book cover image

Frodo through the Fence

from The Frodo Franchise

This exclusive excerpt from her new book offers a view behind the cameras and a story about the way old-line production company New Line reacted to the rise of the new media. 

Kristin Thompson

This excerpt comes from Chapter 5, “Click to View Trailer,” which deals with The Lord of the Rings and the Internet. It deals with an incident that took place during principal photography in New Zealand. The quotations from Erica Challis, Peter Jackson, Barrie Osborne, and Melissa Booth all come from Thompson’s interviews with them.

Fan and reporter espionage was routine in the early months of filming. Then an event now famous in the annals of online Rings fandom occurred. On January 16, 2000, Erica Challis (co-founder of, who had done her share of photographing through fences, was served with a trespassing notice. Challis recalls what led up to that moment:

One of the reports described the quarry site where they built Minas Tirith and Helm’s Deep. Basically I was describing how you could get to watch them filming. I said, it’d be really difficult because there’s a lot of gorse and blackberry. You would probably lose your way, but you could probably steer if you kept track of the power pylons which go overhead at that point. And I did this knowing perfectly well that I wasn’t going to—I mean, I’m in my late 30s. I’m not going to be crawling around there at night.

The security staff tracked Challis through her reports, and upon returning home, she was served a notice banning her for two years from the quarry site. E!Online had exclusive on-set coverage, and Forde noted in his January “Force of Hobbit” entry: “Spies from have been spotted trying to gain access to the set. But security has been tightened even further in an effort to ensure that no more news or photos leak out.” The reference was to a fashion magazine that had printed photos of Liv Tyler in costume—which perhaps made New Line particularly nervous about spies at that time.

Challis mentioned the notice to some reporters who themselves were being chased away from filming locations. She recalls, “Probably out of boredom and frustration, they decided to turn that into a story, and they sort of blew it up into this big thing: ‘This poor little fan is being oppressed by this big film company.’” After the story appeared in the papers, she was interviewed on national television. Challis may have intrigued the media because she was not a typical teenage male fan (many of whom actually did crawl through the gorse above that quarry), but a slight, intelligent, polite 36-year-old woman.

The publicity drew the attention of the filmmakers. Peter Jackson’s account of the incident reflects how the studios and filmmakers were confronting this new phenomenon of fan-site spies. “The One Ring was initially seen as quite a threat in the sense that they were clearly out to spy on us—which was a novelty for us. Never in my life have I ever had an internet site trying to find out everything that we’re doing . . . It wasn’t anything to do with us, but New Line got incensed, and they put a legal trespass notice on her personally . . . The paranoia about what The One Ring was finding out was growing, and it was making them more determined, and I just felt it was all getting a bit out of control.”

A truce was reached about a week after the notice was served. Challis was again in Matamata to show the Hobbiton area to a tourist. She ran into a security guard whom she knew, and he suggested that she talk to producer Barrie Osborne. Challis left her card at the production office, and Osborne phoned her. He recalls, “I brought her out to Hobbiton, and she got to meet Ian McKellen, and she was overall thrilled with that. Again, [it was] mostly driven by Peter, who said the best tactic is to welcome her instead of driving her away.” Jackson confirms this. “I said to Barrie, ‘If you like her, if she’s actually a decent sort of person, why don’t you just give her a surprise and tell her to jump in your car and you’ll drive her onto the set?’ Barrie went off, and we kept shooting a scene with Ian McKellen on the cart arriving into the village.” Challis recalls that during the drive to Matamata, Osborne was on his cell phone with New Line’s publicist, reassuring her about allowing a spy onto the set. Jackson says that once he met Challis, “We invite her just to sit down right beside me, and I chat to her, and she meets Ian McKellen, and all this sort of stuff, and we just say, ‘Hey, we’re sorry about this trespass thing. It was stupid, and let’s just all behave in a better way.’” All parties agreed that the filmmakers would try to accommodate TORN without New Line having any editorial control over postings.

Challis naturally wanted to post a description of her one day on set, and she was given permission. “A lot of the major people following The Lord of the Rings just wouldn’t believe it, they wouldn’t post it. They were just either spitting with jealousy or they wouldn’t believe it.” Once it became clear that TORN had gotten “the scoop of all scoops,” many fans labored under the impression that Challis had regular on-set access from then on. In fact she went back to the position of peering in with her nose to the fence. When she later visited Wellington, she was invited on-set again, provided that she would not report on what she saw.

The single report gave TORN a powerful reputation as a reliable news source. Challis’ day in Hobbiton was the beginning of a special relationship between the filmmakers and TORN that has not ended even now. Most of the cast and crew read the site regularly. Publicist Melissa Booth says she sometimes used TORN to keep track of actors’ birthdays so that she could arrange for presents. :::

This exclusive excerpt is from The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood (University of California Press and Penguin New Zealand) by Kristin Thompson. Reprinted by permission of the author.
posted by editor ::: August 07, 2007 ::: pheatures :::