Netflix has announced that it invested $318.7 million in the production of the first two seasons of The Witcher, along with its prequel, which focuses on the sword and sorcery universe and features the renowned actor Henry Cavill as the protagonist.
In the series, Cavill portrays Geralt of Rivia, a rugged traveler who navigates through a medieval-themed setting and transforms into a Witcher, a hunter of supernatural creatures. The Witcher, named after Andrzej Sapkowski’s popular books, gained immense popularity as a video game before transitioning to the small screen.
According to Netflix, during the first four weeks of its release, The Witcher season one captivated 76 million households who watched at least two minutes of the series, surpassing even the highly acclaimed Mandalorian on Disney+.
Until the arrival of Bridgerton and Squid Game, The Witcher held the record as Netflix’s most-watched original series launch, accumulating 541 million hours viewed within its initial 28 days.
Despite slipping to the ninth position among the most popular English-language shows on Netflix, The Witcher still maintains a significant following. Its second season, which premiered in 2021, garnered substantial viewership, with 484 million hours watched within the first four weeks, although slightly lower than the first season.
The upcoming third season of The Witcher is scheduled to release in two parts, with one part set to premiere later this month and the other in July. This season will mark Henry Cavill’s final appearance as the Witcher as he passes the torch to Australian heartthrob Liam Hemsworth.
The first teaser trailer for the third season was unveiled in April, showcasing intense sword-fighting, magical elements, and thrilling pursuits involving supernatural creatures. However, this production comes with a substantial cost.
$319 Million and counting
Typically, the budgets of television shows are kept confidential, as studios usually incorporate the costs of individual programs within their overall expenditures. However, production companies based in Britain, such as those involved in The Witcher’s first two seasons and prequel, are significant exceptions to this norm.
Studios often establish separate companies in Britain to produce various shows and sometimes even for different seasons of the same show. These companies must publicly file financial statements that disclose details ranging from employee count and salaries to the overall expenses incurred during production.
Despite the level of transparency, studios are willing to comply for valid reasons.
British production companies enjoy the benefits of the Television Tax Relief scheme, which enables studios to receive a reimbursement of up to 25% of their expenditures incurred within the country.
To qualify for this tax credit, a minimum of 10% of the production’s core costs must be associated with activities in Britain. The Witcher successfully surpassed this threshold, partially due to the contribution of Framestore, a London-based visual effects company responsible for creating stunning effects in the series.
To meet the criteria for the tax credit, productions must also pass a test that assigns points based on factors such as the language used in the broadcast, the nationality of key crew members, and the authorship of the subject matter.
Conveniently, these test criteria were established before Britain departed from the European Union, allowing European productions based on material written by Europeans to receive the same number of points as those produced by a British crew and based on material written by a British citizen.
The Witcher Season 2 Is Largely Shot In Britain
Due to the challenges posed by international travel during the pandemic, the filming of the second season of The Witcher was primarily limited to Britain. The production covered 15 locations within the country, with Arborfield Film Studios, located approximately 40 miles west of London, serving as the main base.
The former army barracks were transformed to depict various village settings and served as Kaer Morhen’s exterior. In this iconic place, Geralt underwent his transformation into a Witcher.
In addition, filming for the series took place in Bourne Wood, located in southeastern England, which previously served as the backdrop for forest battle scenes in movies like Gladiator and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. One of the most stunning locations utilized for the second season of The Witcher was the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
The filming occurred within a concealed gorge featuring two waterfalls and awe-inspiring limestone cliffs towering over 100 meters, creating a theatrical setting.
Meeting the requirement for the cash reimbursement involved incurring a high cost, as the production must spend a minimum of $1.2 million (£1 million) per broadcast hour. Both seasons of The Witcher easily surpassed this threshold.
UK production companies often use code names to avoid drawing attention when applying for shooting permits off-site. For season one of The Witcher, the Netflix subsidiary responsible for the production went by the name Hocus Pocus Productions, paying homage to the central theme of magic in the story.
The financial statements of this subsidiary, established in 2018, reveal staggering costs amounting to $92.1 million. Consequently, approximately $11.5 million was spent per hour of the eight-hour-long first season.
The tax reimbursement provided relief by offsetting $7.1 million of the total costs, and the financial statements confirm that this credit “is based on relievable losses arising as the result of high-end television tax relief legislation.”
The reimbursement for the second season of The Witcher saw a significant increase, reaching $36.5 million. This season was produced by a Netflix subsidiary known as Thetford Productions.
The rise in reimbursement aligned with the surge in spending, as the cost of creating the second season nearly doubled to $176.3 million, averaging at around $22 million per broadcast hour. Consequently, the combined budget for seasons one and two amounted to $268.4 million, but the expenditure doesn’t end there.
Among the expenses in the second season, a significant portion went towards salaries, amounting to $16.6 million, paid to a workforce that peaked at 143 staff members.
While it remains undisclosed how much Henry Cavill received in terms of salary, it is worth noting that his motivation for participating in the show extended beyond monetary compensation. Reports suggest that the British actor departed from the series due to its increasing deviation from the source material, for which he is deeply passionate.
Cavill openly admits to being a devoted fan of The Witcher books and games, even playing through The Witcher 3 multiple times during leisure. Anya Chalotra, who portrays Yennefer of Vengerberg, Geralt’s love interest, recently expressed her sentiments about Cavill’s departure in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, stating, “It’s hard to take because he’s a crucial part of the show, and we all adore him. So, we’re going to miss him a lot. I wish him all the best.”
How Fans Reacted To The Witcher: Blood Origin Prequel
While the departure of the renowned figure from The Witcher may be notable, the series continues to expand its roster. Hocus Pocus Productions also produced the show’s third season, although its production did not commence until early 2022.
Thus the financial statements for that period have yet to be made available. The filming of the fourth season is set to begin shortly, and even before its start, the green light has already been given for a fifth season.
In a recent interview with Deadline, Sophie Holland, the casting director of The Witcher, revealed, “We’re just about to start filming on season four with Liam Hemsworth, and there will be a short gap before we proceed directly into season five.” However, the developments don’t end there.
In December, Netflix premiered The Witcher: Blood Origin, a prequel featuring Minnie Driver and Michelle Yeoh. Set 1,200 years before the main series, Blood Origin explores the origin of the first Witcher.
However, it received predominantly negative reviews, primarily criticizing the characters, writing, story, and departure from faithfulness to the source material. Despite the criticism, the production was by no means low-budget.
The British company Ripper Productions was responsible for creating Blood Origin. The financial statements for the year ending on September 30, 2021, reveal that the production incurred costs of $50.3 million (£37.3 million), with $10 million (£7.4 million) obtained through reimbursement. Considering its runtime of only two and a half hours, the production costs amounted to a staggering $20 million per hour.
It’s worth noting that these figures are likely to increase as they do not encompass the expenses related to the post-production of Blood Origin, which commenced in November 2021.
Netflix’s investment in The Witcher franchise has reached a staggering $318.7 million, and the spending shows no signs of slowing down. News has emerged that Dolph Lundgren, known for his role in the Rocky films, has joined the cast of another spin-off series.
This new series is rumored to revolve around the Rats, a group of teenage thieves planning a monumental heist against the most dangerous crime syndicate in the kingdom.
While Lundgren’s specific role remains undisclosed, it has been revealed that the series will be filmed in South Africa instead of the UK, potentially keeping its budget tightly under wraps.