When someone asks me how I got into filmmaking, my usual go-to response is the story of watching "Edward Scissorhands" for the first time and realizing just how personal a film could be while also being fantastical. And while this story is certainly true, there's another story, one that came before the "Edward Scissorhands" one, I always forget to mention that is a key moment of my life that helped define my passion and wonder for movie magic.
That moment was watching Peter Jackson's "The Fellowship of the Ring" adaptation.
When I was in fifth grade, my father gave me a copy of "The Hobbit" for a birthday gift. This was an excellent idea because I was already obsessed with any sort of fantasy story I could get my hands on including "Harry Potter" and the "Redwall" book series. By the start of the first sentence, my fate as a Tolkien super-fan was sealed. I was hooked. Exactly a year later, I received the collected trilogy of "The Lord of the Rings" for my birthday. The copy of this book was a paperback (and is now heavily worn down and loved) that advertised the forthcoming film adaptation of the trilogy. All it had was a few pictures of the cast on the back of the book, but it was enough to get my excitement brewing. A year later, I was sitting in a theater, anxiously awaiting the lights to dim and be taken to Middle Earth.
The film did not disappoint, and in my mind is still one of the most well done film adaptations of a book ever made. It was safe to say that even though I'd seen other fantasy films, this was quite unlike anything I had ever seen before, and I've never seen anything like it ever since. The "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy truly is lightning caught in a bottle. Like the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, everything about it came together so perfectly that I'm convinced no one will ever be able to truly recreate what made it so special, even the original cast and crew.
I was completely swept up in the film. It enthralled my little 12 year old mind. I felt just about every emotion I possibly could while watching the film and it all felt so real and so tactile. It felt like I was truly there. I was in love. But there was one small thing about the film that wasn't sitting right with me, and I couldn't shake it. It would not leave my mind.
Now I'd read the books and I knew this was coming, and I was very much aware that there was absolutely no way those arrows piercing his flesh were actually real. What concerned me was his funeral. Aragorn pushes his body in a canoe into the river which is swept up into a large waterfall. The camera hovers over Boromir's dead body as the boat is taken up into the current and the boat falls into the abyss.
How. Did. They. Do that?
I was baffled. That waterfall was much too large to be in a studio! They must have shot on location! And that was certainly Sean Bean in the boat. That boat went over the edge! How did Sean Bean manage to still survive?
These questions haunted my little brain and kept me up one night in particular where I came to a rather silly conclusion that seemed so logical at the time. Sean Bean must have actually died when he fell over the edge. Was Peter Jackson responsible for murder? How were they keeping all this hush hush? Somehow, they absolutely were. I could not shake the idea. Peter Jackson had sacrificed poor Sean Bean for one of the most beautiful shots of the movie.
Now, in retrospect, I'm very aware of how silly this train of logic is, even for a kid, a kid who loved movies and had seen plenty of fake movie deaths at this point. But keep in mind I'd never seen a film of that scale before and I also had no idea who Sean Bean was at the time so to me he was a no-name actor who had done a wonderful job of portraying the character of Boromir. He'd done such a great job that he'd apparently sacrificed his life.
This thought deeply upset me. I hated the idea of my new favorite movie and filmmaker being responsible for the death of another human being. I got out of my bed, went downstairs, and knocked on my parent's door. My mother came out, tired and bleary-eyed, and saw me curled up on the foot of the stairway beside their bedroom.
She asked me what was wrong and before I said anything, I recognized just how silly the question sounded and revised it to simply:
"I couldn't sleep and I was just wondering...how do you think they did the Boromir waterfall death scene in "Fellowship of the Ring?"'
My mother didn't say anything for a moment. She sat there looking at me on the stairs and looked puzzled. I'm sure she was trying to figure out just why a question of how something was accomplished in a movie was so pressing a topic that it had to be brought up in the middle of the night instead of the morning. Finally she came up with the response:
"I, I really don't know."
"But it looked so real!"
I was trying to get my point across without actually saying what it was, but it wasn't registering, probably because to any sane person, the conclusion I had come to was completely ridiculous. My mother assured me that we could look into how they did it later, but now was not the time to be discussing this.
I went back to bed, feeling a little better, but still curious.
That Christmas, my parents gave me a book about the making of the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy, thinking that I was just a curious little fellow, when really I was trying to figure out whether or not a murder had been afoot on set. Reading the book, I discovered of course that Sean Bean was absolutely still alive and I learned just how impressive computer imagery could be when used correctly.
But I also learned so much more just from reading that book and my love for movies that I already had grew into a frenzy. From that point on, I would devour any sort of behind the scenes footage or documentaries I could find. I had to know how every movie that I loved was made. I learned a lot in those years. I learned how to create entire worlds, how to make the intricacies of a character's costume so realistic, and most importantly, I learned there's a way to make anything look real, even what seems like an impossible death.