The Lord of the Rings (TV series)

An upcoming television series is being produced based on the novel The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.[1] It was developed by J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay for the streaming service Amazon Prime Video, and is set in the Second Age of Middle-earth before the events of the Lord of the Rings novel and films. The series is produced by Amazon Studios in cooperation with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema, with Payne and McKay serving as showrunners.

The Lord of the Rings
Genre
Based onThe Lord of the Rings
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Developed by
  • J. D. Payne
  • Patrick McKay
StarringSee below
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Production
Executive producers
Production locations
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
Production companies
DistributorAmazon Studios
Release
Original networkAmazon Prime Video

Amazon bought the television rights for The Lord of the Rings for US$250 million in November 2017, making a five-season production commitment worth at least US$1 billion. This would make it the most expensive television series ever made. Payne and McKay were hired to develop the series in July 2018, with the rest of the creative team confirmed a year later. Casting for the large ensemble cast took place around the world. Filming took place in New Zealand, where the film trilogy was made, from February 2020 to August 2021 with a production break of several months during that time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first eight-episode season is expected to premiere on Prime Video on September 2, 2022. A second season was formally ordered in November 2019. Amazon announced in August 2021 that filming for future seasons would take place in the United Kingdom.

PremiseEdit

Set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters as they confront the re-emergence of evil in Middle-earth.[2]

EpisodesEdit

No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal release date [3]
1TBAJ. A. Bayona[4]TBASeptember 2, 2022 (2022-09-02)
2TBAJ. A. Bayona[4]TBASeptember 9, 2022 (2022-09-09)

Wayne Che Yip directed four episodes of the first season,[5] and Charlotte Brändström directed two.[6]

Cast and charactersEdit

As of July 2021, Amazon Studios has announced the following cast members for the series:[7][8][9]

ProductionEdit

DevelopmentEdit

Deal and announcementEdit

In July 2017, a lawsuit was settled between Warner Bros., the company behind the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film trilogies, and the Tolkien Estate, the estate of author J. R. R. Tolkien upon whose books those films were based. With the two sides "on better terms" following the settlement, they began shopping a potential television series based on Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings books to several outlets, including Amazon, Netflix, and HBO.[12] By September, Amazon had emerged as the frontrunner and entered negotiations for the series.[13][14] In an uncommon move for programming developments at the studio, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was personally involved with the negotiations;[14] Bezos had previously given Amazon Studios a mandate to develop a fantasy series of comparable scale to HBO's Game of Thrones, which had made Amazon the lead contender for the project.[12]

On November 13, 2017, Amazon closed a deal to acquire the books' global television rights. These cost close to US$250 million, before any development or production costs. Industry commentators described this amount as "insane", especially since Amazon agreed to pay for the rights without any creative talent being attached to the project.[12] As part of the deal, Amazon's streaming service Amazon Prime Video gave a multi-season commitment to the series that was believed to be for five seasons, with the possibility of creating a spin-off series as well. The budget was expected to be in the range of US$100–150 million per season, and was likely to eventually exceed US$1 billion which would make it the most expensive television series ever made.[12][13] Amazon Studios wanted to produce the series themselves, so Warner Bros. Television would not be involved in the project, with Amazon instead working with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema.[12] New Line, the Warner Bros. division who produced the films, was included in the deal due to the potential for the series to use material from the films.[13] The series is a prequel to the events of The Lord of the Rings, depicting "previously unexplored stories" based on Tolkien's works, with some creative restrictions imposed on the series by the Tolkien Estate.[12] The deal stipulated that production on the series begin within two years.[13]

Creative teamEdit

By April 2018, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film director Peter Jackson had begun discussing his potential involvement in the series with Amazon,[13] but in June he was confirmed to not be involved in the series.[15] Later that month, Head of Amazon Studios Jennifer Salke said discussions with Jackson were ongoing as to how much involvement he would have in the series. She added that the deal for the series had only been officially closed around a month earlier, and the studio had been meeting with many different writers about the project. They intended to have a game plan for the series and a writing team set "very soon", with the hope that the series could debut in 2021.[16] Amazon hired writers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay to develop the series in July.[17] That December, Jackson stated that he and his producing partners were potentially going to read scripts for the series and offer notes to the writers, but otherwise would not be involved in the project. He stated, "I wish them all the best and if we can help them we certainly will try".[18] Jackson also expressed excitement at being able to watch a Tolkien adaptation as an audience member after not being able to have that experience with the films that he made.[19]

Bryan Cogman joined the series as a consultant in May 2019 after signing an overall deal with Amazon. Cogman previously served as a writer on Game of Thrones, and was set to work alongside Payne and McKay in developing the new series.[20] In July, J. A. Bayona was hired to direct the first two episodes of the series and serve as executive producer alongside his producing partner Belén Atienza.[4] Later that month, Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss were in discussions with several outlets regarding signing an overall deal, including with Amazon who were interested in having the pair consult on The Lord of the Rings;[21] they ultimately signed a deal with Netflix instead.[22] At the end of July, Amazon announced that Payne and McKay would serve as showrunners and executive producers for the series, and revealed the full creative team that was working on the project: executive producers Bayona, Atienza, Bruce Richmond, Gene Kelly, Lindsey Weber, and Sharon Tal Yguado; co-producer Ron Ames; costume designer Kate Hawley; production designer Rick Heinrichs; visual effects supervisor Jason Smith; and illustrator/concept artist John Howe, who was one of the chief conceptual designers on the films.[23][24] Special effects company Weta Workshop and visual effects vendor Weta Digital were also expected to be involved in the series as they were for the films.[25] Additionally, Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey was revealed to be working on the series,[24] but he was no longer involved by April 2020;[26] other Tolkien scholars and "lore experts" remained involved.[27]

Following development of the first season, Cogman left the series to focus on developing new projects. Kelly also left the series, with Callum Greene joining as a new executive producer.[28] Greene previously served as producer on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013).[29] In March 2021, Wayne Che Yip was announced as director for four episodes of the series, and was set as a co-executive producer.[5] Charlotte Brändström was revealed as director for another two episodes in May.[6] Howard Shore was in talks to compose the music for the series by late September, returning from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.[30]

SeasonsEdit

Prime Video gave the series a multi-season commitment, believed to be for five seasons, as part of the initial deal with the Tolkien Estate,[13][12] though the streaming service still had to give a formal greenlight to future seasons before work could begin on them.[31] In July 2019, Shippey stated that he believed the first season of the series was supposed to consist of 20 episodes.[32] In November, Amazon officially ordered a second season of the series, and scheduled a longer-than-usual four or five month production break after completion of filming on the first two episodes. This was to allow all the footage for the first episodes to be reviewed, and so the series' writers room could be reconvened to begin work on the second season before filming on the first season continued. This gave the series the option to film the first two seasons back-to-back, as the Lord of the Rings films had been.[31] In January 2020, Amazon announced that the first season would consist of eight episodes.[33]

WritingEdit

A writers room for the series had begun work in Santa Monica by mid-February 2019. Salke described extensive security measures that were being taken to keep details of this writing secret, including windows being taped closed and a security guard requiring fingerprint clearance from those entering the room.[34] In addition to Payne and McKay, writers on the series include Gennifer Hutchison, Helen Shang, Jason Cahill, Justin Doble, Bryan Cogman, and Stephany Folsom, with Glenise Mullins acting as a consulting writer.[23][24] The writers room was set to be disbanded once production on the series began, but would be reconvened during the four or five month break in filming that was scheduled following production on the first two episodes. The writers were expected to map out the second season and write the majority of its scripts during this production break.[31]

At the start of March 2019, Amazon revealed that the series would be set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before the story of The Lord of the Rings.[35] Shippey explained that the series was not allowed to contradict anything that Tolkien had written about the Second Age and would have to follow the broad strokes of his narrative, with the Tolkien Estate prepared to veto any such changes, but Amazon was free to add characters or details to fill in the gaps between Tolkien's works. The series is also only allowed to adapt and reference content from the Lord of the Rings books and their extensive appendices rather than any of Tolkien's other books that explore the Second Age such as The Silmarillion. The Tolkien Estate retained the rights to the events of the First Age while Middle-earth Enterprises held the rights to the events of the Third Age (as seen in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films), so the series was also not allowed to explore those. Shippey felt this left the series with "a lot of scope for interpretation and free invention".[32] A synopsis released in January 2021 revealed that locations for the series included the Misty Mountains, the elf-capital Lindon, and the island kingdom of Númenor.[2] By July, Amazon had gained access to certain elements and passages from The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales due to the Tolkien Estate being happy with the development of the series so far.[27]

DesignEdit

Jackson stated in December 2018 that it was his understanding that the series would be set in the same continuity as the films, with Amazon wanting to "keep the designs" that were created for the films.[19] Howe reiterated this in August 2019, saying the showrunners were determined to remain faithful to the designs of the film trilogies as well as the spirit of the books. On transitioning from designing for the films to working on the television series, Howe stated that there was a budgetary difference but they intended there to be no aesthetic difference. He added that the development process for the television series was the same as initial design work done on the films, beginning with conceptual designs.[36]

CastingEdit

Salke stated in June 2018 that though the series would not be a remake of the films, it would include some characters from the films.[37] By July 2019, casting for the series was taking place around the world, with casting directors working in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.[38] Casting for extras began in New Zealand at that time.[39] Markella Kavenagh was in talks to portray a character referred to as "Tyra" at the end of July,[40] a series regular role.[38] Will Poulter was cast as one of the series' leads, reportedly called "Beldor", in September.[41][42] The role was "one of the more coveted jobs" for young actors in Hollywood before Poulter's casting.[42] Maxim Baldry was cast in a "significant role" in mid-October,[43] with Joseph Mawle cast later that month. Mawle was reportedly playing the series' lead villain, "Oren".[44] In December, Ema Horvath was cast in another series regular role;[45] Poulter left the series due to scheduling conflicts;[46] and Morfydd Clark was cast as a young Galadriel, who was portrayed in the films by Cate Blanchett.[10]

Robert Aramayo was cast in the lead role for the series, replacing Poulter, in early January 2020.[47] A week later, Amazon officially announced that the series' main cast would include Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Tom Budge, Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Horvath, Kavenagh, Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, and Daniel Weyman. Amazon's co-head of television Vernon Sanders noted that there were still some key roles that had yet to be filled.[7] One of these key roles was confirmed to go to Baldry in March when his deal for the series was completed, after he had been informally attached to the series in October 2019.[43][48] In December 2020, Amazon announced 20 new cast members for the series: Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Baldry, newcomer Ian Blackburn, Kip Chapman, Anthony Crum, Maxine Cunliffe, Trystan Gravelle, Lenny Henry, Thusitha Jayasundera, Fabian McCallum, Simon Merrells, Geoff Morrell, Peter Mullan, Lloyd Owen, Augustus Prew, Peter Tait, Alex Tarrant, Leon Wadham, Benjamin Walker, and Sara Zwangobani. Blackburn, Chapman, Crum, Cunliffe, Tait, Tarrant, and Wadham are all New Zealanders, with the rest of the cast members coming from Australia, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Payne and McKay described the casting update as "the culmination of a multi-year search".[8]

In March 2021, Budge announced that he had departed the series after filming several episodes. He explained that Amazon had reviewed the first episodes and decided to recast his character,[49] who was reported to be Celebrimbor.[27] Charles Edwards, Will Fletcher, Amelie Child-Villiers, and Beau Cassidy were added to the first season's cast that July.[9] A third of the first season's 124 speaking roles, including seven of the 32 major recurring roles, went to New Zealand actors.[25]

FilmingEdit

New ZealandEdit

Salke said in June 2018 that the series could be filmed in New Zealand, where the films were produced, but Amazon was also willing to film in other countries as long as they could "provide those locations in a really authentic way, because we want it to look incredible".[37] Pre-production on the series reportedly began around that time in Auckland,[50] while location scouting for the series also took place in Scotland, with areas visited by the production including the Isle of Skye, Portpatrick, Scourie, Perthshire, and Loch Lomond.[51] Amazon and Creative Scotland held talks about the series' production being based at new studios that were under construction in Leith, Edinburgh.[52] In December, Amazon held a "crisis meeting" with David Parker, then New Zealand's Minister of Economic Development, after the studio threatened to take the production out of the country due to the lack of available studio space in Auckland.[53] During the meeting, Parker told Amazon they were welcome in New Zealand and the country's government wanted them to make the series there, but he did not propose any special deal for the series because "you don't want these things at any cost; you want them on terms that are good for New Zealand". New Zealand's Major Screen Production Grant, which provides up to a 25 per cent refund in tax for international productions, was offered to Amazon for the series.[54]

Filming was informally confirmed to take place in New Zealand at the end of June, with leases taking effect at Kumeu Film Studios and Auckland Film Studios in July. Auckland was chosen as the primary filming location in the country rather than Wellington, where the Lord of the Rings films were produced, because the studios that were used to produce the films in Wellington were in use by the Avatar films at the time that production for the series was set to begin.[50] Amazon's decision to film in New Zealand was reportedly influenced by the New Zealand government's reassurances that the country was safe to film in following the Christchurch mosque shootings in March 2019, as well as concern regarding the potential effects of Brexit in Scotland. While production was set to primarily take place in Auckland, additional filming was expected to take place in Queenstown and other locations around New Zealand.[55] Amazon officially announced that the series would be filmed in New Zealand in September 2019, after completing negotiations with the New Zealand Government and the New Zealand Film Commission, as well as Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED). The studio said filming was set to begin on the series in "the coming months", with some specific locations still being discussed according to ATEED. Payne and McKay explained that in choosing the series' primary location, they and the production team had needed "somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forests, and mountains" that could also meet the production requirements of the series.[1][56]

Amazon signed two Memoranda of Understanding in December 2020 with the New Zealand Film Commission, Tourism New Zealand, and the country's Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to gain access to the full 25 per cent tax refund offered under New Zealand's Major Screen Production Grant.[57] All film and television productions in the country automatically receive a 20 per cent tax rebate, with productions that offer "significant economic benefits" able to negotiate for the additional 5 per cent.[58] One memorandum outlined Amazon's overall obligations in exchange for the extra refund, and the other was specific to the series' first season. Further memoranda would need to be signed for future seasons for the studio to continue to be eligible for the additional rebate. The agreement would allow Tourism New Zealand to promote the country using cast and crew members, footage, and behind-the-scenes material from the series, and this campaign would align with the series' premiere and the opening of New Zealand's borders for international travel after the COVID-19 pandemic;[57] Amazon would work with the Film Commission to help grow the country's screen sector, and a member of the commission would be able to speak to media at the series' red carpet premiere; and MBIE would oversee an "innovation programme" run by Amazon to benefit New Zealand companies and research groups.[57][58] Details of the memoranda were revealed in April 2021, though officials had originally intended to announce the deal on September 22, Hobbit Day.[58]

In April 2021, New Zealand's Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, Stuart Nash, revealed that Amazon was spending NZ$650 million (US$465 million) on the series' first season, making it eligible for NZ$160 million (US$114 million) in tax rebates under the country's agreements with the studio. James Hibberd at The Hollywood Reporter noted that the US$465 million amount "almost certainly" included additional costs to the season's production budget, including the rights to make the series and the startup costs of building sets, costumes, and props that would be used in future seasons as well.[59] Salke soon confirmed this, describing the cost as a "crazy headline that's fun to click on, but that is really building the infrastructure of what will sustain the whole series."[60] In August, Amazon announced that it was moving production of future seasons to the United Kingdom and would not actively pursue the additional 5 per cent rebate (around NZ$33 million or US$23 million) or preserve the terms of the memoranda that they had signed.[61][62]

Season 1Edit

Table reads with the cast began in New Zealand by mid-January 2020, ahead of the start of filming in early February,[7][63] with Bayona directing the first two episodes.[4] Production began in Auckland, primarily at Kumeu Film Studios and Auckland Film Studios.[50] While rehearsing a stunt at Kumeu on February 7, stuntwoman Elissa Cadwell was injured when she struck her head while falling into a water tank. Amazon reviewed the incident and notified New Zealand's workplace health and safety regulator WorkSafe on February 14. By then, Caldwell was recovering from her injuries after being treated in hospital.[64] Amazon paid Caldwell NZ$500,000 which was partly to help her return home to Australia.[65]

Location filming took place around Auckland in February.[66] Filming for the first two episodes was expected to continue through May,[67] with a four- or five-month production break then planned during which footage for the two episodes would be reviewed and writing on the second season would begin.[31] Production was scheduled to resume in mid-October and continue until late June 2021.[67] However, filming was placed on hold indefinitely in mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with around 800 cast and crew members told to stay home.[68] In early May, the majority of filming for the first two episodes was confirmed to have been completed before the COVID-19 shutdown. Filming on the series was allowed to resume then under new safety guidelines from the New Zealand government, but, instead of completing filming for the first two episodes at that time, the filming shutdown segued into the intended production break, with filming for the first two episodes set to be completed once filming on further episodes was ready to begin.[69]

The series was one of seven film and television productions that were granted exemptions to allow cast and crew members to enter New Zealand while its borders were closed to non-New Zealanders due to COVID-19. The exemptions were granted before June 18 by Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford, and applied to 93 members of the production as well as 20 family members. Around 10 percent of the series' crew were believed to be non-New Zealanders, and many of them had remained in the country during its pandemic lockdown and did not require exemptions. Pre-production on further episodes began by July 2020,[70] and filming on the series resumed on September 28.[71] Bayona completed filming on his episodes by December 23,[72] with production on further episodes set to begin in January 2021 following a two week break for Christmas.[72][73] Yip confirmed that he had begun filming his episodes by March,[5] and Brändström was in New Zealand for production on the series when she was announced as director in May.[6]

Walker said at the end of June that he was not sure how much longer the cast would be required to stay in New Zealand, saying the timeline for the production was "a bit nebulous" and Amazon would "let us go when they're done with us".[74] In early July, several stunt performers alleged that a senior stunt supervisor for the production had created an "uneasy environment" that contributed to an unsafe workplace, with at least three stunt performers being seriously injured on the set. This included stuntwoman Dayna Grant, who suffered a head injury on set in March and was diagnosed a brain aneurysm and upper spinal injury; fans crowdfunded NZ$100,000 to help Grant pay for surgery. The production's head of safety, Willy Heatley, said the injury rate was 0.065 percent across the 16,200 days of stunt work on the series since filming began, and this was mostly due to "common stunt-related sprains, bruises and muscle and soft tissue strains". Amazon Studios said safety was a top priority for the company and they were following all of WorkSafe's regulations.[65]

In late July, main production for the first season was reported to have been completed in April 2021.[27] Filming for the season officially wrapped on August 2.[3] Around a third of filming took place on location around New Zealand, including at the Hauraki Gulf, the Coromandel Peninsula, the Denize Bluffs in the King Country, Mount Kidd in Fiordland, Piha, and Rangitikei. More than 1,000 New Zealanders were contracted for the first season, with around 700 more indirectly engaged with the production.[25]

United KingdomEdit

At the end of filming for the season, the crew were unsure when filming for the second season would begin though there was expected to be a hiatus of at least one year to allow post-production on the first season and writing for the second season to be completed. Amazon retained its lease on Auckland Film Studios and Kumeu Film Studios, and reportedly Studio West also, for the duration of the hiatus, which allowed the series' sets to remain at the studios and prevented other productions from using the space.[25]

The week after filming ended, Amazon announced that it was moving production of the series to the United Kingdom starting with the second season. At that time, Amazon was in the process of booking studio space in the UK,[61] with Scotland reported to be the frontrunner for new shooting locations.[75] The company planned to ship all of the sets that were built for the first season to the UK, and hire a new UK-based crew since the majority of the first season's crew was New Zealand-based.[61] Factors that played a role in the change included Amazon already heavily investing in UK studio space for several other productions; a belief that the UK would be a "more economical choice" following the high cost of making the first season in New Zealand;[76] the opportunity to film in other European countries near the UK as was done for the series Game of Thrones; and the fact that New Zealand's restrictive pandemic-era border policies had prevented Amazon executives from visiting and monitoring the production, while many international cast members (more than half of whom are British) were unable to leave the country for nearly two years during filming of the first season.[61] The Tolkien Estate also wanted the series to be filmed in the UK since Tolkien was inspired by locations there for his books.[75]

Season 2Edit

Pre-production for the second season is expected to begin in the UK shortly after January 1, 2022, taking place concurrently with post-production for the first season which is continuing in New Zealand until June 2022.[61]

MarketingEdit

Amazon began promoting the series on social media using several maps of Middle-earth during the Second Age, as well as excerpts from the Lord of the Rings books.[32][77] The maps were designed and created by illustrator John Howe and overseen by Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey to ensure they were accurate to Tolkien's works.[77] Howe and Shippey spent a lot of time working on the maps, which were based on Tolkien's maps of Númenor during the Second Age of Middle-earth as well as his maps of the Third Age. Despite their efforts, HarperCollins received complaints from fans shortly after the maps were released online regarding two mistakes that were made on them.[36]

ReleaseEdit

The series is set to premiere on the streaming service Prime Video on September 2, 2022, with new episodes released on a weekly basis.[3]

ReferencesEdit

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