THE publicity blitz surrounding the shooting of the Star Wars franchise on the Skelligs could transport Ireland as a destination into the stratosphere.
Glowing in the limelight, the film industry will look to cash in on all the good PR and develop our reputation abroad.
The recently finalised deal for a multimillion-euro production studio in Limerick marks the latest chapter in Ireland’s booming film industry.
Following the decision by Limerick City and County Council buy the 350,000sq ft former Dell factory at Plassey Technological Park, the new facility will result in an estimated 750 jobs being created to cater to the needs of this ever-expanding film sector.
The newly established Troy Studios have announced that heads of agreement have been signed with Limerick City and County Council, subject to planning permission. It is hoped to have the facility up and running for incoming productions by mid-2016.
Comprising 25 acres, the site is twice the size of Ardmore Studios in Co Wicklow, and is particularly attractive due to a number of factors, including having sufficient height requirements offering easy conversation to film production needs. Its location close to Shannon Airport and the N7 motorway network are further advantages.
At present, Ireland has 111,000sq ft of studio space, with a similar amount urgently needed.
Meanwhile, two new studios have been approved at Belfast’s Titanic Studios, adding another 100,000sq ft of space to an industry that had no production facilities seven years ago. “It’s going to be very attractive for American productions coming to Ireland,” said James Flynn, MD Octagon Films, and producer of The Vikings, The Tudors, and Penny Dreadful.
“We have probably missed out on a lot of feature films to the UK in the past, but Ireland is definitely now one of the top go-to locations in terms of attractiveness,” said Mr Flynn.
Success brings its demands, however, and available space is clearly the most pressing amongst them.
“More studio space is needed to maximise these tax incentives. A lot more space is needed in order to cope with the high volume of demand that is hopefully going to come our way,” said Mr Flynn.
The audio visual content production sector in Ireland is estimated to be worth in excess €550m, employingmore than 6,000, with over 560 small and medium enterprises operating in the sector. Figures for 2013 show that production activity for the independent film, television drama, and animation sector has reached the highest level on record, contributing over €168m into the economy — representing an increase of 18% on 2012 and 42% on 2011.
The film industry’s knock-on effect on the tourism sector is underlined by a 2010 survey which revealed 20% of all tourists cited film as an influencing factor on why they visited Ireland.
Pinewood Studios, one of the UK’s most iconic film brands, recently announced the launch of Pinewood Productions Ireland, an Ireland-based full service production company servicing international film and television productions.
The company will service the studio’s international clients shooting on location in Ireland, and will also assist with applications for tax credit via Section 481 programme.
Naoise Barry is joining the company as head of production, having worked as Film Commissioner for the Irish Film Board for the past 14 years.
The Pinewood Group operates a number of studios across the UK and around the world, including the US, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and Malaysia.
Productions filmed at their facilities include the James Bond series, the Harry Potter franchise, The Dark Knight, Les Misérables, and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Enhanced tax incentives that came into effect on January 1 will further boost the Irish film sector and help to attract more major productions to Ireland.
Changes to Section 481, originally announced in the 2014 budget, extend the scheme until the end of 2020 and will increase the value of the section up to 32% of qualifying expenditure, from its current value of 28%.
“Our film and TV production sector is going from strength to strength, despite the economic challenges we have faced in recent years,” said Arts Minister Heather Humphries.
“The Irish film and TV production sector supports up to 6,000 jobs; and the changes to Section 481 will give a greater deal of certainty to the sector and will allow it to maintain the existing jobs in the sector and create new ones.”
Under the changes, the definition of “eligible individual” is being extended to include non-EU talent, allowing major Hollywood actors to be included. The move will further boost the attractiveness of Ireland as a destination for film investment, and brings us into line with the UK and other countries in Europe.
Irish Film Board chief executive James Hickey underlined the importance of the “eligible individual” being broadened to include Hollywood actors, directors and crew: “It was previously limited to people from the European Union and the European Economic Area. We’re now effectively the same as in the UK.”
The maximum qualifying expenditure, now standing at €50m and giving a tax credit of €16m, may be improved further in future budgets.
“The Government has said that in time it will be reviewing Section 481 with an eye on the maximum qualifying expenditure, and is something very much to be hoped for,” said Mr Hickey.
Ms Humphries praised the achievement of bringing Star Wars to Skellig Michael, adding: “We have become home to some of the biggest TV shows, including The Tudors, Vikings, and Penny Dreadful. When these shows come to Ireland, they hire local talent and crews and make a huge contribution to the local economy.”
Since 2006, the Irish Film Board has provided almost €11m in funding for the sector, including €4m on animated feature films and €7m on animated TV content.
The recent improvements to the film tax relief scheme, introduced in this year’s budget, will have a positive impact on the animation sector. Fifteen animation projects were approved for funding under Section 481 last year, with a total spend of €39m.
Screen Training Ireland, the training arm of the IFB, has trained almost 1,500 professionals in the animation sector in the last number of years.
Following its Oscar nomination earlier this year, Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea screened as part of a gala premiere event at the Galway Film Fleadh.
The animated film’s voice cast features Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, and Moone Boy’s David Rawle. Joining them are songwriter Lisa Hannigan and comedians Pat Shortt and Jon Kenny.
It was the second Oscar nomination for the Kilkenny-based company, having previously received a nomination for The Secret of Kells.
Since its foundation in 1999, Cartoon Saloon has grown into an award-winning studio, working with the biggest names in the international industry, including Disney, the BBC, and Cartoon Network. Cartoon Saloon expects to double its workforce in the year ahead, as it starts work on its new feature film, The Breadwinner.
Nine Irish animated projects were pitched at Cartoon Forum, which took place in Toulouse, France in September. Cartoon Forum is an event where producers can pitch their projects to 850 broadcasters, and other potential partners from 33 countries. This year’s event will see a total of 80 projects pitched from across Europe.
The Irish projects pitching at Cartoon Forum included: Brewster the Rooster by Salty Dog Pictures; Dorg Van Dango by Cartoon Saloon; Dougie Noir by Kavaleer Productions; Ellabie by Monster Entertainment; and First Aid Kitty by Kid Gloves.
Organisers of the event say that, since its establishment in 1990, Cartoon Forum has helped 594 animation series obtain financing to the tune of over €2bn.
Film in Cork was recently launched to promote all aspects of production in the county.
Established to provide production, location, and training services to those working in the film, television and animation industries, it aims to bring together the broad spectrum of people working in the industry.
Supported by both Cork City Council and Cork County Council Arts Offices, it offers an opportunity to develop further the county’s reputation as a filming location.
“As the Irish film industry continues to expand, Cork can seize the opportunity and be part of this growth,” said Naoise Barry, film commissioner for the Irish Film Board.
Rossa Mullin, manager of Film in Cork, plans to create an infrastructure for Cork that will adapt to current demands with regard to industry training.
“We see a lot of emerging talent in Cork, people like Shaun O’Connor and Tadhg Hickey who have been doing a lot of comedy work with RTÉ recently and Brendan Canty. whose video for Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church’ went viral,” he said.
“Script editors like Patrick O’Driscoll who works with major American companies from his base in Cork, as well as dozens of other young filmmakers and animators producing things like Sminky and Martin’s Life.”
Major films shot in Cork in recent years include Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley and Ondine, from Neil Jordan.