Magazine article Screen International

All Points North

Magazine article Screen International

All Points North

Article excerpt

Northern Ireland is undergoing a local and international production boom.

From its strong crew base and breathtaking rural locations, to its financial incentives and studio space, Northern Ireland is fast becoming one of the most attractive filming locations for international productions looking for a cost effective and film-friendly base in Europe.

The region is also starting to build up its indigenous industry, with a number of locally based production companies and post-houses popping up and a crop of high-profile films set to come out of Northern Ireland this year, including Terry George's heist comedy Whole Lotta Sole; Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn's Good Vibrations, a biopic of punk godfather Terri Hooley; and Lionsgate's Keith Lemon: The Film, all of which were produced and shot in Belfast with funding from government-backed agency Northern Ireland Screen. And it is not just feature films that are attracted to Northern Ireland: Belfast is also becoming a hub for television production, with HBO set to return there to shoot season 3 of the Emmy-winning Game Of Thrones this summer and a slew of UK television dramas being filmed in the region including The Fall, a Belfast-set police drama series starring Gillian Anderson, and PG Wodehouse-inspired series Blandings, both for the BBC. The UK government's promise to introduce a tax credit for high-end TV drama by April 2013 is likely to provide an even bigger draw.

"We think it's a pretty fabulous place to make films. There are great crews, it's a very film-friendly environment and the people aren't jaded," says producer Mark Huffam, who returned to Belfast in 2008 to set up production company Generator Entertainment, together with Simon Bosanquet and Aidan Elliott, producing a combination of big-budget international productions along with local fare such as Red Mist and Whole Lotta Sole.

With his strong international connections, Huffam's presence in the region has proved a key factor in attracting big-budget shoots to Belfast, including Universal¹s medieval comedy feature Your Highness which based itself in Belfast between July and November 2009 and Game Of Thrones.

"It is vital to have that credible voice in the region and that, combined with the great crews and the incentives, has really helped put us on the map," says Andrew Reid, head of production at Northern Ireland Screen, which has been equally instrumental in the upsurge of production in the region over the last few years. Formerly known as the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission, the agency shifted up a gear in 2007 when it changed its name and launched a new strategy, 'Building on Success', attracting its first big US production, City Of Ember, to the region while also backing arthouse films such as Steve McQueen's 2008 Cannes Camera d'Or winner Hunger.

'People in Belfast are starting to believe that they have the talent'Andrew Eaton, Revolution Films

From 2010 to the end of March 2012, Northern Ireland Screen has invested $15.6m (£9.8m) worth of production funding through its Screen Fund, resulting in an estimated total Northern Irish spend of $93.4m (£58.8m) and putting back an estimated $9.50 (£6) into the Northern Irish economy for every $1.60 (£1) it invested. Northern Ireland Screen's usual maximum investment per project is $1.3m (£800,000), which is made in the form of a recoupable loan. Projects must have 65% of their budget in place, shoot partially in Northern Ireland and demonstrate the potential for economic benefit to the region, as well as passing the British Film Institute'scultural test.

Projects backed by Northern Ireland Screen have included Nick Hamm's Killing Bono and Jon Wright's monster comedy Grabbers, which shot in Belfast last summer and world premiered at Sundance in January.

The agency invests $4.8m (£3m) annually into its Irish-language broadcast fund (which backs Irish-language content) and $1.6m (£1m) via its Ulster-Scots broadcast fund, which was set up to preserve the Ulster-Scots heritage language and culture. …

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