Film and TV production in Ireland has doubled over the past five years, with a focus on building studio space and skills training for crew. Now the country is establishing itself as an attractive destination for TV, as evidenced by the success of projects including Element Pictures’ Normal People, shot in County Sligo and Dublin’s Trinity College.
“It’s been one of those things — a perfect synthesis of the right show at a particular time, a captive audience, and also, maybe it’s that the sensibilities of the show chimed with people,” said Ed Guiney, co-founder of Element Pictures.
As Ireland returned to tight Covid‑19 restrictions in October, production has been permitted to continue.
Steven Davenport, inward production manager at Screen Ireland, believes the country has much to offer in a competitive time. “Our 32% tax credit is one of the higher ones,” he says. “It’s a boots-on-the-ground tax credit. Once people are here working, they qualify for the tax credits.
“Georgian and Victorian architecture in Dublin and Limerick lets us play other cities as well.”
Davenport identifies the next stages of growth to be increasing capacity and training crews to fill any skills gaps, as Ireland increasingly becomes a year-round international production hub. “We used to be very seasonal,” he points out. “December until March was a downtime. But in the last couple of years, we’re seeing very busy starts to the year.”
Dublin-based Macdara Kelleher of Fastnet Films says Ireland is well placed to take advantage of a global demand for stories. “We’ve a good infrastructure so it’s possible to have multiple large-scale projects going at the same time.
Kelleher points to the need for more studio space to attract even more large-scale productions and for greater collaboration with Northern Ireland. “I would like to see more interaction between the north and the south,” he says. “There are some possibilities there.”
Section 481 is Ireland’s main tax credit at a rate of 32%, as well as a regional uplift of 5%, and was recently extended to 2023. The Wrap Fund provides funding and support for filming across the western counties of Galway, Limerick, Mayo, Clare, Donegal, Roscommon and Sligo. Recent projects supported include Nick Rowland’s UK-Ireland co-production Calm With Horses, feature The Winter Lake and TV drama series Smother.
As Ireland manages life with the Covid‑19 pandemic, facilitated by a set of guidelines drawn up by Screen Producers Ireland, a number of large-scale productions have resumed. These include Apple’s Foundation at Limerick’s Troy Studios following construction of a fourth soundstage. Vikings spin-off Valhalla, a historical drama for Netflix, has restarted production in County Wicklow. And Ridley Scott’s period epic The Last Duel, starring Matt Damon, Jodie Comer, Adam Driver and Ben Affleck, completed production in locations across the country.
The film was in pre-production for Walt Disney and 20th Century Studios when lockdown came into effect in late March, and Damon and his family stayed in Dublin, much to the delight of the Irish press. After returning to the US during the summer, cast and crew were back in Ireland in September.
According to Fredrik Wikström Nicastro of SF Studios, Ireland’s crew remains one of its greatest assets. “High-quality crew was a priority in what we were looking for and the flexibility to work with cast and crew from other countries if needed — which is exactly what we have found,” he says. “Additional pros are the beneficial rebates and closeness to the rest of Europe and the US.”
The industry is now planning ahead in a bid to optimise the growth in global demand for content. “We are seeing huge demand for international content,” says Steven Davenport, inward production manager at Screen Ireland. “The rise of SVoD has changed the landscape dramatically and there are no signs of it slowing down. Production activity in Ireland has doubled in the last four years.
“Training is also a huge focus for us and we are working across developing our skills base further. Screen Skills Ireland recently published an action plan for the next number of years and is consulting regularly with key industry stakeholders to ensure courses are provided that reflect the ongoing skills needs of the sector,” he adds.
“We want to ensure that we stay on top of global changes, new technology and are in a position to identify and meet any skills shortages that may arise very quickly.”
Ardmore Studios in County Wicklow offers seven soundstages, the largest spanning 23,250 square feet, just 14 miles from Dublin with rural settings. Troy Studios, in the mid-west city of Limerick, has 350,000 square feet under one roof, including four soundstages totalling 100,000 square feet. Ashford Studios in County Wicklow, 26 miles from Dublin city centre, has three soundstages on 500 acres of backlot, the largest of which is 30,000 square feet. Further studio facilities include Telegael in County Galway, Kite Studios in County Wicklow and Popup Studios in Dublin. Crews are experienced and plentiful.
Greystones Media Campus is also seeking planning permission to develop a 14-studio film and media campus in County Wicklow, Ireland.
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