The battle between Peter Jackson and Harvey Weinstein during the early development of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is chronicled in a new Polygon essay written by film journalist Drew McWeeny. Weinstein secured the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth books for Jackson through Miramax, but developing “Rings” under Weinstein proved difficult as the producer demanded a two-film adaptation made for $75 million. Per Polygon, Weinstein hid the budget from Jackson for at least a year and a half of development. When the “Rings” team found out about the financial cap, they took matters into their own hands by leaking the script.
At the time Jackson and Weinstein were developing “The Lord of the Rings,” McWeeny worked as a writer for Ain’t It Cool News. In his Polygon essay, McWeeny discusses getting the script for the two-film “Lord of the Rings” adaptation leaked to him by people at WingNut and WETA studios. The hope was that positive buzz created for the project on Ain’t It Cool News would be noticed and potentially save the project from the limitations Weinstein was enforcing. New Line Cinema was interested taking on the project, and leaking the script to Ain’t It Cool News was an attempt to push the film toward that studio.
McWeeny writes for Polygon: “Peter Jackson had already had some contact with Ain’t It Cool at that point and there were many people within WingNut and WETA who were also reaching out. They felt like they were creating something great, and were worried they wouldn’t be able to find a studio willing to step up. So a decision was made to leak the scripts to Ain’t It Cool in a way that everyone could deny later. They didn’t come directly from anyone and no one ever officially asked us to cover them, so if I was ever pressed, I could honestly say that it wasn’t Peter or Fran [Walsh]. What’s clear, though, is that I was given access to them so I could talk about what I thought at the exact moment that New Line was trying to make their decision.”
New Line eventually stepped in to save “The Lord of the Rings,” although not without Weinstein and brother Bob Weinstein staying credited executive producers. Under New Line, Jackson was encouraged to expand “Lord of the Rings” into a three-film trilogy. The rest is history.