Sir Peter Robert Jackson, CNZM (born October 31, 1961) is a three-time Academy Award-winning New Zealand director, producer and writer, best known for directing the Middle-earth franchise adapted from the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels by J. R. R. Tolkien.[1] He is also known for his 2005 remake of King Kong.[2]

He won international attention early in his career with his "splatstick" horror comedies, before coming to mainstream prominence with Heavenly Creatures, for which he shared an Academy Award best screenplay nomination with his partner Fran Walsh.


Early life

Born on 31 October 1961 in Pukerua Bay, a coastal town near Wellington, New Zealand, Jackson was an only child to Bill and Joan Jackson, both immigrants from England. As a child, Jackson was a keen film fan, growing up on Ray Harryhausen films as well finding inspiration in the television series Thunderbirds and Monty Python's Flying Circus. After a family friend gave the Jacksons a Super 8 cine-camera with Peter in mind, he began making short films with his friends. Jackson has long cited King Kong as his favourite film, and around the age of nine he attempted to remake it using his own stop-motion models.[3]

Jackson has had no formal training in film-making, but learnt about editing, special effects and makeup largely through his own trial and error. As a teenager Jackson discovered the work of author J. R. R. Tolkien after watching The Lord of the Rings (1978), an animated film by Ralph Bakshi that was a part-adaptation of Tolkien's fantasy trilogy.[4] After leaving school Jackson began working as a photoengraver at a newspaper company in Wellington, and shooting a feature-length vampire movie that was later abandoned before completion.

The splatter period

Over four years (from 1983 to 1987) Jackson's first feature Bad Taste grew in haphazard fashion from a short film into a 90-minute splatter comedy, with many of Jackson's friends acting and working on it for free. Shooting was normally done in the weekends since Jackson was now working full-time. Bad Taste is about aliens that come to earth with the desire of turning humans into food. Jackson created extensive special effects for the film, including one infamous alien vomit drinking scene utilising some muesli mixed with green food colouring. Jackson also takes two acting roles, enabling him to include a scene in the film where he fights himself.

The film was finally completed thanks to a late injection of finance from Government body the New Zealand Film Commission, after the body's executive director Jim Booth became convinced of Jackson's talent (Booth would later leave the Commission, to become Jackson's producer.) In May 1987 Bad Taste was unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival, where rights to the film quickly sold to twelve countries.

Around this time Jackson began working on writing a number of movie scripts, in varied collaborative groupings with playwright Stephen Sinclair, writer Fran Walsh and writer/actor Danny Mulheron. Walsh would later become his partner, and mother of his son Billy and his daughter Katie. Some of the scripts from this period, including a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel, have never seen the light of a movie screen; the proposed zombie film Braindead underwent extensive rewrites.

Jackson's next film to see release would turn out be Meet the Feebles (1989), co-written by the four writers mentioned above. An ensemble musical comedy starring Muppet-style puppets, Feebles originally began as a short film intended for television, but was rapidly expanded into a full-length script after unexpected enthusiasm from Japanese investors, and the collapse of Braindead six-weeks before filming. Begun on a very low budget, Feebles went weeks over schedule. Feebles went on to win the worst reviews of Jackson's career to date, but has now established a cult following. "It's got a quality of humour that alienates a lot of people," Jackson said at the time. "It's very black, very satirical, very savage." [5] Feebles marked Jackson's first collaboration with special effects team Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger, who would subsequently work on all Jackson's movies.

Jackson's next release was the comedy Braindead (1992) (released in North America as Dead Alive), now seen as a landmark in splatter movies. Originally planned as a Spanish co-production, the film reversed the usual zombie plot - rather than keeping the zombies out of his place of refuge, the hero attempts to keep them inside, while maintaining a facade of normality. The film features extensive special effects including miniature trams, stop motion and a plethora of gory make-up effects, but also won praise for its strong performances, particularly that of lead actor Tim Balme. Balme plays the closeted young man who discovers that his domineering mother is decaying into a zombie.

Heavenly Creatures and Forgotten Silver

Released in 1994 after Jackson won a race to bring the story to the screen, Heavenly Creatures marked a major change for Jackson in terms of both style and tone. The film is based on real life events: namely the Parker-Hulme murder in which two teenage girls in 1950s Christchurch became close friends, some say lovers, and later murdered the mother of one of the girls. Jackson's partner Fran Walsh helped persuade him that the events had the makings of a movie; Jackson has been quoted saying that the film "only got made" because of her enthusiasm for the subject matter.[6] Many New Zealanders were apprehensive about how Jackson would treat the material, an apprehension that would later turn in many cases to relief. The film's fame coincided with the New Zealand media tracking down the real-life Juliet Hulme, who now wrote books under the name Anne Perry. Heavenly Creatures received considerable critical acclaim, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and making top ten of the year lists in Time, The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The New Zealand Herald.

The success of Heavenly Creatures won Jackson attention from American company Miramax, who promoted the film vigorously in America and signed the director to a first look deal.

The following year, in collaboration with Wellington filmmaker Costa Botes, Jackson co-directed the 'mockumentary', Forgotten Silver (1995). This ambitious made for television piece told the story of New Zealand film pioneer Colin McKenzie who had supposedly invented colour film and 'talkies', and attempted an epic film of Salome before being forgotten by the world. Though the programme played in a slot normally reserved for drama, no other warning was given that it was fictionalised. Many were outraged at discovering Colin McKenzie had never existed. Some have argued that the number of people who believed the increasingly improbable story provides testimony to Jackson and Botes' skill at playing on New Zealand's national myth of a nation of innovators and forgotten trail-blazers.[7]

In the meantime, Jackson and Walsh welcomed their children, Billy (1995) and Katie (1996) into the world.

Hollywood, Weta, the Film Commission

The success of Heavenly Creatures helped pave the way for Jackson's first big budget Hollywood movie The Frighteners (1996), starring Michael J. Fox. Thanks partly to support from American producer Robert Zemeckis, Jackson was given permission to make this part comedy, part horror movie entirely in New Zealand, even though the story is set in a North American town. This period was a key one of change for both Jackson and Weta, the special effects company with which he is often associated. Weta, initiated by Jackson and key collaborators, grew rapidly during this period to incorporate both digital effects (the company was born from the one man and a computer contributions of George Port to Heavenly Creatures) and physical effects, make-up and costumes (the first two areas normally commanded by Jackson collaborator Richard Taylor).

The Frighteners was regarded as a commercial failure. Though the film has always had its defenders, some critics expressed disappointment that it displayed little of the anarchistic humor of Jackson's early movies and that the script felt underdeveloped. In February 1997 Jackson launched legal proceedings against New Zealand magazine The Listener for defamation, over a review of The Frighteners which claimed that the film was "built from the rubble of other people's movies" [8] In the end, the case was not pursued further. Around this time Jackson's remake of King Kong was shelved by Universal Studios (partly because Mighty Joe Young, another giant gorilla movie, had already gone into production).

This period of transition seems not to have been entirely a happy one; it also marked one of the high points of tension between Jackson and The New Zealand Film Commission since Meet the Feebles had gone over-budget earlier in his career (Jackson has claimed the Commission considered firing him from Feebles; the NZFC went on to help fund his next three films). In 1997 the director submitted a lengthy criticism of the Commission for a magazine supplement meant to celebrate the body's 20th anniversary, criticising what he called inconsistent decision-making by inexperienced board members. The magazine felt that the material was too long and potentially defamatory to publish in that form; a shortened version of the material went on to appear in Metro magazine.[9] In the Metro article Jackson criticised the Commission over funding decisions concerning a film he was hoping to executive produce, but refused to drop a client-confidentiality clause that allowed them to publicly reply to his criticisms.

The Lord of the Rings

Main article: The Lord of the Rings film trilogy

Peter Jackson won the rights to film J. R. R. Tolkien's epic in 1997 after meeting with producer Saul Zaentz. Originally working with Miramax towards a two-film production, Jackson was later pressured to render the story as a single film, and finally overcame a tight deadline by making a last minute deal with New Line, who were keen on a trilogy.

Principal photography stretched from October 11, 1999 to December 22, 2000 with extensive location filming across New Zealand. With the benefit of extended post-production and extra periods of shooting before each film's release, the series met huge success and sent Jackson's popularity soaring.

Jackson's mother Joan died 3 days before the release of the first movie in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. There was a special showing of the film after her funeral.[10]

Following The Return of the King, Jackson lost a large amount of weight (over 50 lb/22.5 kg) to the point of being unrecognizable to some fans. In the British Daily Telegraph he attributed his weight loss to his diet. He said, "I just got tired of being overweight and unfit, so I changed my diet from hamburgers to yogurt and muesli and it seems to work."[11]

King Kong

Main article: King Kong (2005)

Universal Studios now returned to the fray, signing Peter Jackson for a second time to remake the 1933 classic King Kong — the film that inspired him to become a film director as a boy.[12] He was reportedly being paid a fee of US$20 million upfront, the highest salary ever paid to a film director in advance of production, against a 20 percent take of the box-office rentals (the portion of the price of the ticket that goes to the film distributor, in this case Universal). The film was released on December 14, 2005, and grossed around US$550 million worldwide.[13] Its release on home video and DVD was even bigger, as it set records for a Universal Pictures DVD in sales figures .

The Hobbit

Jackson's involvement in the making of a film version of The Hobbit, along with another possible The Lord of the Rings prequel, has a long and chequered history. In November 2006, a letter from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh stated that due to an ongoing legal dispute between Wingnut Films (Jackson's production company) and New Line Cinema, Jackson would likely not be directing the film.[14] However, in response, MGM spokesman Jeff Pryor stated that "we still believe this matter of Peter Jackson directing The Hobbit is far from closed." (MGM owns the distribution rights to The Hobbit film). New Line Cinema's head, Robert Shaye said that Jackson "will never make any movie with New Line Cinema again while I'm still working for the company."[15] An online boycott of New Line Cinema was begun in the hopes of compelling New Line Cinema to renegotiate with Peter Jackson.[16]

Shaye's comments marked the first time a New Line executive had commented publicly on the franchise since Jackson announced that he was pulled out of the project. In August 2007 though Shaye was trying to repair his working relationship with Jackson. "I really respect and admire Peter and would love for him to be creatively involved in some way in The Hobbit," Shaye said."[17] On December 18, 2007, it was announced that Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema had reached agreement to make two prequels, one based on The Hobbit which will be released in 2011 and 2012. Jackson will serve as a writer and executive producer. Guillermo del Toro has been selected to direct.[18][19]

He purchased a church in Wellington for approximately $10 million, saving it from demolition.[20]


Jackson is known for his attention to detail, a habit of shooting scenes from many angles, a macabre sense of humour, and a general playfulness—the latter to the point where The Lord of the Rings conceptual designer Alan Lee jokingly remarked "the film is almost incidental really".[21]

Jackson was a noted perfectionist on the Lord of the Rings shoot where he demanded numerous takes of scenes, requesting additional takes by repeatedly saying, "one more for luck".[22] Jackson is also renowned within the New Zealand film industry for his insistence on "coverage" — shooting a scene from as many angles as possible, giving him more options to choose from in the editing process. Jackson has been known to spend days shooting a single scene. This is evident in his work where even scenes featuring simple conversations often feature a wide array of multiple camera angles and shot-sizes as well as zooming closeups on characters' faces. One of his most common visual trademarks is shooting close-ups of actors with wide-angle lenses.

Unlike some other film directors, Jackson has remained in his native country to make films. This has been the genesis of several production and support companies. Most of Jackson's assets are found on the Miramar Peninsula in his home town of Wellington where much of his filming occurs; and he was instrumental in having the world premiere of The Return of the King in the city's iconic Embassy Theatre which he helped restore.

He was an early user of computer enhancement technology and provided digital special effects to a number of Hollywood films by use of telecommunications and satellite links to transmit raw images and the final results across the Pacific Ocean.[citation needed]

During filming of The Lord of the Rings, Jackson was (in)famous for wearing short pants and going barefoot under most circumstances, especially during film shoots.[23]


Jackson won three Academy Awards for The Return of the King, including the Academy Award for Best Director.

Jackson was appointed a Companion in the New Zealand Order of Merit, in the 2002 New Years Honours.[24]

Cameo roles

Jackson usually makes cameo appearances in his own films:

  • Jackson appears as a bi-plane gunner attacking Kong in New York, reprising the cameo which original King Kong filmmaker Merian C. Cooper made in his 1933 film.
  • The Lord of the Rings film trilogy includes multiple cameos. In The Fellowship of the Ring Jackson plays Albert Dreary, a drunken, carrot-chomping citizen of Bree. In The Two Towers he plays a spear-throwing defender of Helm's Deep. His significant cameo in The Return of the King is limited to the extended version, where he is seen as the boatswain of a corsair ship in The Return of the King and is accidentally killed by Legolas's "warning shot." (The character is seen very briefly in the theatrical version.) Additionally, though not a cameo in the traditional sense, he also served as a stand-in for Sean Astin in the shot where Samwise Gamgee steps into frame, challenging the monster Shelob; however all you can see of Jackson is his right arm.
  • In The Frighteners, Jackson is a biker bumped into by Frank Bannister.
  • In Heavenly Creatures, he is a bum that gets kissed by Juliet Hulme.
  • In Braindead, he is the mortician's assistant.
  • In the puppet movie Meet the Feebles Jackson appears as an audience member disguised as one of the aliens from Bad Taste.

He has also made cameos in several films not directed by him. In Hot Fuzz (2007), he played a demented Father Christmas, who stabs Nicholas Angel (played by Simon Pegg) in the hand.[25]

Jackson's eldest son Billy (born 1995), has had cameo appearances in every one of his parents' films since his birth, namely The Frighteners (1996), The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and King Kong. His daughter Katie (born 1996) appeared in all the above films, except The Frighteners.

Jackson had a cameo on the HBO show Entourage in the August 5, 2007 episode, "Gary's Desk", in which he offers a business proposal to Eric Murphy, manager to the lead character, Vincent Chase.



Year Title No. of Oscar nominations No. of Oscar wins
1976 The Valley
1987 Bad Taste
1989 Meet the Feebles
1992 Braindead
1994 Heavenly Creatures 1
1995 Forgotten Silver
1996 The Frighteners
2001 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring 13 4
2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers 6 2
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 11 11
2005 King Kong 4 3
2009 The Lovely Bones



Miscellaneous crew

  • Meet the Feebles (1989): Puppet Designer
  • Braindead (1992): Stop-Motion Animator
  • The Ugly (1997): Special Thanks
  • Heaven (1998): Special Thanks
  • Phantom (1998): Special Thanks
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003): Executive Soundtrack Producer (uncredited)
  • I'll See You in My Dreams (2003): Thanks
  • The World's Fastest Indian (2005): Thanks
  • Hostel (2005): Very Special Thanks


Special effects

  • The Valley (1976): Special effects
  • Bad Taste (1987): Special effects
  • The Lounge Bar (1989): Special effects

Visual effects

  • Braindead (1992): Miniatures
  • Contact (1997): Additional visual effects



  • The Valley (1976): Makeup designer
  • Bad Taste (1987): Makeup effects

Second unit director

  • Jack Brown Genius (1994): 2nd AD


  • Meet the Feebles (1989): Camera Operator


  • The Valley (1976)


Brian Sibley. Peter Jackson- A Film-maker's Journey. Sydney, HarperCollins, 2006. ISBN 0732285623.

  • Giulio Cicala. "Il Cinema di Peter Jackson". Alessandria, Falsopiano Editore, 2006. ISBN 9788889782064. A deeper insight into the history, cinema and the way of making movies by the New Zealand director from the beginning until "King Kong". Template:It icon

Ian Pryor. Peter Jackson- From prince of splatter to lord of the rings. Auckland, Random House, 2003, New York, St. Martin's Press, 2004. ISBN 1869415558 (NZ Edition)

See also

  • New Zealand cinema
  • New Zealand Film Makers
  • Weta Workshop
  • Weta Digital
  • WingNut Films
  • Park Road Post


  1. tothesource. Retrieved on 2006-10-18.
  2. This gorilla of a film is blockbuster of the year. Daily Mail (December 5, 2005).
  3. Paul Fischer. Interview: Peter Jackson "King Kong". Dark Horizons. Gorilla Nation. Retrieved on 2006-10-18.
  4. Russel Baillie, 'Peter Jackson's trip from splatstick to RAF', New Zealand Herald, 29 October 2006,
  5. Ian Pryor, 'Meet the Feebles', Evening Post, 24 August 1989, p.25.
  6. Andy Webster, 'The Frightener', Premiere, August 1996, p.26.
  7. Geoff Chapple, 'Gone, not forgotten', New Zealand Listener, 25 November 1995, p.26.
  8. Philip Matthews, 'Spectral Steel', New Zealand Listener, 14 December 1996
  9. Andrew Heal, 'Horror story', Metro, December 1997
  10. "Charlie Rose - Peter Jackson", February 2004
  11. "Peter Jackson's muesli diet secret",, 12 April
  12. "Peter Jackson's Labor of Love" by Stone Phillips, MSNBC, December 2, 2005
  13. King Kong figures from Box Office Mojo
  14. "Xoanon". "Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh talk The Hobbit", The One Ring, 2006-11-19. Retrieved on 2006-11-20. 
  15. Shaye: New Line Blacklists Jackson. (2007-01-10). Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
  16. Are You a Lord of the Rings Fan? Boycott New Line Cinema .
  17. Patrick Goldstein. "THE BIG PICTURE: New Line's midlife crisis", Los Angeles Times, 2007-08-10. Retrieved on 2007-08-17. 
  18. Press Release: Announcing The Hobbit (online). Press Release. Retrieved on 2007-12-29.
  19. Del Toro to take charge of The Hobbit.
  20. "Stella Maris Retreat Centre and Chapel saved", Scoop, 12 September 2007. Retrieved on 2007-10-18. 
  21. "Big-atures" ROTK SEE DVD Documentary
  22. Cameras in Middle-earth: The Fellowship of the Ring, Special Extended Edition DVD Documentary. Actor Christopher Lee remarks about having twelves takes for one scene, before being told by Ian McKellen he did 24 takes for two lines the previous day
  24. DPMC - New Zealand Honours
  25. Zingale, Jason. Hot Fuzz review. Retrieved on 2008-04-30.

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