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Does end of Game of Thrones sound death knell for Northern Ireland film industry or is it game on?

Success of the HBO blockbuster series has left our creative industries well-placed to capitalise on the post-Brexit world

By Paul Gosling

Published 04/08/2016

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)
Jon Snow (Kit Harington)

For millions of fans, the Game is almost up - the Game Of Thrones, that is. HBO has announced that the programme will end after series eight in 2018 - series seven is currently being filmed in Northern Ireland and will air next year.

Northern Ireland has hit the screens for all the right reasons with Game Of Thrones. It has shown our little country's beauty worldwide, from the Dark Hedges, to Ballintoy Harbour, to Binevanagh Mountain.

One result has been a flood of tourists keen to visit the sites of the filming.

The economy has benefited from Game Of Thrones to the tune of £146m, according to Northern Ireland Screen. That financial boost is just the direct spend by the film production company and does not include the significant indirect spending boost to our economy. Some 900 full-time and 5,700 part-time jobs have been created by Game Of Thrones, NI Screen reports.

But can our nascent film industry survive the loss of Game Of Thrones? Well, despite the statement from HBO last weekend that it will end in two years, that may not be the end of the story.

There is widespread speculation that there will be at least one spin-off series, which is also likely to be filmed in Northern Ireland - possibly based on the Dunk & Egg novels by Game Of Thrones author George RR Martin.

"There is no doubt we will all miss Game Of Thrones filming in Northern Ireland," conceded Richard Williams, CEO of NI Screen. "Many of us, for many different reasons. But Northern Ireland Screen has always taken a pragmatic point of view and we were always aware that this day would come.

"We have to come at this from the standpoint that the impact from Game Of Thrones has been nothing but positive for Northern Ireland. The economic return alone is astounding, with the show bringing around £146m to the economy in the last six seasons, with another two seasons still to come.

"This show is of such vast size and scale that it has fostered an unprecedented development of local skills, with crew members advancing up the career ladder and trainees being taken on as permanent crew on the production.

"The show has also encouraged further investment in local production infrastructure, where we have seen the start of construction of the new Belfast Harbour Studios. And, moreover, Game Of Thrones filming in Northern Ireland has fuelled the confidence of the global industry in our capabilities as a world-class production hub.

Emilia Clarke attends the season six premiere of
Emilia Clarke attends the season six premiere of "Game Of Thrones" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Maisie Williams attends the season six premiere of "Game Of Thrones" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Iwan Rheon attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Lena Headey attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Kristofer Hivju attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Maisie Williams attends the season six premiere of "Game Of Thrones" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Hannah Murray attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Sophie Turner attends the season six premiere of "Game Of Thrones" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Emilia Clarke attends the season six premiere of "Game Of Thrones" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Peter Dinklage attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor John Bradley attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Alfie Allen attends the season six premiere of "Game Of Thrones" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Eugene Simon attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Michael McElhatton attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Peter Dinklage (L) and Erica Schmidt attend the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Lena Headey attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Michael McElhatton attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Kristian Nairn attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Liam Cunningham attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Joe Naufahu attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau attends the season six premiere of "Game Of Thrones" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Dean S. Jagger attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Michiel Huisman attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Hannah Murray attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Sophie Turner attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Lilakoi Moon attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Kevin Dunn attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Peter Dinklage attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Comedian Tim Minchin attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Dean-Charles Chapman attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Isaac Hempstead Wright attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Faye Marsay attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Finn Jones attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Tom Wlaschiha attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Daniel Portman attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Finn Jones attends the season six premiere of "Game Of Thrones" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Alex Borstein attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Owen Teale attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Emilia Clarke attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Kristofer Hivju (R) and Gry Molvær attend the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Lena Headey attends the season six premiere of "Game Of Thrones" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Isaac Hampstead Wright attends the season six premiere of "Game Of Thrones" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Amanda Peet attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Faye Dunaway attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor Michiel Huisman attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Lena Headey attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actor DeObia Oparei attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: (L-R) Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani, Thomas Middleditch, and Mollie Gates attend the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Alfie Allen attends the season six premiere of "Game Of Thrones" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Regina King attends the premiere of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 6 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Jonathan Pryce attends the season six premiere of "Game Of Thrones" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

"In terms of world domination of one show and its language and composition becoming part of the zeitgeist, it will probably never be matched.

"But I am confident that the legacy from Game Of Thrones will be felt in Northern Ireland for a long time to come."

Our film industry is already about much more than Game Of Thrones and The Fall.

Dracula Untold and High-Rise are recent cinema releases shot here, while Line Of Duty became an unexpected hit for BBC NI.

Plans to further expand the local film sector are well-advanced.

As well as location shooting across much of the north coast region, Game of Thrones was filmed in Belfast's Titanic Studios. These are substantial, well-equipped and in high demand.

Trees fallen at the Dark Hedges after Storm Gertrude swept across Northern Ireland. The trees made famous by the HBO series Game of Thrones, have collapsed onto the Bregagh Road near Armoy.
Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Trees fallen at the Dark Hedges after Storm Gertrude swept across Northern Ireland. The trees made famous by the HBO series Game of Thrones, have collapsed onto the Bregagh Road near Armoy. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Trees at the Dark Hedges, the now-famous Game of Thrones film location, have been uprooted by Storm Gertrude. January 2016 (Photo by Kevin Scott )
Trees at the Dark Hedges, the now-famous Game of Thrones film location, have been uprooted by Storm Gertrude. 2016 (Photo by Kevin Scott )
Trees at the Dark Hedges, the now-famous Game of Thrones film location, have been uprooted by Storm Gertrude.
Trees at the Dark Hedges, the now-famous Game of Thrones film location, have been uprooted by Storm Gertrude. January 2016 (Photo by Kevin Scott )
Trees at the Dark Hedges, the now-famous Game of Thrones film location, have been uprooted by Storm Gertrude. January 2016 (Photo by Kevin Scott )
Trees at the Dark Hedges, the now-famous Game of Thrones film location, have been uprooted by Storm Gertrude. January 2016 (Photo by Kevin Scott )
Trees at the Dark Hedges, the now-famous Game of Thrones film location, have been uprooted by Storm Gertrude. January 2016 (Photo by Kevin Scott )
Picture - Kevin Scott Belfast , UK - January 29th, Pictured is trees down at the Dark Hedges on the 29th January 2016 (Photo by Kevin Scott )
Picture - Kevin Scott Belfast , UK - January 29th, Pictured is trees down at the Dark Hedges on the 29th January 2016 (Photo by Kevin Scott )
Trees at the Dark Hedges, the now-famous Game of Thrones film location, have been uprooted by Storm Gertrude. January 2016 (Photo by Kevin Scott )
Trees at the Dark Hedges, the now-famous Game of Thrones film location, have been uprooted by Storm Gertrude. January 2016 (Photo by Kevin Scott )
Trees at the Dark Hedges, the now-famous Game of Thrones film location, have been uprooted by Storm Gertrude. January 2016 (Photo by Kevin Scott )
Picture - Kevin Scott Belfast , UK - January 29th, Pictured is trees down at the Dark Hedges on the 29th January 2016 (Photo by Kevin Scott )
Trees fallen at the Dark Hedges after Storm Gertrude hit Northern Ireland. The trees made famous by Game of Thrones, collapsed onto the Bregagh Road near Armoy. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Trees fallen at the Dark Hedges after Storm Gertrude hit Northern Ireland. The trees made famous by Game of Thrones, collapsed onto the Bregagh Road near Armoy. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Trees fallen at the Dark Hedges after Storm Gertrude hit Northern Ireland. The trees made famous by Game of Thrones, collapsed onto the Bregagh Road near Armoy. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The Belfast Harbour Studios will add substantial capacity to the sector and are scheduled to open before the end of this year. They are being constructed at the Giant's Park on the north foreshore as part of what is being called a "cleantech hub" for high-technology businesses.

A spokeswoman for the studios indicates it is confident about its future, saying it has "had significant interest and numerous visits in recent months".

There are other studio and filming facilities in Northern Ireland, including the Linen Mill Studios in the Bann valley in Co Down.

The Republic has for many years been a major centre for international film production. Dublin's Ardmore Studios has just filed its latest accounts, showing strong profits and high demand for its services.

A report three years ago from consultancy firm PwC suggested there was a need for more studios across Britain and Ireland, with existing capacity unable to meet demand. One major question now, though, is what impact Brexit will have on that demand, particularly in Northern Ireland.

The lower cost of sterling following the Brexit vote should make us more competitive, but film production schedules often have long lead times and fears of exchange rate volatility around the value of sterling could be a risk too far for some production companies.

PwC chief economist Esmond Birnie says it is unclear whether the Brexit effect will be positive or negative for studios here. One of his fears is that economic damage from Brexit could lead to a fall in various types of consumer demand, including for cinema-going.

The fall in sterling's value against the dollar and the euro does certainly make film production in the UK more competitive than it was before the referendum, agrees Birnie.

But he is not convinced that a fall of 10% or so in sterling's value will be enough to change a film production company's location decisions. It is also unclear whether the fall in value is long-term.

"So, we will be more cost-competitive, which has been one of the big selling-points for Northern Ireland, because of labour costs and other production costs, on which we offer a very good package," said Birnie.

"Exchange rate movement will help that, but I don't know if that is big enough, or will be sustained long enough, to have much effect."

The big impact, Birnie suggests, could be from the easing of rules on the promotion of the sector.

Once the UK leaves the EU, Northern Ireland will be free to offer larger financial incentives - grants and tax reliefs - to encourage international film production companies to make films here.

But, as yet, we have simply no idea whether there will be money free to do this in the post-Brexit financial environment.

NI Screen says that its funding comes from the Executive, not from the EU, so it is "business as usual" after the referendum result. In reality, though, nothing will be business as usual post-Brexit.

But it is much too early to say which impacts from Brexit will be positive and which negative.

The signs, though, are that our film industry is well-placed to expand - even after exiting both the European Union and Game Of Thrones.

Belfast Telegraph

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