Into the West
I got involved with the ‘Hunt for Gollum’ after working on ‘Human Residue’. The problem is I can’t remember what it was I originally signed up to do… I think it was being an orc because I remember going to have my head cast before the Wales shoot. I’m almost completely sure about that. However the first thing I did during shooting was in the camera department. I was going to assist Mike (Ritchie: DoP) on the trailer/test shoot in Wales which was great because I’d been getting experience as a lighting assistant and I wanted to get into the camera department as well. Unfortunately when it came to the shoot Mike couldn’t make it so I got to be cameraman. That was great in, and of, itself but, while there, I also remember reading some of the lines for Gollum (“screaming maniac in campsite car park” the local papers called it) and Chris (Bouchard: Dir/Prod) liked my ramblings, so that ensured I was going to be on board a little longer. Even better!
Wales had some pretty tough locations… Up a mountain in the rain springs to mind, but it didn’t really seem as hard at the time because of how everyone on the film worked together. I don’t think I’ve worked on anything else where the whole crew has worked so hard and been so enthusiastic about the project. It really does make all the difference when everybody wants to be involved and gives everything to make it happen. However the Wales shoot was nothing compared to what happened once H4G returned to London.
What I was looking forward to the most on ‘The Hunt for Gollum’ was the opportunity to be an Orc. Initially the big ugly orc (that’s me) was meant to get his head cut off in the first few moments of the fight, enraging the others to redouble their attack on Aragorn. However with an insidious nature that is natural to all orcs, slowly my character developed into something a little bit bigger (because I put on weight) and nastier (because I wasn’t happy about this). It’s akin to the situation where you name livestock and they subsequently become harder to slaughter when the time comes. When Goblok (it means ‘war chief’ in the black speech of Mordor and ‘stupid’ in Indonesian) got his name he couldn’t just be swatted in the opening scenes of the fight. Goblok Half-Troll demanded more!
Chris kept changing what Goblok would be doing and kept building up the character’s involvement in fight scene. This was simultaneously really exciting and a bit worrying. While I was glad I got to do a bit more than grunt and fall over I had very little acting experience (I had been a creature on Rob Grayson and Ade Webster’s (Aragorn) film ‘John Commando’, so I was familiar with running around in the woods like a lunatic whilst wearing a mask) but this had choreographed fight scenes! I had absolutely no fight experience before I came on board. That meant Ruth (Cooper-Brown: Fight Coordinator) and Rachel (Bown-Williams: Fight Coordinator) of RC-Annie had to train me up from scratch.
While at rehearsals Ruth and Rachel would concentrate on training the fight team while Chris schooled us on being orcs. Between choreography and running through the fight I wanted to feign ignorance of ‘orcy ways’ so Chris would have to demonstrate my character. I never got the chance. He was only too happy to start lumbering around like an orc, and I can only hope there’s some of it on the behind the scenes camera.
The Forests of Epping
The big day rolled around and it started off really well. I remember going to the orc shoot expecting to see Luke with a bag of latex masks and a bucket of body paint. When I arrived and saw a couple of dozen people putting half again as many orcs together I was amazed. That didn’t include all the other crew, both technical and production… Obviously that’s nothing compared with the big productions, but for a small, independent project of volunteers it was really impressive.
Initially the mask and costume poked me in some odd places. However once I’d worn it for a bit and the makeup and costume departments had worked their magic (mainly to stop me whining) the whole outfit was really comfortable. Seriously I was happy to spend the whole day in it (which strangely enough I had to do). I know some of the other guys and girls had trouble with the helmets (Ivan (Wilkinson: Fight Team) and his crisps for instance), but I was left free and easy. Not literally, mind you. The worst I had to deal with was a bit of sweatiness on the inside of the mask and mosquito bites. Oh… and lots and lots of fake blood. Really sticky, nasty fake blood… with bits in! But nothing Goblok couldn’t handle!
What was great though was that the atmosphere there was the same as before, everyone was working really hard to make it happen and enjoying themselves. It was tougher to organise because of the scale of the shoot (not that Goblok cared), and there were times when we were rushing to get stuff done, but it was still a great shoot because everyone was trying so hard to make sure it was successful.
The prosthetics were literally hours of fun. You sit down and have loads of the special-effects makeup and prosthetics team prod you for around an hour. Then costume department would do the same but with pins and glue guns. All the while you just sit there and drink tea and talk incessantly (or at least that’s what I did). Then you get to go on set and rampage around the woods in front of a camera.
Now as for the fight scene itself… By this point Goblok’s axe had gone through various modifications and repairs and was far too heavy after all was said and done (this was partly my fault as I had been involved with the design and had actually cut the basic shape out myself). It was, sensibly I might add, deemed unsafe to use (Ade had more scenes to film and so wasn’t disposable yet), so the fight scene had to be altered appropriately, something which Chris took in his stride and actually used to add interest to the scene. Something else that felt different: whereas in rehearsals we would run the whole fight through from start to finish on camera you’d do maybe ten seconds and then cut and do it again. The timing and flow felt very different. Not that I was thinking about this too much. I was just concentrating on remembering the moves and not breaking a) the weapon I’d been given b) Ade and c) anyone else who came in range. I didn’t have a chance to worry about how it was looking, but Chris and the camera team would have let me know if I was making mistakes.
Long story short we got everything on camera. The last few scenes were hectic and not a little fraught with danger seeing as Aragorn’s sword had to come quite close to my throat, but we got it all done in the end. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m sure it’ll look great! Especially the bit where I die! Goblok meets a really nasty end; very messy (or it should be after the amount of blood and filth Luke (McNalley: Special Effects Supervisor) sprayed all over me). I’m not sure I should reveal it. I’m not even sure Goblok is dead to be honest. I like to think he’s still out there, living his awful, angry life somewhere in Epping Forest.
Another difficulty was resisting the urge to be very, very childish. There’s a part where Goblok gets clobbered and spits a gobbet of fake blood everywhere. It so happened that during the scene ‘everywhere’ became ‘Mike’s trousers’. The thing is every time I had another mouthful of the stuff (the blood, not Mike’s trousers) nasty thoughts would flit into my head… Should I bother worrying about the camera when I let this stuff fly? Who could I dribble on and make it look like an accident? Has anyone left a drink unattended that I could defile? And so on…
The Hunt Continues...
It was sad to leave Goblok behind. Those scenes were the most fun I’ve had on the project so far. I think part of that was because it was so unlike anything I’ve done before and also because it’s something so few people would get to do, especially with the support of so many talented artists. I remember watching Peter Jackson’s trilogy, seeing Shagrat, Grishnahk, Lurtz, and Sauron’s Mouthpiece and envying the actors who got to play those characters. Goblok is probably the closest I’ll get to Middle-Earth, but thanks to the amazing make-up, props and costume it’s pretty damn close. I reckon I couldn’t get a more authentic LOTR experience without actually managing to get on ‘The Hobbit’ (and if anyone concerned with that production is reading this, I am available, keen and can bring my own pair of orc shoes!).
Having said all that, some parts of the filming have been uncomfortable and some have been more than a little stressful, but the whole thing has been a fantastic experience. The moments where things don’t go to plan are all part of the process and it is what makes shooting a film so rewarding when those issues can be overcome. I’m still blown away by the scale and ambition of the project and I’m really grateful I’ve got to be so involved with it.
Actually, thinking about it, the best part is… There’s still more to come!