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It was a tough sell. "Harvey offered very severe terms," says Ken Kamins, Jackson's agent at ICM. "Also, people thought Peter was untested for something of this size." Mark Ordesky knew better. An executive at New Line--and an old friend of Jackson's--Ordesky championed Lord of the Rings to his bosses, Shaye and Lynne. "Everybody around the world knew about this series of books," says Shaye, who suggested they should make three movies. "It was so wonderfully presold. It was like Superman or Batman." By making them all at once, they reasoned, the cost per film would be diminished; most of the stars, for example, would take just 1.5 times their usual fees for all three movies, effectively working for half price. The studio also followed its usual business practice of selling off international rights to cover production costs. New Line's initial investment in the franchise was just about $25 million per movie.
Though Jackson's contract dictates that each film be no longer than 2 hr. 20 min., New Line agreed to a nearly 3-hr. running time for Fellowship. "The question was, How good is the movie?" says Lynne. "We all thought it was incredible." That's not to say that New Line and Jackson haven't had some strong disagreements. One of the most memorable battles was over the ending of Fellowship; New Line executives wanted a more action-packed finale. "But I don't think we ever got into a screaming contest," says Shaye.
Jackson is getting more than 10% of the pictures' revenue, and much of that new fortune is being pumped back into his business. Besides the special-effects house, he owns a production company, also based in Wellington, and he is building a postproduction facility near his home. "Ever since I was a kid dreaming about being a filmmaker," says Jackson, "I've never imagined going to Hollywood."
Earlier this year, Jackson lost five weeks of valuable postproduction time glad-handing Academy members in the U.S. to win Oscar votes. "It was a rather unpleasant experience," he says. "If we're lucky enough to get any more nominations, I'll happily show up at the awards show, but I really don't want to do the parading around."
Jackson is also hoping his facilities will entice other Hollywood filmmakers to pour money into the New Zealand economy. Some of Tom Cruise's next movie, The Last Samurai, will be shot there. Jackson's empire is just a short drive down a winding mountain road from the house where he and Walsh live. They are a curious couple; she is as thin as he is round, and they amuse each other endlessly. Besides co-writing the screenplay, Walsh directed bits of the trilogy. "We have very similar tastes, and that leads to an enormous amount of trust," says Jackson. "These films are too big for one person." In a year he and Walsh will be nearly finished with Lord of the Rings, and they are already planning their next project. Jackson says it will be closer to the scale of Heavenly Creatures. "He owes me a small one after this," says Walsh. There's nothing small about what they have accomplished so far.