. I entirely agree with your praise for Michael’s supplements. You might be interested to know that in my book, THE FRODO FRANCHISE, I devote a large section of the chapter on DVDs to Michael’s work (based on a long interview and an afternoon of trailing behind him while he did preliminary interviews for the special-effects supplement for THE RETURN OF THE KING). I discuss the history and logistics of Michael’s participation, as well as similar topics for Costa Botes and Dan Arden (who made some of the promotional documentaries that were aired on cable and subsequently included as supplements on the theatrical-version DVDs), also based on interviews.

    1. Hi Kristin, thanks for your comment. As a matter of fact, I own a copy of your book – truly fascinating and an in-depth piece of work! 🙂

      1. Thanks for your kind words, James! As you can imagine, it was a joy to research and to write.

  2. After I watched the features from the Hobbit set, I saw a couple of other documentaries for favorite films of mine, like the new Star Wars or Avatar. However, after Michael Pellerin’s masterpieces, everything else seems so shallow and PR-ish. On top of that, no other film crew is anywhere near as likeable as Peter Jackson and Company. Pellerin’s documentaries actually made me care deeply about these people and they became a whole new series upon themselves, no less entertaining and moving than the Hobbit and Ring trilogies themselves.
    In other words, I wholeheartedly agree.

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