The blockbuster world of Sir Peter Jackson

In an unassuming peninsula suburb in the world’s southernmost capital, an unassuming man leads an army of internationally acclaimed film-making talent.

Peter Jackson is the ultimate fan - a man who has been preparing for the role of a lifetime for most of his lifetime.

Jackson’s films are known to be epic, but often the insights and access into his own world are brief. There’s the odd press conference and fans can follow behind-the-scenes production videos posted on Jackson’s Facebook page. But generally speaking Peter Jackson is private and unassuming, successfully avoiding the limelight.

The story of how a man from Wellington, New Zealand came to lead some of the most ambitious and successful film-making projects the world has ever seen, is part-fairytale, part-adventure, part-political thriller. It’s a story of an average Kiwi bloke doing extraordinary things; not just in recent years but from the age of eight, when Jackson made his debut film on his parents’ Super 8 Movie Camera in 1971.

It was somewhat unsurprisingly a war movie of sorts, filmed in his garden. Already a multi-disciplined creative talent, as well as acting in and directing the film, Jackson designed the props and costume, hand-making wooden guns and borrowing old war uniforms from relatives. Toying with special effects from a young age, the 8-year-old poked pin holes through celluloid onto the barrel of his ‘gun’ frame-by-frame to simulate gun-fire.

A film-maker’s journey

This and many other anecdotes are found in the 2006 authorised biography Peter Jackson - A Film-Maker’s Journey, in which author Brian Sibley documents a life of perseverance, passion and preparation.

"…throughout his childhood and adolescence, Peter Jackson was unwittingly auditioning to make The Lord of the Rings," Sibley writes. "His hobbies and interests - passionately, even obsessively, pursued - were consistently preparing the man for the task."

Pukerua Bay, Wellington

Fittingly born on Halloween on 31 October 1961, Jackson grew up in the small seaside community of Pukerua Bay, half an hour’s drive from central Wellington - New Zealand’s compact capital, recently hailed by travel publisher Lonely Planet as the ‘coolest little capital in the world’.

"I remember a lot of fun things from my childhood," he tells Sibley in A Film-Maker’s Journey.

"Pukerua Bay was a great place to grow up because it was a very small town but it was also surrounded by bush and forests; there were steep hills and deep gullies; there were the beaches and the rocks and the ocean and, only five miles away - but totally inaccessible - a mysterious fantasy island…"

That fantasy island was Kapiti Island, now much more accessible thanks to local eco-tourism operators Kapiti Island Nature Tours. Ironically the Skull Island of Jackson’s boyhood fantasies would also provide a landing refuge when a ship started taking on water and began to sink during filming for his 2005 re-make of King Kong.

Film-making experiments

Film-making experiments dominated Jackson’s childhood and teenage years. Movie posters lined his bedroom walls, while home-made stop-motion puppets, masks and even a Kong atop the Empire State Building filled the shelves.

His late mother Joan recalls in A Film-Maker’s Journey that Jackson would often take over the whole kitchen, with dinner plans working around the baking of foam latex alien heads in the oven.

He left school and took up a job as apprentice photo-engraver at the Evening Post (now The Dominion Post) newspaper to fund his ventures and ambitions.

At 17 he was sent to a course in Auckland and decided to buy a book to pass the time on the train trip north. The book was The Lord of the Rings. The journey that lay ahead would be longer and more exciting than he could imagine.

WingNut Films

Jackson’s production company, WingNut Films, was formed when making the 1987 cult comedy horror film Bad Taste, which launched his international career.

In those early years he began working with partner Fran Walsh, Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger and Jamie Selkirk, and together in 1993 established the now world famous Academy Award-winning Weta Workshop and Weta Digital for the making of Heavenly Creatures.

Jackson and Walsh received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Heavenly Creatures; the digital effects for the film were made on a single computer, financed with a loan that was still being paid off some years later.

Weta Workshop and Weta Digital are now part of a neighbourhood of creative companies that Jackson and his colleagues have established on the Miramar Peninsula, including WingNut Films, Park Road Post Production, Stone Street Studios and Portsmouth Rentals.

Academy Awards

Jackson has been nominated for a plethora of Academy Awards during his career - and he certainly had his hands full when he scooped three Oscars at the 2004 Academy Awards - winning Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

He has also won the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Saturn Award for Best Direction. He was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002, and knighted in 2010. He received New Zealand’s highest honour - the Order of New Zealand in June 2012.

His films include Bad Taste (1987), Meet the Feebles (1989), Braindead (1992), Forgotten Silver (1995), The Frighteners (1996), The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003) King Kong (2005) and The Lovely Bones (2009). He has also produced District 9 (2009) and The Adventures of Tintin (2011).

Jackson's newest venture, The Hobbit Trilogy includes The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014).

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was the second major world première Jackson has brought to Wellington’s historic Embassy Theatre, which hosted the world première of the multi Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.