UPDATED: After an extensive search, feature writers JD Payne and Patrick McKay have been tapped by Amazon Studios to develop and write the company’s high-profile The Lord of the Rings series, an adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic, which was brought to life by Peter Jackson in his blockbuster movie franchise..
As Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke previously has suggested, creating the big-scope fantasy drama will involve a writers room. Payne and McKay were selected from a shortlist of scribes considered for the job, most of them from features, in the talent search, overseen by Amazon’s head of genre Sharon Tal Yguado.
Payne and McKay are rising feature writers who recently worked on Star Trek 4 for producer J.J. Abrams. I hear Abrams was one of a number of high-profile filmmakers and producers who recommended the duo for the LOTR job.
With the search for lead writers completed, the development of the series is moving to the next stage with the set up of . writers room to collaborate on Payne and McKay’s vision. It is unclear yet — but possible — that any of the other writers who made it to the short list for the gig would be invited and that the project would bring in a showrunner.
“We are really excited to move right into the next phase of the development process, which is building the world,” Salke said during the Amazon executive panel.
Conversation continue with Jackson about a potential involvement and about possibly filming the series on his sets in New Zealand.
“The rich world that J.R.R. Tolkien created is filled with majesty and heart, wisdom and complexity,” Payne & McKay said. “We are absolutely thrilled to be partnering with Amazon to bring it to life anew. We feel like Frodo, setting out from the Shire, with a great responsibility in our care — it is the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime.”
The Lord of the Rings series, which has a multi-season commitment in a rights deal with the Tolkien estate believed to be close to $250 million, is based on the fantasy novels by Tolkien. It will be produced by Amazon Studios in cooperation with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins and New Line Cinema, a division of Warner Bros. Entertainment, which produced the Peter Jackson movies.
Set in Middle Earth, the TV series will explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. There has been speculation of some creative restrictions imposed by the rights holders on what can be done and what can’t be done in a LOTR TV series. In an interview with Deadline last month, Salke said, “I think you can know that we’re not remaking the movies, but we’re also not starting from scratch. So, it’ll be characters you love.”
JD Payne and Patrick McKay have been working together since meeting on the high school debate team more than two decades ago. Their most recent projects include writing Star Trek 4 for Paramount and producer J.J. Abrams, adapting Jungle Cruise for Disney and stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, and setting up their original, 2017 Blacklist drama script Escape with producer Mike DeLuca. They are repped by Verve, Kaplan Perrone, and Hansen Jacobson.