Ireland’s film industry booms on back on record investment

Olivia Colman and Josh O’Connor were last on screen together as the Queen and Prince Charles, but since then the stars of The Crown are among an array of A-listers who spent part of pandemic in Ireland where film and TV production has hit record levels.

Figures released by Screen Ireland show that industry investment surged 40% in 2021, beating the previous record levels of 2019 despite Covid restrictions.

Some put it down to overspill from the UK where the industry is so busy it faces an acute skills shortage. Others, including Tristan Orpen Lynch, the producer of two new movies starring Colman and O’Connor, say it is the coming of age of the Irish film industry.

“It is amazing. There is a sort of magnetic creative energy in Ireland for film and TV right now, but it is not an overnight success. It has taken a couple of decades of really tough work and government support that got the industry to this place,” said Orpen Lynch.

He recalls 25 years ago when Ireland would attract “one really big film a year” and everyone in the industry would be working on it.

Ireland is now host to dozens of international feature films in production or post-production and a multitude of TV series, including a TV adaptation of Graham Norton’s Holding, Joyride(a comedy drama set in Kerry starring Colman), and Aisha, starring O’Connor and Letitia Wright, charting the experience of a young Nigerian woman caught in the Irish immigration system.

“Letitia is an extraordinary talent, and Josh O’Connor, both of them are going to blow your mind with their performances, which are literally off the scale,” said Orpen Lynch.

Part of the boom is being put down to the insatiable global demand for content fuelled by streaming platforms including Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus and Apple.

“It’s been so full-on, it’s like a whirlwind,” said Orpen Lynch, whose company Subotica is also co-producing the six-part thriller North Sea Connection, set in Connemara on the Atlantic coast, for the Swedish platform Viaplay.

Screen Ireland, which supported the Subotica productions, is to open five film academies, including one specialising in animation, to keep up with the demand for talent.

“Over the last decade the Irish screen industries have doubled in size,” said Désirée Finnegan, its chief executive, crediting in part government support that is allowing Ireland to compete regularly with UK studios such as Pinewood.

Its largest facility, the 14-hectare (36-acre) Troy Studios in Limerick, was home to Ireland’s largest production, the Apple series Foundation, which employed more than 500 people. It was last year sold along with Ardmore Studios in Wicklow, the heart of the production business for the past 60 years previously part-owned by U2 manager Paul McGuinness, to an American joint-venture.

The boom in production in such a short time has also meant sound and visual effects companies have had to change their business model.

“We’ve gone from a situation where we have to try and grab whatever sails past our door to thinking strategically about what’s happening internationally,” said John Kennedy, the creative director at Windmill Lane audio and visual post-production house.

“We don’t think twice now about bringing in talent from all over the world working remotely,” he said.

Kennedy describes how he was speaking to a Netflix executive last week who had “200 shows in front of them”, which they will “dice and slice” placing elements of the production “all around the world” .

“Ireland is capitalising on that. We have gone from a stop-start industry busy for six months and not the next, to turning away work,” he said.

Some, though, sound a note of caution about the explosion in the industry.

Ed Guiney, whose company, Element Pictures, was behind the hit TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel Normal People, said his concern was development of a strong indigenous international-facing sector.

“You have to ask who controls this? Much of what is happening in Ireland I would call offshore production, it is other entities coming in to use the facilities. The real prize is when we have come of age and are making our own shows internationally. I think there’s a lot of hype going on, I’d like to see the quantum leap like you see in the UK,” he said.

He produced The Favourite, for which Colman’s performance as Queen Anne won an Oscar, and has four films in production including a new film for the BBC starring Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe shooting in Budapest and three TV shows in the pipeline, including production of Rooney’s first novel, Conversation with Friends.

“A lot of what we make in Ireland is what other people are developing it is a service industry. That’s my beef with all the hype around the boom. It is very exciting but to have a full production industry we need more investment in Irish talent,” he said.

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