... Peter S. Beagle ... on Rings, scripts and awards
: The film actress Marlene Dietrich once warned actors about accepted honorary awards for a lifetime body of your work. She said: anytime they give you one of those things it means they think youve got six months to live. So on the one hand, Im certainly honoured. Ive been at this a long time and its nice to have that fact noticed. But at the same time I cant take it very seriously. Its nice, thats all. And Ive still got a lot more lifetime to achieve!
: Im very proud, but not of any particular award. Instead Im mostly proud of stories and poems and books of mine that have never been particularly celebrated, but that I like, because they mean something to me. No, organizations and awards wont do it. But I do swell with pride when a writer whom I admire says to me youre really good, or maybe your work has mattered to me for a long time. Other people give you awards that organizations just cant.
: I thought that film was a mess, frankly. There are some very nice bits in it and some excellent vocal work, but I thought that it was poorly conceived by the producers and that somebody should certainly have realized that there was too much being crowded into something that had originally been planned for two films, let alone one. To be honest, I dont think that either Ralph Bakshi or Saul Zaentzknew the book very well. Not really. When I was three-quarters of the way through that first of what became at least eight drafts, I mentioned to Ralph, you know, Im getting near the end of this and I havent even gotten to the riders of Rohan yet and he literally groaned as though hed been punched in the stomach, because hed completely forgotten about having to do the riders of Rohan. From day one it was a problematic production. Ill take some of the responsibility for the films flaws, obviously, but I can say in all honesty that I did my best with it given the circumstances.
: Well, to begin with I outlined the story in great detail and kept the trilogy close by while I was writing the first draft of the script, and I tried to make choices that were cinematically sensible. Thats why I left out Tom Bombadil, for example. He was always a favourite character of mine, but he also brings the story to a dead halt and movies cant afford dead halts. So he had to go. Peter Jackson left him out of the live action version as well, and Im sure it was for the same reason. Animation needs to animate. It needs to move. If theres one thing animation hates, its backstory: people sitting around a table at a council, such as the council of Elrond, passing information back and forth to each other. Animation wont sit still for backstory, but The Lord of the Rings, as we know it, is 90% backstory! It probably shouldnt have even been attempted until it could be done as a live action and in three movies. The recent films ended up being made for better reasons, I think, than ours was made. Theres this, though: a teenage boy in New Zealand named Peter Jackson, who had never read Tolkien at all, saw our animated version of The Lord of the Rings and was inspired enough by it to go read the original books. Without that, his live-action version of the trilogy may never have existed. So Im proud of that.
: Id probably do most things differently today, because were always rewriting, we just stop at a certain point when somebody takes the manuscript away from us. Its a cliché to say that books arent finished exactly, theyre just abandoned. But its also true. Of course I would do it differently, depending on the time I had, the people I was working with, the budget available, and the understanding of just what needs to be done with a work as unique as The Lord of the Rings.
: I never know how successful, financially, a movie has been. Writers arent supposed to: studios usually hide these facts from us. But our animated version has been around and available since 1978, which does tell you something. Many people, to my amazement, have come up to me and said they preferred our half-assed, half-animated film to Peter Jacksons live trilogy. I dont see that myself for a minute, but Ive run into that opinion enough times at conventions to understand that some fans really do feel that way. And certainly we were successful in terms of being an influence on what eventually came to be. As wonderful an actor as Andy Serkis is, his portrayal of Gollums character is clearly derived from the vocal work of a wonderful British actor named Peter Woodthorpe who was our Gollum, and also the Gollum for the BBCs version. Im undoubtedly biased because we Peter Woodthorpe and I got to be friends, and Im very fond of him, but it seems obvious that if it werent for out Gollum, the Gollum in Peter Jacksons version would have been quite different.
: The understanding was that I would only be getting my original small consultants fee for writing the first film, because they had shot their entire screenwriting budget on a draft by someone else that was totally useless, but that they would make this up to me by paying me more than my usual fee for the second films script. So I went ahead on that assumption, and I spent a lot of time thinking about what on earth we were going to do with the second movie -- what we would carry over from the first and bring back, how we would strengthen and extend relationships that had just been hinted at in the first film, etc. I didnt have a great sheaf of notes and plans, but I did think about these issues a lot and I wrote down a certain number of notes and sequences by hand.
: I dont think any film in a theatre is ever going to be able to rival the film of imagination that runs in every readers head. Imagination has an unlimited budget. Theres simply no way to match it, working in a real world of budgets, casts, and technicians. But I do think Jackson created as good of a Lord of the Rings as youre ever going to see on screen.
: No writer ever has complete freedom unless hes also the director and the producer, and even then its a dubious matter. The real world will always have its say, whether that comes in the form of a studio limiting the budget, or an actor just not being able to say a certain line. But by and large, considering how hard the original novel was to write, the movie script went comparatively easy, and it was mostly filmed the way I wrote it. There are some exceptions, but it was a much easier task because my script for The Last Unicornwas treated with more respect than the one I wrote forThe Lord of the Rings. For example, when they recorded the voices for the film someone made the actor playing Frodo say thats sort of a relief. Which isnt in Tolkiens books, and certainly wasnt in my screenplay. It isnt what I wrote for that moment and under no circumstances, in any universe, could I possibly have written that line, for that character, in that movie. But there it is anyway. Luckily nothing like that happened with the script for The Last Unicorn, perhaps because most of the major actors knew the book and loved it. People like Rene Auberjonoisand Jeff Bridges were offering to do their parts for free just to be in the movie. And Christopher Leepractically knew the book by heart he very nearly made me justify every change Id made in Haggards dialog. With people that involved in the product and its source youre off to a good start.
: When youre writing a script you have to take the budget into account. I was often told, doing television work, that if I wanted anything to get made, I was going to have to bring a lot of my outdoor scenes indoors, because any outdoor scene would cost so much time and money that the budget would be broken right there.With a novel you can go anywhere you like, and fill the story with characters without worrying about casting them, or paying their salaries. You can do anything and make it as in-depth and detailed as you like, so long as you make it believable to your readers. A movie is a totally different form. It can be powerful and moving on its own account, but Ive never been as affected by a movie, no matter how good or how strong, as I have been by a great novel.
: Right now Im on the last drafts of two new novels:a magical realist book titled Summerlong and a young adult novel calledIm Afraid Youve Got Dragons. Im also finishing several new pieces of short fiction, a couple of childrens books, and a collection of nonfiction essays. Theres a lot coming.