MOST EXPENSIVE TV SERIES IN HISTORY

Auckland has been chosen as the anchor location for the most expensive TV series in history. Amazon Studios in collaboration with the Tolkien Estate, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema, has announced it will invest over one billion dollars in making the series. To put this in perspective, the 73 episodes of Game of Thrones cost $560 million. Amazon Studios has already forked out $250 million just for the rights to make their Lord of the Rings project. The first season will have 20 episodes and all of them will take place in a time before the Peter Jackson “Lord of the Rings” timelines. This, therefore, is not a re-hash of Peter’s films rather the writers claim to haveexceptional ideas based on previously unexplored stories from J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings. I guess the goal is to make a series that will be as phenomenally successful as “Game of Thrones” proved to be.

KIWI LOCATION

This October, Amazon Studios announced the entire series would be filmed in New Zealand. “As we searched for the location in which we could bring to life the primordial beauty of the Second Age of Middle-earth, we knew we needed to find somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forests, and mountains, that also is a home to world-class sets, studios, and highly skilled and experienced craftspeople and other staff. And we’re happy that we are now able to officially confirm New Zealand as our home for our series based on stories from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings,” said executive producers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay in a statement. This makes sense to me as New Zealand is known around the world as “Middle-earth” because Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were all filmed in the valleys, mountains, lakes and open plains that have made the country such a popular destination for those seeking spectacular scenery. Of course, having Peter resident in the country and obviously a fund of knowledge on all things Tolkien, I’m sure the Amazon people will be happy now that Peter has offered his advice if needed during the production of the series.

POSSIBLE AUCKLAND LOCATIONS

It has been suggested that the windswept hills and black sand of Muriwai beach on the western fringe of Auckland city could be a suitable place to shoot both coastal and forest scenes. Piha, Karekare and Bethells beaches, along the same stretch of coastline as Muriwai but further north, have a similar windswept and somewhat bleak appearance, so could also be potential locations. These beaches are easy for period filming as they don’t attract many swimmers or anyone, for that matter!

Muriwai Beach (NewZealand.com)

The nearby Waitakere Ranges would be ideal for forest sequences as would be the Hunua Ranges, Auckland’s largest native forest. The area is home to more than 450 species of native plants and numerous streams and rivers wind through the ranges. These wild Middle-earth type locations are no more than 45 minutes drive from the classy cafes, bars, malls and restaurants of Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city with a cosmopolitan population approaching 1.7 million. Overseas film scouts are astounded to discover such untouched almost primordial landscapes so close and easily accessible to a major centre of population.  If the directors need more Second Age Tolkien settings, it is just a 90 minute flight south to Fiordland and arguably the most spectacular primordial forest settings in the world.

PRODUCTION STUDIOS

Although post production on the six Peter Jackson epics took place in Wellington, Auckland has a trio of film production studios. West Auckland is home to Auckland Film Studios which has the required facilities for complex screen productions. The big budget TV series, Xena: Warrior Princess was produced here between 1995 and 2001. The equally big budget TV series, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Spartacus were also made here. This year, the US TV kids show Power Rangers used this Auckland studio. Currently, James Cameron’s Avatar 2 and 3 are using the facilities here.

South Pacific Pictures has modern film production studios, also in west Auckland. Here, the country’s longest running TV soap Shortland Street is made.  A large number of local and international co-productions have used these studios and presently a British-NZ co-production occupies one of the sound stages.

Also in the same area of Auckland, Kumeu Studios sits on a 27 hectare site with an additional 12 hectare block of forest, and can also handle complex filming requirements. Disney’s big budget, live action remake Mulan is about to wrap here.

Kumeu Film Studios (Aucklandnz.com)

Apart from TV series and movies being made at these studios, their bread and butter work is in commercials which ad agencies from Europe and Asia frequently use to sell products from high fashion to cosmetics and cars. Since 2017, revenue from offshore screen production companies has pumped $1.1 billion into the Auckland economy.

MIDDLE-EARTH TOURISM

With Middle-earth tourism generating millions of dollars (and many job opportunities) to the New Zealand economy, it has come as no surprise that Amazon Studio’s decision to shoot the most expensive TV series in history in New Zealand was enthusiastically received by those involved in tourism. As an example of the impact locally made epics have, the set for Hobbiton created for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies receives up to 3000 fans a day. Last year close to 650,000 international visitors flocked to the created attraction.  

This little country with its vast selection of spectacular scenery and unique locations is destined to remain Middle-earth to a new generation of international tourists. It is hoped the yet-to-be-titled Amazon Studios series will be an even  bigger hit with viewers than Game of Thrones proved to be.

Ceidrik Heward