Scotland loses out on lucrative 'Lord of the Rings' shoot over 'Brexit uncertainty', claims new report

Tom Butler
Senior Editor
Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom in Lord of the Rings (Credit: New Line)

Amazon’s $1.5 billion (£1.19bn) Lord of the Rings series looks set to begin filming in New Zealand this month, after producers reportedly got cold feet about shooting in Scotland.

The NZ Herald reports that a “huge” part of the series, said to be the most expensive TV show ever made, will be produced in Auckland, specifically at the Kumeu Film Studios and Auckland Film Studios, with an official announcement coming this month. The report states that pre-production on the Amazon show has been based at the two studios for the last year.

Producers were also said to be considering Scotland as a production base, but New Zealand’s public-service radio broadcaster Radio New Zealand (Radio NZ), claims “the tumultuous Brexit situation hindered Scotland's pitch”.

Trusted fan site says filming on the show will begin this month, despite there being no script in place, with principal photography due to begin in February 2020. No cast or characters have been confirmed so far.

A spokesperson for Amazon told Yahoo: “We’re not commenting on this - we have not announced any location [for the show] at this time.”

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Amazon secured the global TV rights for J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in 2017 for a reported cost of around $250m (£198m). The as-yet-untitled show will be a prequel, set before the events of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, first published in 1954.

Radio NZ claims that a 30-minute phone call between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos helped to secure the five-year production for New Zealand.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces Blue Moon, a lunar landing vehicle for the Moon, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Ardern is said to have reassured Bezos about the nation’s security in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings on 15 March, however the PM’s office said their discussion was entirely focussed on the atrocity. Ardern later confirmed New Zealand does have an incentive regime in place to attract filming in the country, but would not confirm what they involved.

In April, Daily Record reported that the lucrative production was eyeing a new production facility Leith, Edinburgh, as potential base for the show. An industry source is cited as saying: “Lord of the Rings producers are hoping to start filming at the new studio from about August to November. It’s anticipated production will return for another three months from next March. There could be more after that. It’s a massive contract and a gigantic boost for the studio and for Scotland.”

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Screen Scotland, the body dedicated to facilitating film and TV productions in Scotland, tells Yahoo: “Screen Scotland provides a confidential locations service to Film & TV productions looking to film in Scotland. This means we are unable to comment on discussions about specific productions.”

However they were quick to reassure that Brexit, however it plays out, will not affect prospective productions north of the border. Amazon currently films its hit sci-fi drama Outlander at the Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld, and 2019 country music drama Wild Rose was also filmed in Scotland.

Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe attending the UK premiere of Outlander which airs on Amazon Prime Instant Video on Thursday 26th, London.

“Film and TV in Scotland is a thriving growth industry,” a Screen Scotland spokesperson explains. “The Scottish Government has recently emphasised this by strengthening its commitment through significant increased resources and the establishment of Screen Scotland.

“We are continuing to work with the government, industry, BFI and European partners to support the best possible outcomes for the screen industries which will enable us to sustain our close working relationship with EU countries and maintain Scotland’s highly competitive status as an attractive destination for international inward investment.

“In the ongoing Brexit negotiations, the UK government have demonstrated their ongoing support of the screen sector, confirming the UK creative sector tax reliefs - which are a huge driver for attracting international productions to the UK - will remain in place after leaving the EU.”

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Peter Jackson’s six Middle Earth films, which grossed over £4.6bn globally, were produced in New Zealand, although based out of Weta Workshop in Wellington, on the southern tip of the north island. That studio is currently occupied by James Cameron’s Avatar sequels for the foreseeable future, with the first of four sequels due in cinemas December 2020.

Although it has no airdate confirmed, many believe the show will debut in 2021. The TV adaptation will cover different ground from the six films, focusing on “previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings,” Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins, said in a statement.

Rumours suggest the first season may follow the adventures of a young Aragorn, the character played by Viggo Mortensen in the films.