Amazon Studios’ “The Lord of the Rings” Second Age series has been notoriously secretive during the 18-month production, but inside info is finally trickling out of the billion dollar series thanks to anonymous Spy Reports coming out of New Zealand. We have been able to verify most of today’s report as currently accurate per sources that are involved with the Production.

Most of these Spy Reports have come to us in short form bullet points, and are shared as such below [with additional context and editorial in brackets from Staff Writer and weekly host Clifford Broadway]. Our spy hotline is still the same after 21 years and our DM’s are open on twitter & instagram! To celebrate the hard-working artists and craftspeople working with such passion way down in New Zealand we shed light on their efforts and help include them in the embrace of fan enthusiasm. As with previous intrepid filmmakers tackling a version of Tolkien; the fandom fully indulges our unbridled curiosity with an open hand while shouting support from afar—a grand tradition of an engaged fandom.

Lore, Legal Rights & the Tolkien Estate

First off, we are hearing that the Tolkien Estate is very happy with how things are progressing. Seems they really are more involved in this Production than with any previous LOTR adaptation ever [including the Bakshi version in 1978 and the six Middle-earth films from Peter Jackson; per the terms of the newest deal] and are thus enjoying the creative process. The overall plan for the show has instilled confidence in the Production and more story rights have been assigned to the show.

  • *CONFIRMED* for the 1st time EVER: elements & passages from “The Silmarillion” and “Unfinished Tales” are licensed by Amazon Studios for this adaptation [we broadly speculate those are sections of the book relative to Númenor and Rings of Power including full rights to stories licensed in the Appendices of “The Lord of the Rings,” which already mention Númenor and much more. Actors had posted instagram pics from Silm over the last 18 months.]
  • Amazon DOES have merchandising rights
  • Three lore experts / Tolkien scholars were on set for a time during production
  • Tolkien Estate is said to be very happy with how things are progressing

Production Details

  • Men, Elves and Dwarves have their own sequestered production units for the different Free Peoples [this intriguing bit rather suggests the narrative might be constructed across wide time jumps or told from pockets of different historical viewpoints, perhaps even an anthology approach rotating characters from the various Free Peoples all reacting to the same thing, or just not cooperating with each other in Season 1: but over what timelines we still do not know].
  • Scripts are only digitally shared among actors and crew under draconian control mechanisms to track any persons who could access them
  • There is a fake production team shooting decoy footage on fake sets unrelated to the real Production – [thus making some “reports of location sightings” false leads by tricksy hobbitses and we must admit this is very clever indeed! Peter Jackson never used decoys!]
  • Main unit wrapped shooting in April 2021; while many actors are back in the U.K. or are now on other productions
  • J.A. Bayona’s episodes are a standalone entry point to the series [like a feature film]
  • There are more incredible directors and big stars yet to be announced
  • LOTR & Wheel of Time are sharing crew & directors
  • They are aiming for a mid-2022 release [that is only one short year away and must mean the pressure on Post Production must be remarkable]

Men, Elves, Dwarves & “Early Halflings”

Welcome to the Second Age of the Middle-earth Cinematic Universe, full of corruption, wandering, and a lack of alliances.

  • Some Halflings are dark skin precursors to Shire-hobbits quite possibly “one of three somewhat different breeds” maybe Harfoots; [described by Tolkien in the Prologue to LOTR ‘Concerning Hobbits’ pg. 12: “they were browner of skin,” and also “they moved westward early,” alluding to a time in their Wandering Days, or perhaps earlier when they kept no records of their journeys over the Misty Mountains westward (which may explain a little of why any early antecedents of pre-Shire migration hobbits would appear here in the Second Age instead of Third Age narrative)]
  • Sir Lenny Henry portrays one such early halfling [Harfoot]
  • Celebrimbor the ringmaker has been recast
  • Tom Budge was in that role
  • Certain creatures are referred to as Ice Trolls because they can’t be called Cave Trolls (Warner Bros. licensing restriction)
  • Nudity is sparse and not sexualized— contrary to earlier concerns: but rather this artistic choice represents very dark thematic material suggestive of concentration camp-type visuals of victims, a harrowing portrayal of the corruption of the Elves by dark powers to ultimately become Orcs
    Editors note: if this plays out fully it will may well be one of the most ambitious things undertaken by this production and perhaps by anyone attempting to adapt Tolkien
  • Elves will have short/ shorter hairstyles [cue the Twitter threads, both pro and con, and the voting polls, and endless constellations of lovely fan art, so please bring it fans; I’m here for it]
  • Sauron/Annatar will not be revealed in Season One [going with the oldest axiom of show business “Always leave them wanting more.”]
Tom Budge was Celebrimbor the ringmaker, now being recast and reshot

Tune into #TORnTuesday as Quickbeam breaks down all these juicy spy reports in detail. Subscribe on YouTube! We still have a long way to go until Amazon’s LOTR TV show releases, so if you hear anything drop a note to spymaster@theonering.net

Hobbits are now owned by Amazon, joining all-encompassing TV rights to The Lord of the Rings book and appendices rights.

MGM's famous roaring lion trade mark is seen in front of Bilbo and Gandalf.
The Hobbit films were produced by Warner Bros from rights owned by MGM. img: YouTube

It’s official: Amazon has acquired MGM Studios, including the longtime film and TV rights to The Hobbit and characters related. Within hours, CEO Jeff Bezos announced he is stepping down in July and moving to Hollywood to play with his major studio, of which the crown jewel is The Lord of the Rings.

What this means is that @LOTRonPrime can put Hobbits in their Second Age show, since rights to that class of characters were held by MGM. ‘But timelines,’ you say! Time is just a construct. Amazon needs an Everyman entry point for casual viewers: Hobbits are that. There have been rumors that Harfoots are in the show, a book-sourced compromise from the troublesome Hobbit rights. Amazon can now change all the dialogue in reshoots to call them Hobbits; casual fans will want that familiarity.

Remember the crushing drama of rights issues with MGM on The Hobbit, which caused Guillermo del Toro perhaps the greatest professional loss of his career? Amazon has just resolved all that for the future.

Amazon has full TV rights to The Lord of the Rings full stop – anything mentioned in the books and appendices. Now they have all the rights MGM previously held, from its 45 year old Saul Zaentz deal. Amazon chose not to remake The Lord of the Rings, instead exploring many different options, before settling on Numenor and the Second Age.

Owning MGM means, of course, that Amazon COULD remake The Hobbit into a limited series or a cartoon; many things are possible. All kinds of round doors are now open…

The cartoon Bilbo Baggins in front of Bag End - from the Rankin Bass Hobbit movie.

Amazon officially announces new director for its Lord of the Rings TV series and the cast immediately celebrated online.

Director Charlotte Brändström, drink in hand, is seen with New Zealand scenery behind her and a camera operator on her left - on set for Amazon's Lord of the Rings tv show.
Director Charlotte Brändström on set for Lord of the Rings in New Zealand

Accomplished director Charlotte Brändström, who worked with Amazon’s Man in the High Castle as well as Netflix’s Jupiter Ascending and The Witcher, is the latest addition to the large cast and crew of this huge Second Age show. Actor Nazanin Boniadi, who has a lead role in LOTR, posted, “I can’t think of anyone better to break ground as the first woman director to ever helm Tolkien.”

Quite simply, she. is. AMAZING! Nothing short of a creative genius.

LOTR actor Sophia Nomvete on director Charlotte Brändström

Maze Runner actor Dylan Smith, who is rumored to play a major dwarf character, adds on social “A truly talented director!” While major star-in-the-wings Ismael Cruz Cordova says Brändström is a “A Powerhouse.”

Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV show is currently shooting in New Zealand, with over 200 cast and crew members allowed into the country during quarantine. Brändström is a TV veteran based in LA, and hails from Sweden & France.

Head of Amazon Studios says the high budgets are for assets to be leveraged over many seasons.

Hollywood Reporter published a roundtable discussion with several studio heads, including Amazon’s Jennifer Salke; and of course the conversation turned to LORD OF THE RINGS, which is the biggest budgeted TV series in history. “This is a full season of a huge world-building show. The number is a sexy headline or a crazy headline that’s fun to click on, but that is really building the infrastructure of what will sustain the whole series.”

A day later, Amazon announced that director Wayne Yip is the newest Executive Producer of LOTR, making a baker’s dozen of 13 E.P.’s in charge; and confirmed the recent rumor of the first woman to direct for Middle-earth with Charlotte Brändström joining the production, who seems fully on board:

“I’m very excited to be guided through Middle-earth by JD’s and Patrick’s vision.”

Charlotte Brändström, LOTR Season 1 Director

Global, Global, Global

It’s no secret Amazon wants LOTR to be a global show; and they shouldn’t have to worry, since JRR Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS is the worldwide best selling fictional book of the 20th century, and is still considered one of the biggest selling fantasy books in every one of the 38 languages it’s published in. New Line and WB’s Middle-earth films set international sales records, and LOTR is still the most awarded film series in history across the globe.

Amazon’s Salke reinforced her global mandate multiple times, saying, “I’m so grateful to be in the position to drive this part of our business globally… A giant, global audience needs to show up to it as appointment television, and we are pretty confident that that will happen… It’s a global storytelling world, and these companies better get on board because it’s already late.”

LOTR has always been global in nature, but this being Amazon the real global reason is simple. “As for how many people need to watch Lord of the Rings? A lot. (laughs)” says Jennifer Salke. As head of Amazon Studios reporting to Jeff Bezos, there’s probably a constant conversation about metrics. But what makes a global show now may differ from what came before, with Salke adding, “The more diverse the cast, the better; the more diverse and authentic the storytelling, the better.”

For context on the 13 E.P.’s on Amazon’s show, New Line Cinema’s Lord of the Rings had only one active Executive Producer in Mark Ordesky, with the other 4 E.P. credits going to studio heads. This could be seen as a singular visionary in charge, just as there was a singular visionary director for all the films; and just as J.R.R. Tolkien was the singular visionary who never collaborated in crafting Middle-earth.

Deadline reports The Witcher alumn is responsible for two episodes of the billion dollar series.

Director Charlotte Brändström, at work on a set.

Amazon continues to pull from its bench of creatives as director Charlotte Brändström joins the LORD OF THE RINGS TV series. The accomplished director previously worked on Amazon’s Man in the High Castle, and more recently worked on Netflix’s two fantasy series The Witcher and Jupiter’s Legacy. Interestingly, most of her TV work is limited to two episodes per show, and the current rumors from @FansFellowship (who first reported her hiring) indicate she is working on the last two episodes of the first season of LOTR.

Brändström is the first female Middle-earth director to hold the full title, following in the legacy of Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, who helped Peter Jackson direct some key scenes in his LOTR series (uncredited). She is based in Los Angeles as a graduate of the AFI film program, and speaks 4 languages: French, Swedish, English and Spanish, the latter to be very helpful as a collaborator with Spanish director JA Bayona, who is setting the tone for the entire series. She is currently in New Zealand directing the key episodes to close out the first season. Amazon has already committed to 5 seasons minimum, with S2 and S3 already in pre-production.

Amazon will get an additional 5% from more New Zealand’s Screen Production Grant, Reuters reports today.

(Reuters) New Zealand said on Friday it has agreed to give Amazon (AMZN.O) extra rebates on its expenses for the filming of “The Lord of the Rings” TV series in the country, hoping to reap multi-year economic and tourism benefits.

Amazon will get an extra 5% from New Zealand’s Screen Production Grant in addition to the 20% grant the production already qualifies for, the government said in a statement.

Amazon is estimated to be spending about NZ$650 million ($465 million) filming the first season of the show, for broadcast on its Amazon Prime streaming platform, meaning it would be eligible for a rebate of about NZ$162 million ($116 million), the government said.

“The agreement with Amazon … generates local jobs and creates work for local businesses,” Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash said in a statement. “It will enable a new wave of international tourism branding and promotion for this country.”

The first season entered production in Auckland last year with more than 1,200 people employed. Approximately 700 workers are indirectly employed by providing services to the production, the government said.

U.S.-based Amazon media officials weren’t immediately available for comment outside regular U.S. business hours.

($1 = 1.3976 New Zealand dollars)