Belfast is known as home to many things — the capital of Northern Ireland, Gaelic football, Irish linen, and the birthplace of the RMS Titanic, to name just a few. Not on the list is big-budget Hollywood film and TV production. Northern Ireland Screen, a government-backed agency that promotes the Northern Ireland region as a location for shooting film, television, and digital content, is working to change that.
From 2010 to the end of March 2012, Northern Ireland Screen invested some $15.6 million worth of funding to various projects filmed in Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland. In recent years the organization has drawn to the region such productions as the movie Your Highness (produced by Universal Pictures, staring Natalie Portman and James Franco) and HBO’s critical darling Game of Thrones (recently renewed for a third season).
Previously called Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission, the organization began its push to attract more big-budget productions in 2007 when it received a $24 million investment from NI Invest (the economic development agency for Northern Ireland) and landed City of Ember, a children’s adventure film produced by Tom Hanks and starring Hollywood heavyweights Bill Murray and Tim Robbins.
An article published last month in film industry trade publication Screen Daily outlines the local and international production boom that the region is experiencing. It cites financial incentives, varied landscapes, a lack of production permits and other red tape that is required in cities such as London and New York, and great film crews as providing motivation to film in the area (not to mention a sustained period of calm following the Troubles, resulting in substantial economic growth).
Another major selling point for the region is Belfast’s vast studio facility, The Paint Hall. The space is located in the city’s former shipbuilding quarter and was once used to paint the ships assembled by Harland and Wolff, which built the Titanic. The Paint Hall offers four stages each measuring 16,000 square feet.
A London-based production company shot the BBC drama Blandings in Northern Ireland with backing from Northern Ireland Screen. Says producer Jon Williams, “Regional incentives in the UK have dried up, [production] budgets aren’t getting any smaller and broadcast license fees aren’t getting any bigger, so companies like us are constantly looking for help with funding.”
Other producers will likely follow Williams’ lead. Audiences can look for another UK television drama filmed in the region — The Fall, a Belfast-set police drama series starring Gillian Anderson is set to air soon on BBC.