By now, we all know the headline: in November 2017, Amazon Studios spent $250 million to outbid Netflix for television series rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s world-renowned Lord of the Rings fantasy series. Produced in conjunction with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, publisher HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema, the project will explore new storylines preceding The Fellowship of the Ring, with the option of an additional spinoff series based in and around Middle Earth.
Now that we’re almost five months out from the blockbuster programming deal, The Hollywood Reporter is filling in some very interesting details about how the whole deal went down, as well as thoughts from some of the players at the heart of the negotiations. Here are some of the highlights:
● Amazon’s deal for Lord of the Rings includes a five-season commitment, with production contractually required to begin within two years.
● When the costs of casting, producers and visual effects are factored in to the price tag, the series is expected to cost north of $1 billion (putting it on par with Amazon’s reported mega-deal for Liu Cixin‘s popular Remembrance of Earth’s Past sci-fi book series).
● With Amazon chief Jeff Bezos issuing the directive in September 2017 that the streaming service needed to secure its own Game of Thrones-level tentpole series, negotiations were both complicated yet timely:
“This is the most complicated deal I’ve ever seen, but it was handled relatively quickly, in a way that brought the parties together in a close relationship. It was tough, but everybody liked each other and felt like a team more as the deal closed.”
– Matt Galsor , Attorney, Greenberg Glusker (for Tolkein Estate)
● Though New Line (and parent company Warner Bros.) never had television rights to Lord of the Rings, Amazon realized that they may need to use footage from the films; so New Line co-president Carolyn Blackwood and Warner Bros. Picture Group chairman Toby Emmerich were also directly involved in negotiations.
● It’s still not known if Peter Jackson will serve as executive producer on the series, though the choice is the filmmaker’s alone to make. His legal representation was not a part of the 2017 negotiations, but attorney Peter Nelson has recently helped open a dialogue between Jackson and Amazon:
“It’s very much a creature of the times. We are in an era where streamers are bidding up the price of programming. I think Amazon is taking a page out of the studios’ emphasis on franchises. They also are realizing that with the overproduction of television, you need to get the eyeballs to the screen, and you can do that with franchise titles.”
– Peter Nelson
● One very nasty stumbling block that was avoided, at least for now: Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who controlled the Tolkien film rights at Miramax and inked a profit sharing deal with New Line in 1998. The Weinsteins would go on to use that agreement as the basis for a lawsuit to secure profits from the Hobbit films, eventually collecting $12.5 million from the first Hobbit film but nothing from the other two films.
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