Amazon Studios has denied allegations of “unsafe” conditions for stunt workers on the set of its “The Lord of the Rings” TV series adaptation in New Zealand, following a report that two serious injuries were not reported to WorkSafe, the country’s workplace health and safety regulator.
According to a story published by The New Zealand Herald Friday, four sources on the set of the tech giant’s $1 billion “LOTR” show say their concerns about safety regulations are not being taken seriously due to the fact those incidents, which later required surgery, were not disclosed to WorkSafe. These workers also told the Herald they think a senior stunt supervisor has created an “uneasy” on-set environment, contributing to the unsafe standards.
“Amazon Studios takes the health, physical and emotional welfare of our cast and crew extremely seriously,” an Amazon Studios spokesperson told TheWrap Saturday. “As a top priority, the production team continues to be in full compliance with the mandated Worksafe New Zealand Safety and Security government regulations. Any allegation or report that activities on set are unsafe or outside of regulations are completely inaccurate.”
Per WorkSafe regulations, the organization must be notified only in the event of a “notifiable injury or illness” occurring, which includes a death or “all injuries or illnesses that require (or would usually require) a person to be admitted to hospital for immediate treatment.”
It does not include “being taken to the hospital for out-patient treatment by a hospital’s Emergency Department, or for corrective surgery at a later time, such as straightening a broken nose.”
This means the two injuries sustained by stunt workers on the set of “The Lord of the Rings” TV series that were reported by the Herald, which did not require those persons to be admitted to the hospital for immediate treatment, were not “notifiable” injuries and thus did not meet the standards for Amazon to report them to WorkSafe, an individual with knowledge of production tells TheWrap.
“The Lord of the Rings” series works with two safety protocols in play, the Amazon Studios procedures and New Zealand Health & Safety Legislation and best practices, following the higher standard anywhere they may not align, the insider says.
The most expensive TV series ever produced, Amazon’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work has an extremely large number of stunts required for the series — which has already received a two-season order — with over 100 stunt workers employed by “The Lord of the Rings” show.
As of the start of this past week, there have been 16,200 stunt-person days worked and the production has a low injury rate of 0.068%, with most of those being sprains, bruises, muscle and soft tissue strains, according to the insider. No stunt worker is ever asked to do something they feel uncomfortable with, the same source said.
Two other incidents of “LOTR” on-set injury that have received media attention include a concussion sustained by famed stunt worker Dayna Grant in March and a “serious injury” to stunt worker Elissa Cadwell.
Under WorkSafe guidelines, Grant’s injury was not a reportable event and was therefore not reported by Amazon to WorkSafe. After recovering, Grant returned to work on “LOTR” for a couple days doing work as a double, but did not perform any stunts on the show following her injury. She then completed stunt work on several other productions over the past few months before recently being diagnosed with an 8mm brain aneurysm and an upper spinal injury.
Grant’s concussion in March and her recent brain aneurysm diagnosis — which requires emergency surgery that “Xena: Warrior Princess” actress Lucy Lawless is among those who have helped to raise money for — are not linked, the insider tells TheWrap.
Representatives for Grant did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment Saturday.
The incident with stunt worker Cadwell, which occurred in February 2020, required her to be admitted to the hospital and was immediately reported by Amazon to WorkSafe, the individual with knowledge of production tells TheWrap.
Per the insider, Cadwell did not return to work on the production and received 500,000 New Zealand dollars ($351,424 U.S.) from Amazon Studios to provide her with housing and whatever else she needed until she was fit to return home to Australia, a move that was complicated by both her injury and the beginnings of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in March, which shut down production on the “LOTR” series.
Amazon and production company GSR Productions’ safety protocols for “The Lord of the Rings” series include a safety team of 21 full-time and six-to-eight part-time crew members — made up of safety supervisors, medics, nurses and EMTs — to be on set, the insider tells TheWrap. Additionally, a paramedic team is brought in for activity that has a heightened level of risk, such as horse riding and fires.
Per the individual, “The Lord of the Rings” TV series produces job safety analysis reports for every location and each individual shoot day, and all activities with any higher perceived risk have additional risk analysis reports.
Any injury or suspected injury that occurs on set and is not able to be 100% diagnosed and treated on site is referred to the appropriate medical facility or transported by ambulance, the insider says. Standard operating procedure is that all head injuries, however minor, are transported to the appropriate medical facility.
Per the source, though only “notifiable” injuries are reported to WorkSafe, Amazon records all incidents and “near misses” and these reports are analyzed to look for patterns, repetition, or any similarities at all that may indicate systemic, environmental, equipment or personnel issues contributing to incidents/accidents.
“The Lord of the Rings” TV series’ safety department operates under a confidential and “no fault” system, where any crew, cast, or member of the public can report anything of concern, or any accident, knowing that their identity remains confidential to the safety department, if desired.
Amazon, which paid $250 million to acquire the rights for “The Lord of the Rings” TV series from the Tolkien estate, publisher HarperCollins and New Line Cinema, is spending around $465 million to film the first season of the fantasy drama.
Here’s the synopsis for the eight-episode series, which currently has no premiere date.
Amazon Studios’ forthcoming series brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.
Amazon’s “LOTR” boasts a huge ensemble cast including Robert Aramayo, Morfydd Clark (who will be playing a younger version of Galadriel, the character portrayed by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson’s film series), Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Tom Budge, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Joseph Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, Daniel Weyman, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Maxim Baldry, Ian Blackburn, Kip Chapman, Anthony Crum, Maxine Cunliffe, Trystan Gravelle, Sir Lenny Henry, Thusitha Jayasundera, Fabian McCallum, Simon Merrells, Geoff Morrell, Peter Mullan, Lloyd Owen, Augustus Prew, Peter Tait, Alex Tarrant, Leon Wadham, Benjamin Walker and Sara Zwangobani, among others.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” director J.A. Bayona has signed on to direct the first two episodes of the big-budget series, also serving as an executive producer alongside showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, as well as his producing partner Belén Atienza. Lindsey Weber, Bruce Richmond, Callum Greene, Gennifer Hutchison, Jason Cahill, Justin Doble and Sharon Tal Yguado also executive produce. Christopher Newman is a producer, Ron Ames is a co-producer/VFX producer and Helen Shang is a writer/co-producer.
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