Sir Peter Robert Jackson, ONZ, KNZM (born 31 October 1961) is a New Zealand film director, producer, actor, and screenwriter, who is mainly known for his The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (2001 to 2003), adapted from the novel by J. R. R. Tolkien.
He won international attention early in his career with his horror comedies beginning with Bad Taste (1987), Meet the Feebles (1989), and Braindead (1992) before coming to mainstream prominence with Heavenly Creatures (1994), for which he shared an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay nomination with his wife, Fran Walsh. Jackson has been awarded three Academy Awards in his career, including the award for Best Director in 2003; he also won the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Saturn Award for Best Direction the same year.
Jackson was born on 31 October 1961. He grew up in Pukerua Bay, a coastal town near Wellington. As a child, Jackson was a keen film fan, growing up on Ray Harryhausen films as well as 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.
When he was 16 years old, Jackson left school and began working full-time as a photo-engraver for the local newspaper. For the 7 years he worked there, Jackson lived at home with his parents so he could save as much money as possible to spend on filming equipment. After two years of work Jackson bought a 16 mm camera, and began shooting a short film that later became Bad Taste.
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 intention of turning humans into food. Jackson had two acting roles including a famous scene in which he fights himself on top of a cliff.
The film was finally completed thanks to a late injection of finance from the New Zealand Film Commission, after Jim Booth, the body’s executive director, became convinced of Jackson’s talent (Booth later left 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 Peter Jackson began working on writing a number of film scripts, in varied collaborative groupings with playwright Stephen Sinclair, writer Fran Walsh and writer/actor Danny Mulheron. Walsh would later become his wife.
Jackson’s next film to see release was Meet the Feebles (1989), co-written by the four writers mentioned above. An ensemble musical comedy starring Muppet-style puppets, Meet the Feebles originally began as a short film intended for television, but was rapidly expanded into a full-length film after unexpected enthusiasm from Japanese investors, and the collapse of Braindead, six weeks before filming. Begun on a very low budget, Meet the Feebles went weeks over schedule. Jackson stated of his second feature length film, “It’s got a quality of humour that alienates a lot of people. It’s very black, very satirical, very savage.”
Jackson’s next release was the horror 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 façade of normality. The film features extensive special effects including miniature trams, stop motion and a plethora of gory make-up effects.
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 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. The success of Heavenly Creatures won Jackson attention from Miramax, who promoted the film vigorously in America and signed the director to a first-look deal.
The following year, in collaboration with Wellington film-maker Costa Botes, Jackson co-directed the mockumentary Forgotten Silver (1995). This ambitious made-for-television piece told the story of New Zealand film pioneer who had supposedly invented colour film and ‘talkies’, 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 and many viewers were outraged at discovering Colin McKenzie had never existed.
The success of Heavenly Creatures helped pave the way for Jackson’s first big budget Hollywood film, The Frighteners starring Michael J. Fox, in 1996. This period was a key one of change for both Jackson and Weta Workshop, the special effects company, born from the one man contributions of George Port to Heavenly Creatures, with which Jackson is often associated. Weta, initiated by Jackson and key collaborators, grew rapidly during this period to incorporate both digital and physical effects, make-up and costumes, the first two areas normally commanded by Jackson collaborator Richard Taylor.