Magazine article Screen International

Northern Ireland: The Game Changer

Magazine article Screen International

Northern Ireland: The Game Changer

Article excerpt

Northern Ireland's production scene has been expanding rapidly thanks to major projects such as Game Of Thrones. Sarah Cooper looks at how the territory is continuing to grow its infrastructure and crews, while building up its local film-making industry.

It is testament to how far Northern Ireland has come as a filming location that last summer the territory not only played host to season four of HBO's Game Of Thrones but also managed to accommodate a Bollywood feature, an indie sci-fi film, a BBC TV drama series and a large-scale Hollywood fantasy feature.

"The fact they were able to survive alongside Game Of Thrones is a really big statement and evidence there is beginning to be a real depth of crew in Northern Ireland," says producer Aidan Elliott of Belfast and London-based Generator Entertainment, which was set up by Mark Huffam and Simon Bosanquet in 2008 to produce a mix of international and local projects including Cherrybomb and Whole Lotta Sole.

"It feels to me that outside of London this is the strongest film industry in the UK," adds Elliott, who together with Huffam is teaming with Microsoft Entertainment and Scott Free Productions for Sepia (working title), a large-scale digital feature project based on Xbox's videogame Halo, which will shoot in Belfast and the surrounding area this month, directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan.

"We looked at shooting in New Zealand, Morocco and South Africa but when it came down to it, the best value for money is actually in Northern Ireland, where you can get the tax credit and funding from [regional agency] Northern Ireland Screen. I don't think you can beat that anywhere else in the world for production value and making money stretch," Elliott explains.

'There's a reason why Northern Ireland has the most successful screen industry outside London - they were the first across the finishing line'Mark Huffam, Generator Entertainment

Similarly, Universal had originally planned to shoot its epic fantasy feature Dracula Untold -- starring Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper -- in eastern Europe, before realising that, financially, it made more sense to come to Northern Ireland.

"They sent me costs for Romania and I showed them that they could do it more effectively in Northern Ireland," explains Huffam, who with his strong international connections has played a crucial part in attracting a string of large-scale productions to the region including Playtone's City Of Ember, Universal's Your Highness and HBO's Game Of Thrones, which Sky Atlantic broadcasts in the UK.

Tempo Productions' Piers Tempest has regularly chosen to produce projects in Northern Ireland rather than mainland UK, including Killing Bono, Grabbers and most recently Jon Wright's Robot Overlords, starring Gillian Anderson and Ben Kingsley, which shot in Northern Ireland last summer and is being sold by Embankment Films. The next instalment in Wright's planned monster trilogy, Robot Warlords, will also shoot there in 2015.

"You are always thinking about what's going to produce the best production value for the budget, and a pound spent in Northern Ireland goes much further than elsewhere in the UK," says Yorkshire-based Tempest, who admits that with the one-hour flight to Belfast from Leeds, "it's quicker for me to get to Belfast than it is to London".

Growing infrastructure

"There are very few high-end TV shows and films that don't mention Belfast when they are talking about locations," says Greg Darby, founder of post-production house Yellow Moon, which having worked on projects including Line Of Duty, Game Of Thrones and Dracula Untold is one of a number of local companies to benefit from the influx of productions to the territory.

"We've just moved into our fourth building in five years," says Darby, who is optimistic the growth in production activity will continue, especially with the recent enhancements to the film tax credit, which are expected to attract more international projects to come to the UK to carry out their post work. …

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