Production of Amazon's version of The Lord of the Rings has been suspended for two weeks - with staff told "there are no clear answers to when we will resume production". (UPDATE: production will resume in September.)
A memorandum sent to about 800 cast and crew involved in the West Auckland shoot, sent shortly after 7pm this evening, blamed the Covid-19 coronavirus for the disruption.
Amazon could not immediately be reached for comment, but a watermarked copy of the announcement from North American-owned GSR Productions, forwarded to the Herald by someone close to the production, said:
"In an abundance of caution, UAP [Untitled Amazon Project] has suspended production for the next two (2) weeks commencing Monday, March 16.
"This is done in an environment where travel restrictions directed at the control of Covid-19 are issued daily by New Zealand and most other countries."
It adds that details of compensation and other procedures will be issued on Monday.
In the meantime, cast and crew are directed to "not report to the set or to the studio without the express permission of your supervisor."
Beyond travel disruption, the memo cites health and safety concerns for the cast and crew.
It adds, "we are doing this to minimise stress on the resources and infrastructures around us by doing our part to reduce population density in our communities and daily activities, in efforts to help reduce the spread of the virus."
It indicates it's a fast-moving situation. "HODs [Heads of production] will be contacted tonight by the production office with further details," the memorandum reads.
A crew member who contacted the Herald was surprised that the coronavirus travel disruption issue had been cited.
"We were well into shooting. Everybody was in place so there weren't many people coming from overseas recently," he said.
The shutdown is part of a global trend. Overnight, one of the largest traditional Hollywood Studios, Universal, said it was halting all live-action film development on coronavirus fears.
Amazon paid a reported US$250 million ($412.2m) for the right to make a Lord of the Rings series, and the production is said to have a total budget of US$1 billion - making it the most expensive TV series or streaming series ever made.
Auckland's hosting of the series was secured in September last year following drawn-out negotiations between the Government and Amazon Studios. The retailing and streaming giant, helmed by the world's richest man, Jeff Bezos, had seen New Zealand and Scotland played off against each other in efforts to secure more favourable terms for its production.
Documents obtained by the Herald revealed Amazon was a tough negotiator. The US e-commerce and streaming giant, which will stream LOTR on its Prime Video service, pushed for a 5 per cent increase on the baseline subsidy of 20 per cent, a sweetener worth an extra $50m.
The company is now in line to receive subsidies for LOTR worth somewhere near the $250m mark, an amount that could exhaust the Government's Screen Production Grant, which was allocated $130m in the last Budget.
Before the coronavirus disruption, the series had been expected to begin streaming in 2021.