How Long Did it Take to Film the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies?


How Long Did it Take to Film the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies

When talking about memorable movies in Hollywood’s history one does not leave out the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy. The movies captivated audiences all around the world with their beautiful adaptations of what many consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s best work. Both trilogies combined produced roughly 20 hours of footage placing both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit among the longest movie series released in separated parts. Both trilogies depict a long quest on which the respectable main characters embark, but how long did it take to film these journeys stretching over multiple years?

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed during the span of 438 days from 1999 to 2001, while The Hobbit trilogy took 266 days to film.

The movies’ plot, stunning filming locations and director’s and crew’s engagement all contribute to the amazing experience while watching these movies, but not many people know that the filming process was every bit as interesting. The rest of this article will let you in on how the director Peter Jackson and his crew brought Middle-earth and it’s many stories to life on the big screens.

How long did it take to film The Lord of the Rings?

The collective footage of all 3 movies was filmed in about a year and a half (438 days). The filming took place entirely in New Zealand, starting in October of 1999 and ending in December of 2000, with additional filming taking place between 2001 and 2003. The pickup shoots produced roughly 6 weeks of filming every year.

New Zealand was perfect to bring the world of Lord of the Rings to life, but when the filming started the landscape proven itself to be more of a challenge than anticipated by the crew as chosen locations were often difficult to access.

Many locations were difficult to film at, such as Mount Ngauruhoe, an active volcano, that was chosen by the director to be Mount Doom and Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, the location where all the scenes taking place at Mountain of Moria were filmed.

 In addition to that, the weather conditions presented a problem on its own. The best example of how this affected the moviemaking process is the unfinished battle scene at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, which could not be filmed due to heavy floods that ultimately destroyed the elaborate set. Another famous scene had to be filmed in blocks a year apart from each other because the location was destroyed by the heavy rain.

How long did it take to film The Hobbit trilogy?

The Hobbit trilogy was filmed over 266 days in 2011. Considering that it covers practically the same source material and depicts a story set with a similar time frame it seems odd that the time spent on making this trilogy is almost half of the time spent on the first 3 movies.

Unlike Lord of the Rings, most of the problems with filming this trilogy originated from the director, or better said, directors. The Hobbit was supposed to be directed by Guillermo del Toro, who was a fan of Jackson’s work.

However, del Toro’s idea for the movies was much darker in contrast to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Given the massive success of previous movies, the studio was hesitant to approve this different approach to the movie and forced del Toro to change much of his original idea, which ultimately resulted in his departure from the project as he believed he was not given enough freedom to work on the movies and was too invested in other projects he was working on at that time.

Peter Jackson replaced him in the directing position but unlike his work on the previous movies of the franchise, he did not have all that much time to prepare for the filming and flesh out his vision for this movie.

Jackson was used to filming with practical effects and forced perspective to make the characters as close as possible to what he had in mind, but this time around he had to plan his filming around what del Toro already prepared, which was heavily depending on CGI.

Now famously, Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf in both trilogies, expressed his frustration with this approach to filming admitting that it was extremely difficult working without his colleagues on the set, so much that it once reduced him to crying.

On top of that, the studio was set on the determined release date, which left Jackson chasing the set date which affected his work immensely resulting in long filming days with no clear direction. In one of his interviews, he said that he was not always sure what he was doing with the movie, often having to take long breaks from filming because of how much he was doubting himself.

Did they film Lord of the Rings all at once?

Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed all at once, with no separation between different movies. The best example of this approach to work is the scene from the Return of the King in which Frodo is sending Sam back home because he believes Sam has betrayed him.

The conversation between the two was filmed almost a year apart. Although the viewers will not notice it unless looking for it, the slight difference in the lighting is telling that the scene was filmed in blocks. 

This order of filming was used because Jackson had a clear idea of what he wanted to do with the reference material and what he wanted the movies to be. The majority of the movie was filmed this way but in the end, a bit of additional filming had to be done.

 Another contributing factor was the director’s decision to film entirely in New Zealand as he felt that the locations were perfect because New Zealand is practically real-life middle earth. To make this possible, at the height of its production the movie had over two thousand four hundred people involved in the filming process.

Did they film The Hobbit all at once?

The Hobbit trilogy was filmed in 3 blocks, in New Zealand and on sets in England. The first block was filmed in March of 2011 in New Zealand, at undisclosed locations as well as at the Wellington Stone Street Studios. The second block commenced filming in July of 2011 in England, at Pinewood studios and continued in New Zealand in August.

Additional shoots were done in 2013 to create extra material for the originally unplanned, third movie and some filler scenes for the second movie. Originally unplanned shoots took place because the finished product had too much material to compress it into two movies, but not enough to make three movies that the studio was happy with.

 Although the director was the same, he could not use the same approach with this movie. As it was mentioned before, Jackson was not originally intended to take this position and was instead intended to be an assistant of a sort.

Jackson himself stated in many interviews that he did not feel confident while making the movies, due to the short amount of time he had to prepare for the filming and to adapt previous directors’ ideas into his version of the movies.

He believed that the originally much darker movie del Toro had in mind could only be made by him, hence much of the time originally intended for filming was spent adapting the script.

Additional problems with filming were caused when the International Federation of Actors, issued a Do Not Work order, due to not being able to come to acceptable terms with the producers of the movies.

This meant that it would be much harder to find New Zealand actors willing to work on the movie which further complicated the moviemaking process, forcing the studio to consider different locations for the filming of the movie and even completely moving the production out of New Zealand.

After the possibility of relocating was publicly announced fans all over New Zealand protested in an effort to keep the production in their home country.

Ultimately a resolution was reached with the International Federation of Actors and due to the director’s perseverance, the filming was resumed at the planned locations with no additional problems.

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