I came across a most interesting film project on Facebook recently that will be certain to get the attention of fans of The Lord of the Rings saga and The Hobbit – indeed, fans of epic fantasy literature and cinema period, as its subject – J.R.R. Tolkien – was arguably one of the most prolific creative minds in the field.

An Unexpected Friendship: With Joseph Pearce delves into two central questions: Why in "The Lord of the Rings" is the friendship between Frodo and Sam so well emphasized? What about the friendship between all 4 Hobbits? Bilbo and Thorin? Gandalf and Bilbo? Were these influenced by society, or rather, Tolkien's personal life and experiences?

Director Reese Parquette – an 18 year-old American filmmaker and college student known for his documentary on EWTN, Mercy - Discovering God's Love that just aired in January – will be exploring Tolkien and friendship with our host Fr. Daren Zehnle, a Roman-Catholic priest and fellow Tolkien fan, along with famous Tolkien author Joseph Pearce (who headlines Part I), as we discover what it means to have "authentic friendship" and what Tolkien did in his life to achieve this.

Reese Parquette.

Part I is An Unexpected Friendship and while a title for Part II hasn't been made, the working title for now is "There and Back again: An Author's Journey with Fr. Zehnle".

Part II is going to be filming in late April in London, at the actual sites that Tolkien often visited. Check out the project's IndieGoGo campaign page here and Principium Productions on Facebook here to see more on An Unexpected Friendship and help fund the project if you can – it promises to be something that explores a big part of the life of one of the most prolific authors of our time.

Fr. Daren Zehnle.

What follows is my chat with Parquette and Fr. Zehnle – picking their brains on the importance and vitality of Tolkien today and what his example has to say to a more modern audience about friendship – in addition to the usual suspects of film and filmmaking.

Hello Reese, Fr. Zehnle and welcome to The 405! Reese, I'm wondering if we could start by getting an idea of your history for our readers – what got you into film?

RP: That's difficult to say. I remember having a fascination with the epic when I was younger, and I suppose it started when watching the "Behind the Scenes" featurettes of movies. It's so fascinating to see what goes into making a film. It's quite funny, but my initial spark to do cinematography was while playing the popular video game Minecraft. I would play in a mode called "creative mode" where you could fly around the buildings you made, and being inspired by the movie The Hobbit with all its aerial shots, I started experimenting with that in the game.

I always find that experimental impetus – especially in film – utterly fascinating. 

DZ: Thanks very much, Wess! To be honest, I've not had an interest to get involved in film before, but when Reese asked if I would be a part of his work on the life and writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, how could I refuse? I've been very fond of Tolkien's writings since I first read "The Hobbit" when I was around ten years of age.

Absolutely. Favorite films and directors? For you Reese, on this question, what I mean to broach is your influences. 

DZ: On a particularly cinematic year, I might go to the cinema twice, which is another way of saying that I do not watch a great many movies or follow the careers of any particular director. My favorite movies include Becket, Dead Poets Society, Gladiator, Labyrinth, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, A Man for All Seasons, The Muppet Christmas Carol, The Princess Bride, and the original Star Wars trilogy.

RP: My favourite films include The Passion of the Christ, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and The Martian. In regards to influence from other directors, I suppose Peter Jackson was the major one, along with Mel Gibson.

Peter Jackson was especially known for his aerial shots in his movies, flying by as the action went on. His interesting cinematography is what caused me to start experimenting with different camera techniques, along with watching documentaries or television series like Catholicism with Bishop Robert Baron.

What makes a great film? A great documentary?

RP: What makes a great documentary is to take a topic that fascinates an audience, perhaps even a question the viewer has, and transfer it to film.

I've heard it said quite a bit that it's all about what you put in front of the camera, not what camera tech you have. My first film was shot on a Canon t5 and a little Nikon, because that's what I had at the time. I honestly don't have a true storyboard as to how the scene is going to go, but God just takes the reigns and uses it to whatever vision He has. I just take the camera and shoot on the spot, because I might have a different idea of how I want it than how I originally viewed it. However, that isn't to say there is no format. I take inspiration from other documentaries so that I have an idea of what I want to achieve.

DZ: Not being a film-maker myself, I think a great film requires not only a cohesive story line, but also – and more importantly – one that reveals something of the truth of human existence. The greatest films reveal something of the deepest longings of the human heart and lead us toward their satisfaction.

The same goes for a documentary, but they are perhaps a bit trickier to produce because a documentary tells a story, yes, but in a different sort of way. A documentary has to feel more personal to the viewer, almost as if it were a personal conversation between the viewer and the filmmaker. At least those are the sorts I most enjoy.

Excellent summations. Getting into An Unexpected Friendship, what inspired you both to undertake the project? What did the genesis of it as a project look like?

DZ: To be quite honest, Reese's invitation brought me into the project. He was looking for someone to have a conversation with Joseph Pearce about friendship in the life and writings of Professor Tolkien. I've read "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" several times, as well as Tolkien's other writings, and am always happy to talk with someone about them. It was an invitation I could not turn down.

I've been to Oxford twice now to visit Tolkien's grave. Over the last several months, I've had a growing desire to return, so when Reese asked if I'd accompany him to work on a new aspect of his documentary, I again couldn't say no. The hardest part was coordinating our calendars.

RP: An Unexpected Friendship is my 2nd large scale project. I made my first one when I was 16 called Mercy: Discovering God's Love which just aired on EWTN in late January. I was itching to get on another project, and I was inspired by another film on Tolkien that came out a year ago.

But if you look at Tolkien's writings, there is a great emphasis on friendships. "Leaf by Niggle", "The Hobbit", "The Lord of the Rings" ... They all surround friendships. This world so deeply needs to understand what a genuine friendship is, because as a society we are failing to keep it alive. So taking a popular figure like Tolkien and examining his writings, we find that he knew what genuine friendship was, so we wish to explore that a little bit.

In regard to the genesis of it, it took a different form in terms of what the documentary was going to be about. I originally wanted to do one on "Tolkien's Letters", because they discuss theology and life in general, so we wanted to explore that for those who never read them.

Fr. Zehnle is the biggest Tolkien fan I know, and I can't think of anyone else that would have made a great host for the project.

Fr. Daren Zehnle opposite Joseph Pearce in Pt. I "An Unexpected Friendship."

For those not so familiar with Tolkien's writings and life, what are some of the other themes you will explore in the film?

RP: The themes will mainly delve into friendship in its whole. What makes a genuine friendship? Did Tolkien know what makes one authentic? Why do his writings emphasis it heavily? Is our view of friendships significantly different today? And why don't we have the same kind of friendships they had back then. Tolkien had an interesting life. He lost most of his friends in WWI at the Battle of the Somme when he was sent to the front, and he was great friends with famous author C.S. Lewis. They had long walks and chatted about life and such. But this wasn't just any sort of friendship. It was a brotherly friendship. And we wanted to find out what makes it that.

DZ: My understanding is that we will be exploring the role of friendship in Tolkien's personal life and in his writings, both his fiction and his non-fiction.

What does Tolkien and friendship have to say to the modern world? Put another way: what do you hope audiences will take with them from the film?

RP: Tolkien's emphasis on friendship as I mentioned is drastically different than the ones we have today. I think people have forgotten what it means to have genuine friendship. I've seen people accuse Frodo and Sam in "The Lord of the Rings" as having a couple-like friendship. I only wish to put clarity on these sorts of perspectives, and further show just how powerful friendship is.

I hope audiences will feel inspired to nurture in their friendships, hopefully rekindle some, or perhaps make new friends. "We all need community," it is said. And I agree with that. Can you imagine living a life of solitude, with no one to talk to about life problems, struggles, or pains?

We all need a spiritual brother or sister to discuss problems, or help them out in return.

DZ: Presently, relationship between people are growing more and more superficial. Friendships today are more about simply doing things together than about actually getting to know each other and helping each other to grow in virtue.

Tolkien knew the essence of friendship involved a sharing of common interests, as we do today, but he further knew the essence of friendship also involves striving after virtue. Too often our friendships are based on what someone can do for me, rather than what we can do for each other.

I like that. Indeed, the most fulfilling friendships are where we strive to help each other become better people. What have some of the challenges been like so far?

RP: Challenges? I suppose it's mainly been trying to figure out where we want to go with this. I should clarify, this is actually a 2 part documentary. "An Unexpected Journey" is only the first part, the second part doesn't have a name for it yet, but we're working on that. We're going to be going to London next month to film Part II, by going to the sites Tolkien frequently visited, and discuss where the effects of friendship took place there in his personal life.

The main challenge is finances. The trip over there is quite expensive, and we're pretty much operating off of no budget. So we started an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds to cover that.

Hopefully it'll go smoothly from here.

Last, what is next for both of you? Also where should our readers go to keep up with the project?

DZ: I'll continue in my various priestly assignments. Your readers can look up for occasional updates on the project at my blog: http://dzehnle.blogspot.com.

RP: I'm going to be heading off to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio in the fall to earn a major in Communications Arts. They have a television show on EWTN called Franciscan University Presents, where the students get to operate the cameras as part of the education, so I want to give that a go.

But in terms of documentaries and video I'm going to on-and-off do other short videos to keep it going.