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How Northern Ireland missed out on movie opportunity thanks to loss of factory space

By Margaret Canning

Published 09/12/2015

Your Highness: Filmed in Northern Ireland
Your Highness: Filmed in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland missed out on a major film production following the loss of an east Belfast factory as studio space, an investigation has found.

The area turned out not to have the facilities for a movie which was to be shot here, called Book of the Dead, investigative website The Detail found.

A spokeswoman for film agency NI Screen - which has brought movies including City of Ember and Your Highness, plus TV series Game of Thrones, to the province - said it did not believe there had been a lack of investment in film infrastructure.

However, minutes from meetings of NI Screen suggest a lack of new studio space has been a big concern.

In a board meeting last year, chief executive Richard Williams made a reference to a former C&C factory on Castlereagh Road, which had been used for the filming of Dracula Untold in 2013. But the factory was later snapped up by energy company LCC - which has since let it to planemaker Bombardier as a logistics warehouse.

According to the minutes in December: "The chief executive informed the board that the use of the Britvic factory had fallen through, causing the loss of a large-scale project, Book of the Dead." And minutes of a meeting in March refer to an "infrastructure risk". "We continue to look for additional studio space following the loss of the Britvic facility," they read. And they also say "restructuring" at Titanic Quarter Ltd - thought to be a reference to the sale of loans on some of the assets of the company which owns the Titanic Quarter - meant progress on new studios had slowed.

Titanic Quarter is home to the major Titanic Studios - while Titanic Quarter Ltd has already won planning permission for new studios. Its landlord, Belfast Harbour, also wants to build its own studio on its estate.

NI Screen is funded by economic development agency Invest NI through the four-year Opening Doors strategy, in which the screen body receives funding of £8m per year, with another £2.7m additional top-up, subject to Invest NI having sufficient budget cover. In return, NI Screen projects are expected to deliver close to a £251m spend here and create 2,800 jobs by 2018. At its board meeting in June, NI Screen said "the availability of sound stages or appropriate build space remains the biggest barrier to successful delivering of the Opening Doors strategy".

The difficulties around film infrastructure emerged from an investigation by Detail Data into Invest NI.

But yesterday, a spokeswoman for NI Screen told the Belfast Telegraph: "Northern Ireland Screen does not feel there is a lack of investment in infrastructure. In fact, the level of support that we have received in a time of economic uncertainty has been great.

"We have had two sound stages, Hurst and McQuitty, built at Titanic Studios. This has been a great year for the industry here, with The Frankenstein Chronicles, Lost City of Z, Game of Thrones season six, The Journey, The Secret, to name just a few.

"And 2016 is already shaping up well, with My Mother and Other Strangers in pre-production and more exciting projects lined-up.

"Invest NI has committed to the additional top-up of £2.7m for our 2015/16 budget, bringing our total amount of funding this year to £10.7m.

"We are very confident that we can hit the targets set out in our Opening Doors strategy."

Book of the Dead has not yet been made into a film in any other location - and a spokeswoman for NI Screen said she could not reveal the genre of the film due to "commercially sensitive reasons".

But she did reveal Book of the Dead was not a zombie/horror movie - as book of the dead is familiar to movie fans as a feature of cult horror The Evil Dead.

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