Now that the seemingly endless saga of The Hobbit’s pre-production woes has finally resolved itself, we can get on with bringing you actual production news, which is a decidedly varied bag today.

Firstly, we have the not wholly surprising news that (although not definitively confirmed) Ian McKellen seems set to return as Gandalf. His website (www.mckellen.com) details the following in the “2010’s” section:-

THE HOBBIT’s, two films, start shooting in New Zealand in February 2011.  Filming will take over a year. Casting in Los Angeles, New York City and London has started.  The script too proceeds.  The first draft is crammed with old and new friends, again on a quest in Middle Earth.

If it’s on his website and in his plans, it should be safe to assume that he will commit to the films before too long. As soon as there is clear confirmation from McKellen or Jackson, we’ll let you know. Thanks to TheOneRing.net for the heads up.

Next up, Total Film have got on-set snaps of the building work on The Shire, which is taking shape nicely and looking much like we’d expect it to, all green and round of door and so forth:-

Slightly less positively, there is news via AFP that a woman auditioning to be an extra in the film (as a hobbit) was turned away for not having “light enough skin tones”. Apparently the woman in question (Britain-born Naz Humphreys) has Pakistani roots and was told by an independent contractor, after three hours of queueing that her skin tone was not suitable.

It seems that the said contractor was acting and deciding such matters off his own back rather than on the basis of orders / directions from Jackson. Jackson’s Wingnut Films was quick to respond by dismissing the contractor, a spokesman saying as well:-

“No such instructions were given, the crew member in question took it upon themselves to do that and it’s not something we instructed or condoned,”

New Zealand’s The Waikato Times has said that video footage shows the contractor telling people at the audition: “We are looking for light-skinned people. I’m not trying to be — whatever. It’s just the brief. You’ve got to look like a hobbit.”

The Wingnut Films spokesman confirmed that the contractor had been dismissed as an indication of how seriously this matter was being taken but also cited the large size of the crew being used due to the scale of the production, which was a factor in deciding to contract out the casting.

I guess it stands to reason that independent contractors will be harder to control as the crew moves further and further beyond Peter Jackson’s immediate circle of influence and control, but this sort of debacle is the last thing that an already troubled production needs, especially after Jackson finally plumped for New Zealand for filming instead of either the UK or Eastern Europe. Hopefully, with the contractor in question removed, casting and then production can move forward without any further problems.

Finally and more positively, Coming Soon report that Jackson has been singing the praises of the 3D rig he is planning to work with on the two prequels. RED Studios Hollywood have announced that the production will be using their (soon to be released) EPIC Digital Cameras. RED said:-

The successor to RED’s industry changing RED ONE, the EPIC has 5K resolution, can shoot up to 120 frames per second and has a new HDRx™ mode for the highest dynamic range of any digital cinema camera ever made. Taking everything they had learned from building their first camera, RED designed the EPIC from scratch and have produced a smaller, lighter camera that is an order of magnitude more powerful.

The Hobbit will be amongst the first productions in the world to use the EPIC and at least thirty cameras will be required by the 3-D production. The EPIC’S small size and relatively low weight, makes it perfect for 3-D – where two cameras have to be mounted on each 3D rig.

Peter Jackson went on to gush effusively as follows:-

“I have always liked the look of Red footage. I’m not a scientist or mathematician, but the image Red produces has a much more filmic feel than most of the other digital formats. I find the picture quality appealing and attractive, and with the Epic, Jim and his team have gone even further. It is a fantastic tool, the Epic not only has cutting edge technology, incredible resolution and visual quality, but it is also a very practical tool for film makers. Many competing digital systems require the cameras to be tethered to large cumbersome VTR machines. The Epic gives us back the ability to be totally cable free, even when working in stereo.”
Wow. So he likes it then. A lot. Frankly, anything that helps these films look every bit as spectacular as they should is a great idea and it is surely beyond question that Jackson knows the best way to get the richest version of his vision up on the screen.
That’s all for now. No doubt more Hobbit news will continue to flow out from New Zealand for most of the next couple of years. We will keep it coming.

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Dave has been writing for HeyUGuys since mid-2010 and has found them to be the most intelligent, friendly, erudite and insightful bunch of film fans you could hope to work with. He's gone from ham-fisted attempts at writing the news to interviewing Lawrence Bender, Renny Harlin and Julian Glover, to writing articles about things he loves that people have actually read. He has fairly broad tastes as far as films are concerned, though given the choice he's likely to go for Con Air over Battleship Potemkin most days. He's pretty sure that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most overrated mess in cinematic history.