Amazon has a lot riding on its secretive, $250 million deal with The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien’s estate, publisher HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema to produce a streaming show in the franchise’s Middle-Earth setting, with expectations that the budget could cross one billion dollars.
LOTR fans still don’t know an awful lot about the show—initial reports in 2017 suggested that Amazon’s production would primarily deal with “previously unexplored stories,” of which there is a lot to find in Tolkien’s massive fantasy universe. Later in 2018, other reports indicated that the show had signed a deal could use “material” from Peter Jackson’s film series, but it wasn’t clear what that meant. Amazon onboarded talent from Star Trek 4, and rumors proliferated it would involve fan favorite Aragorn. Unsurprisingly, the lack of info is probably due to Amazon’s efforts to keep details from leaking—and Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke said as much in a interview this week with the Hollywood Reporter.
Salke told THR that she, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Senior Vice President of Business Development Jeff Blackburn had scheduled a meeting with members of Tolkien’s estate in New York to “see some art, some creative work that they haven’t shown the world yet.” She added that the room where the writers are working is kept under “lock and key,” with windows kept taped closed and a security guard manning a checkpoint outside with some kind of fingerprint-based security system:
There’s a fantastic writers room working under lock and key. They’re already generating really exciting material. They’re down in Santa Monica. You have to go through such clearance, and they have all their windows taped closed. And there’s a security guard that sits outside, and you have to have a fingerprint to get in there, because their whole board is up on a thing of the whole season.
Of course, secrecy regarding big-budget film and TV productions is nothing new. The cast of HBO’s Game of Thrones reportedly has to deal with fake scenes and digital scripts that disappear after filming, and star Sophie Turner claimed that HBO had secured some kind of device to bring down drones that attempted to monitor filming. Films like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk have also taken great lengths to protect details from leaking during production.
Like other tech giants, Amazon itself has a broader penchant for secrecy—its deal to build a massive facility in NYC’s Queens neighborhood fell apart after its campaign to negotiate lucrative, hush-hush tax incentives with local officials cross the country pissed off New Yorkers.