JJ Abrams’ sci-fi series that was to be filmed in Northern Ireland cancelled

A blockbuster science fiction series that was to be filmed in Northern Ireland has been cancelled in a dispute between the US television network HBO and the Hollywood director JJ Abrams.

Crews that had started pre-production on Demimonde, a show with a bigger budget than Game of Thrones, were stood down this week in a blow to Northern Ireland’s film industry.

Abrams, who has directed Star Wars and Mission Impossible films, was supposed to direct the pilot episode. With a budget in excess of $200m (£159m), the sci-fi drama – about a woman seeking to reunite with a family transported to another world – would have taken a year to shoot and consolidated Titanic studios in Belfast as a go-to facility for blockbuster television.

Northern Ireland Screen, which promotes filming in the region, said it was “extremely disappointed” that the deal between HBO and Abrams’ Los Angeles-based production company, Bad Robot, had collapsed.

“The project has been prepping on the ground in Belfast for many months and was slated to film its pilot soon. Northern Ireland Screen is conscious that these late and difficult decisions do happen in the screen industry, particularly with the most expensive projects which carry the greatest expectation.”

The agency said it would try to plug the gap with other productions to sustain freelance crews and suppliers who had been relying on Demimonde. NI Screen spent £1m on advance work for Demimonde, which it will try to recoup from HBO.

The Hollywood Reporter reported that HBO had pulled the plug on the show over concerns about its “sprawling” budget. The network had outbid Apple TV in 2018 for Demimonde. Danielle Deadwyler, who starred in Watchmen and Atlanta, was cast in the lead.

Warner Bros. Television, a producer of Demimonde, will try to save the series by selling it to other platforms such as Apple or Netflix, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

HBO’s Game of Thrones established Northern Ireland as a location with varied landscapes and technical prowess for big budget productions, and created tourism spin-offs. It has hosted other recent productions including the films The Northman, The School for Good and Evil, and Dungeons and Dragons.

Richard Williams, the head of NI Screen, told the BBC that TV companies were “recalibrating” and becoming more budget-conscious, presenting a challenge to the region.

“We have had this happen before, we had a project drop out just before lockdown and we replaced it with Dungeons and Dragons. Basically we’ll have to do that again – we’ll have to go out to the market and find another project.”

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