Working on this magazine was, hands-down, the most creative fun I've ever had in a paying job.
The story behind the story. Like some of the best opportunities I've had over the years, this one nearly landed in my lap. The game company I was working for bought a smaller company that ran entertainment fan clubs (including the official Star Trek Fan Club); soon after, my then-employer acquired the rights to run the official fan club for New Line Cinema's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
One of the premiums offered to fan club members was a bimonthly magazine about the making of the films, and as they began work on the first issue, I let them know that I had more than a decade of magazine editing experience. I jumped in and helped with the first issue and by the second issue, I had moved into the managing editor job.
Getting into the Tolkien state of mind. Although I was not a "Ringer" (dedicated lover of Tolkien and the trilogy), I did become a loyal fan of the movies through getting to know the filmmakers in New Zealand (via email and late-night phone interviews conducted from my third-floor guest bedroom so as not to keep my family awake).
If ever there was an opportunity in my career to tell great stories, this was it; while we ran interviews with the stars of the films that were plenty interesting, it was the sword-forgers, special effects wizards, costume and set designers, and all the other behind-the-scenes artists whose work drew me in.
Creating community. The Tolkien fans who joined the movie fan club created not only a virtual community via the fan club message boards, but also organized parties and get-togethers across the world, often tied to the release of the second and third films. The magazine got in on the community-building via the message boards (this was a good way for me to connect with readers) and by publishing reports from members about parties and events.
Logistics and trust. Working on a property that was connected to a huge movie franchise (and strictly limited by agreements the moviemakers had with the Tolkien estate) was unique, as editorial jobs go. Getting interviews set up was a challenge as we had to work around time zones and the filmmakers' and actors' shooting schedules (they shot over three years' time, and we produced magazines alongside filming for a good part of that time).
Once we had worked around those logistics (getting our interview with director Peter Jackson for each issue always came down to the wire) and put the issue together, we had to ship four sets of page proofs to various New Line Cinema departments for approval.
Probably more so than in any other magazine job, it was crucial that we build trust with all of the people in the pipeline. They were all spending not just long hours but in some cases, years on the films (and all of the offshoots of the films), and it was important that they feel they could trust us to use their time well and turn out a magazine that matched the quality of the films.
Virtual creativity. Thanks to this job, anyone who tries to convince me that you have to be on-site and working face-to-face to produce good work will have an uphill battle. The major contributors to the LOTR movie magazine were scattered across the world:
I edited the magazine from company headquarters in Virginia.
My colleague who conducted the majority of the cast and celebrity interviews, as well as interviewing Peter Jackson for each issue, worked on the magazine part-time from Colorado.
The graphic designer responsible for the beautiful look of the magazine created each issue from his office in Montreal. To this day, we have never met in person.
Because I didn't have an editorial staff, the magazine was proofed by a talented freelance editor I had experience with from earlier work. She was based in Philadelphia.
We used freelancers from all over the United States and even the United Kingdom to help cover the fan community.
Nearly everyone from the films who was featured in the magazine was in New Zealand; on only one occasion did we have an opportunity to do face-to-face interviews.
And finally, all those who had to sign off on the magazine before it went to print were scattered from New Zealand to California to New York.
In short: It was a tour de force of logistics, teamwork and creativity.