Published on November 15th, 2013 | by gareth0
Ron Newcomb and Scott Mathias – Rise of the Fellowship
Ron Newcomb, director and producer and Scott Mathias, writer and producer. Both are owners of Opening Act Productions, the independent film company that produced The Rise of the Fellowship, formerly known as The Fellows Hip. The movie hits DVD December 3 via Phase 4 Films.
Did you write the movie with the marketing in mind, because you’ve definitely got quite a few boxes ticked here – gamers! film fans! Lord of the Rings fanatics! geeks! Where did it all begin?
Ron: We did. Scott and I wanted to make a film, and we felt it had the best chance of success if we focused it on an audience. A lot of indie filmmakers make a film without a thought of who the audience might be. It’s the “if we build it, they will come” mentality, which doesn’t always work. It might be a great film, but it may not get distribution because distributors can’t easily identify who to market it to. You want your film to be seen and without some form of distribution, you’re kind of dead in the water. These elements were in the film and our business plan from day one.
Scott: Like Ron said, these elements were always there. We knew each other and had been looking for a film to do together. He came to me with this idea, and I thought it was great. It had a built-in audience, which was key, and it just sounded fun. Making a film is a long haul, so you’d better enjoy it. Anyway, I did an outline, which it is still pretty close to the final film, Ron liked it and we were off. Knowing our audience helped focus the writing. And since we probably weren’t going to have actors that people knew, we had to have elements like Lord of the Rings and gaming that would attract them.
How long ago did you first put pen to paper on the script? Has it been a long journey from script to screen?
Ron: We started it the spring of 2007, so over six years. It’s been a longer journey than we originally hoped, but we stuck with it all the way. Some things were in our control and other things that held up the film weren’t.
We’re grateful to people who helped us through some crucial periods. Next time, we want to condense that timeframe quite a bit. One of the things we learned is that you have to strike while you have momentum. It can hard to get that going again.
Scott: The scriptwriting took awhile, but in hindsight it wasn’t that bad. We had the script finished, our business plan done, investors–mainly family and friends–and the cast, crew and equipment together to film in August 2009. Thirty-five days of filming, and the film was in the can. Things got bogged down in post-production. Part of that was that we didn’t want to jeopardize the quality of the film. Sometimes that meant more time if your funds are limited.
What or who inspired the script, besides “Lord of the Rings”?
Ron: That’s the biggest inspiration hands down. I think our nod to Peter Jackson is obvious when you watch the film. We’ve often pitched the film as “Fanboys meets Lord of the Rings,” so there’s that film. Other films from our childhood like “Goonies” and “Karate Kid,” whether we were aware of it or not, were inspirations.
Scott: I think there were more inspirations that we weren’t aware of than we were. People will point out comparisons that you didn’t see, which is cool. Napoleon Dynamite is one, which we were aware of but people have pointed it out to. If we can half as good as that film, we will be happy. There’s an ‘80s movie, “The Wizard,” with Fred Savage. I actually watched it after we wrote our film. It seemed vaguely familiar, so who knows?
Obviously, “Lord of the Rings” is a major element in the movie. How much of a fan are you? and how well did you know the online game?
Ron: I was blown away by Peter Jackson’s films. I’ve probably watched everything he’s done in relation to them. We got permission to us his name in the film and have a thank you to him in the credits. And, I’ve even been to New Zealand on the Lord of the Rings tour to see the “Promised Land,” as it’s called in our film. I’ve even gone to other films just because I heard that they had a trailer of “The Hobbit” that I wanted to see.
Scott: I’m a purist–a fan of the books first and the films second. I had to control myself a few times on the set when some of the younger crew had seen the films but not read the books. And, they still call themselves fans. I probably reread the books every other year, and I’ve read them to all my kids before they could see the films. But I love the films too. When the “Return of the King” came out, I saw all of the films, extended versions of the first two, back-to-back and then went to see the third film again later that day.
Ron: I was waiting for the Lord of the Rings Online when it came out, which was right around the time I was thinking of this film. I played the game quite a bit with family and friends early on. I haven’t had as much time to do stuff like that since working on the film. During filming LOTRO let us onto one of their private servers to film our own original footage for the film.
Scott: That was a lot of fun! It was hard to convince my wife that we were really working those nights. We may have finished a few quests and filming was over. That’ probably the most concentrated time I played the game except for few other times. I was definitely the noob on the team.
The game features prominently in the movie. How did you get the company to allow you to feature it?
Ron: We asked them. We found a contact there, and he was gracious enough to take a meeting. I’m not saying it’s going to work every time, but they were glad that we asked before just forging ahead on our own. We were always very clear about our intentions to make a commercial film. We actually talked to a few other similar games too, but LOTRO stepped up.
Scott: One of the offshoots of asking to use the game was that we had to have the script reviewed by the company that controls the rights for the Tolkien estate. That was nerve-wracking, but getting there approval felt good.
The film was shot in some beautiful locations.. where are those picturesque locales?
Ron: The film was shot within two hours of the Washington, DC area, mainly in Northern Virginia and a little bit in Southern Maryland. We live in a beautiful area. It was all right there. A lot of locations worked with us. We filmed at state and county parks, a camp ground, people’s private property, a church and our local gaming store, The Game Parlor.
Scott: And, we filmed at truck stop, a school and a paintball field. We had a quite a few locations for an indie film. And, I don’t think we really realized how much of the film was outside until we started shooting, but we did have some beautiful scenery. Come visit Virginia.
Was it timed to release the film around the release of “The Hobbit”? Or did it just work out that way?
Ron: When we heard “The Hobbit” was being made, we hoped to come out around the film. Luckily, it was delayed, and Peter Jackson decided to do three films.
Scott: We missed the first film, but it still seems like it was meant to be.
Rise of the Fellowship is on DVD December 3