Amazon confirms LOTR series to be made in NZ

The Lord of the Rings is set to have its own television show produced for Amazon Prime. Photo:...
Elijah Wood played Frodo the Hobbit in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.. Photo: Supplied
Amazon Studios has confirmed the Lord of the Rings series - set to be the most expensive TV show ever – will be produced in New Zealand, but Queenstown's role in the production remains unclear.

Today's announcement comes after the Herald on Sunday revealed in June that Jeff Bezos' streaming company was set to produce the majority of the series – at a cost of $1.5 billion plus – on our shores, with west Auckland to become the main base for the epic five-year production.

There had earlier been speculation that Queenstown was set to play a major role in the production, including through the creation of film studios in the resort town - but this was not confirmed in today's announcement.

The project is expected to deliver a massive boost for Auckland's economy, and unprecedented opportunities to grow jobs and careers in the region.

"This is a really exciting opportunity for Auckland," Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said.

"This is a great place to make films and TV, and Amazon's new series is another chance to demonstrate our skills and capacity to the industry worldwide.

"This production will support Auckland's world-class screen businesses to grow, create jobs and provide an immense boost to our regional and national economy. We already have a billion-dollar screen industry and being the main production base for Amazon's new TV series will take it to a new level.

"I am proud of Auckland Council's contribution to Auckland and New Zealand landing this huge production, in collaboration with the New Zealand Film Commission."

Parts of the Lord of the Rings movies were shot in the Queenstown area, including Glenorchy ...
Parts of the Lord of the Rings movies were shot in the Queenstown area, including Glenorchy (pictured). Photo: Getty Images
A team of screen attraction and investment specialists at Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) played a lead role, alongside the New Zealand Film Commission and regional film offices, in bringing the series to Auckland and New Zealand, Ateed said in a statement.

It added it was involved in months of discussions with Amazon Studios about its extensive production requirements.

Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford has today welcomed Amazon Studios' confirmation.

Peter Jackson on the set of The Hobbit. Photo: Mark Pokorny
Peter Jackson on the set of The Hobbit. Photo: Mark Pokorny
New Zealand's selection as the production base ahead of other countries demonstrated how far the country had come as a player in the highly competitive global screen industry he said.

"This is a sought-after production and fantastic news for New Zealand's screen sector and our economy.

"This will be an ambitious production and having it based here will create a range of benefits, including jobs and significant overseas investment, which will unlock more opportunities to grow our creative and technology sectors.

"We welcome Amazon's interest in New Zealand and hope to build from this to develop a fruitful partnership as this new journey begins."

In early July, the then-Economic Development Minister David Parker said Amazon would receive no extra sweeteners in the form of tax breaks to film in New Zealand.

He said he had made it clear to Amazon that New Zealand had "a pretty effective scheme" in place already, through the Major Screen Production Grant.

Parker said the Government "obviously wanted" the series to be made here – "but you don't want these things at any cost; you want them on terms that are good for New Zealand and those are the things that are being thrashed out".

Production work already well under way

Production for the Lord of the Rings-based series is expected to take place at a range of sites around the Auckland region. The exact sites are still in development.

However, a senior Auckland film industry insider revealed to the Herald on Sunday in June, that Kumeu Film Studios (KFS) and Auckland Film Studios (AFS) have been working on pre-production for more than a year now, preparing and building studio locations.

American crews had already been in Auckland for some time at that stage.

In addition to the direct spend, the series is expected to have a large cast and crew, with significant opportunities for New Zealanders. A production across the expected multiple seasons will provide job security and career growth for Auckland-based crew.

Goff also expects significant flow-on to the construction, materials supply, and contracting industries from the physical set construction required.

"And the 'halo' effect on businesses around the region such as corporate catering, security providers, cafes near studios, and equipment rentals will also be substantial," he said.

Given the Lord of the Rings' huge global fan base, ATEED will investigate long-term tourism opportunities for the region from being the main production base for the Amazon Studios series.

Local businesses and residents around the area have long been aware of the planned project but were bound by non-disclosure agreements.

Confirmation of the project comes after Amazon Studios boss Jennifer Salke explained in an interview with Deadline in June that the project could be headed Down Under.

"I think we might be in New Zealand," Salke told Deadline.

"I don't know, but we're going to have to go somewhere interesting that could provide those locations in a really authentic way, because we want it to look incredible."

There have also been rumours that Sir Peter Jackson, the New Zealand director who adapted the J. R. R. Tolkien tales for the big screen, could be involved with the LOTR series.

"The Peter Jackson conversations, right now we're right in the middle of them," said Salke.

"It's like, 'How much do you want to be involved, how little?' I know there's been some discussion, and he's even said some things, but as far as I'm aware, the latest is that we're just in a conversation with him about how much or how little he would be involved."

Last April the Hollywood Reporter estimated that the Amazon LOTR production would cost $1.5 billion, but the local industry insider told the Herald on Sunday that figure was modest, and suggested it could have a $3b price tag.

While pre-production is well under way, actual filming for the TV show was not expected to begin until 2020.

Outside of Auckland, the tourist hot spot of Queenstown has also been touted as a potential filming location.



Local trusted journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Star Media journalists and photographers continue to report local stories that matter everyday - yours.

For more than 152 years our journalists have provided Cantabrians with local news that can be trusted. It’s more important now than ever to keep Cantabrians connected.

As our advertising has fallen during the pandemic, support from you our reader is crucial.

You can help us continue to provide local news you can trust simply by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter