15 April 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
Building on Foundations: Troy Studios and Foundation's journeys to success
29 Jan 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Troy Studios and Foundation
With a budget of over €45m, and employing up to 500 people, Apple TV+’s Foundation is Ireland’s largest scale production ever.

Filmed at Troy Studios in Limerick and based on the hugely influential series of books from Isaac Asimov, the ambitious series is set to be the centrepiece of Apple’s slate of original content when it premieres later this year.

Both Troy and Foundation have had fascinating journeys and evolved enormously to get to where we find them today. IFTN takes a look at the project and explores who is involved, how it came to be shot in Ireland, and what the future may hold for the series and Ireland’s industry.

Foundation’s long journey to the Screen             

Foundation is based on Isaac Asimov’s beloved trilogy of books; first published as a series of short stories in 1942–50, and subsequently in three collections in 1951–53: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation.  The series won a special, one-time Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966.

The story follows mathematician Hari Seldon in the waning days of a future Galactic Empire. Seldon spends his life developing a theory of psychohistory, a new type of mathematical sociology. Using his theory, Seldon predicts the imminent fall of the Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting 30 Millenia.  Although the Empire's fall is inevitable, Seldon devises a plan by which "the onrushing mass of events must be deflected just a little.” To implement his plan, Seldon creates the Foundations—two groups of scientists and engineers settled at opposite ends of the galaxy—to preserve the spirit of science and civilization, and thus become the cornerstones of the new galactic empire. A key feature of Seldon's theory, which has proved influential in real-world social science is an uncertainty or incompleteness principle: if a population gains knowledge of its predicted behavior, its self-aware collective actions become unpredictable.

The series has been incredibly influential in media too, informing such works as Dune, Star Trek, and Star Wars, and is still one of the core books for any sci-fi reader. Despite this, it has had a difficult journey to our screens.

By 1998, New Line Cinema had reportedly already spent $1.5 million trying to develop a film version of the Foundation Trilogy. The failure to develop this as a new franchise was partly a reason the studio signed on to produce The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

In 2008, New Line Cinema co-founders Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne were reported to have been signed on to produce an adaptation of the trilogy by their company Unique Pictures for Warner Brothers. However, Columbia Pictures (Sony) successfully bid for the screen rights in 2009 and then contracted Roland Emmerich to direct and produce. Two years later, the studio hired Dante Harper to adapt the books. This project failed to materialize and HBO then acquired the rights when they became available in 2014.

In 2017, it was reported that Skydance Television was developing a television series adaptation of Isaac Asimov's science fiction book series with David S. Goyer (writer on Christopher Nolan’s Batman films) and Josh Friedman (writer: Avatar 2, Snowpiercer TV Series) serving as the production's writers.  Skydance Television is best known for the hugely successful Grace & Frankie on Netflix and Jack Ryan on Amazon. They have also delivered one classic sci-fi series to streaming with Altered Carbon, also on Netflix.

In 2018, it was announced that Apple had bought the series and put it into development with the potential for a straight-to-series order. It was further announced that Goyer and Friedman were also expected to serve as executive producers and showrunners.

On August 23, 2018, it was announced that Apple had given the production a series order for a first season consisting of ten episodes. It was also announced that Asimov's daughter, Robyn Asimov, would serve as an executive producer. Foundation, after more than nearly eight decades, was finally coming to our screens. More importantly, for the industry on this side of the pond at least, was the news that Foundation was coming to Ireland.  On July 28, 2019, it was revealed that Troy Studios in Limerick would host the production of the show. 

Troy’s Odyssey

Since opening in 2017 Troy Studios in Limerick has gone on to become the largest in Ireland, aided in no small part by the shooting of SyFy & Netflix’s big-budget series Nightflyers in 2018; adapted from a novella by Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin.

But Limerick was not the original choice for the project. Show producer Sean Ryerson says: “It was supposed to originally play in Manchester” but this fell through and Troy soon came in with an attractive proposal.  Aided by Ireland’s attractive Section 481 tax breaks, which saw the production qualify for corporate tax credits of between €10m and €30m, the production was set for Limerick and the massive Nightflyers ship was built in an industrial estate in Castletroy; just a few yards from the University of Limerick. The series was the first project to shoot in the former Dell plant, and it took up all three sound stages with some 50 sets, and between 320 and 450 crew members on set a day.

Nightflyers was produced by Universal Cable Productions and co-produced by Netflix. Wild Atlantic Pictures also produced with Irish producers Macdara Kelleher and Eoin Egan, sadly, Nightflyers was not the ratings success that was anticipated with numbers for the series finale dropping sharply to 420,000 live viewers from 623,000 for the premiere.  In February 2019, it was confirmed that there would not be a second series.

While not a success with audiences, it certainly was for Troy Studios and Limerick as a site for filmmaking. The show left an indelible mark on Limerick with hundreds of crew members gaining invaluable experience and training on large-scale production and it firmly established a crew base in Limerick.

But this was only the beginning for Troy, which quickly sought a replacement. It developed its capacity with the addition of a fourth sound stage, the 33,000 ft² D Stage, following a €13m in investment, taking Troy’s overall indoor production space above 103,000ft²; making it the biggest film and TV production centre in Ireland at present. In  July 2019, it was announced that Apple TV+’s hugely ambitious €45 million adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s celebrated Foundation series would be located in Troy with Screen Ireland announcing in January 2020 that the series would employ 500 people across its production of a 10-episode first series.

British director Rupert Sanders, best known for Snow White and the Huntsman, was announced as a director, with Roxann Dawson (This is Us, The Americans) and Jennifer Phang (The Boys, The Expanse).

In October 2019, it was announced that Lee Pace (Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy) and Jared Harris (Chernobyl, Mad Men) were cast as Brother Day and Hari Seldon, respectively. Harris himself has a strong connection with the area; being the son of Limerick icon and celebrated actor Richard Harris.

Irish crew and talent would also be represented across the production, including award-winning costume designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh in the show’s large costume department in designing the futuristic wear; Supervising Art Director Connor Dennison, and  Set Decorator John Neligan in designing the complex sci-fi sets;  Makeup Designer Clare Lambe and Hair Designer Linda Gannon to name but a few.  Irish actors such as Johanna O’Brien (Krypton) and Brian F. Mulvey (The Last Duel) join Harris on-screen, while producers also gave a wide range of Irish actors a chance to appear in the production with casting calls asking for men and women aged between 16-90, of all ethnicities, with availability over a  six month period, for extra, featured extra, and speaking roles.

The stars were aligning, and when production began in earnest late in 2020, everything seemed to be going to plan, but not even Harris’ Seldon himself and his psychohistorical predictions could have foreseen what was to come as COVID-19 wreaked havoc across the international screen industries.


In March 2020, production was halted on Foundation following, then Taoiseach, Leo Varadker’s address to the nation on the COVID-19 situation.  In a statement to Deadline magazine, the producers of Foundation said: "Skydance, along with Apple, have made the decision to temporarily suspend filming on Foundation. The health and safety of our cast and crew is our top priority and we are closely monitoring the situation."

David S. Goyer, in an interview as part of Comic-Con @ Home in July, noted that they had shot about 40% of the show and that the decision to shut down reflected the fact that the pandemic’s impact was felt much earlier in Europe than in the states. “Myself and the cast and crew were getting increasingly alarmed in January and February, and we were telling the studios that we thought we were going to have to shut down,” recalled Goyer. “At first everyone — or most people — didn’t think it was going to be that bad in America, while over in Europe we were getting extremely concerned and we stopped shooting Foundation on March 12th.”

While the cast and crew awaited the resumption of production, on June 22nd Apple released the first Trailer for the show, which showcased the work to date on the impressive-looking project.

Journey’s End

Filming resumed in Limerick on 6th October 2020 shooting under COVID-19 Guidelines. With the show representing a major tent pole for Apple’s Streaming service cast, crew, and everyone involved in the shooting are understandably keeping tight-lipped about the production, but when it debuts later this year it will have accomplished a remarkable journey, not just for Asimov’s seminal book series but for a young studio and a region of Ireland that has often been overlooked by the film industry.

When discussing the extraordinary journey made by Troy and Limerick, Siún Ní Raghallaigh (Executive Director at Troy) told IFTN; “At Troy, we started our journey in 2016 when we invested heavily in the creation of the facility at Castletroy in Limerick. Today, we have achieved beyond what our expectations were and we are delighted with that success.” 

“We are continuing with the work of building a local crew and ecosystem in the area,” Ní Raghallaigh continued. “The regional uplift is a very important part of that. We work in tandem with local educators and the national agencies, to build on the growing crew base in the west of Ireland. We also work closely with other organisations in the west of Ireland, such as TG4, where we have a common interest in supporting and growing the industry regionally.”

Foundation looks set to be a major success for Apple, with the story finally coming to the screen after a journey of more than a half-century, but the success of Troy in bringing investment, employment, and developing the skillset and film ecosystem in the area is a story that is only beginning and one that looks set to have a similarly long-lasting legacy.

IFTA Q&A Series: Patricia Kelly on Directing
IFTA Q&A Series: Damien Lynch on Sound Design
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