Friday, 13 August 2021

Amazon moves production of its LORD OF THE RINGS prequel series from New Zealand to the UK

In a surprise move, Amazon have confirmed that the second season of its Lord of the Rings prequel spin-off series will shoot in the UK rather than New Zealand.

The as-yet-officially-untitled series - which I've been referring to as The Second Age - completed shooting on its first season last week, celebrating with the first official picture from the series and revealing a planned launch date of 2 September 2022. Filming for the first season was based in Auckland, New Zealand, but shooting ranged all over the country, making full use of the same spectacular scenery that was used to good effect in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson's later Hobbit trilogy also made use of some location filming in the country, but substituted a lot of outdoor shots with pure CGI environments, of varying degrees of effectiveness.

The decision to move production to the UK seems to have been influenced by several factors. First, the UK bid hard for production of the show, and were apparently almost successful in securing Scotland as the filming base for the first season before New Zealand made a more attractive offer (probably based around tax breaks). Secondly, most of the cast and several of the directors and other key crewmembers are based in the UK. New Zealand's restrictive quarantine requirements during the COVID pandemic meant that some cast and crewmembers went over eighteen months without being able to return home, which caused some complaints. The requirements also meant that Amazon producers and other staff were not able to visit the production as much as they wanted. Finally, Amazon seems to be consolidating its TV production around two hubs, one based in Prague in the Czech Republic (where Wheel of Time and Carnival Row are shooting) and the other in Scotland in the UK, where the second season of Good Omens and the adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys are gearing up. Basing production in common hubs where there are large numbers of talented writers, actors and directors already based is a great cost benefit which the much more remote and more sparsely-populated New Zealand cannot compete with. Basing production in the UK also gives the film-makers greater versatility in picking up filming locations across Europe and northern Africa, including ice-cold landscapes in Scandinavia and Iceland, mountains in France and Spain, and deserts in Morocco, a model used to great effect by Game of Thrones and more recently by The Witcher.

Despite these advantages, it is true that New Zealand made itself synonymous with Middle-earth through the course of the Peter Jackson movies. New Zealand's tourist industry continues to make great use of its association with Middle-earth, even twenty years after the release of the first movie, and the world-leading Weta computer effects company grew out of the film trilogy. New Zealand relinquishing its status as Middle-earth is a sad moment, but, of course, it is possible that it may one day return.

The second season of the new Lord of the Rings series will start production in the UK in January 2022.

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