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The New Frontiers: Ireland and the (Film Studio) Space Race
15 Jan 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Game of Thrones set in Titanic Studios
COVID 19 has left the Film & TV industry in something of a contradictory situation at the moment. With lockdown driving more and more audiences towards streaming platforms this has increased the need for original content while simultaneously making it more and more difficult to shoot content.

 Going forward however one thing is certain, studio space will be key to attracting high-level productions to these shores.  There is currently an acute global shortage of studio space to meet the growing demands of those engaged in the aforementioned content creation race.  High demand for studio infrastructure and skyrocketing domestic real estate prices in the USA - particularly in California and New York - are compounding the problem. In 2016, the Los Angeles soundstage occupancy rate was 96%. Since then demand has increased considerably. 

This is a key opportunity for Ireland’s film and television economy going forward: As outlined in the Olsberg report (2017), Ireland currently suffers from a shortage of high-quality studio space for its television, film, and media industry and the report highlights a requirement to make the sector more competitive internationally. In 2019, the then minister for Culture Josepha Madigan stated that studio space for Ireland's television and film industry needed to be treated as strategically important infrastructure.

Recent developments such as the greenlighting of a new €150 million Studio Space and Media Campus in Greystones, Co. Wicklow will effectively double Ireland’s studio space. The project would add to the existing Ardmore Studios and Ashford Studios who have already put Co Wicklow at the centre of the Irish movie and TV industry, with productions including Braveheart, The Tudors, Penny Dreadful, and Vikings shot there. Outside of Wicklow, there is Troy Studios in Limerick who are currently playing host to Apple TV+’s Foundation Series, which is believed to be the most expensive production shot on the island of Ireland, and in the North, there is the iconic Titanic Studios, which was host to HBO’s Game of Thrones. Ireland’s potential as a site for large-scale studio filming is increasing rapidly.

As Studio Space becomes more and more vital to the Irish Film Industry, IFTN takes a look at Ireland’s existing and upcoming studio spaces.

Ardmore Studios            

Location: Herbert Rd, Killarney, Bray, Co. Wicklow

Background: Ardmore Studios first opened its doors nearly six decades ago.  Launched in 1958 under the management of Emmet Dalton by then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Seán Lemass, the studio has evolved through many management changes, finally consolidating in the 1990s. It has been the base for many successful productions, from Michael Anderson’s Shake Hands with the Devil in 1959; Francis Ford Coppolla’s Dementia 13 in 1963, Martin Ritt’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in 1965, and a wide range of Irish work including Fair City, Braveheart, My Left Foot, and Veronica Guerin.

In the early 1970s, the studio became the government-backed National Film Studios of Ireland. Notable movies based there included Michael Crichton's The First Great Train Robbery, starring Sean Connery and in 1981 John Boorman shot Excalibur there with Helen Mirren and Liam Neeson.   Consortiums led by Tara Productions, among whose partners were producer Morgan O'Sullivan and MTM Hollywood acquired the studios in November 1986. O'Sullivan then spearheaded a campaign to attract major international films to Ireland and succeeded in securing important co-production investment, which revived the studios during the 1990s.

In 1990, the MTM shareholding was sold to Ardmore International Ltd. Ardmore Studios had several successful years from 2006 to 2010 during the filming of The Tudors and Camelot. In 2011, Byzantium, directed by Neil Jordan, also located at Ardmore. 

In 2013, Siún Ní Raghallaigh was appointed CEO. She restructured the company to enable it to compete more effectively and since mid-2013 the studios have been operating at full capacity. In January 2017, the studios were used by RTÉ for Dancing with the Stars, when it became obvious to RTÉ that the studios at their television centre in Donnybrook in Dublin would not be large enough for the scale of the show, and so Ardmore Studios was chosen. In April 2018, Irish firm Olcott Entertainment Limited, led by Troy Studios Chairman, Joe Devine, officially announced the full acquisition of Ardmore after purchasing the shares owned by Ardmore Studios Limited and Enterprise Ireland. Recently Director David Lowery shot his latest film The Green Knight starring Dev Patel in Ardmore which is set for release later this year, and Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Jodie Comer, also shot in Ardmore, either side of a COVID-19 lockdown.

Studio Space and Facilities: As part of its large lot, Ardmore boasts five sound stages ranging in area from 3,000 ft² to 23,250 ft² as well as storage facilities and a 4,500 ft² props department.  It also includes the Ardmore Film Factory, which serves as both an extension to the Herbert Road location, and as a standalone facility offering clients increased availability of studio and office space with two studios over 25,000 ft². Support infrastructure includes production offices, workshops, costumes, hair and make-up and props space, dressing rooms, and backlot.

Notable Past projects:  

Shake Hands with the Devil (1959) In the Name of the Father (1993)
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) Braveheart (1995)
The Blue Max (1966) Space Truckers (1996)
The Lion in Winter (1968) Angela's Ashes (1999)
Zardoz (1974) Evelyn (2002)
Excalibur (1981) King Arthur (2004)
Angel (1982) Breakfast on Pluto (2005)
My Left Foot (1989) The Tudors (TV series) (2007–2010)
Fair City (1989-1994) Camelot (TV series) (2010)
The Commitments (1991) Penny Dreadful (TV series) (2014-2016)

Current/Upcoming Work: 

The Green Knight (2021) The Last Duel (2021)

 

Troy Studios

Location: Castletroy, Limerick

Background: Since it opened in 2017, Troy Studios in Limerick has gone on to become the largest in Ireland. It has been a story of rapid growth at Troy, which took root in a former Castletroy computer factory after Dell vacated the site in 2009.

The completion of its 33,000 ft² D Stage, following a €13m in investment, took Troy’s overall indoor production space above 103,000ft² making it the biggest film and TV production centre in Ireland at present.

In 2018, Troy saw production of SyFy & Netflix’s big-budget series Nightflyers begin.  Nightflyers is based on the novella by George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones), who also served as an executive producer on the project and was produced by Universal Cable Productions and co-produced by Netflix. Wild Atlantic Pictures also produced with Irish producers Macdara Kelleher and Eoin Egan. Though cancelled after one season, the show left an indelible mark on Limerick with hundreds of crew members gaining invaluable experience and training on a large-scale production. But this was only the beginning for Troy with the announcement that Apple TV+’s  €45 million adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s seminal sci-fi Novel series Foundation would be located in Troy. It’s the largest production ever on these shores with well over 500 people across different trades and skills employed on the show. The 10-episode series, which stars Jared Harris and Lee Pace and written by David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, Blade trilogy), is due for release this year. 

Studio Space and Facilities: Spanning 26 acres, the studio has 4 sound stages totalling 103,000 ft² & an overall footprint of 350,000 ft² under one roof with a 5-acre backlot.

There is on-site parking for 623 cars, 30 truck spaces 

Notable Productions: 

Nightflyers (2019) Foundation (2021)

                                       

Ashford Studios                

Location: Ballyhenry, Ashford, Co. Wicklow, Ireland        

Background: Ashford Studios opened in 2012 and hosted the first season of History Channel’s hit show Vikings, from veteran Irish co-producer Morgan O’Sullivan. It would go on to host the historical blockbuster for all of its six seasons.

It was built by entrepreneur Joe O’Connor on his own Wicklow estate, at O’Sullivan’s behest and to the exact specifications of various department heads.  With one 30,000 ft² soundstage and two at 15,000 ft² alongside an extensive backlot, it was tailor made for the kind of large-scale international projects in which O’Sullivan has specialised. Over the past two decades, the studio has staged films such as Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, The Count of Monte Cristo, Reign of Fire, and King Arthur, to TV fares such as The Tudors and Camelot.

Vikings was developed by O’Sullivan with writer Michael Hirst, following their collaboration on The Tudors and Camelot, both of which shot at Ardmore Studios. In 2019, it was announced that Netflix has commissioned a spin-off of the popular TV show Vikings, which is currently filming at Ashford Studios 

Also in 2019, Ashford Studios was granted planning permission by An Bord Pleanála to proceed with the proposed €90m expansion of its current studio space. The €90 million expansion, which will see the creation of five new film studios, is expected to create up to 1,500 film and television sector jobs, with plans set to include the construction of four new 40,000 ft² film studios. The plans also include a television studio, studio offices, a visitor centre, and an expanded car park intended to include over 600 car and 100 bus spaces.  

Studio Space and Facilities: Ashford studios currently comprises three sound stages on 500 acres of the rural backlot. These include the 30,000 ft² Gasworks Stage, the 14,500 ft² Box Stage, and the 12,500 ft² Christmas Tree Stage.

Notable Productions: 

Vikings (S1-S6) Vikings: Valhalla (S1) 

 

Stiúideo Telegael           

Location: Áras Telegael, An Spidéal, Galway,

Background: Established in 1988, Telegael works with international producers, distributors, and broadcasters to develop, finance, and co-produce animation and live-action content for the global market. 

Their client list includes global broadcasting companies including ZDF, Disney, Discovery Kids, France Television, Super-RTL, KIKA, BBC, Nickelodeon, PBS Sprout, and Cartoon Network. 

Recently, Telegael acquired and expanded the former Roger Corman film studios in Galway and set up Ireland’s leading stop-motion animation studio.  Telegael's live-action facility, Stiúideo Telegael, offers two sound stages and access to locations in Connemara and the west coast of Ireland.

The building is located on a 2.75-acre site with an overall floor space of 24,000 ft² The sound stages are 6,340 ft² and 7,400 ft².  Both stages are 26 ft high. There is 3,000 ft² of second-floor production offices, wardrobe and makeup, and additional storage spaces available. On the same lot is a purpose-built Georgian style Manor House, which can be used as a set location. 

Studio Space and Facilities: Production space includes over 24,000 sq ft of floor space, including two sound stages: (Studio A: 6,359 ft² & Studio B: 7402 ft²), as well as production offices, workshops, plus an eight-bedroom manor house.

Notable Productions: 

Jack Taylor (2016) Out of Innocence (2015)
Pursuit (2015)  

 

Belfast Harbour Studios

Location: Belfast Harbour, Belfast

Background: Belfast harbour's first studio opened in June 2017, providing 125,000 ft² of production space. It has submitted a planning application to build a further six studios, which will provide 346,000 ft² of new facilities.

The first studio was used for a number of big productions including SyFy's Krypton TV series and recently hosted The Northman from director Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse), which stars Nicole Kidman. The Northman is set in Iceland at the turn of the 10th century and also stars Ethan Hawke, Willam Defoe, Alexander Skarsgård, and Queen’s Gambit star Anya Taylor-Joy.

Studio Space and Facilities: Two new identical purpose-built sound stages, each 32,000 ft², capable of opening up for a combined use as one large space of 64,000 ft²  Eaves height of approximately 61 ft. Belfast Harbour Studios offers two detached workshop facilities at 11,080 ft² These can be subdivided to suit individual requirements.

Extensive backlot bounded by the Belfast hills to the North Westand Belfast Lough on the East. The site is screened from the nearby road network and can accommodate large external sets.  Stages & Facilities Manager present on site. Planned and reactive maintenance regimes in place. It also has parking for 168 cars.

Notable Productions: 

Krypton (TV series) The Northman (2021)

 

Titanic Studios 

Location: Titanic Quarter, Belfast 

Background: The Paint Hall, in the historically renowned Titanic Quarter of Belfast, where the component parts of ships were once painted in climate controlled conditions, is a massive build-space – a fully functioning film studio complete with lights and rigging. Titanic Studios is one of Europe’s largest film studios, attracting producers such as HBO, Universal, and Playtone

The studio was used from July-October 2007 by Walden Media and Tom Hanks’ Playtone Productions for the children’s fantasy sci-fi adventure film City of Ember, and by Universal Pictures from July-November 2009 for the medieval comedy Your Highness. Since then it has become most well-known for hosting all eight seasons of HBO’s phenomenally successful Game of Thrones. 

The Hurst and MacQuitty Stages, named after two prominent Belfast filmmakers, are two purpose-built sound stages adjacent to the Paint Hall, which opened in 2012.

It was recently announced that Paramount Pictures’ Dungeons & Dragons film would locate to Titanic Studios.

Studio Space and Facilities: The Paint Hall contains four 16,000 ft² “cells”. The cells are set out in a square and connected by an internal road and streets. Each cell is 90ft tall and has one 3ft (1m) thick external “wall” that is actually a 75ft (23m) tall door. None of the cell ceilings are external and the building is “double-skinned” thereby reducing noise pollution.

The facility also offers a suite of offices, toilets, five dedicated workshops, a “green room”, and has its own internal electrical substation, which provides 110v, 240v, and 3 phase power to the whole building.

The Hurst and MacQuitty Stages are two large free-span spaces, each 21,000 ft², capable of opening up for combined use as one large space of 42,000 ft². Space incorporates high-performance acoustic fabric, high-level walkways, and rigging gantries with power, lighting, and internal environment options to suit the full spectrum of film production uses.

Notable Productions: 

City of Embers Game of Thrones (Seasons 1-8)
Your Highness Dungeons and Dragons

 

LOOP Studios (formerly Britvic)               

Location: Castlereagh Rd, Belfast

Background: Loop Studios is an independent film studio based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Housed in a former factory and set up in 2013, the studios were the base for Universal Studios’ production Dracula: Untold. Since then, the studios have been used in a variety of productions to film everything from a science fiction series to a World War II drama.

Studio Space and Facilities: Loop Studios offers three stages ranging in size from 20,000 ft² to 38,000 ft² with heights of up to 39 ft, providing flexible space for TV and film productions. There are also two workshops of 3,800 ft² and 8,183 ft², respectively. Additional facilities include two office suites to accommodate crew, a café-style canteen, and plenty of onsite parking.

Notable Productions: 

The Fall (2013) The Lost City of Z (2017)
Dracula Untold (2014) Krypton (2018) 

                                                  

New Developments

Ireland has three major projects currently underway: Ashbourne Studios, Grange Castle Media Park, and Greystones Media Campus. 

The Greystones Media Campus in County Wicklow is being built on a 40-acre site as a €150 million state-of-the-art film and TV center with 14 sound stages, offices, and production buildings. Another film and TV studio project are underway in Dublin in the Grange Castle business park that will have 12 sound stages, 100,000 ft² of workshop space, and 100,000 ft² of offices; and Deliverance director John Boorman is behind a project at Ashbourne Studios, which aims to rival Ardmore and Troy studios as one of the largest in Ireland.

Ashbourne Studios

170,000 ft² including 4 sound stages, workshop, office, and support space. as well as Backlot areas.

Grange Castle Media Park

800,000 ft² including 12 sound stages and office and support space, as well as backlot areas.

Greystones Media Campus

790,000 ft² including 14 sound stages, office and ancillary mill, and support space.

Follow IFTN for more in-depth coverage on Irish production, studio space, and Ireland’s growth as an international production hub in the coming weeks.





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