By John Daly
The recent announcement that the Irish Film Board will henceforth be known as Screen Ireland underlines the widening remit of the agency as the traditional distinction between feature films in cinemas and drama on television has developed into a more complex environment, driven by a host of new Internet platforms.
Screen Ireland chair Annie Doona said the name change “reflects the evolution of screen storytelling as well as our ambition and vision for the future of Ireland’s film and screen sector.
"It is indicative of a more inclusive and representative name for both the Irish creative talent working on storytelling on screen and audiences for this work.”
Given the promised Government support for the Irish audio-visual industry of €200m over 10 years, announced as part of Project Ireland 2040, the new name reflects not just the State’s vision for a vibrant film and screen production sector, but also the confidence in its ability to deliver more Irish stories to a wider audience across all platforms.
It is estimated there are more than 17,000 full-time equivalent jobs within the Irish audio-visual sector, generating a gross added value that exceeds €1bn annually.
“There is an international revolution happening within the audio-visual sector,” according to Screen Ireland chief executive James Hickey.
A sector of the economy which has constantly adapted to challenges and turbulent economic times, the Irish film industry has proven itself as adept at survival as any of the colourful super-heroes regularly found in its blockbuster box office movies.
The ultimate barometer of the industry is evidenced in the only place that really matters — the bottom line. Irish Film Board-supported production output for 2017 was in excess of €84m, a 58% increase on 2016.
Already in 2018, the Walt Disney Company has returned to these shores with the hit TV series Quantico, which wrapped production at locations in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow.
The company’s return follows on from Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which filmed on locations along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way in 2016.
The first quarter of 2018 also saw production complete on The Turning, which filmed on location in Kilruddery Estate and Gardens in Wicklow.
Based on the Henry James 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, the film is produced by Amblin Entertainment, headed by Steven Spielberg.
Both Quantico and The Turning received logistical support from the Inward Production Unit at the Irish Film Board and were supported by Ireland’s tax incentive program, Section 481.
A further measure of the sector’s health was evidenced by the announcement in March that planning permission had been granted for a studio extension to Ashford Studios in Wicklow.
As outlined in the Environmental Impact Statement, this second phase of development is crucial to the studio’s continued growth.
The hugely popular television series, Vikings, has been in residence since 2012, occupying the entire studio space for up to three-quarters of the year.
The €90m extension will see the creation of up to 1,500 film and television sector jobs, with the construction of four new 40,000sq ft film studios.
In an industry that has traditionally seen its economic largess spread mainly in and around Dublin, it is significant that the predicted production spend outside of the capital city area in 2017 and into 2018 will be €47m.
Troy Studios in Limerick opened in 2017, is providing much-needed additional production infrastructure and offering an alternative to the traditional centres within Leinster.
Its first production, Nightflyers, due to complete next month, is a TV series adaptation of Game of Thrones-creator George RR Martin’s 1980 novella.
“The availability of appropriate full service studio space in the country is a restraining factor for Ireland’s audio visual sector’s growth,” said Troy Studios director Siún Ní Raghallaigh.
“This is an important step in the right direction to redress that imbalance. The establishment of Troy Studios will assist Ireland take advantage of the 30% growth in global creative audio visual content predicted for the coming years.”