Producer To Bind Them All:
An Interview with Barrie M. Osborne
If the name Barrie M. Osborne doesn't quite ring a bell, it's
probably because his producing partners on his last project
got all the good press: Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh.
has been producing since the early eighties, working on a
few well-known films like The Big Chill, Peggy Sue Got Married,
and even Dick Tracy. After a stint as vice-president of features
at Disney, he went into producing full-time, taking a few
chancy projects like Wilder Napalm and Rapa Nui, then launching
a franchise you may have heard of: The Matrix.
Middle-Earth came calling, and Osborne answered. Recently,
he visited the Bay Area for a special showing of The Return
of the King, and took some time to talk to interviewers.
had ten minutes, and we hope we made it count.
Now that the trilogy is done, fans are hoping for The Hobbit
to get made. Do you think it's a possibility, and if so, will
you be involved with it?
M. Osborne: We would love to do The Hobbit. The
rights are complicated, because one of the studios has North
American distribution rights, and I don't think anyone's going
to go into it unless they have all the rights. I think a split
rights deal would be hard to do.
take a while to straighten that out. We'll see what happens.
Was there a moment when you really realized that this film
project, The Lord of the Rings, was finally done?
That is a very good question.
It hasn't happened yet?
No. (laughs) It doesn't feel like it's done. There's
the extended cut DVD of the film that's in the works, and
that will take until May or so to get finished.
told Peter and New Line that I would help in the background
but that I wasn't going to be actively involved on a day to
day basis. I want to go on with other things. But I get daily
e-mails from Rick Porris who is actually handling it.
Okay, but once that's done, are we going to have to shell
out again for a complete trilogy DVD set?
I'm sure you will. (we both laugh, one of us ruefully)
has a lot of things that he hopes to do in the future for
a combined trilogy set. It will be cool, but that's something
in the future. I don't think that will happen right away;
it's a couple of years down the road.
Which Middle Earth character do you most identify with?
That's a hard one. In terms of our cast, I love everybody.
And I say that sincerely. We really became a fellowship ourselves.
suppose I love Aragorn's story. A guy who grew up with something
we named "lineage dread," fearing that he would never rise
above, that he could never become anything because so many
generations ago his ancestors had failed to destroy The Ring.
He would always live in the shadow of that and never rise
all be worthy human beings.
he finds out that he is his own man and raises to his own
level. He finds out that he is a worthy human being and can
become a leader of men.
story, who sets out as the smallest guy with the most significant
task: to destroy evil in Middle Earth. And succeeds. With
the help of his great friend Sam, of course.
So you're trying to wipe out evil in the film industry?
I wouldn't say that. No, just the story of taking on a great
How much of the budget was spent on foot care?
Foot care? A significant amount. Wait a second. I think I
actually have the statistic here somewhere. Not how much we
spent, but…we made sixteen hundred pair of prosthetic hobbit
feet used during principal photography. I bet you could add
another…we probably made well over two thousand hobbit feet
for the movie.
Did you keep a pair for yourself?
The big talk in the mainstream industry is that this will
finally be the year for the Oscar. Has the producing team
picked an Oscar spokesperson if you win, and could you give
us a little preview of your speech?
You know, you can't go into it that way. First of all, for
me, I think for all of us, we set out to tell this great tale.
We put all of our effort into doing that.
that we're nominated for things, and have been over the last
three years, is a great honor.
of speechmaking, I find that if I go up with a written speech
I get too nervous. If I have to say any words, if I'm lucky,
fortunate enough to get to say any words, I have a general
impression of what I would say. But I don't actually write
You're listed as Executive Producer on The Matrix. And I'm
sure a lot of readers aren't exactly sure of the difference
between Executive Producer and regular Producer. What's the
difference between those two tasks, especially in light of
going from something like The Matrix to The Lord of the Rings?
Well, the titles are misused, frankly.
the Executive Producer would be someone who put the project
together and raised the money. The Producer would be the person
who oversaw the production and had a hand in maybe putting
the project together, overseeing some of the creative aspects
of the movie. As well as some of the marketing aspects of
happens, though, is that those titles get misused, unfortunately,
all too frequently. And so what can I say? It all depends
on who you're dealing with, and who is the person who has
put the deal together and whether they're generous or not
generous about the title.
You didn't follow up with the last two Matrix films. I doubt
you had time. But did you think that that worked as a trilogy?
Let me put it this way. Larry and Andy Wachowski are great
friends, and I admire their work tremendously. I loved working
on The Matrix. We discussed my leaving and doing The
Lord of the Rings. At that time, they did not have a commitment
from Warner Brothers to do the sequels.
at that time they had a good, solid idea of what they were
going to do. I very much wanted to do it with them.
The Lord of the Rings came up, they agreed with me
that it was a great opportunity for me. So I left and did
that, and couldn't do their (trilogy) as well as mine.
and Sir Ian McKellen at the New Zealand premiere.
they're great filmmakers. Things work and don't work in their
film, but I actually admire their work tremendously.
You spent some time as an executive in features at Disney,
and right now there's a lot of controversy concerning their
future. Do you have any feelings on that, having worked on
When I was there, I loved the managerial team, which was a
combination of Frank Wells, Michael Eisner, and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
I thought that trilogy, those three guys, really did a great
job of running that studio and building that studio up from
what was a fairly dormant company to what it is today.
speak to what's happening there now because I haven't been
involved with them.
You've produced one of the biggest achievements in cinema
history. No one is going to refute that. But you've moved
on to much, much smaller movies - The Last Place On Earth
and something called Jindabyne. Why the shift in scale?
Really what attracts me to a project is a script and the talent
behind it. The Last Place On Earth was done a long
time ago, so I'm not going to comment on that.
is a picture that a good friend of mine, Ray Lawrence, is
directing. And I've always wanted to work with Ray, and this
is an opportunity to work together. It is a smaller film.
It's based on a Raymond Carver short story, "So Much Water,
So Close To Home."
Altman did it as one of the shorts in Short Cuts, but
this is an expanded full-length film, and I think Ray is a
really talented director. He last did Lantana.
was appealing to me, and Ray was appealing to me as a director,
so that's why I'm doing that.
working on a picture with Robert Sarkies called Magnificent
Magic Fingers, which is a children's fantasy film, based
on the tooth fairy somewhat. But really, based on the need
for these young kids to find belief in order to save themselves.
It's a great little story that I hope to make.
also involved with two groups. One in Australia/Singapore
raising production funds, and one in the U.S. raising productions
funds. Hopefully, those things come to fruition.
Let's assume that with your success you could absolutely any
project going. What would be your dream project, or are you
doing it already?
Yeah, I am working on some of them. There are many different
ones that I find appealing. As you work through a project,
initially it may just be an idea or a thought. It may be based
on an article. It may be based on a short story or a novel.
As you go through the production development process, the
you get to that point where you're ready to go in a production,
it's not a dream project. It's a project that you have a passion
for, that you want to get made. And I have many of those.
Thank you for your time with me. I really appreciate it.
It's a pleasure.
so he could have been just being nice, but he sure seemed
sincere. But I can't believe he didn't keep a pair of hobbit