Amazon to film next ‘Lord of the Rings’ series in UK, not New Zealand

Sir Ian McKellen has said he was “miserable” while filming “The Hobbit,” compared to playing Gandalf in “Lord of the Rings,” because of too much virtual production, but the technology could become more common in filmmaking in a post-Covid-19 world.

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Amazon has announced it is going to film the second season of its yet-to-be-named “Lord of the Rings” television series in the U.K. rather than New Zealand, which is where the first season and Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning film trilogy were filmed.

Amazon Studios said Thursday that the move away from New Zealand is part of its strategy to expand its U.K. production footprint and to invest in studio space in the U.K. The exact filming locations have not been disclosed.

Industry publication Deadline reported that New Zealand’s strict Covid-19 lockdown rules had meant the cast of the show, more than half of whom are British, were unable to return home for almost two years. The country’s border control measures also reportedly prevented Amazon executives from visiting the sets.

Home to rugged snowy mountains, vast blue lakes and rolling green hills, New Zealand’s landscapes helped to make the films a huge success. The country has a strong attachment to the franchise, with hundreds of its 5 million residents featuring in the films and a dedicated museum in the capital of Wellington.

Amazon had previously praised New Zealand for its abundant hospitality when it announced the series in 2019, saying it looked forward to deepening the relationship.

The switch to the U.K., which is where “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien is from, has reportedly left some New Zealand lawmakers disappointed. The New Zealand government did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Tourism surge

New Zealand experienced a surge in tourism off the back of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In 2004, some 6% of visitors to New Zealand (around 120,000 to 150,000 people) cited the films franchise as one of the main reasons for visiting, according to the New Zealand Tourism Guide.

The country had offered Amazon an extra 5% on top of the standard 20% rebate incentive for production budgets.

The extra rebate is now going to be withdrawn, but Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash has reportedly said Amazon is still eligible for a rebate of 132 million New Zealand dollars ($92 million).

Amazon Studios shared its first image of its upcoming untitled “Lord of the Rings” series, due on its streaming service Sept. 2, 2022.

Amazon Studios

The first series cost Amazon some $465 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and it is set to premiere on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming platform in Sept. 2022.

“We want to thank the people and the government of New Zealand for their hospitality and dedication and for providing The Lord of the Rings series with an incredible place to begin this epic journey,” Vernon Sanders, VP and co-head of TV at Amazon Studios, said in a statement.

“We are grateful to the New Zealand Film Commission, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Tourism New Zealand, Auckland Unlimited, and others for their tremendous collaboration that supported the New Zealand film sector and the local economy during the production of Season One.”

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