Episode 90

Swords in the Movies, with Peter Lyon

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Show Notes:

Peter Lyon is a swordsmith and weapons maker from New Zealand. He originally started out making swords to use in medieval re-enactment in the 1980s, and was asked to make the swords for the Lord of the Rings movies. Since then Peter has worked on many other film productions with Wētā Workshop including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Hobbit trilogy, The Last Samurai, and Avatar.

In this fascinating conversation Peter explains some of the tricks and behind the scenes detail about making swords as movie props. You will look at weapons in films in a whole different light after this.

Here’s a picture of Boromir’s sword, which we talk about in the episode, and if you click on the image it’ll take you to the Wētā website which has the dimensions and stats:

Boromir's Sword

Peter’s website is Lyonesse Armoury, which has lots of pictures of Peter’s swords, resources and further reading.

 

 

 

 

 

GW:  I’m here today with Peter Lyon, swordsmith and a weapons designer, founder of Lyonesse Armoury in 1994 and most famously, the sword maker producing the weapons for the Lord of the Rings movies. So without further ado, Peter, welcome to the show.

PL:  Yeah, thanks for having me.

GW:  So just to orient everybody, whereabouts in the world are you?

PL:  I’m in New Zealand, so think of somewhere that’s furthest away from the bright centre of the world and I’m there. Well, especially if it’s to do with historical weapons. We are rather short on them.

GW:  So you’re so near Wellington, correct?

PL: That’s right.

GW: And you know, one of one of the weird things about running a podcast is I have to ask questions that I already know the answers to, because I’ve actually met you in Wellington and you’ve given me lifts to places.

PL:  And the beauty is, you can edit everything that doesn’t work.

GW:  Yeah, that’s true. So being a smith is like a dream job for many people because you get to spend all day working with swords and making swords, and it’s extremely cool. So I do have to ask, how did you get started with that?

PL:  Well, it all came about because I got into medieval re-enactment back in the early 80s. And New Zealand being New Zealand and there being no internet really, the only way to get stuff was to make stuff. So at one point we actually got to a one sheet brochure from somebody in the UK for helmet bowls and things like that, like we were operating at that sort of level. And so it worked out that the only way that we could get stuff was to make it. So I started making things for myself, and then other people started asking me if I could do things for them. And it slowly grew from there.

GW:  So what sort of things were you making?

PL:  I started off with weapons and armour, so I was a lot of basic things like great helms and helmets made on spun bowls. Swords, of course, but becoming a specialist sword maker came later.

GW:  For people listening who don’t have the technical background, what is a spun bowl?

PL:  It’s a modern manufacturing technique, actually not that modern because the Romans did it too, where you take a sheet of metal and you put it in a lathe and as you spin it over a die you are pressing it down over the die with a tool and forming it into a bowl from a sheet. It’s a little bit involved.

GW:  So you’re taking pre-made steel bowls and making helmets out of that. OK. I’m curious. Romans were doing this?

PL:  I haven’t seen any archeological reports, but I have actually read that some Roman helmets were made from spun bowls.

GW:  OK. Well, they definitely had lathes back then, but not high-powered modern ones. They would have been foot powered pole lathes I’d imagine.

PL:  But then with water power, you could probably do quite a bit too.

GW: Oh, my God.

PL:  Yes, I would love to see the archaeological reports on that, but it’s just a one liner I picked up from history books.

GW:  OK. That’s fascinating, because it’s a little bit like that line in Highlander, where they’re analysing this little tiny bit of this Katana, which is really, really old.

PL:  Yes. Using Carbon 14 dating on a piece of steel. We know how well that works, don’t we?

GW:  Are you suggesting that the movie Highlander takes certain liberties with the truth and reality? Really?

PL: Oh no, it’s a documentary. It’s also one of my favourite movies.

GW:  You chop someone’s head off and you get this lightning show. That’s why people do it.

PL:  The obvious question I always had was, so why don’t they just wear steel collars?

GW:  I thought the same thing. Yeah, you’d think they would just always have a gorget on at all times, just in case.

PL:  It just seems pointless to not protect your head that way. But hey. I guess it would have made for a much longer movie.

GW:   “Bugger it, he’s got the collar on.” “I can’t cut through it.” And then they’d have to fight with like steel cutting circular saws. That wouldn’t have been nearly such a good movie. It just reminded me, it is like finding a jumbo jet in the Stone Age, finding this steel. We could dive into a great big thing about Roman archaeology, but I think we should probably stick with the swords for now. So there you are, working as a swordsmith and then what? Peter Jackson rings you up and says, “Pete, I need some swords.”

PL:  No. Well, not quite like that. So I started making swords in ‘82, and I became a full time weapons and armour maker in ‘94 because I thought I could make a living out of it. And I struggled along. And then in 1998, I got a phone call from Richard Taylor. Now, this is one of those things of serendipity in the film industry in particular, because a friend of mine who is a stunty and several years earlier had said you should go and meet Richard Taylor. He’s doing interesting stuff. He might be able to use your talents someday. And he was working on the TV series of Hercules at the time, doing creatures and props, so I showed him what I did. He didn’t have anything that needed real swords at the time, but he was really interested. And then a couple of years after that, he gave me a phone call and said, hey, we’ve got a project that we’re working on, early stages, and do you want to come in and we’ll have a talk. And of course, at the time, I didn’t even know that it was Lord of the Rings. To show you just how much I can sometimes miss the blindingly obvious, you know, like the classic police line up of different figures. There was a chart showing different figures of hobbits and dwarves and men and giants and tree ents. And I saw that and I never clicked because they weren’t allowed to tell me what the project was at the time because I hadn’t signed anything. But yes, I eventually got the word that, yes, it was Lord of the Rings.

GW:  OK, so Richard Taylor basically hired you to make the weapons for Lord of the Rings.

PL:  Yeah. Armour as well initially, but they hired two specialist armourers. So one day I said to Richard, You’ve got to armourers already. I’d be happy if I just did the swords and let them do all the armour. And so, yeah, I became a specialist sword maker that day.

GW:  OK. So that must have been not necessarily easier, but a more steady way of making a living than actually making swords for individuals.

PL:  Oh, it was busy, but it was a good, steady income, that’s for sure. And I certainly wasn’t short of work.

GW:  Yes. Am I right in thinking that you weren’t being paid by the piece, you been hired as the sword maker?

PL:  Yeah, I was on an hourly rate because you’ve also got to remember, it’s not just about making the swords, it’s about having meetings and discussing how things are going to be used on set. So then you build it optimised to a certain way it’s going to be used and things like that. So there’s always these extra things, the overheads of time that go with any business. IN the case of the swords, I made the swords as swords, but there was always a few other things like I was talking to designers about what they were designing, and sometimes I’d drop an idea in about how it might work better on screen. We did a certain thing or that lovely little detail that you’re showing there is going to take a lot of extra work, but may not be seen that much. Little things like that. Because of course, I was given finished designs to build. So my thing was interpreting that two dimensional pencil design into a three dimensional object. And then also making it work as a sword.

GW:  Okay. So some somebody who may not know anything about swords at all has thought, ah, you know what, I think Sting should look like this and sketched it out and handed you the sketch with it, and you have to make it.

PL:  They were well-developed designs by the time they came to me, and luckily we had John Howe as one of the lead designers and time he was a Swiss re-enactment company, I can’t remember… the Company of St George. He was a member of that at the time. So not only was he a Tolkien illustrator, he was also doing re-enactment and swinging swords and wearing armour, so he actually understood how things should work. So even though he drew fantastical things, he always made sure that they actually could work if you made them for real. So swords that wouldn’t be too heavy, armour you could actually move in, things like that.

GW:  Handy. So what was the hardest thing about that process for you, actually making the objects?

PL:  For me, making the swords was easy, understanding how the film industry works, that took me a lot longer to get my head around. One of the classic things was, on Lord of the Rings, like a lot of films, everything is aged. They’re made and then they’re aged, so they’re two separate processes. And of course, it actually takes more effort to age something nicely than it does to just make a nice, clean sword or whatever. And so the hardest thing I had to get my head around was that I make these lovely new swords and then I make them look old and come up with techniques for doing that.

GW:  I can sympathise. I used to work as an antiques restorer, and if you have to replace a part on a piece of furniture, you have to age into the rest of it. So it’s not glaring. And yeah, getting them a cloth bag full of nails and bolts and things, and bashing a piece of wood that you’ve spent ages getting nice and shiny, it’s an odd way to behave. So how do you age the swords?

PL:  I’ve come up with different processes, I again, I did a bit of reading, but when I started on Lord of the Rings, of course, there was effectively no internet, so learning these techniques was hard. So I did experiments with acid resist to give a stippled effect so I could get very small, localised pitting and then getting some general rusting and then cutting back to get the right look for the sword. And then, of course, sealing it so it wouldn’t keep ageing. Over the years, I’ve tried different things out and I’ve come out with a couple of fairly simple but quite effective processes for getting that aged look.

GW:  OK, and what you seal them with to prevent them from ageing?

PL:  Microcrystalline wax basically. Out go to is Autosol. So it’s actually an automotive polish and wax, but it’s similar to museum wax, but with a bit of a very fine polish built into it. So the more you use it, the more shiny a sword gets.

GW:  Ah, OK. I bet you anything you like, they’re going to be people who are going to be emailing me after this goes live going, “Guy, Autosol, it’s amazing. That’s fantastic. Tell Peter he’s a genius.”

PL:  Wasn’t even my idea. Somebody showed it to me back then.

GW:  I use Renaissance Wax on my swords, which is basically the same stuff, but it’s really expensive and it doesn’t have a polishing compound in it.

PL:  But it does go a long way.

GW:  Sure. And you said you had a process for ageing the swords. So you want to share it or do you want to keep it secret?

PL:  It’s taken me a long time to develop this and to simplify it. So it’s actually one that I think I’ll keep.

GW:  Fair enough. Absolutely. Just please, write it down somewhere, and in the event of you changing your mind at some point in the future, the process may not be lost.

PL:  Fair enough. I’ve got an apprentice, so I’m teaching them these things and should come up with his own ideas, too. But everyone who does ageing on swords and armour and other things has their own little tricks. So what I’m doing, I’ll guarantee it’s not unique and somebody else is probably doing it, but it’s just I’ve spent a great many years figuring this one out.

GW:  Yeah, I don’t want to extract any proprietary information from you. OK, now when I was doing some research for this, it’s funny, you never mentioned this to me when on the occasions that we’ve met in New Zealand, but you also worked on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. You can’t see it, but on that door over there, I have two bull whips. A hat that is pretty reminiscent and I have a jacket that was made in the same factory to the same design, Peter Botwright’s factory in London, of the Raiders of the Lost Ark jacket. I am a massive Indiana Jones fan. So, yeah, tell us about making the swords for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

PL:  Yeah, yeah. Well, I love the Indiana Jones movies too. And so for me, it was actually quite a buzz when Weta got the job to make the case of duelling swords. So they are a case of duelling swords, they’re used in the scene where they’re doing this chase on jeeps through the forest, I think it is, and they are having a sword duel at the same time.

GW: It’s a very odd location for a sword duel.

PL:  I know, it’s very odd, but it’s very interesting. And of course, because it’s all so fast, you don’t get to see a lot of the swords, but they’re just nice triangular section bladed epees.

GW:  You just got the job to make them like, oh, we got Indiana Jones contract coming in. Peter, can you make a couple of swords? Yes.

PL:  It’s not quite that simple, usually, like with Weta has to really chase these contracts quite hard. Like Weta is always on a shortlist for these things, but of course, so are a number of other props houses. So Weta chases these jobs, they try and get ones that are suited for the people that they’ve got working there, and they managed to reel that one in.

GW:  It seems a lot of work for what can’t be a very big contract.

PL:  I know, the overheads go with these things are quite surprising. Like on some projects, your administration and your design work is actually more than building some of the stuff. It’s just because you’ve got all these people talking to each other, directors deciding what something should look like, design passes and then, yeah, everyone’s got their own thing that they can put into the mix. Like how it’s got to be lit and all this stuff. It’s a really, really technical process at a certain level. And then I just make a sword.

GW:  You’ve got the easy bit at the end, just bash out a sword. So am I right in thinking you didn’t make the Nazca dagger in that movie. There’s this dagger.

PL: No.

GW: OK, I’ve because I’ve seen that dagger, photographs of it up close, and honestly, it’s not really up to your standards, sir. They should have got you to make that one, too.

PL:  Oh, they missed one there. Yeah, it’s something that really surprised a lot of people. Things that look really good on screen, especially when they’re moving, a lot of these props if you actually get them up close, you realise a lot of them are actually not that flash. Whereas what we try and do at Weta is always, we’re trying to go above and beyond whatever they think they need. Otherwise, they’re built as props. And sometimes they don’t look that cool.

GW:  So for this pair of duelling swords, did you do you make just that one pair or is there is there one set for actually whacking with and another set for close up?

PL:  Now I’ve got to remember, I think I made a pair of steel swords and then I probably made two or four aluminium blades that would have urethane hilts cast onto them, and the moulds for those hilts were made from the hero steel swords, and so that way you can get a perfect reproduction of the hilt, but you get an aluminium blade if you want it lighter. And then the whole sword is lighter. The actors can flick them around faster so they look more impressive and they do less damage if they hit each other. And quite often, and I can’t remember if it was on that film, but quite often on films, we also have to make things like soft rubber versions so that if they’re actually whacking each other, they’ve either got a solid urethane sword or in some cases, it’s actually a spongy urethane foam that’s really, really light and a bit bouncy where actors actually have to hit each other hard with these things. So for, say, a sword that you see in a movie, they could actually be three or four different versions of that sword for different purposes, because you don’t want your actors smacking each other with steel swords because they’re expensive actors, you don’t want to break them and make up gets upset if you have to cover up scratches and things. So they sometimes request we need special swords where these actors can actually hit each other at speed without hurting each other.

GW:  Wow, so you’d have either a steel bladed one or an aluminium bladed one,

PL: Or a urethane one, or even a soft one.

GW:  What is urethane, exactly?

PL:  It’s a two part plastic. They come in what’s called different shore hardnesses, so from very soft through to very, very firm ones that also tend to be a bit brittle and Weta has got one that’s a happy medium that’s solid enough, but not brittle. And when we’re making urethane swords, quite often the master for that has to be made thicker than the steel one because you have to get an armature inside it, which is often a bit of spring steel wire or something like that. But then it means that the blade often has to be thicker than a real blade because you’ve just got to make it with room for that and a skinning of urethane over it.

GW:  Oh, I see, so you have like a wire to give it some structure and then you cast the urethane resin around it.

PL:  Otherwise you get that classic thing you see in movies from the 50s where the rubber swords are flailing everywhere. You remember Ivanhoe? Things like that. Some of those fight scenes are pretty dreadful when you look at them now.

GW:  Ah, but they did their job of getting a generation of kids mad about swords.

PL:  I didn’t criticise it when I first saw it.

GW:  You also did The Last Samurai. Is that correct?

PL:  Yeah, that was a really good project to work on because I’d never done katanas before. And what was interesting on that one was that the production people had actually bought some antique katanas, which were going to be the ones that the actors were going to use. Now the problem is real katanas tend to be sharp. And you can’t give an actor a sharp sword on set because it’s not just the actor, everyone around them that’s in danger. It’s like loaded guns on set, as we’ve seen from a recent accident. But yeah, a sword is like a gun with no safety. So a sharp sword is the last thing you want on set unless it’s got a really, really particular purpose. So the fact that they bought antiques meant that we couldn’t use the antique blades, so the blades were actually removed from the hilt. I make copies of those blades out of spring steel, but with blunt edges and then came out with a technique for creating a fake hamon line. And that worked very effectively and then fitted that back to the original hilt. And also, we had to mould those, too.

GW:  Yeah, I should probably mention for non specialist listeners that taking a blade off a Japanese sword is knocking out a little bamboo pin and it just slides right off. Doing that to an antique European sword, you’d have to grind off the rivet at the end of the tang and you’d actually damage the weapon.

PL:  One thing I did like about the katanas. Yeah, very easy to dismantle. And it was really cool handling antique swords, like one of them was 17th century. I think one other was 19th century. Some really nice swords.

GW:  So, you have the original antique sword and you made like spring steel blades to fit into the hilt so they could have a blunt sword with proper hilt.

PL: Aluminium blades.

GW:  Aluminium blades for some of the sword fighting scenes?

PL:  Yup, yep. What happens is you don’t use the steel swords for fighting usually. I know in some films where they have limited budgets, they have to and you get that the funny effect of in one scene, the sword will be chewed to pieces because they’ve obviously been fighting with them a lot. The next scene, the blade is clean and then it’s chewed up and then it’s clean, because of course, they shoot things out of sequence. But you also don’t want to mess up your steel blade usually. They’re there for those close up hero shots. So then you have a bunch of aluminium blades with urethane hilts. And what happens there is, because every moment on set is expensive, you want to be cycling through those swords, take after take. And between takes, just filing off any little notches and things that they’ve got on them. Burrs that have come from aluminium being smacked against aluminium, and then the actor has always got a sword that’s got nothing that’s going to do things like tear skin or anything nasty like that. So you typically have two, three or four aluminium bladed swords that they can fight with, and then you might also have urethane swords. So I don’t think that we did much of that for Last Samurai, except for background.

GW:  Interesting. So the whole sword would be cast out of resin?

PL:  In some cases, yes.

GW:  So how do you make a resin copy of a samurai sword? I mean, it has a cloth bound hilt usually and shark skin or ray skin. How do you do that?

PL:  Well, you make one master, then you mould it. You put a lot of release on it so that the silicon of the mould doesn’t grab into the things like the cloth bindings and just tear them off. Pull it out the mould and then the urethane sword is cast with all of those details built in. And then it’s all a paint job at that point. Clean up the seams and do a good paint job and these urethane swords can be pretty convincing.

GW:  Well, yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a movie and gone, that sword of made out of resin, but I shall be watching much more closely now.

PL:  You obviously don’t watch movies the way I watch movies.

GW:  No, obviously not.

PL:  I actually hate it sometimes because I just can’t watch a movie with swords anymore, because I’m always looking at the swords, not the movie.

GW:  To be honest, I tend to avoid movies that have sword fights in them because I’m looking at how they’re fighting and if it isn’t right, I’m just.

PL:  OK. You’ll be disappointed with most films, then.

GW:  Yeah. Most films with sword fights in.

PL:  And even if the director wants it to be a really nice technical sword fight, most actors are actors. They’re not sword fighters. So you’ve got to work within the limits of what you’ve got. Unless you’re going to do something like The Princess Bride, where they spent months building up the skill set to do that.

GW:  I was going to say, I’ve read Cary Elwes’s memoir of making The Princess Bride, called As You Wish. Of course, it’s called As You Wish. What else could it be called? And yeah, going into the detail, they had a fight director each training them in every moment between takes for months, as said, for months. But did you know that Cary Elwes broke his toe riding a quad bike just before they shot that fight, he did that entire fight with a broken toe. Can you imagine?

PL: That just adds a bit more spice.

GW:  That really must have hurt. OK, I actually have a question. You’ve got aluminium plates being whacked together they’re not going to sound right. Am I right in thinking that all of the sounds are added afterwards?

PL:  Oh yeah, yeah, totally. There’s very little on set sound that’s used in a film these days. The problem is, even if you’ve got everyone on set being quiet, you’ve got things like fans and electric motors and cameras whirring and all the stuff happening in the background, and because the sound equipment is so sensitive, just about nothing that’s recorded on set is able to be used. So everything is rerecorded, post-production in a studio

GW:  Even speeches?

PL: Yep.

GW: That must be really hard.

PL:  It is. If you look at some old films where they were doing that and you can see that they’re not synched properly. Whereas these days there’s all sorts of software. So in the studio, the actor does their lines again and does all the emoting and everything else. Of course, they’ll never exactly match their timing in the film. So there’s a whole lot of software now that lets you tweak things so that you match the studio sound up to what was recorded in the picture. So you’re basically synching the actor back to themselves. It is so technical and I don’t really know how it works.

GW:  but am I right in thinking that there is a particular two-handed sword that the made the sword clashy sound in the Lord of the Rings movies.

PL:  Well, me and a bunch of friends that were doing sword fighting at the time, they put out the word saying, hey, we need to get some sword sounds, so several of us that had swords went out with the sound recording people to a graveyard because, hey, nobody’s going to disturb you in a graveyard. And they did sound recording just of swords striking together. And so that was all part of the library of sounds that they were building up. And I’m sure a lot of that got used in the film.

GW:  All right, so they just recorded a bunch of sword clashes and just put them in at the right time.

PL:  Exactly. Yeah. So they record discreet sound bites and then all that gets blended and overlaid in the film.

GW:  Right. So there isn’t somebody standing there with two swords, whacking them together in time of the film.

PL: No.

GW:  I think that has been done.

PL:  Yeah, it would be hard to do it well, though.

GW:  Yeah, because I have this vivid recollection of there was this fantastic fencing coach in Scotland called Professor Bert Bracewell. Lovely, lovely man. And he also did some stage combat, well, he choreographed some fights and he also trained stage combat people. I seem to remember him saying that for some of these things, one of the jobs of the fight director, because they knew the rhythm of the fight, was to go into the studio afterwards and bash swords together in the right rhythm. I could be traducing Professor Bracewell horribly though.

PL:  Yeah, but also the way things are done have changed a lot over the years, like back in the 80s maybe that’s what they did. But these days, directors and everyone are so picky that, at least on high-end films with big budgets, they want everything perfect. So then you suddenly get down to breaking everything down into very discrete units to get everything you want, like sound and picture and everything else just so.

GW:  Right. And of course, then the great big “making of” DVD series, which is like ten times as long as the original movie. I never watch those because I don’t want to peek behind the curtain.

PL:  Oh, actually, if Helen would let me, I’d probably go for those first every time, actually, because I’m always interested in how did they do that?

GW:  Yeah, well, I just want to be entertained.

PL:  Oh, so do I. But also, I can’t help having that curiosity.

GW:  Sure. OK, so. I’ve had a couple of smiths on the show so far. And everyone’s process is a bit different, so if you’re making a sword that’s actually going to be used what’s the process?

PL:  OK, well, OK, obviously, I get a design, so I’m not a designer. We have a special design crew that does this and one day they might be designing swords. The next day they might be designing spaceships. OK, so they’re not specialists, but what they do is they know how to design to the needs of a director. And then the director gives feedback and says, OK, more of this. Don’t bother about that other stuff you did that. That’s just not the look I’ve got in mind. And so eventually I get a finished or near finished design, and if I’m lucky, I get a little bit of input through the process. If there are questions about what works, what’s going to be a bit easier, stuff like that. But once I get the design, my job is to build a sword that meets their needs. In some cases, the one blade has to both be a hero steel blade and a master for the urethanes. And in that case, the blade has to be too thick compared to what I would consider a proper steel blade. But I try and balance that out to make it as suitable as possible. Sometimes the one sword has to do two jobs. Mould master, as well as Hero Sword. And I always try and keep in mind who’s going to be using this. So one good example there is Liv Tyler from Lord of the Rings playing Arwen. So I knew that she wasn’t Arwen Warrior Princess and that there was no point giving her a sword that was a bit on the heavy side because she would probably just ask for the aluminium one because it’s less hassle. So for that one, I was putting a lot of effort into making the blade thin quite a lot towards the tip, remove as much weight as possible out of the tip and make the sword nice and light. You don’t see any of that on screen, but if it helps the actor and it makes the actor happier to use that sword, then you see more of the hero sword than you might otherwise. On the other hand, you get somebody like Sean Bean, and I know that from Sharpe and things like that he knows how to use a sword, he’s a solid guy. So the fact that Boromir’s sword weighed four pounds doesn’t matter.

GW: That is a really heavy sword.

PL:  It is. But the design saved me on that one because the design was for a very broad blade, but with a massive pommel on it. So that pommel actually pulled the centre of balance back to about one inch along the blade. So instead of killing your wrist by the amount of torque that it’s putting on your wrist, it was just a heavy sword, but it actually moved well in the hand.

GW:  That’s really interesting. So you get this design and then because the design won’t include things like point of balance or mass.

PL:  No, no. I look at the design and again, I’ve made hundreds of swords so I can typically look at a European sword design and just figure out the bulk of things like the pommel and the blade. And just think, Okay, if I don’t have to make this blade too thick, if I can make it actually a nice, realistic steel blade thickness, I can look at a sword and have an idea of how it’s likely to balance, what its weight is going to be and how it’s liable to handle and then tweak it from there. As I’m building it, of course, as I’m doing the grinds on a blade, I can tweak it to change the flex, the distal taper, the weight balance, things like that. And just tweak the components as I’m putting them together. And of course, it doesn’t matter to the actors. The director doesn’t care as long as they get the props they want. But I’m a sword maker.

GW:  You got to do it right. So are they mostly made by stock removal or do you forge them?

PL:  Yes, mostly stock removal. I only forge blades that, for example, blades with curvature that would just be a bit wasteful trying to cut out of one big steel plank. But yeah, typically most of the blades are steel ground. These days we are CNC-ing a few blades because the tendency these days is fewer steel swords because they’re really, really expensive. But you have more hero aluminium swords that are taken to a really high finish. But they’re aluminium, which means that you can CNC the whole blade out. So the way things have changed, Lord of the Rings, there was bugger all computer stuff. So we had pen and pencil drawings to work from and things like that. These days, quite often things are 3-D modelled to show the director how something looks in the round before it’s ever built. And because we’ve got a 3-D model, we can work out tool pathing to CNC components out. We can get components direct metal printed or printed into wax and then cast what’s printed.

GW: What is direct metal printed?

PL: That’s literally that, you know, plastic printers for building models and things. There are versions of those that will directly print into to metals, so they use laser sintering to fuse the layers together.

GW:  Tell me a bit more about that, this is blowing my mind.

PL:  This is both one of the beauties and banes of the situation today is that anything you can draw and design on a computer screen you can now construct by machining, printing, casting, whatever. So what it means is like, on Lord of the Rings the shapes that I got were pretty much dictated by the time I had available and the machines that I had to do it on. Whereas these days you can do anything like fancy geometric patterns like the Dwarves and the Hobbit had a lot of these swords with very ornate blades and hilts on them. And yeah, they were all 3D designed, printed, machined out of aluminium, things like that. So you can get much more complex.

GW: How do you 3D print a sword hilt? How’d you get the blade in?

PL:  Well, you allow for that in the model. And this where hopefully the people on the computers actually talk to me before they do it, because sometimes you need to remind people you put a sword together by sliding things on. And so if you can’t slide it on to its final position, it’s not going to work. It’s something that we call the “piano in the room problem”. The piano is in the room. But how did the piano get into the room? It couldn’t have got through the door. There’s no way the piano could have got into the room, but it’s in the room, and that’s the problem with your assembling things that have been 3D designed sometimes.

GW:  My sister has a piano in her living room because she plays piano, and there’s absolutely no way it could get up those stairs and through the door.

PL: Exactly. But it’s in the room.

GW:  Yeah, they took the windows out and they craned it in.

PL: OK. I was just wondering, is it Schrödinger’s Piano?

GW:  No, they took the windows out and they kind of craned it through. But you can’t just take the windows out of a sword hilt.

PL:  No. So little things that you have to think about the fact that you have to be able to assemble something, it doesn’t just being in an assembled state. So, yes, little things.

GW:  If you have a CNC’d blade out of steel, you can then heat treated like any other steel. OK, so I assume you do that for the swords so they’re not too fragile.

PL:  We don’t do that so much with steel unless there’s a lot of precision needed. With the aluminiums, particularly the particular aluminium that we use, which are a springy type, they machine really well. And you can just machine your final shape because there’s no heat treatment needed after that. But with steel blades, because they’ve got to be heat treated and then you might have to straighten them. There’s always more grinding to do, so you can’t get quite a finished shape with a steel blade, so sometimes there’s not actually much use in trying to machine it, you know, CNC it. Sometimes it’s easier just to actually grind a blade and then heat treat it. It’s less work than all that 3D modelling and setting up machines and stuff.

GW:  What is the difference between grinding a blade and CNC-ing it?

PL:   Companies like Albion, they CNC their blades. I always thought that they machined their blanks to quite a near finish before they heat treated them. But then when I was visiting Peter Johnson a few years ago, he showed me a blade as it comes off the machine and I realised it’s only about two thirds ground. It’s got a third of the weight left in it for the heat treating. And so even though you’ve bulked out a lot of it, there’s still a lot of hand grinding to do to get that final shape. And so for me, starting from a solid blank of spring steel strip is actually not much more work, probably, for a one off.

GW:  OK, so you’re grinding out by hand with belt sanders and angle grinders and what have you?

PL:  these days I just use the belt. These days I do everything on the linisher. I’ve tried using grind stones and angle grinders, but the linisher lets me get the precision I want right from the beginning instead of doing a rough grind and then having to try and even it all out. And linishers are really, really fast.

GW:  OK, the only linisher I’m familiar with is one I’ve used in woodwork, which is a giant machine like a belt sander that’s going horizontally in front of you. It’s about six feet wide and you put pieces of wood underneath. Is that the same sort of thing we’re talking about?

PL:  A similar idea. The ones for swords and knife making tend to be narrower, the belt’s about two inches wide. Five centimetres for the metrically inclined. And they run pretty fast. One of my one of my linishers, the fast one runs at 30 metres a second.

GW:  That’s pretty quick.

PL:  It is. Yeah, it’s also fast enough that you can do a lot of damage if the belt snaps or you accidentally touch with your knuckles.

GW:  I have this little callus on the end of my little finger on my left hand. This callus that will never go away. It’s been there for over 20 years because I was shaping a little piece of wood on a belt sander. You have like a static belt sander and then you shape a little piece of wood on it, which was for repairing some bit of antique furniture. And my little finger just touched the belt and it just whipped off all the skin, which is grown back in this callus that just won’t go away.

PL: It’s the same sort of thing. Yeah.

GW:  So do you have all your fingers?

PL: Yeah.

GW:  Yeah. OK, yes. I can confirm I have seen.

PL:  I haven’t lost any bits. Yeah, I wear gloves when I’m grinding. They’re just the lightweight gardening type gloves, and all that is as if I accidentally touch the linisher with my knuckles, it just gives me that half second to flinch back before it actually hits skin. So, the gloves are a blatant.

GW:  So I have actually handled some of your historical martial arts swords, or swords intended for that sort of use, and they are absolutely lovely. And when I checked your website before this interview, I was very sad to see that you are no longer taking commissions. I imagine Weta workshop keeps you too busy. What is the difference between making swords for a movie and swords for historical martial arts?

PL:  OK, probably I should talk about HEMA first, because the challenge with HEMA and re-enactment as a subset of that is that you’ve got rules about things like the edges can’t be sharp, generally, unless you’ve got people who are specifically training with sharp weapons, the edges just have to be blunt. And of course, if you just make thick edges and don’t change anything else about the blade, you get a lot more metal in the blade. The sword is too heavy. This is something people don’t realise too often is that the blunts that we use today are a lot heavier than they ought to be, generally.

GW: Some of them are.

PL:  yeah, and the way you get around there is that you either build stronger wrists or people put heavier pommels on, which has its own problem because they just get an overall really heavy sword. So, yes, HEMA swords, depending on the rules set you are working under, it can actually be quite heavy and quite blade heavy. And it’s really hard to get them to handle like the original. Though there are tricks around that, but it does involve that you change the cross section of the blade, so say instead of being a diamond cross section that comes to a sharp edge, it might be a case of I do a hollow ground cross section that comes to a thin section and then fattens out to an age that could be up to three millimetres thick. And so the flex and the weight and the balance should be closer to the original, but you still get that blunt edge that you want. It’s all about look.

GW:  Yeah,  I’ve seen a couple of historical martial arts blade designs that seem to work really well for that, but I have an Arms and Armor Fechterspiel, which has an entirely rectangular cross-section, which means that you can get that thick edge, but you don’t have a thick spine in the middle adding the weight. And Gus Trim is making or has made what my friends in Seattle call I-beam swords because in cross section, they have a very thin middle and then they fatten out to the edges. So most of the mass of the sword is in the edges and the actual centre bit, instead of being thick like a normal sword is thinned out to almost nothing.

PL:  Yes, yes. And other things I’ve seen done are maybe similar to the I-beam principle, but because that still tends to have a fair bit of metal in it, you can just make the whole blade narrower because you’re losing the look, but you’re getting the feel, which is more important for HEMA. Film, of course, is the exact opposite. There it’s all about look. Everything else is secondary because film is a visual medium. The sound is added later. The actors can deal with heavier swords if they have to, or they use aluminium bladed versions if they want to look more impressive. And so it’s all about the image that they can capture.

GW:  You went into sword making to make swords that you were actually going to use.

PL:  Yeah. For re-enactors when I was one myself.

GW:  Yeah. OK. So it’s a bit of a shift to be making swords as primarily sculptures, visual objects. What does that feel like?

PL:  Well, it’s interesting because I could still apply what I knew about making a good sword to the film props because some of the things that they would want are still applicable. For example you don’t want a super heavy sword because then the actors may not like it, and they’ll ask for the plastic or aluminium bladed versions. And so if you want to get a lot of the steel sword shots, especially for close ups, then making a sword that’s actually got decent weight and balance is still a good thing. So I’m still able to apply what I know about making good swords in terms of weight and balance, but still try and get the look that the director is wanting.

GW:  OK, so it’s an enjoyable challenge?

PL:  It is, so the challenge is really technical in that, OK, I’m being given this drawing, admittedly these days, there are a lot more precise about what they want. So I’ve got less leeway than I had on Lord of the Rings. But back then I was able to take the design and interpret it a fair bit.

GW:  OK. One question just popped into my head. You’ve made all of these swords for these movies. What happens to them when the movie’s over?

PL:  Ah, yes, a lot of people want to know that one. And some of them are still hanging on the wall in the room that I work in. We’ve still got some of the original steel hero swords from Lord of the Rings.

GW:  So when I come to visit you and I walk out stiff legged, you’ll understand why.

PL:  Yeah, there could be various reasons.

GW: Well, a sword down each leg…

PL:  OK, I’ll make sure now that I count them if you come back.

GW: Definitely.

PL:  Yeah. So some of them ended up there, and some of them are probably on things like director and producer walls over in Hollywood because there was a container load of Lord of the Rings props sent over to L.A. and the rest belong to Peter Jackson. As far as I’m aware.

GW:  All right. So he’s got a few in this house, all right, and we could find out where he lives. What about the Indiana Jones swords?

PL:  We’ve got one of the prop one sitting on the wall, but the steel ones, don’t know where they went. Like all these things belong to the production company. Because my contractor is with Weta for my labour and Weta has a contract with the production company to supply the props and generally the production company owns the props. And at the end of the film, you know the closing scene out of Indiana Jones with the warehouse? There are a lot of warehouses like that in various parts of the world where all the stuff that was made for a film, if they decide they want to keep it, they go into a huge warehouse somewhere.

GW: Oh my God.

PL:  Yeah. Or occasionally they have big auctions after production’s wrapped, because what’s the point of keeping it if you have to just pay for storing it?

GW:  Right. Yeah. It’s better that it goes to the fans, really. Someone who will actually appreciate it.

PL:  Some of the some of the swords actually go for surprisingly good prices. I saw a few of the steel hero swords from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, that came up on the auction a couple of years ago. And the prices they were going for were about the same or even less than they cost for the production company to buy from Weta. So these were swords going for less than $2000.

GW:  That’s pretty cheap.

PL:  You know, these are film used steel hero swords. Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, you can add a couple of zeros to those. Because it’s all about the film. It’s like another classic example is The Maltese Falcon. The 1940s film. The Maltese Falcon was meant to be made of solid gold. And what they did was they made two of them in lead. So Humphrey Bogart had to actually lift the 50 pound lead eagle that was meant to be solid gold. And so it looked like it was super heavy because it was, and they thought there was only one of them. It sold at auction for about half a million dollars. A lead casting because it was the Maltese Falcon.

GW:  From the movie.

PL:  And then they found the second one.

GW: That would be very annoying if you owned the first one.

PL:  But it does show the cachet that goes with having the original film prop that appeared on screen, that’s worth a lot. Even sometimes the actual prop when you see it is not as impressive as it might have looked on screen.

GW:  But yeah, but it doesn’t actually matter.

PL:  No, because it is the thing, it is that thing that everyone saw.

GW:  Yeah. Now after we recorded this, but long before this episode goes out, I have an episode with Jason Kingsley, who does Modern History TV. He also runs Rebellion, the games company. And he did a video on his YouTube channel of him with the Hawk the Slayer original prop sword. And so for Hawk the Slayer fans, that’s just maximum geek. That is the actual one from the actual movie and you can you can get reproductions of it, and you can get reproductions of it that are actually probably made better than the original and handled better than the original, but it’s the original, the one that was actually in the movie. It’s magic. OK, I have a couple of questions that I tend to ask most of my guests. And the first is what is the best idea you haven’t acted on?

PL:  That’s a bit of an odd one. OK, are we talking swords here or film props in general?

GW:  We’re talking absolute. However you interpret the question is legit?

PL:  OK. There’s been a project that I’ve been wanting to do for years, but it’s it needs a bit of R&D money, so maybe some of your listeners could help. OK. In Avatar, the 2007 movie, you’ve got lots of guns. A lot of those guns were actually were actually automatic fire guns in plastic shells. But Weta produced some mechanical guns to emulate some of the things like shell ejection and recoil and muzzle flash and things like that. And ever since then, I sort of always saw that as a missed opportunity because the props we made did the job, but they were very basic and very bulky. And so I’ve been working for the 12 or so years since then, tweaking designs in my head and on paper about how you could make things like automatic fire guns that are props rather than guns. And I’ve pretty much nailed it as a paper exercise, but they’ve just got to be made.

GW:  OK, I have a couple of points to kind of circle back on. So for that movie, they took actual fully automatic weapons and they put a plastic case around them.

PL:  Yes. They were called mini 14s. I think they were similar to AR-15 mechanics. So essentially, you take the gun casing off and you put this inside a plastic casing. It’s pretty common on films that you’ll take an actual gun and then you’ll add stuff on top of it to break up the outline and make it look different, but of course, that’s always making it bigger. And so I’ve been working on ideas about ways that we could remove the dangers of blank fire guns and also all the problems that go with them, even if they’re not actually dangers. And just turn them into a prop that does the things you want from a gun on set, which are often not the things that guns are good at.

GW: Like what?

PL:   OK, guns are good at killing things. You don’t want that on set. Guns make a lot of noise. The problem you have there is that the sound that they make on set is not used in the film because you have to rerecord it all anyway. So then it’s just a nuisance. And you have to wear earplugs and the actors have to have make up that hides the earplugs. You have hot brass being ejected. There are some very funny videos of hot brass going down people’s backs from firing blanks.

GW: I have experienced that.

PL:  I think you do a little dance.

GW:  Yes. Yes. It’s exactly like when you’re forging and a bit of the scale jumps off and hits your neck. I’ve had that too, it’s very painful.

PL:  So there’s lots of these things about real guns on set that are actually not useful for the filmmaking process and the sort of the things you do want is like you want the recoil, which blank fire guns are actually really crappy at because there’s no projectile holding back that high pressure gas that makes the kick. It’s also bad for automatic weapons because they don’t cycle reliably. Same reasons. So if they could be made entirely mechanical, then there’s a place for those on set. And besides removing the danger aspect, it actually, I think, would help the economics of filmmaking. As soon as you have a gun, you need armourers, you’ve got all these safeties that go with things. You’ve got limits to what you can do in a shot like you don’t point a gun directly at camera or at a person. Except in a certain unfortunate incident that’s just happened in the States. So unless you do things like you can point a gun close to an actor, directly at an actor, if you’re not worried about things like the wadding getting shot at them, because that’s another thing, blank fire guns, you have wadding and within a range of 10 metres or so, that’s actually quite dangerous still.

GW:  People get killed with blanks and OK. So basically, these guns you do, they won’t make much noise, but they will give recoil. What about muzzle flash?

PL:  LEDs. These days, it’s all about it’s all about matching it to the action so that in post-production you add digital muzzle flash. A lot of stuff you see on films these days with these massive muzzle flashes of guns, they’ve taken the muzzle flash that you get from blank fire and they’ve enhanced it anyway. So quite often, it’s an overlay. So again, you’re still doing digital work on these things. Have an LED for timing and then you digitally add whatever muzzle flash you want.

GW: So you have these realistic looking but completely safe, so no technical expertise required, no particular safety precautions. But the things that will make probably like a clicking noise when you pull the trigger, will give you recoil so the actors handle them correctly, and a light flash at the end so you can time where to put the muzzle flash. That’s a genius idea.

PL:  Yeah. Well, we were doing it on Avatar, but it was a very, very crude interpretation of it and with better electronics and stronger motors and all sorts of stuff today. LEDs have advanced so much in the last 15 years, for example, that the things you can do are just so much more now.

GW:  Would this gun eject brass?

PL:  Yup, the ones that we did for Avatar were doing that 15 years ago, 14 years ago.

GW:  That is a really interesting idea.

PL:  Yeah, it’s just something that hasn’t been advanced much since then because like a lot of these things, you’ve got to get over a certain hump that requires money to do your R&D and build your first units. And then you can mass produce things like your power modules and your control modules and things. And then you build modular stuff into the design of a gun. It’s just a matter of getting there.

GW:  So the Peter Lyon Prop Gun Company. Yes, something like that?

PL:  Not quite. Unfortunately, a lot of this has been developed on Weta’s time. So yeah. So I’d love to see it done, but it will be under their auspices. It’s a matter of the right production coming along and saying, yeah, we would rather have spent a bit of money to get these developed and then spend money elsewhere, getting blank fire guns. There are still some directors that love things that go bang, but you just won’t get past that. But in terms of what you actually want to get on set, blank fire guns are quite often not worth the hassle.

GW:  Right. And usually they are regular guns just loaded with blanks and causing all sorts of opportunities for mishap.

PL:  And of course, particularly if you’ve got automatic weapons in most countries, those are particular problems.

GW: Very difficult to get them in Britain.

PL:  Yeah, well, like, for example, the blank fire guns that were used on Avatar, we just can’t do them now in New Zealand because the gun laws have changed. Since the since the Christchurch shooting a couple of years ago, the rules have tightened up on things like magazine capacities, military style weapons and particularly automatic weapons. So just being able to own those to hire out as props for films is a big, big deal these days.

GW:  Hmm. OK. Yeah, that’s really interesting, and you know, who knows, maybe somebody listening will be going, “Do you know what? Yes, we should maybe get into that.” OK.

PL:  If somebody’s got a spare few thousand dollars lying around? Give me a call and we’ll talk.

GW:  Yeah, I guess half the problem though is if you’ve been developing it on Weta Workshop’s time, then they are going to end up owning the intellectual property around that. Which means it’s not an investment for somebody.

PL:  No, not really. If I won Lotto, I would actually just say, I want to do this. The thing is, I can’t do it myself because I’ve got the ideas on paper, but I can’t do the computer stuff. I can’t do the programming and stuff that would be needed for it. But if I won Lotto, hell, I’d be talking to Richard tomorrow and saying, hey, let’s do this, you know, let’s just do this, OK, and then the market will appear.

GW:  I think it probably would, actually, if it was just available, I think it probably would.

PL:  That’s one of the tricks is, it’s the chicken and egg situation, of course.

GW:  Yeah, if Ford had famously listened to the market, he would have made a faster horse, because that’s what they wanted or a horse that ate less or something like that. All right. So I don’t think this next question is going to go straight back to the previous one, because if you had a million dollars, that’s not New Zealand dollars, let’s say pounds, some very large sum of money to spend improving – let me be specific – historical martial arts, not movie prop production worldwide. How would you spend it?

PL:  Yeah, that’s what I’ve had to think about, because I’m not actually that much involved in the historic martial arts side of things anymore. What I would actually probably want to do is to try and figure out some way to convince people who make films to show good sword work and how good sword work can also be really good cinematically.

GW:  Interesting. That makes sense. So you would be interested in developing some kind of programme or some way to get people who are making films and making those director decisions to prioritise historical accuracy.

PL:  Yes. Well, not even necessarily historical accuracy as such, but they fall back into patterns. You get this thing of actors can do a certain amount, but they’re not swordsmen, usually. And so they’re choreographing fight scenes and things like this. But you tend to choreograph a lot like stage combat is done, because that’s what a lot of fight directors know. There are some really, really cool historical moves that could really be integrated so easily into film stuff that would look so cool, like Fiore has some stuff that I love. Disarming movies and things like that, that get around this cliche of people hammering away at each other using the swords like axes. Without the finesse that we know that they’re capable of.

GW:  Right, and without the finesse that a sword needs, because if you use it without the finesse, you just break the sword. Which we do see.

PL:  The comparison I make is it’s like if you or I were given a Formula One car to drive, we would destroy it in minutes. One bad gear change and you blow the engine. It’s that sort of thing that if you abuse a sword, it’ll break. A sword that’s made to be used as a sword rather than for breaking breeze blocks and things like that. If it’s made to actually be used as a fighting weapon is not made to take that sort of abuse.

GW:  Ridley Scott, since Gladiator I don’t think he’s done anything good, but his horrible Robin Hood movie. There’s this scene in it where I think it is the Russell Crowe Robin-Hood-character-person who uses his sword to lever up a flagstone because there’s something hidden underneath, right? And it’s like, you get this close up of this sword basically being used like a crowbar. It’s like, aaaargh!

PL: Not what they’re good for.

GW: No, really not. Either the sword is well made and you damage or less well made and you break it. And one thing’s for sure is no one who ever actually uses swords would ever do that with a sword, it’s just not what they’re for.

PL:  Or if it’s made to be used as a crowbar, then it’s too heavy,

GW:  Then it’s a useless sword. That was very painful.

PL:  Yes. But you know, so few people actually appreciate any of the nuances that go with that, of course. To them, for what they’ve seen on screen, it’s often that swords are crowbars.

GW:  Right. But sensibilities can be changed. We’ve seen it.

PL: It takes a lot of work.

GW:  Or it takes one really popular franchise to emphasise it and make it a selling point.

PL:  Yeah. You also have the problem that when you consider the whole scale and scope of making a film project, things like one guy putting his hand up and say, hey, you’re doing the sword things wrong, the director will say, oh, who the fuck was that? All right. They don’t work for us anymore.

GW:  Right? Yeah, because they’re just being annoying. But like, OK, think of the Marvel Universe. It has all these internal rules about what these particular superheroes can and can’t do. I’m not a superhero movie sort of person terribly much. I mean, I don’t object to them, but I don’t tend to watch them terribly much. But just imagine if you just decided that actually Superman is not vulnerable to kryptonite anymore. Doesn’t do anything to him. There would be just outrage. Kryptonite is supposed to hurt Superman. And, you know, whenever a director breaks canon on anything that is built into the universe, the fans get very cross.

PL: They scream.

GW: Right, exactly. So it’s just a question of educating the fans to expect that as canon. And once you’ve got that, then you have this enormous external pressure to get things right in the movie.

PL:  Yeah. So if anything, over the last 50 years, we’ve seen the exact opposite. You’ve trained the audience to think that a sword is used like a sledgehammer.

GW:  Yeah, true. But we also trained the audience to expect heroes to smoke.

PL:  Yeah. Because then you do have the exceptions. Like again, one of my favourite films is The Duellists.

GW:  Yeah, fantastic film.

PL:  Again, also Ridley Scott.

GW:  Yeah, exactly. Before he won Oscars and got famous, yeah.

PL:  Yeah, one of Ridley Scott’s lovely gems of a film before he got big budgets and decided to use them appropriately, but like the sword work in that is lovely. And it’s also different swords used with more or less appropriate techniques. And then you get to things like Robin Hood and now The Last Duel. Have you seen that?

GW:  No, I’m not going to. There are just too many things wrong with it.

PL:  I’ve got to admit. Okay, I’ll say this now. The shorts for it had me fuming. The film is a lot better than the shorts. The shorts looked like they were put together by somebody who hated the film and wanted people to not go and see it. But it’s actually historic. It’s got a lot of good historical stuff in it. The sword work is not that flash. It is, again, two armoured guys wailing away at each other in the final fight. But a lot of the other stuff in there about the medieval law and social norms and all this other stuff is actually really good. It’s almost not the film that you see in the shorts.

GW:  Interesting. Is it all dark?

PL:  Unfortunately, it’s had the whole grey sepia thing done to it.

GW:  Oh yeah, that annoys me so much. It’s like, no, it was always cloudy in the Middle Ages. The reason we call the Dark Ages is because it was cloudy. It’s like, no, no. People washed back then. They cleaned their houses.

PL:  And yeah people liked wearing bright clothes.

GW:  And they kept them clean. I had the wonderful Ruth Goodman on the show a while ago. She doesn’t do swords, but she does living history to the Nth degree. And yeah, she was talking about laundry and cleaning.

PL:  Bathing, right? Bathing was a real social activity.

GW:  Absolutely. So much so that the church wrote these like “You shouldn’t go to bath houses because they’re immoral because everyone is naked and they’re probably fornicating.”

PL: Maybe they were.

GW: Maybe they were. But the point is they were getting into baths and getting clean.

PL:  Maybe they didn’t bathe as often as they should, but they understood the value of bathing.

GW:  And they probably bathed as often as they could. And, yeah, OK, so they’re not showering every day and they don’t have deodorant and what have you, but they have a sense of smell.

PL:  And funnily enough, I actually blame a lot of this on the Victorians. I’ve read a few period books about things like bathing, and it was pretty horrific in the 19th century. What people didn’t do to look after themselves. And so people looked back and think, well, the Middle Ages must have been like that but worse because, hey, we’re so much more civilized. when actually no, it was a whole different society.

GW:  It didn’t help that there was that industrial concentration and that urbanisation happening faster than the infrastructure could cope with.

PL:  And also people being very poor, crammed together. And just not even being able to look after basic sanitation. A medieval city like Paris was a pretty horrible, shitty place, literally. But a lot of a lot of Europe keeping clean wasn’t that difficult.

GW:  Right. And they did it. And if you want to know how they did it, listen to the episode with Ruth because she’s fabulous. And incidentally, I’m actually interviewing Dr. Ariella Elema next week, and she is a scholar of medieval legal stuff. And we’re going to be talking about the movie The Last Duel a lot.

GW:  But I’m very glad that you told me.

PL:  It’ll be really interesting to have her spin on it. Because my sort of fairly small understanding of the medieval legal precedents is that they got it fairly right. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ridley Scott was using some of the original court documents that led up to the duel, perhaps.

GW:   Well, I think he’s basing it on the book and the book is based on quite a lot of research. But Ariella’s episode will be going up a couple of weeks after this one. So people who are listening can tune in a couple of weeks’ time and get the lowdown nitty gritty on the legal stuff. Brilliant. OK, so you’d spend your money influencing directors to take the historical side of things more seriously.

PL:  Not necessarily more seriously, but just show them that sword fighting can also be. It’s got a lot of things. Think of it like dance rather than the way that they film a lot of sword fighting, is that a good sword fight is like a dance in that there’s a lot of things that can be happening, and it’s not always just strike and parry. You can have disarming attempts, you can have hand deflections, you can have unbalancing moves, things like that that. Harder to train actors to do convincingly while they’re also trying to act on cue and everything else, but it’d be really cool to see some of the stuff done.

GW:  I mean, just look at the level of technical excellence that put into unarmed combat. Absolutely incredible, incredible physical skill being shown by these stunt doubles and even sometimes the actors themselves. Why can’t we have that level of physicality with a sword fight?

PL:  It’s a really good question.

GW:  Huh. OK. And that’s where your money would go. Brilliant. OK. I think I’ll give it to you.

PL: I look forward to the check.

GW:  Well, yeah, the money is imaginary, I’m afraid.

PL: Just like my lotto win.

GW:  That’s right. And everyone I’ve had on the show who I’ve asked that question to has had some really good ideas I’ve wanted to give them millions of dollars to make happen. Actually, getting it into the movies is a really good way of getting it into popular consciousness. So I think I might even added an extra half mil just to kind of encourage you.

PL:  You’re on. Now just win Lotto.

GW:  OK, I’ll get on with that. Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Peter, it has been lovely talking to you.

PL:  It’s been my pleasure.