Screen Stories

A Master Class in DIY Resourcefulness

I’m not a fan of splatter and squelch horror movies, but one doesn’t have to be in order to be captivated by the story of the making of the appropriately named cult classic, Bad Taste, a Monthy Python-meets-Hammer Studios mash-up produced, written and directed in the mid-1980s by a young New Zealand filmmaker named Peter Jackson. The particular account I have in mind is the one found in Brian Sibley’s engaging book, Peter Jackson: A Film-Maker’s Journey (HarperCollins UK, 2006), which follows Jackson’s career from the Super 8 movies he shot as a boy through the making of the magnificent Lord of the Rings trilogy up to the re-make of King Kong.

Jackson started making Bad Taste in his early 20s, filming on weekends while employed as a photoengraver at a local newspaper in Wellington. He started shooting the film on a16 mm camera (a big step up from Super 8) that his parents had to help him buy. There was no script and the cast was made up of just Jackson himself and his buddies–more than one of whom moved away and came back again to act in the film during the several years it took Jackson to get it finished. The ebook I have has lots of photographs from the shoot: of Jackson filming with his homemade dollies, rigs, and steadicams; of Jackson at work in the home special effects shop that he and his father built at the family home in Pukerua Bay (all the special effects in Bad Taste were made by Jackson himself); of Jackson and his buds having the time of their lives hamming it up on their seat-of-your-pants adventure–which started as a ten-minute short and ballooned into a feature film.

What impresses me most in reading this account of the making of Bad Taste is how resourceful Jackson was in simply–and very creatively–making do with whatever equipment, materials, and personnel were at hand. His ideas for his first film were big ones, and I suppose it isn’t too surprising that the director who made the Lord of the Rings as a special effects extravaganza wasn’t going to settle for a story involving a boy and a girl in a quiet restaurant. Bad Taste has aliens, zombies, prosthetics, scale models–just about everything in a filmmaker’s toolbox (except a script!). Jackson never seemed to worry much that he didn’t have big studio resources. He simply plunged ahead with whatever he had, and what he didn’t have he taught himself how to make.

Eventually, after an initial rejection, Jackson earned for his project some support from the New Zealand Film Commission, just enough to enable him to quit his day job and enjoy some uninterrupted months in which to finish his film. One of the most interesting parts of the story of Bad Taste is the persistence Jackson showed after the initial rejection from the Commission. His letters to the director reveal a humble and self-effacing young man, yet nonetheless one supremely confident in the vision of his film and adamant in making the case for its aesthetic and market value (the Commission only funded projects on which it could expect a return). In viewing the progress of Bad Taste over the years, the Commission finally came to recognize Jackson’s very raw and anarchic but unquestionable talent.

So there was never any film school for Peter Jackson. There was simply a devotion to his craft and a willingness to do everything himself if that’s what it took to make his dream a reality. The making of Bad Taste, whatever the artistic merits of the film (and there may not be many), is a master class in DIY resourcefulness. I’m still on the Bad Taste section of the book, but I don’t expect to read anything more inspiring than what I’ve read so far.

Do you have any DIY stories that have inspired you?

Oh–in case you aren’t aware, Jackson has been making a series of video blogs during the filming of The Hobbit, which just wrapped up principal photography in New Zealand (scroll down the official Hobbit website to find them–Production Video #7 is my favorite). The video blogs are an awful lot of fun to watch–and especially amazing when you keep in mind that the Oscar-winning director of The Hobbit got started with a 16 mm camera running around his hometown with his friends.

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