TV NotesIrish Studios Have a Moment in Clover
By John Anderson, The New York Times
- Jul. 28, 2012
DUBLIN.- Sometimes it’s difficult getting even the Irish to watch Irish cinema. But the whole world is watching Irish-made television.
“The Tudors,” “The Borgias,” “Camelot,” “Love/Hate,” “Titanic: Blood and Steel,” “Raw,” “Ripper Street” and an assortment of BBC productions have been shot, are being shot or have their productions based in the Irish Republic. (Most of these have reached America already.) As economic uncertainty roils countries in the euro zone, deep cuts in government financing have affected the film and television industry in Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and elsewhere. But not so here, where the combination of a weak euro and tax incentives have meant that small-screen work abounds.
At the brand-new Ashford Studios, 30 minutes south of this capital city, the groaning of saws and whining of drills echoed around Ragnar’s house, a rough-hewed Scandinavian-inspired assemblage of timber that will be the centerpiece of “Vikings,” the first scripted series being made for the History channel, as well as the first production for Ashford, in County Wicklow. Large as it is, Ragnar’s home doesn’t even dominate the room: the 30,000-square-foot main stage is a vast space competitive with London’s Pinewood Studios and is just part of this site that includes 300 acres that can provide rolling green fields or a rock quarry.
“Everyone we’d worked with had said, ‘Ireland would be terrific if you had bigger stages,’ ” said the veteran film producer Morgan O’Sullivan, a co-producer on “Braveheart” and “Angela’s Ashes,” among many other films. His companies Octagon and World 2000 are making “Vikings” in collaboration with History, MGM and Shaw Media in Canada. “And we do have a really nice facility called Ardmore Studios. This, Ashford, is sort of an add-on to Ardmore. So now it means that with the facilities in this country we can do a couple of productions at the same time, and a couple of large productions.”
Ardmore, owned by Paul McGuinness, U2’s manager, and the accountant Ossie Kilkenny, and also in County Wicklow, is not as healthy as it might be: it has not seen action since the Starz show “Camelot” ended last year, and its facilities are considered outdated. But despite a possible state takeover it is likely to continue a history stretching from “The Tudors” in 2010 back to “Shake Hands With the Devil” in 1959 with James Cagney.
When Ardmore and Ashford are added to a mix that includes the financial advantages of shooting in Ireland, it’s small wonder that Britain is eager to get its own television incentives in place and fight the outsourcing of its production. New incentives, to take effect in April, are seen as a direct response to Ireland’s TV boom.
“It’s very flattering,” Mr. O’Sullivan said, dryly. Among other projects that might have gone elsewhere, he said, was “Loving Miss Hatto,” a BBC television movie about the pianist at the heart of a notorious fraud in classical music in the 20th century. Mr. O’Sullivan’s partner, James Flynn, is producing that drama in Ireland.
“A lot of that kind of material could have been done in the U.K.,” Mr. O’Sullivan said. “And by the end of next year they’ll have an incentive.”
And when they do, said Derry O’Brien, the managing director of Network Ireland Television, smiling, “will that mean “Game of Thrones’ will get a double incentive?”
That series, an HBO hit, is the production of the moment. Shot largely in Northern Ireland, where filming for Season 3 has begun, “Game of Thrones” would quite likely have been made here, had the British government not delivered a special seven-figure tax incentive (which, it says, has meant approximately $66.7 million to the region’s economy). That, and the kind of room provided by Paint Hall, in Belfast, the cavernous space where the Titanic was painted, have kept Tyrion, Cersei and the other medieval mischief makers in Britain.
But the borders between countries, as well as between film and TV production, are rather porous here. For instance, the Irish Film Board and Northern Ireland Screen together helped finance “Game of Thrones.”
The agencies can team up when a project spends a certain percentage of money in each territory, Mr. O’Brien said. “For example, it would be a film that is primarily shot in Northern Ireland but would be postproduced in Dublin, or the sound work could be done here.”
In the meantime it’s Ashford that’s home to “Vikings.” Behind the scenes the team includes Michael Hirst (“Elizabeth,” “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”), who wrote all 38 episodes of “The Tudors,” and the costume designer Joan Bergin, a multiple Emmy winner for that show. She said she was brought onto “Vikings” under false pretenses.
“My big interest is in when they go to Byzantium,” she said of the Vikings, played in part by the Australian actor Travis Fimmell and the Irishman Gabriel Byrne. “I went to an exhibition at the Met a few months ago, and I had this vision of creating these glorious costumes, so I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ Then I found out they don’t get there till Season 2.”
Presuming there is a Season 2, “Vikings” will thus continue to aid the cause of employment in Ireland. “Our primary focus is to support Irish talent in making audio and visual works” whether it’s Irish co-productions or not, said James Hickey, chief executive of the Irish Film Board, at the Galway Film Fleadh.
An undertaking like “Vikings” hires 300 to 400 workers, Mr. O’Sullivan said. “So if you have three or four shows on at a time, that’s significant employment. And we’re just one production company.”
Another, headquartered in a Georgian town house along the Grand Canal here, is Element Pictures, which, like similar Irish companies, survives through diversity. It is involved in producing, co-producing, distributing, even showing films (via the city’s Light House Cinema).
Given the Irish economy and the instability within the euro zone, nothing’s a sure thing here. The filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson, whose latest project, “What Richard Did,” was produced through Element, said, “I think lots of us are like the guy falling through the air, having stepped off the ledge of a tall building, thinking, ‘So far, so good’ as he passes floor after floor.”
But as Element’s co-director, Ed Guiney, noted, the country is rather enlightened about the arts. Its president, Michael D. Higgins, is a former arts minister; he’s also a poet.
“The creative industries play very well right now in Ireland,” Mr. Guiney said. “We’re clearly not very good at property development, and clearly not very good at banking. But you could argue we’re not bad at art and theater and music and possibly film. We’re good at that stuff, so we should be nurturing that part of our talent base.”http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/arts/television/vikings-made-in-ireland-thrones-in-northern-ireland.html?_r=1&ref=television