Limerick on the Rise: At the epicentre of film and TV growth

Limerick ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to drawing major projects, writes Esther McCarthy
Limerick on the Rise: At the epicentre of film and TV growth

A scene from Foundation on Apple TV+, filmed in Troy Studios.

When the downturn struck in 2008, Mike Toland was impacted like many others and pivoted to a career as a technician for the events and live music industry.

He’d studied electrical engineering in college but had long harboured a passion for the movies. When he heard that technicians were being sought for a new studio being completed in Castletroy, just outside Limerick city, Toland answered the call.

He’s one of many people not of a film-industry background - among them hair and make-up artists, carpenters and decorators - who are now working on one of the biggest TV projects ever to shoot in Ireland.

Foundation, which has just started production on a second series in the Midwest, has launched series one globally to positive reviews and audience ratings. 

The high-end sci-fi series for Apple TV+ stars the likes of Jared Harris and Lee Pace in an adaptation of the Isaac Asimov tale, and centres on a group of people attempting to protect their way of life as the galaxy collapses.

Mike Toland at the Troy Studios in Castletroy, Limerick.	Picture: Dan Linehan
Mike Toland at the Troy Studios in Castletroy, Limerick. Picture: Dan Linehan

Following the success of everyone’s lockdown favourite, Normal People, and with blockbusters including two Star Wars movies filming on these shores, Ireland has become a major centre for international production.

Film and TV production across all sectors has more than doubled here in recent years - and Ireland’s biggest studios is at the epicentre of the growth. Having worked his way up through the industry ranks in recent years, Toland is now studio manager at Troy in what is a very exciting time for the film and TV industry.

“I always had an interest in working in film, but through the jigs and the reels and having kids and being settled down here, a move wasn't necessarily on the cards to go to Dublin to work in that sector. When Troy opened in Limerick and the call went out, I came knocking and that's how I got into the industry,” said Toland, who’s from Newport in North Tipperary, just 15 minutes from the huge studio facility.

Toland left college just as the global crash loomed and when his work through a graduate programme came to a halt, he returned to work on the live gigs and events he had been doing on a freelance basis. 

When Troy secured its first major production, sci-fi series Nightflyers, he started as a trainee - and has worked across several other productions in the four years since. As it did for many others in the region, the production offered a huge career opportunity.

“Nightflyers would have been my introduction into filming. Obviously it was the biggest thing to come into the country by any scale. I came in through construction initially. And beyond that, to get an introduction to how a studio operates and how it is put together.” 

He also worked his way up through the locations department as part of his industry training, before becoming studio manager.

In an industry where international competition is fierce, success doesn’t happen by fluke - but Ireland and Troy ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to drawing major projects.

Elaine Geraghty is managing director of Troy Studios, the location, crews, and size of which make for an attractive package for filmmakers.
Elaine Geraghty is managing director of Troy Studios, the location, crews, and size of which make for an attractive package for filmmakers.

“It's all under one roof, which means you don't have to leave the premises to go to stages, to the art department, to the cast area,” said top Irish producer Macdara Kelleher, who is currently working on Foundation. 

“It's a very big facility. It's relatively new even though it was a Dell factory. They've done a great job of refurbishing it and obviously they have a new stage that they built.” 

With the huge growth in streaming services driving global demand for storytelling, production is very busy in many corners of the world.

“It's so busy everywhere but obviously there are great crews here and we have English as a first language which definitely helps I think, as well as proximity to the UK and US,” added Kelleher.

“There's more work out there and there are more people than ever working in the industry. It still takes time, they're highly skilled jobs.” 

Toland added that from speaking with international TV and filmmakers, the sheer depth of third-level education facilities in Limerick is an added bonus.

“There’s the University of Limerick right next door. You've the Limerick Institute of Technology, the art college as well as other third level colleges and courses. You've a wealth of a student population. That was very evident early on when Nightflyers first came to town, that they were looking for trainees locally.

“Even when it came to recruiting in the costume department, there were lots of students who came through and they were studying fashion and design. They literally left art college, came to Troy and started making costumes.

A scene from Foundation on Apple TV+, filmed in Troy Studios. The first series launched globally to positive reviews and audience ratings. Production  has just started on a second series in the Midwest.
A scene from Foundation on Apple TV+, filmed in Troy Studios. The first series launched globally to positive reviews and audience ratings. Production  has just started on a second series in the Midwest.

“Costume designers would say: ‘I’ve never seen this before, where trainees just came in and were ready to rock and to do it.” 

That was across the board. There was no precedent for people who didn't have any experience in film and they were prepared to just get stuck in and put in the work and just make it a success. People who came in through various departments - construction, hair, makeup, camera, they've all progressed and have gone through the ranks and film is their career.

“The ripples in the pond go far. At any one time during Nightflyers and Foundation, there were upwards of 450 people here. They all needed a place to stay. Money then goes into the local spend of the economy too, to the local cafes, restaurants, the hotels.

“And then the local companies, the logistics, the local materials, hardware suppliers. Suddenly you had all these departments who were looking for whatever they needed for prop making, or for construction. 

"It's a massive boost to the local economy. It’s great for Limerick. It's no small feat for Limerick that they're after pulling these two series out of the bag.” 

Troy Studios

Running at a massive 350,000 sq ft, Troy is the Republic’s largest studio. Coupled with our stunning locations and highly skilled crew, it makes for an attractive package for filmmakers, according to Elaine Geraghty, Managing Director of Ardmore Studios and Troy Studios.

“Limerick and the region are really steeped in terms of culture and history,” says Geraghty, who took up the position a year ago. 

“It makes absolute sense that you add into that a screen option as in a studio. There is a huge regeneration programme going on. So the timing of the introduction of Troy studios is kind of perfect as it fits in with the city's plans as well.

“When Troy opened first they did a lot of work with Screen Ireland and with the local education institutes in terms of having a partnership, making the connection and saying ‘We’re part of the area. We want to play our part in getting that pipeline of people into the business and it'll take a few years. You can't do it overnight. But this is the beginning of it.’” 

This year, both Troy and Ardmore were acquired by an American company, Hackman Capital Partners, in affiliate with the MBS group.

“They are studio and media platform owners and they have the largest group of independent studios in their portfolio, as well as real estate, real estate being studios,” said Geraghty, who feels this will bring even further opportunities for production in Ireland.

“What it does do is it exposes us to that deep rooted industry experience and acumen, and they've got a global footprint. They've lots of relationships that exist already that we have access to. It's opened up loads of possibilities.”

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox

Execution Time: 0.259 s