Peter Jackson: 'I didn't know what the hell I was doing' when shooting 'The Hobbit'

The director reveals how the rushed pre-production on his second Tolkien trilogy left him "making it up as I went along."

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Peter Jackson has made a candid admission: "I didn't know what the hell I was doing" during shooting of "The Hobbit" trilogy.

The Oscar-winning director's confession comes in a behind-the-scenes video -- released this week on YouTube and embedded above -- for the DVD and Blu-ray release of "The Battle of the Five Armies", the final film in the trilogy.

The films were a return to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth after Jackson's hugely successful "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, a global phenomenon that did staggering business and earned Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. Expectations of "The Hobbit" movies were therefore huge, and Jackson and his crew faced a similarly huge problem.

In stark contrast to the extensive planning of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, which saw three and a half years of pre-production, there wasn't enough time to fully plan out "The Hobbit" films. That's because Jackson only stepped into the director's chair after Guillermo del Toro dropped out, meaning that the films had to be redesigned from scratch.

According to the crew, that made shooting "a bit chaotic" to say the least. "No department ever got ahead," says one crew member. Another recalls, "Almost every morning of the shoot, we were delivering the objects needed that day."

Farewell to Middle-earth: celebrate 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' (pictures)

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With no storyboards, previsualisation or even a finished script, Jackson said he was "winging it" and "making it up as I went along". Director and crew put in 21-hour days, packing the actors off for long lunches so scenes could be planned out. Production designer Dan Hennah describes it as "laying the tracks directly in front of the train."

Things got so confused that the second unit, a separate film crew often tasked to shoot action scenes and stunt work, started shooting an epic five-army battle sequence with no idea what they were supposed to be doing. The second unit action was directed by Andy Serkis, the actor who played Gollum in the films. Serkis describes how the lack of guidance left them "waving around in the wind". Just two days into shooting, the plug was pulled so the epic sequence could be properly planned.

The delay pushed the release of "Five Armies" back by five months to December 2014. It was a commercial success, but has the lowest rating of any of Jackson's Middle-earth movies on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The film's title delivers in spades with the battle sequence, but the titular hobbit Bilbo Baggins and his dwarf friends are sidelined and too much time is spent on a clumsily tacked-on romantic subplot. And if I'm honest, I only counted four armies...

Jackson's next film is reported to be an animated "Tintin" sequel in 2016. Let's hope he's had enough time to plan this one out.