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My Best Teacher: Mr Shoesmith by Peter Jackson

The Lord of the Rings director, screenwriter and film producer recalls the teacher who starred in his very first film

Peter Jackson_editorial

The Lord of the Rings director, screenwriter and film producer recalls the teacher who starred in his very first film

I started making films when I was in primary school.

My school was called Pukerua Bay Primary, and we had a teacher there called Trevor Shoesmith, who I remember very fondly because he was the teacher of the class the year that I screened my first film.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus had just come on TV in New Zealand – we’re talking about 1970 or 1971, probably – and a bunch of us in the class, about six of us, got together to make a Monty Python parody film.

I had a Super 8 movie camera that my parents had picked up, so we used that, and we got Mr Shoesmith involved. We filmed him walking down the side of the school building and then we kept the camera locked off – you know, nice and still. And in just the spot where he had walked past, we set off some "explosives". We had gotten hold of some fireworks and made a big kind of "bomb" out of the fireworks and used this to create a big explosion effect, so in the finished film it looks as if we blew Mr Shoesmith up.

We didn’t really tell him about the fireworks. We just asked: could he come out please and walk down the side of the building? And then after he was gone we did the explosive bit. He didn’t know what we were going to do. He saw it for the first time in the finished film.

We screened this film to the kids at school and they all roared and laughed, and Mr Shoesmith laughed, too. So he was a good sport.

Peter Jackson

I remember that movie cost us $12 to make. It took four reels of Super 8 film, which in those days were $3 each. So we spent $12 making it and then we charged the kids at school 20 cents or something to come and see it in the school hall and we made exactly 12 bucks back; it was a break-even film. It was also the first time I’d ever made something that people actually saw and that we charged money for.

In those days – it may have changed now – but in those days we didn’t really have a film-making component in the school. There weren’t any classes on film-making particularly. But I just remember Mr Shoesmith being a very good sport about the whole thing. I know there were some teachers that wouldn’t have been quite as understanding as he was, and I was pretty fond of him.

I was a good student, but I was quiet and I was shy. I was an only child and, because I was an only child, I tried to get good marks so my parents would be proud of me. In exams, I usually scored reasonably well, but I certainly wasn’t studying towards a career as such because I knew that I wanted to make films and there wasn’t any component of the New Zealand school system in those days that was going to be helpful for me, as a filmmaker.

I left school in the sixth form because I badly wanted to make movies and I knew that, in order to do that, I had to get myself a decent 16mm camera, which meant I had to get a job to be able to afford it. And so I was really very much aware that in terms of having an ambition to be a filmmaker, I was on my own: the school system at that time wasn’t really going to be able to help me.

The film I have just recently finished working on, They Shall Not Grow Old, is a project that the Imperial War Museum asked me to make. We took original film footage that was shot during the war and used all the computer power at our disposal to restore it and make it look really new.

Obviously, everyone is aware of what this old film looks like: it’s scratchy and it’s sped up and it’s grainy and it hops and jumps around. So we wanted to clean it up and do a really amazing colourisation job on it. And for the sound, we decided that the only voiceover that we would have would actually be the voices of the guys who fought in the war, taken from archive recordings: so they would tell their own story.

Essentially you’re taking 100-year-old film footage and you’re turning it into something that looks like it’s shot now. I like to think of it as blowing away the fog of time. Looking back that long, the only film record we have is this very old, scratchy, grainy stuff and it’s like a dirty window that we are trying to peer through. So, if we can clean the window, clean the glass, make it nice and crystal-sharp, that sort of pulls it all into the modern world and it makes you connect much more closely to the people that were there, and it makes you connect with what it was like. I hope that will make a difference for the children in school, rather than just reading about it in textbooks.

They Shall Not Grow Old is being distributed to schools thanks to a collaboration between Tes, the arts organisation 14-18 NOW and Imperial War Museums. The film will be available on the Tes website, along with linked resources for history, English and PSHE lessons

Born: 31 October 1961, Pukerua Bay, New Zealand

Education: Pukerua Bay Primary School, Pukerua Bay and Kapiti College, Raumati Beach

Career: Jackson kicked off his career making cult comedy-horror Bad Taste, released in 1987, and is best known as the director, writer and producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films (2001-03) and the Hobbit trilogy (2012-14). He has been awarded three Academy Awards, including for best director in 2004. In December 2014, Jackson was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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