By Daniel Restuccio
Issue: January 1, 2004



HOLLYWOOD - At a recent American Cinema Editors (ACE) screening of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, here in Hollywood, post producer Jamie Selkirk spoke with Post about his seven-year odyssey supervising the post production of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

After overseeing the editing process on the first two films, Jamie Selkirk cut Return of the King himself.
Wellington, New Zealand-based Selkirk, who is a partner in Three Foot Six Ltd. and Weta, says that it took six million feet of film to make the trilogy, roughly two million for each movie. "Film one [Fellowship of the Rings] had a bit more location footage but film three [Return of the King] had a lot more effects shots." Fellowship, he says has about 500 effects shots, The Two Towers has 800 and Return of the King contains a whopping 1,500 effects shots.


The original plan was to have Selkirk cut all three movies, but that proved impractical. "I was involved as a co-producer in the whole trilogy on the post production side."

Selkirk hired John Gilbert to edit Fellowship of the Rings and Michael Horton to cut The Two Towers. He elected to cut the third movie, Return of the King, himself. "I always liked that script best," he says with a smile.

Selkirk says that working with director Peter Jackson is a very dynamic experience. "He was always in the cutting room. He quite enjoys that process. I think in another life he probably wanted to be an editor."

Just six Avid Film Composers were used to cut all three films.
Selkirk was editing and conforming the film concurrently. "As we got to a stage where we needed to see it up on the wall we'd conform a loose cut of the film, screen it, do a tighten up and screen it again. It gave me the opportunity to be fresh eyes for Peter. I'd look through it and make suggestions about how we could tighten up loose ends. We bounced off each other quite well."

He recalls that they started filming Lord of the Rings in 1999. They shot massive amounts of footage for 15 months, sometimes 40,000 feet a day. Jackson, he says, tends to shoot with two cameras, sometimes even adding a third or fourth camera for shooting at high speed.

They had thousands of feet of elements, background plates, miniatures and miles of green- and bluescreen footage to go through. "Like anything, you are looking for the best performance out of the takes. It took us forever to go though and find the pieces we wanted."

They had six Avid Media Composers to cut all three movies. "We started out with 680GB, which we thought was a lot at that time, and ended up with 3TB by the time we finished," he says.

In 2000 Selkirk did an assembly edit of Return of the King just to make sure the footage was okay and that they had the basic story. "We put it aside because Peter wanted any available time spent on Fellowship of the Rings because that was the one we had to get right."

Selkirk didn't take Return of the King off the shelf again until January of this year. "It was about four and a half hours long. We ran it down to see what Peter thought of it and we decided it needed a few pick-up scenes. So this year we spent seven to eight weeks shooting some pick-up scenes."

At the beginning of the edit they had rough comps of the effects shots, wireframes and grey scales, that were constantly being updated. At one point, he says, they were getting over a 120 shots a week from Weta, Rings' visual effects facility in New Zealand.

By July of 2003 Return of the King was still unfinished. Editing moved to the UK from August to September where Howard Shore was scoring the film. "We eventually left the UK with five reels locked down, got back to New Zealand and in the last four weeks locked down the other five reels.

"The first time that Peter and I sat down and watched the movie," he recalls, "was at the New Zealand premiere because we mixed all the reels out of order."


Return of the King was rendered to negative from a digital intermediate at The PostHouse AG in Wellington, NZ. They scanned every shot of the final cut at 2K. "We would never have finished this film if we had done traditional negative cutting," notes Selkirk. "What was fantastic about the digital intermediate is that you can match the drama footage and the effects footage so well."

Having a DI of the film also helps with the DVD process. Selkirk is still editing the DVD version of Return of the King.

There's about 25 minutes of footage that they're putting back in, he says. "In about four weeks we should get the editing done. Howard is writing music for the extended version. Then we have another recording session in about five weeks."

Selkirk is surprised that people refer to The Lord of the Rings films as effects movies. "We have tried to keep the effects side of it slightly in the background. Even though there are a lot of effects shots and CG, at the end of the day we still look at it as being an emotion-driven drama. That's the way I look at it," he says.