PRG helped realize The Book of New Zealand bringing sweeping landscapes, magnificent and magical locations and movie magic all together for the U.S. premiere of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures feature film. Tourism New Zealand created a unique five-day immersive event space in the parking lot of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, relying on Production Resource Group, LLC (PRG) to help realize this massive undertaking. The Book of New Zealand’s innovative walk-through, multi-media installation environment featured actual set elements of the film. Used for the press junket of the filmmakers, parties, and fan events, the unprecedented, built from scratch environment transported all who entered into the world of the film and the beauty of New Zealand.
PRG worked closely with Tourism New Zealand and the filmmakers from 3 Foot 7 Ltd., the film’s production company, to present a truly unique Middle-earth experience. PRG provided all of the lighting, video, and audio as well as all of the production personnel and ancillary elements. The Book of New Zealand’s VIP opening night began with a 90-second film featuring director Peter Jackson paging through a pop-up book of the country’s diverse and striking locations from The Hobbit trilogy. Projected on a 50’Wx35’H roll drop screen, the tourism video concluded with a shot of the dragon Smaug breathing fire at the audience. On cue, large CO2 blasts covered the screen and dramatic lighting emulated flames. The screen quickly rolled up masked in the smoke and the reveal opened up the immersive, walk-through pop-up book event space. Filled with locations created to reflect New Zealand, which including actual film sets and props, guests could then walk into the book and through the landscape, all located on the 65’Wx100’Dx55’H roofed stage.
Helming the design of this immersive event experience was The Hobbit’s production designer Dan Hennah, joined by the film’s supervising art director Simon Bright, and set decorator Ra Vincent. The lighting was designed by the film’s key rigging gaffer Dave Brown working in conjunction with lighting designer Jason DeBoers from PRG. Bill Daly, system engineer, PRG Audio oversaw the audio and PRG’s Phil Galler handled projection. PRG also dealt with all of the permitting and site coordination working with Patrick Stansfield & Associates.
Initially contacted by the film’s rigging gaffer, Dave Brown, about getting some lighting equipment for the event, PRG was then contacted by the Hennah’s design team about broadening their scope of work on the LA event. “PRG came on board, really as our team that would put together everything,” explains Hennah, “especially the really demanding aspects of how to do this thing in the hotel’s car park. We also needed a screen that was 35’ tall and 50’ wide; and a solution to ‘how do you move the screen quickly after the film clip so that we could invite people to go through the environment that we had created. PRG sourced that for us and they came up with using a couple of rock stages back to back so we had enough depth to fit our set pieces in as well as have a large VIP area to host the function.” PRG was happy to provide whatever the film and tourism teams needed to make this project a reality. Sourcing the stage and fast retracting screen, as well as providing two brand new Barco 40K projectors for the opening film projection was just a part of the wide scope of coordination and implementation of the final design that PRG provided on the project.
Set Up Scenery Day Hobbit Book of NZ IMG_6973PRG also brought in a production management team from Patrick Stansfield & Associates, including project director Patrick Stansfield, production manager Kent Black, and production coordinator Arturo Cisneros to oversee the project work onsite and handle the logistics involved with this trans-Pacific project. While Stansfield, a legend in the production management field was the overall production supervisor, Black was production manager on the site, and Cisneros dealt with the city and the hotel, coordinating permits and security.
Traffic management on the tiny 50-car parking lot was one of the biggest challenges on this project. The team had to work in the confined lot right off a busy Santa Monica Boulevard—with a very tight ingress and egress. In fact, they had to trim back some of the hotel’s palm trees as well as temporarily removing some of the trees. The biggest technical challenge was getting the equipment in and out of the site. They couldn’t keep empties on site; they had to go back to PRG and the footprint of the double-sized concert stage that took up well over half of the lot.
A lot of the project came down to logistics, but working in such a tight, land-locked site had its issues. It took them four days to build the Total Structures’ roof structure, which normally would have taken two days. The roof and stage structure required a lot of engineering because it was right up against the hotel building on one side. The production team had to come up with a system where they extended kickers off on the opposite side to give some stability to the roof. Plus they were dealing with the four-foot grade change of the parking lot.
The production team also had to deal the fire department mandated open entrance and 20’ fire lane as a part of the safety requirements. They had to keep one of the gates open and create an opening wide enough to let fire trucks pass underneath, so they built a four-poster truss bridge, which is where the projectors were mounted on top.
The set design from the scenic team included pools and rocks that would be in and around the film’s set pieces. On the stage two ponds were built, so the decking in those areas were mounted two feet lower with a heavy-duty liner. The two ponds, each about a foot deep, were created onstage. Then they poured concrete in three of the areas and sculpted them out to look like rocks and stones. In total, there were four film sets on the stage; they brought six sea containers from New Zealand with the real sets and props used in the movies. The original pieces of the actual movie sets and props were matched with photos of the real landscapes so the environment successfully highlighted how the film’s Middle-earth fantasy is firmly attached to the real life landscapes of New Zealand.
In the middle of the set pieces, they created a VIP party area that was approximately 20’x60’. There were three rectangular truss pods hung from the roof for the lighting. On the fourth day of the roof build is when all the lighting truss went in, because they had to get it all in before they could load-in the scenery on the fifth day. Site preparation and load-in began at the Beverly Hilton on November 13th and the cleared site was handed back to the hotel on December 9th.
Production Designer Dan Hennah enjoyed his time working with the LA-based production team. “It was a very pleasant experience,” he says. “The whole thing worked flawlessly and everyone’s been great. It was a marriage of film and rock ‘n’ roll. The discipline of running a large rock show—we don’t have the knowledge—but we do have the discipline being ready on the day, so it was a really cool team that they put together to bring our world into a new discipline. I made a lot of friends and learned a lot on how things work in LA. It’s been really good to meet the people at PRG, they have been a great resource.”