"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

Revisiting Betty White and The Lost Valentine to NY Times Arts Beat - R.I.P

August 6, 2010, 8:58 am

It’s Friday, So Why Not Talk to Betty White?


Betty White doesn’t need your approval. She’s such a rock star now that in addition to her regular role on the TV Land comedy “Hot in Cleveland” (which was recently picked up for a second season), she can also accept a recurring guest spot on the NBC series “Community” and call its cast delightful to their faces and no one can stop her. And she will turn down your offer to appear in a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie until you ask again nicely, and then tell you it’s a lovely script, just to let you know who’s boss. And if you tease her sarcastically at a public event, be prepared to face the full force of her endearing rejoinders.

ArtsBeat was recently offered the opportunity to speak with Ms. White about her work on “Community,” her perpetually busy schedule, and the risks of overexposure, and we were too afraid to say no. These are excerpts from that conversation.


You’re able to juggle this at the same time as your work on “Hot in Cleveland”?


Right, but we’re on hiatus now — we don’t go back until the 1st of November. That’s something lovely to look forward to, because the girls are so great, and the chemistry between them is so wonderful. But in the meantime, I’ve got a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie to do in Atlanta.


What’s it about?


It’s a lovely script that was sent — it’s two weeks in Atlanta, and I always try very hard not to go out of town. I try to stay here [California] as much as I can. Once in a while, like a “Saturday Night Live” thing, I had to go back for. But I keep it down to a minimum. So I turned it down, because of the being out of town. But they made it as easy for me as they can, and I get to come home on the weekend, between the two weeks. I’ll come in on Saturday and go back to Atlanta on Sunday to go to work Monday morning. So I was able to say O.K. The name of it is “Lost Valentine,” and it’s a love story. I do a lot of supposed comedy work — I mean, I hope it’s comedy work. This one is a love story so it’s a nice change of pace for me.


Do you get a love interest in the film?


No, in this case, it’s a love that I’ve lost. The reason it appealed to me so much, it’s a deep, deep love story, like the one I had with my beloved Allen Ludden.

How To Be Productive: Understanding Time, Work and Creativity



BUY THE BOOK - SELL YOUR STORY TO HOLLYWOOD: Writer’s Pocket Guide To The Business Of Show Business - BUY THE BOOK - WRITING TREATMENTS THAT SELL: How To Create And Market Your Story Ideas To The Motion Picture and TV Industry - MORE VIDEOS WITH DR. KEN ATCHITY

15 Screenwriting Lessons People Learn TOO LATE

In this Film Courage video series, screenwriters share their thoughts on screenwriting lessons most people learn TOO LATE.

1) 0:06 - Work On New Projects

2) 4:24 - What No One Else Can Create 3) 5:44 - Six Scripts 4) 11:08 - Script Comparison 5) 12:30 - Nothing In Return 6) 15:16 - Story or Character 7) 15:56 - Name Of The Game 8) 18:55 - The Great Weakness 9) 21:03 - I’ll Take A Look At It 10 27:04 - How To Build Empathy 11) 31:05 - A Participatory Experience 12) 35:35 - Writer’s Mindset 13) 41:46 - Not Good Enough 14) 47:43 - Value Of An Idea 15) 50:40 - Story Structure Myth Bonus) 56:10 - Never Forget This One



BUY THE BOOK - SELL YOUR STORY TO HOLLYWOOD: Writer’s Pocket Guide To The Business Of Show Business -

BUY THE BOOK - WRITING TREATMENTS THAT SELL:  How To Create And Market Your Story Ideas To The Motion Picture and TV Industry -

The Story of My Life! Ken Atchity's My Obit: Daddy Holding Me

Anyone who enjoyed Mircea Eliade’s autobiographical multi-volume Exile’s Odyssey, Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook My Wife for a Hat and Awakenings, or Richard Feynman’s Surely You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman, will find My Obit: Daddy Holding Me a page-turner filled with poignant family experiences, explosive sibling rivalry, literary adventures, ethnic cooking, wide-ranging storytelling, the workings of the brain itself--and what can be learned about life from playing tennis for decades. The jokes and recipes alone are worth the entrance price.

Hollywood High Concept

Studios today are producing, for the most part, two kinds of films. One type is pre-established franchises (comic books, TV series, famous novels, toys, such as Star Wars, Captain America, and The Hunger Games. The other type is high-concept scripts that are either conceived of in-house by executives, producers, managers, and agents who know what the market responds to — or by “spec” screenwriters determined to break the bank.

Writing even the greatest screenplay that isn’t high concept is choosing either the indie path or willful self-indulgence.

Dealing with “high concept” is one of the most challenging and frustrating tasks of the Hollywood writer, agent, or producer; reducing the story to a compelling logline is what high concept is all about. As a former academic not prepared for a world focused on marketing, it took me years to realize that the term “high concept” means almost its opposite. It means “simple concept,” as in Fatal Attraction: An innocent smile at a party turns a married man’s life upside down and put his family in mortal jeopardy.

Sometimes a title is its own high concept, as with Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel Gone with the Wind, the extended logline of which would be: “Against the backdrop of the great Civil War, a narcissistic Southern beauty obsessed with idyllic love struggles to reconstruct her life and finds that her true love is closer than she thinks.”

High concept is a story that will compel the broadest audiences to watch the movie after hearing a pitch of only a few, or sometimes even one, word(s):

Sleepless in Seattle
Unwanted Attentions
How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days
American Sniper
Four Weddings and a Funeral
San Andreas
Black Hawk Down
Panic Room
Runaway Bride
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
Home Alone
Cabin Fever
Die Hard
Ex Machina

These examples of high concept are pitched by their very titles. It’s enough to hear the title—and know that Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson star—to compel audiences to the box office for Anger Management. 

Die Hard on a boat,” was allegedly the logline line that led to the sale of Steven Seagall’s Under Siege.

Titles like The Fisher King, Seven Days in May, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Shipping News may be evocative, but do not express a high concept that will instantly lure audiences. Though such titles may get lucky and become successful movies, in today’s blockbuster market they’d be swimming upstream.

Nothing is more important to marketing your story than a “high concept logline” that makes it immediately stand out from all those stories that are subtle, nuanced, and difficult to pitch, and that depend entirely upon “execution.” Here are some more examples that have led my companies or others to sales:

• “Jurassic Shark!” (the two-word description given AEI client Steve Alten’s Meg by ICM-agent Jeff Robinov, who spearheaded a “preempt” from Disney for $1.1 million; the story was then re-sold to Newline, and then to Warner Brothers)

• When the most obnoxious guy in the world realizes he’s become an asshole on a false premise, he makes a list of all the people he’s wronged and sets out to repay them one by one. (John Scott Shepherd’s Henry’s List of Wrongs, sold to New Line Pictures for $1.6 million).

Life or Something Like It: An ambitious and self-involved reporter is sparked into action to change the pattern of her life when she interviews a street-psychic who tells her that her life is meaningless—and that she’s going to die—soon.

The Madam’s Family: The true “Canal Street Brothel” story of three generations of madams and their battle against persecution by the FBI.

The Lost Valentine: A man and woman find the love of their lifetimes when they’re brought together to memorialize the bittersweet story of a doomed World War II pilot and the wife who promised to wait forever for his return.

Consider these further examples, grouped by “genre”:

A woman or a family in jeopardy

The Shallows: While riding the waves at a remote beach, a young surfer finds herself injured and stranded just twenty miles from shore on a buoy—as a great white shark begins stalking her.

Room: After being abducted, abused, and imprisoned for seven years in a small windowless room a mother devises a bold escape plan.

An ordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances

The Danish Girl: What happens if the husband you adore needs to be a woman?
Woman in Gold: Six decades after World War II, a Jewish octogenarian begins a quest to reclaim the artwork confiscated from her family by the Nazis and now proudly celebrated by the Austrian government—including a famed Gustav Klimt masterpiece.

Men on a mission

Saving Private Ryan: US soldiers try to save their comrade who’s stationed behind enemy lines.

Bridge of Spies: At the height of the Cold War in 1960, the downing of an American spy plane and the pilot’s subsequent capture by the Soviets draws Brooklyn attorney James Donovan into the middle of an intense effort to secure the aviator’s release.

Man against nature

The Martian: He was left behind—on Mars.

The Revenant: A frontiersman fights for survival after being mauled by a grizzly and left for dead by his own hunting team.

Man or woman against the system

Spotlight: A Boston news team sets out to expose numerous cases of child molestation and cover up on the part of the local Catholic Archdiocese.

Concussion: A pathologist uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who suffer repeated concussions and comes up against the corporate power of the NFL.

People Vs. Larry Flynt: A pornography publisher becomes the unlikely defender of free speech.

Class Action: A female attorney finds that her nemesis is her own father, and must choose between her corporate client and justice.

A woman escaping from something or someone she loves.

The Perfect Guy: After breaking up with her boyfriend, a professional woman gets involved with a man who seems almost too good to be true.

Enough: On the run from an abusive husband, a young mother begins to train herself to fight back.

Sleeping with the Enemy: A young woman fakes her own death in an attempt to escape her nightmarish marriage, but discovers it’s impossible to elude her controlling husband.

Filmmakers long to spot in our onslaught of daily email queries a high concept logline that makes a story out of universal—

• human emotions: fear, love, hate, envy, etc.
• deadly sins: anger, greed, lust, etc.
• plot motivators: betrayal, vengeance, discovery, rebirth, survival, etc.
• virtues: loyalty, faith, responsibility, etc.

—and embodies those elements in characters we can care about, relate to, and root for to shape an “original story” that feels both fresh and relevant to today’s global market.

If you can do that, and your writing effectively expresses your vision, you’re only steps away from recognition in the toughest story marketplace of all.

Excerpt from my forthcoming Sell Your Story to Hollywood, at

The Story of My Life! Ken Atchity's My Obit: Daddy Holding Me


I’ve lived a lifetime of literary adventures by refusing to be relegated to a niche. In My Obit: Daddy Holding Me, my storytelling passion and family and professional anecdotes provide humor and insight into my hugely self-determined life.

I hope it makes you laugh, spares you some of my grief, and leads you to insist on telling your story to anyone who will listen.

The Story of My Life! Ken Atchity's My Obit: Daddy Holding Me


Anyone who enjoyed Mircea Eliade’s autobiographical multi-volume Exile’s Odyssey, Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook My Wife for a Hat and Awakenings, or Richard Feynman’s Surely You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman, will find My Obit: Daddy Holding Me a page-turner filled with poignant family experiences, explosive sibling rivalry, literary adventures, ethnic cooking, wide-ranging storytelling, the workings of the brain itself--and what can be learned about life from playing tennis for decades. The jokes and recipes alone are worth the entrance price.

I hope it makes you laugh, spares you some of my grief, and leads you to insist on telling your story to anyone who will listen.

Mental Health Monday: Night Terrors Featuring Dennis Palumbo


"Authentic and fast-paced, Night Terrors is a thrilling plunge into the mind of an obsessed killer. This is something you don't want to miss!" —Stephen Jay Schwartz, LA Times bestselling author of Boulevard and Beat

Retired FBI profiler Lyle Barnes is falling apart mentally. Psychologist and trauma expert Daniel Rinaldi thinks he can help Barnes through his terrible night visions. Barnes, however, is also the target of an unknown assassin whose mounting list of victims paralyzes the city and lands Lyle in protective custody. Then Barnes disappears, drawing Daniel and the joint FBI-Pittsburgh PD Task Force into a desperate manhunt.

Meanwhile, the mother of a youthful confessed killer awaiting trial is convinced that her son is innocent and appeals to Daniel for help. Against his better judgment, he becomes involved, and soon suspects that much about the case is not as it appears.

Can Daniel and the law officials find the missing Barnes before the killer does? Are these two seemingly unconnected cases somehow linked?

Ian Bull's The Danger Game Winner of the 2021 NYC Big Book Award in Action, Adventure

The world is playing and the stakes are real.   Julia and Steven are trapped in The Danger Game and making a fortune for their captors while fighting for their lives.

The Danger Game is author Ian Bull’s final installment in The Quintana Adventures trilogy, published by Story Merchant Books, about Army Ranger photographer Steven Quintana and actor Julia Travers. 

On Amazon:

2021 Winner of the NYC Big Book Awards: Ken Atchity's Tell Your Story to the World!

If there's a story distracting you during the day and keeping you awake at night, ask yourself: Is this a great story? If your answer is yes, then this is the book for you.

Learn from Ken Atchity and Lisa Cerasoli about how to write your own top-notch page-turner and then how to navigate the cutthroat publishing and entertainment business.

Read Tell Your Story to the World & Sell It for Millions Today:

Watch Emmy Nominated "The Kennedy Detail"

One of our Favorite projects ever! Honored to have worked with the men of the Kennedy Detail, Clint Hill, Gerald Blaine, Win Lawson, Ron Pontius , Thomas Wells, Toby Chandler and Paul Landis.

The true story of the assassination of JFK is told for the first time from the perspective of the Secret Service agents. Based on the bestselling book by Lisa McCubbin and Gerald Blaine. Documentary directed by Vince DiPersio.

Publisher's Weekly Booklife Review of Kenneth Atchity's My Obit: Daddy Holding Me

Filled with humorous anecdotes, pictures, and a unique perspective from an immigrant's child growing up in the south, this memoir offers the reader a dive into childhood trauma, and learning to rethink those experiences. Atchity is a seasoned writer and storyteller, peppering his work with homages to the literary greats, such as Homer. The reader will enjoy this novel, and likely come away from it with helpful knowledge to help them traverse through their own life journey.

Atchity's prose reads like an erudite grandpa telling a story to some curious grandkids. His flowing, informal language mixed with elegant phrasing entices the reader to continue along on his life journey; he spices up the writing with a perfect amount of pictures, poetry, and quotes to keep the reader interested.

Although memoirs are not uncommon, Atchity has lived an uncommon enough life to make this memoir interesting for the reader. With his unique heritage and complicated parental relationships, his work will speak to a wide range of readers, and offer curious insights.

Being a memoir, this work is mostly focused on Atchity and his experiences. The rest of the characters present more as players in a game that are there to support the story that is the author's life, rather than living their own lives separate from him. However, he presents these characters honestly according to his own perspectives, which provide insight into his development at the various stages of his life.

Now Available in Hardcover! Read about Melissa Bunnen's Incredible Journey from Banking To Baking in her hit memoir from Story Merchant Books.

“Let’s bake and deliver cakes!” That was their big, moneymaking idea, though neither Melissa nor Helen, two fresh-faced twenty-somethings, had ever baked a cake. Next up, they picked the location—Melissa’s rinky-dink condo kitchen. Then, they swiped three recipes from family and friends, put $250 into the company kitty, and made their first investment: 250 plastic cake knives with Piece of Cake stamped on them.

That was 1986.

A decade later, POC, The Ward, World Headquarters, or the Pokey—whichever moniker you prefer—was pulling in seven figures annually. Over three decades later, they have locations all over Atlanta, including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

I was a liberal-arts major. You won’t find my business philosophy being taught at Harvard Business School,, or any institution in between. But you will find it here.

This is a story of starting a company on pocket change, of working twenty-hour days with no days off in sight, of losing my home to sacks of sugar and flour and ovens galore. It’s a story about cakes cooling atop lampshades, about nervous breakdowns, wandering pot dealers, babies, puppies, Cakers and bakers. It’s a story about the original housewives of Atlanta (they were working for me!) and the homeless, too; it’s about a car called The Bomb, and a location called Pamland. Piece of Cake is a place where autonomy ruled and that was the only rule.

From Corporate America to cake batter, Piece of Cake: My Recipe for Success is a career manual for folks who know little about business, a cookbook for those who’d never thought about baking, and a what-are-you-waiting-for guide to pursuing your dreams.

Seriously, what are you waiting for?

This is the story of doing it my way

Dennis Palumbo discusses his book Panic Attack Recorded live atThe Poisoned Pen Bookstore


 READ EXCERPT: Panic Attack by Dennis Palumbo  

Writer's Lifeline Author Spotlight: Dr. Dave Davis

Dr. Dave Davis worked closely with our Writer’s Lifeline Service to bring his vision to the page in his Science Fiction hit A Potter’s Tale that was the 2021 Independent Press Distinguished Favorite in Science Fiction. 

Check out Dr. Davis' newest novel, The Last Immortal, out now on Amazon

Need help telling your story like Dr. Davis did? Check out the Writer’s Lifeline Service and take the first steps towards getting your story told:

Dennis Palumbo stops by the Corner to discuss PANIC ATTACK.


Now a licensed psychotherapist specializing in creative issues, Dennis Palumbo is a former Hollywood screenwriter ("My Favorite Year," "Welcome Back, Kotter," etc.). His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, The Strand, Mystery Weekly and elsewhere, and is collected in "From Crime to Crime" (Tallfellow Press). His acclaimed debut crime novel, "Mirror Image," was the first in a series featuring psychologist and trauma expert Daniel Rinaldi. It was followed by "Fever Dream," "Night Terrors," "Phantom Limb” and the award-winning “Head Wounds.” Panic Attack is the sixth in the series.

Matt Coyle is the Shamus, Anthony and Lefty Award-winning author of the Rick Cahill crime series.

This podcast is solely owned by the Authors on the Air Global radio Network.

Producer Mark Ordesky on the joy of the 20th anniversary of Fellowship Of The Ring sharing stories with Eirik Bull

A Conversation with Mark Ordesky

As a part of this series, I have spoken with some of the people who were instrumental to the production of Peter Jackson’s trilogy. One of them is the American film and television producer, Mark Ordesky, who spent five years working on Peter Jackson’s trilogy.

In the Zoom conversations I’ve had with Mark earlier in 2021, we talked about everything from Dungeons & Dragons (we both started playing at the age of 13, and none of us ever stopped) to Hollywood politics. If there exists a cliché or archetypical Hollywood executive, Mark is anything but. And after having struggled a bit with my somewhat rusty English pronunciation and the kind of The Lord of the Rings fan’s confidence that comes when talking to one so instrumental in the making of the trilogy, I discovery a friendly, talkative, and deeply knowledgeable 57-year-old film producer (who I could have sworn was at least a decade younger!)

Early Career – From Low Budgets to the Oscars

Mark started his career in the film industry doing low-budget horror- and science fiction sequels for the VHS market. New Line Cinema, filling up the corners of their repertoire, assigned the young producer to make the low-budget Critters 3 and Critters 4 back-to-back. I was myself a fan of the Critters movies growing up, and of course, I had to ask him about it:

–No one, really, at New Line, on the production team, wanted to do those movies. They were going to be very inexpensive, and I think that no one thought they would be particularly sexy. So, they gave them to me. I was the most junior executive on the team. And they gave them to me and said “Listen, we’re going to need two movies, in nine months, and the combined budget of the two movies must be very low. And we need them, like, right now.”

So, I called a friend of mine who was a screenwriter and a novelist. His name is David J. Schow, and I said, “We need two scripts in four weeks.” And he said OK, and he hung up and called me back, and said “I got it. Critters go to the big city, and Critters go to outer space.” And I’m like “This is impossible, we have this very small budget.” He said, “No, they go to the big city, they’ll just be inside of an apartment building, and in outer space, they’ll just be inside of a spaceship.”

So, he wrote these two scripts, and we got a warehouse. It was almost a foreshadowing of The Lord of the Rings. For while we had two directors and two editors, the crew of both films was the same. And obviously two different casts. And we shot the interiors of the apartments and the interiors of the spaceship sort of back-to-back, and we made the two films. And those were the first films that got me from behind my desk and out into the actual making of things.

Mark enjoyed his new role as an on-set producer and moved on to bigger and better things. He became the head of Fine Line Features, which was New Line Cinema’s arthouse department, acquiring or executive producing more serious films like Saving Grace, State and Main and the Oscar winner Shine. Mark was also instrumental in getting Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan a household name in the 90s with Rumble in the Bronx.
A Guiding Hand

Our conversation continues, and I’m starting to realize that we might have more in common than I first realized. We were both enthusiastic Dungeon & Dragons nerds growing up, a hobby that would spark a passion for film, and a career in the film industry.

I often struggle with a less than optimal self-confidence and a sort of imposter syndrome that I suspect has made me avoid taking chances and grasp onto opportunities in the film industry as they appeared in the past. But how was it for Mark Ordesky then, to go from low-budget sequels to one the biggest and most unique productions in film history? Did he feel overwhelmed at some point? Did the imposter syndrome rear its ugly head? The answer would surprise and inspire me.

–Hmm, the way I see it… and I don’t know how spiritual of a person you are…

I quickly answer that I am not at all spiritual nor religious, and as a side note, the same goes for most Norwegians, really. He continues:

–You know I read the books when I was 12-13 years old, and then when I first started out in the film business I found my way to Peter Jackson through his early films. And then I started trying to work with him, unsuccessfully, trying to get his films distributed. And then I got involved with him at New Line.

So, in a weird sort of way, I found that all the threads seemed to be coming together. I’m a big fan of incrementalism. So, when they said that “you’re going to be the production executive for the trilogy”, that was a surprise, as it wasn’t my expectation, because I had only worked on lower-budgeted films.

But because there was so much work to do, and it just had to start. Every month, more and more work was required, of a more complex nature. So, I grew, as the work grew.

The question about spirituality stuck with me after the conversation. I’m not a spiritual person, but I felt bad for brushing aside Mark’s question as I did. I sent him an email a short time after the interview to ask about it. Mark elaborates:

-In the context of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien often evokes providence, as Gandalf speaks of the Ring being found “by the most unlikely person imaginable”.

Gandalf says “Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring and not by its maker.”

When I consider my own role in The Lord of the Rings, I can’t help but see the hand of providence – a parallel to Bilbo. I was meant to read and love Tolkien in the late 70s and then watch and love the early films by Peter Jackson in the mid-to-late 80s.

By 1998, when Peter’s vision of LOTR was in jeopardy, I was at New Line Cinema where I’d been a Jackson partisan for years. New Line was the ideal studio at the ideal moment to bet big on Peter – even one-upping expectations when founder/chairman Robert Shaye recommended making three films instead of two.

Mark’s positivity, idealism and yes, even spirituality inspires. How I would have loved to be there to see this idealism and positivity at work in film production. Imagine how he felt when the cameras first started rolling on Peter Jackson’s epic production.
Dwarf for a Day

We continued the conversation and got to the topic about the five-year production in New Zealand and Mark’s time there. In a production like this, if there even is such a thing anywhere else, there should be plenty of funny or quirky stories to share. I ask Mark if he has anything in mind, but before he can answer, my eagerness to hear more about something the British film journalist Ian Nathan describes in his book, “Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-Earth” takes over. I had to ask about his day as Gimli in Fangorn Forest. And as I do, memories from that day brighten up Mark’s face.

–It’s not only funny, but it speaks to Peter’s sense of humor, and of the role that I was playing. The dynamic that got set up is that all the various requests from the studio ended up sort of getting funneled through me to a very large degree. Which was efficient, because that way there weren’t 10 or 15 different departments trying to all interface with Peter at the same time. Peter had this sort of rule that I would prioritize these things and space them out.

But if I had something timely and I had to come to set, yeah, since I’ve known him for so long and he’s known me, he could see from my face that I was coming to ask him something that would be time-consuming. So, he basically grabbed me and said “Oh, it’s fantastic that you’re here. We need someone to do Gimli’s offlines here in the forest. So, you stand behind this tree…” And I was stuck behind that tree for two- or three hours doing Gimli off lines while Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom and John Rhys Davies’ scale double (Brett Beattie) were trying to do this scene over again, and I was trapped there.

There are hardly any photographs of me on set. I tend to not make myself prominent in these kinds of situations. But the photographer, somehow, and maybe Peter directed him to do this, managed to get a photo of me standing on the set, against the bluescreen, with the fake trees, and the expression on my face tells you that I’m trapped in the forest, unable to ask my question.

Mark Ordesky, lost in Fangorn Forest

The Best of Days

We spend some time on the funny and quirky stories from the production before I asked if he got to keep any of the props after the production. And true enough, both one of the Rings used in the film, and a hand-forged version of Aragorn’s sword, Anduril, were among the gifts given to Mark.

And when I ask Mark about his one fondest memory from the production, it doesn’t take him long pick one from what I am sure would be a long list:

-Probably the fondest moment was relatively early in the process. It was in Cannes, in May, in 2001, when we showed the 26 minutes of footage to the world press, and to all the distributors who had pre-bought the trilogy. It spoke about the boldness of New Line as a company to bring that footage. We didn’t have to do that. We could have just waited until December and release the movie. But we took the footage, which is mostly built, as you know, around the Mines of Moria-sequence predominantly, and by bringing it there, and bringing the whole cast and the world press, we were going to give you a preview, a substantial preview. It was literally like pushing all your chips into the middle of the table for one hand of Blackjack. If that didn’t go well, you would still release the film in December, and if the film had been amazing, maybe the thing in May would have been forgotten.

But it was a very bold move to do. And for me personally, it validated to the world and to our distribution partners around the world that their faith in us had been well placed. And it validated Peter and the team in New Zealand. It was like the screening heard around the world. It was like a movie in the 30s where everyone rushes out of the courtroom to the payphones. It was pandemonium because people saw something so authentic and unlike anything they had expected.

And in that moment, I remember our French distributor Samuel Hadida, who’s sadly passed away, and who’s a big, barrel-chested guy, he literally got me in the lobby of the cinema, and he picked me up. I’m only 5′ 6”, so it was not hard to pick me up. He picked me up and he kissed me on the mouth, like in the classic French style. And he was smiling so big it was like his face would break open. He was so happy!

And I remember I went up to the projection room because I needed just a minute to process this. And I actually wept. Like wept with joy. For when you really take a huge risk, and it works, only then will you allow yourself to realize the magnitude of what was at stake. And that really set the tone for the whole thing.

There were still obviously heaps of work to do and all kinds of obstacles and hardships and problems to solve. And obviously, there was also much glory that followed: the Oscar nominations, the billions of dollars in box-office… But that moment was particularly special.

Even as Mark tells his story, I can almost see how he is transported back 20 years to that theatre in Cannes. Moved, I fumble with my words, trying to remember that we’re speaking English and we’re back in 2021.
The Quest

There can be no doubt that The Lord of the Rings will be a highlight of Mark Ordesky’s film career. How could one even try to top that production? But it has been 20 years, and I am curious about what Mark’s been up to after The Lord of the Rings. We spend some time talking about the other productions he has been involved in.

A quick look at reveals several titles I am familiar with, including The New World, The Golden Compass and Inkheart, the one with Andy Serkis, Paul Bettany, and that cute, horned ferret. But one title that piques my curiosity is The Quest. I ask Mark about it:

–The Quest ironically directly flowed from The Lord of the Rings. It is a hybrid scripted and non-scripted television show. We basically take eight real people, in this case, kids, 14–16-year-old kids. And we embed them in a fully immersive, 360-degree fantasy environment, built around a besieged castle. And it’s a real castle, not a set. And there are actors, prosthetic creatures, horses… there is a narrative, there is a storyline that weaves in and out of the kids’ experience. And they are prophesied heroes to help save the kingdom.

And part of the way it links to Lord of the Rings is, in the earliest days, after we cast everyone, Orlando Bloom, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin and Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan, a lot of the cast went down early to learn how to ride horses, swordfight and archery, so they would look very proficient when the time came. They went down six weeks or more early. And I remember seeing the footage and thinking just how exciting that was. And my producing partner in my company, Court Five, who also worked with me at New Line at that time, thought: “What if real people could have an experience like that? Like that would just be the best!”

So that was the kernel of the idea, and we made the show with the folks that make The Amazing Race and the folks that make Queer Eye and Legendary on Netflix and HBO Max.

And the key thing about it is we take these kids, and you drop them into this world, and the wonderment manifests. It’s like throwing a surprise party every day. Because things happen in the narrative, scripted things unfold in front of them, or with them. And things happen depending on how they behave, which trigger other things, like in a video game. It’s very ambitious. It is sort of like theatre; you can’t do multiple takes. You can only do it once because the kids are completely real.

When I hear Mark talk about The Quest, I can see his enthusiasm and joy for the project. I’m a role player myself, having played Dungeons & Dragons for decades, and I know several people involved in the LARPing community (Live Action Role Play). A scripted, elaborate LARP? Or something more? I will have to watch this.

Our conversation starts to dwindle down, and I’m almost out of questions. We talk a bit about other projects, about books he would love to put onto the screen, and my own plans for visiting New Zealand. So, we decide to meet up in Middle-Earth. How about a pint at The Green Dragon in The Shire?

Maybe one day, when the world is brighter and the borders are open again.

If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 of Journey to Middle-Earth.

Next time, we’ll meet the Wizard of WETA Workshop himself, Sir Richard Taylor.

Eirik Bull is a Norwegian film journalist and critic specializing in science fiction, fantasy and fandom. A self-described film nerd and “gonzo light”, Eirik got his start writing reviews on Letterboxd and later for Norway’s leading film and cinema website, Cinema Norway. He enjoys science fiction, fantasy and the occasional 80s cult classic, and his love for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings knows very few bounds.

Eirik holds degrees in film production, marketing, and brand management. He is a member of The International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) and was part of the FIPRESCI jury at the 55th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2021.

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