Here is the final article of the great David Farmer Special, an interview we had with him, talking about his work on LOTR. I tried to ask for the stuff you can’t find detailed in other interviews or the BTS of the DVDs, so… Hope you enjoy it!
Designing Sound: When did you start on the films and how what were initial conversations with Peter Jackson and company like?
David Farmer: My first trip over was with Chris Boyes (who recommended me for the project – thanks Chris!), and Phil Benson (Supervisor on PJ’s “The Frighteners”). Both of those guys had met Peter in person before, and Phil had done an entire show with him, so I was a bit nervous. When someone flies you halfway around the world, you feel like there’s a lot on the line. We also took a little detour through Sydney. New Line was apprehensive about doing the sound job in NZ, so they wanted us to look at some alternate mix stages in Sydney. We toured several, and then continued on to NZ to check out Peter’s facility. It was clear to all three of us that Peter’s was where we wanted to do it. To some, it might have appeared we were just kissing up to Peter, but that was just a fringe benefit. We sincerely liked his stage the best, and thought it was where we could deliver the best work.
The first time I met Peter and Barry Osborne, we were visiting his theatre where he was reviewing dailies, and the first thing I see on screen is the ring in the snow from Fellowship. It’s still probably my favorite shot of the trilogy. It’s just a gorgeous shot, and it drove home in one instant what I was getting myself into. This was going to be BIG. We didn’t chat much right then. Peter was going about his day, and we were getting the grand tour too. From there, we went to WETA, and saw a lot of the preliminary work being done in CGI–many of the lighting tests, Gollum skin textures, and animation tests. I was blown away by what WETA was doing, and again, could tell this was going to be BIG. Next, came the tour of WETA Workshop, led by none other than Richard Taylor. He showed us all the armor and props and went into great detail how they had come up with them and all the work that went into them. You know how costumes & props usually look fake & plastic to the naked eye? These things looked amazing even in person. Again – this was going to be BIG. In many ways, that day set the tone for how I would approach my sound process. I had to live up to all that excellent work. I was determined NOT to be the weak link in the chain. It was an incredibly inspiring day, and the inspiration carried me though all 3 shows.
I’m not sure if it was the same day, but Chris, Phil, Mike Hopkins, and I went to Peter’s House where we could chat in a more relaxed fashion. Peter, Fran, and Phillipa were there, and we discussed the films for quite some time. We talked about music & sound effects, and I do remember that I got to mention my favorite “advice” regarding how effects & music can work together. Sound Effects (for events on-screen) don’t have a choice where they can go. They pretty much HAVE to be in sync with the picture. Music can choose to come before or after, but it isn’t necessary for music to hit action – or at least music does have a choice. If both music and effects hit the same moment on screen – neither one will have the intended impact. They’ll just take away from each other. I try to make that point to every director I work with. What they do with it is up to them, but in any case, I’ve said my piece. Aside from that discussion, the most memorable part of the night for me, was the beer. Peter gave us each a bottle of Mac’s Gold – just an off-the-shelf beer, but it has this old-fashioned pop-top. Mike explained to us that you need to pull it off fast, and gave us a little demonstration. However I did it wrong, and beer went spewing all over my lap & Peter’s carpet. So off to the kitchen Peter went, came back with a towel, and cleaned me up. What a first impression I must have made!