You may be aware that on site filming of “The lord of the Rings” took place in New Zealand. Two of my nephews have been involved in it.
I thought the article from the Christchurch (New Zealand) newspaper “The Press” on Andrew Kolffs (CCB XVII-ll4) involvement in the making of “The Lord of the Rings” might be of interest to De Colve or the website. Andrew’s older brother, David (CCB XVIIIy), has worked more than a year as an ‘Onset Dress’ person in the props department of the film making crew. Maybe he can tell something about his work.
May 19, 2001 – Magic in the making – News Source: The Press, Christchurch.
Landscaper Andrew Kolff has fallen under a spell after working on Lord of the Rings. His job of creating a 600 year old landscape has left him enchanted, finds Mary Lovell Smith.
7.30am: Mid winter. It’s dark. The sun won’t rise over the mountains for another hour and a half. The temperature is minus 14deg. The workers of Rohan pull their jackets more tightly around them, a futile gesture in face of the gale swirling up from the deep south. Wind chill factor? No one bothers even estimating it. What’s the point? There is a job to be done, and who knows the consequences should they fail.
His fingers, numb with cold, fumble around the hefty stone he is placing in the rock wall. Andrew Kolff has left his wife and young son asleep in their snug Methven cottage, to drive for nearly two hours through some of the most rugged terrain he has encountered in his 32 years. It will be another 12 hours till he will see them again.
The snow on the tops of the craggy mountains surrounding him are washed in pink. The sun is coming. He sniffs the air deeply and detects a whiff of the hearty breakfast bacon and eggs? sausages and beans? the chef is preparing in the prefabricated canteen.
Around him the town of Edoras is rising slowly hut surely through the rocky plateau of Mount Sunday at the head of the Rangitata River in Mid Canterbury. Above the scrape of his shovel on the frozen ground he can hear muffled hammers, shouts, and footfalls as the small army of construction workers go about their business. It’s a far cry from the gentle suburbs of Christchurch where Andrew’s landscaping and construction business is based. Eight months as caretaker and greensman on the Lord of the Rings set at Mount Potts station is turning upside down all he has learnt in training at Lincoln University and 10 years in practice.
“Landscaping in town you are making someone’s garden look very tidy, neat, ornamental, usually with a lot of straight lines,” he explains. ”But with this we were trying to make everything look as if it was 600 years old. You didn’t want any straight lines. You wanted things falling down. Like the rock walls had rocks missing. We’d be putting soil in between the walls’ rocks so grass could grow out cracks and hang over the edges.
‘It was not that difficult to achieve,” he says. He was also taught how to make the wooden and stone buildings, houses,
and paths look ancient. Unfortunately, the stringent secrecy agreement he had with the filmmakers will not let him divulge any tips to the media. Suffice it to say, It was fascinating”.
As greensman, or greenie as he was called, Andrew was employed to maintain the newly formed access roads to the town, which during the height of construction and filming carried a huge amount of traffic. Roads and paths around the village had to be constructed. Rock and stone walls both retaining and ornamental had to be built. “We worked in rain, hail, and snow,” says Andrew, who says it was a marvellous experience. Water had to be pumped up to the hilltop town, and gravel carted up its precipitous road. Drainage systems throughout the town had to go in “to prevent everything turning to slush it can rain like cats and dogs up there”. Areas had to be levelled.
Only when all that was done could the planting commence.
On one Lord of the Rings website a Taita resident details the reconstruction of a dismantled ancient oak tree for a film sequence. There was no such contrived goings on in Mid-Canterbury. For Edoras, no vegetation was trucked in, says Andrew. “We didn’t introduce grasses, the ones we used were there already.”
The native tussocks, grasses, and pasture were removed before construction began, and set aside in a purpose built nursery nearby. Andrew tended them there before carting them back and replanting. Newly cut banks were aged and naturalised with the nursery stock. It was also used in the specially created cracks and crannies in the rock walls.
“The landscape work there was amazing. There was a specific look they wanted, things had to be changed a few times because it wasn’t right,” he says. Mere tricks of the trade for those masters of illusion, the film’s makers, but they have given Andrew a “whole new outlook on constructing rustic or natural landscapes”. One which he cannot wait to put into practice with his Christchurch clients. “I specialise in hill work,” he explains, although he doubts any will be as structurally challenging as those he tackled on the Lord of the Rings set.
Nor the surroundings so dramatic. Andrew’s face lights up as he recalls it. “I never got sick of the scenery. The vast valley, surrounded with huge snow capped mountains, incredible sunsets and sunrises, and rainbows like I’ve never seen before.”
“It was a very harsh and extreme climate. The whole spectrum, snow everywhere, and yet there were many days that were very hot. Very strong nor west winds. Frosty mornings, crystal-clear days.”
Zie ook From the Lowlands to the Hills van Tora Kolff (in Biografieën)
The perfect setting for Lord of the Rings? Andrew shrugs and laughs, saying he can’t comment en that yet. Give him a month or two and he’ll be up to the chapter in Lord of the Rings where the village he helped create features. They built it up and then they ripped it down.
“’When I tell people that we restored the area back to how it was, the most common comment is ‘oh, what a shame’,” he says. But you have to understand that this town was not built to last. The year before last they recorded 190krn winds on the top of Mount Sunday.
“The whole valley would be littered with debris had we left it. It was really not an option and there were many business reasons not to leave it there too.”
Edoras has gone for now but will rise again in the opening sequence of the second Lord of the Rings film, expected to be released in New Zealand on Boxing Day.