£14m plan for two new film studios in Northern Ireland
It's a new chapter which will establish Northern Ireland as one of the busiest film locations in Europe.
Two new studios proposed for the Titanic Quarter could put Belfast on the global map of leading locations for film production.
The Belfast waterfront development has lodged a planning application for two new facilities which will boost the existing production centre by 100,000 sq ft if given the go-ahead.
The £14m project, which includes studios as well as production workshops, would increase the Titanic Quarter complex to over 250,000 sq ft.
If planning application is granted, work could begin within the next few months.
Also known as the Paint Hall, the already huge building set in the heart of Belfast's docklands was once a climate-controlled facility where ship parts were painted prior to assembly.
According to David Gavaghan, chief executive of Titanic Quarter, the HBO television fantasy series Game of Thrones, which is partly shot in the existing studios, is driving demand for additional space in Belfast.
“The planning application is a measure of Titanic Quarter's intent to ensure Northern Ireland's film industry continues to grow,” he said.
“The planned extension will help establish Belfast as one of Europe's largest film production locations with eight stages.”
Since 2007, when it was used for the Tom Hanks-backed movie City of Ember, the Titanic Studios has proved increasingly popular with production firms.
In addition to City of Ember, which starred Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan and Tim Robbins, other productions which were filmed at Titanic Studios include BBC drama Occupation and Hollywood movie Your Highness, which starred Natalie Portman and James Franco.
In 2012, the First and Deputy First Ministers opened two new 45,000 sq ft studios valued at £8m. Last September, the two ministers also visited the Steiner Film Studios in New York to promote film production in Northern Ireland.
Richard Williams, CEO of Northern Ireland Screen, said: “The expansion of the former Paint Hall, which housed our first international production in 2007, was a real driver in the development of the film and television production industry in Northern Ireland and helped boost Northern Ireland's standing in the marketplace.
“As we move into a new phase of international activity, on the back of the new tax breaks for high-end television drama and animation, Northern Ireland Screen needs to be able to assure the global industry of our continued capability to house large-scale international productions.
“There is no doubt that the demand for further studio infrastructure exists and the construction of more stages can only assist us with attracting further projects.”
Films completed last year
Made in Belfast: The directorial debut of Paul Kennedy, starring Ciaran McMenamin. Tipped for festival success.
Starred Up: Prison drama starring Rupert Friend and Jack O'Connell. Shot on location at Belfast’s Crumlin Road jail.
The Wipers Times: WW1 drama, starring Michael Palin, Emilia Fox and Ben Chaplin. Aired on BBC2 last year.
Miss Julie: Filmed in Co Fermanagh, the big screen adaptation of Swedish playwright August Strindberg's tale stars Hollywood heavyweights Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain.
Dracula Untold: Universal Picture's big budget Hollywood blockbuster stars Luke Evans.
Calibre of talent and locations makes us top choice
2014 is gearing up to be another blockbuster year for Northern Ireland's ever-expanding film and television industry.
While 2013 took the sector to new levels, with five movies, two Hollywood productions running simultaneously, and Oscar and BAFTA nods for movies shot here, this year gets off to a busy start with the return of The Fall.
Filming of the second series of the BBC2 crime drama gets under way next month and is due to run over four months around Belfast.
It is also hoped another BBC2 cop drama, Line of Duty, and HBO's epic Game of Thrones, will be returning to Northern Ireland.
Moyra Lock, head of marketing at Northern Ireland Screen, said 2013 was a significant year in terms of the calibre of productions – incoming and indigenous.
"Last year we had two major Hollywood productions running side by side, HBO's Game of Thrones and Universal Picture's Dracula Untold," she said.
"That's the first time we've done that. We wanted to show that we could run two large studio productions at the same time."
Aside from Game of Thrones and The Fall, BBC1's Blandings returned for filming for a second series, while NI Screen funded five movies last year – Dracula Untold, Miss Julie, Paul Kennedy's Made in Belfast, The Wipers Times and Starred Up. Filming got under way on a sixth movie at the end of 2013, Marie Jones' football tale Shooting for Socrates.
BBC2 will mark the centenary of the start of the First World War with a drama, shot here last summer, called 37 Days.
Stephen Wright, head of drama, BBC NI, said Northern Ireland offered incoming production companies great locations, stunning scenery and exceptionally talented actors and crews.
He said Belfast's small size was an added advantage.
"There are practical issues which make Belfast so popular," he said. "As a city, it gives you a good range of locations. It is also easy to get around.
"In other cities, logistics are more difficult but because Belfast is so compact, it's easy to get to the countryside as well."