Belfast Telegraph

Taxing problem for Northern Ireland's prospective film projects

By Anna Maguire

It is Belfast’s most famous engineering feat.

But the dream to shoot a drama about the Titanic in the place it was constructed in a century ago sank because it was too expensive.

Film-makers behind TV drama Titanic were forced to abandon the apt location of Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyards for Hungary — where generous tax breaks abound.

After months of delays, the producers of the £13m ITV project moved their planned shoot thousands of miles to Budapest.

Once there, the production team could build a vast water tank to shoot the story of the doomed Belfast-built ocean liner.

However, the drift to countries such as Hungary — where tax benefits are on offer — may be about to change.

Reports last week that the coalition Government could extend tax subsidies currently enjoyed by firms behind feature films shot in the UK were roundly welcomed by the TV industry.

The tax break — if implemented — would apply to TV dramas shot and produced in the UK.

The concession has been dubbed the Downton Abbey credit.

Simon Vaughan, Titanic's financial deal-maker and producer, who set the TV project in motion four years ago, said: “We need some sort of financial break to get us back 20% to 25% of what we spend, like the UK feature film tax credit.”

Producers behind Titanic reported that one of the hardest aspects of filming the drama in summertime Budapest was pretending to be freezing cold.

Mr Vaughan added: “Had we been able to make the drama in Belfast we would have been able to use a lot more of the natural world and get the benefit of being able to shoot in real streets and locations — which existed when the Titanic was being built — and in the Harland and Wolff shipyards.

“Hungary lacked the period locations we needed.”

Mr Vaughan’s West End company, Lookout Point, is helping to finance two projects for the BBC with US cable partners outside of the UK because it is currently too expensive to film here.

They include Ripper Street, a £12m period drama series shooting in Dublin which focuses on policing in the East End of London in the aftermath of Jack the Ripper, and Parade's End, based on Ford Madox Ford’s novels.

“In all three cases (including Titanic), they could have been made here,” he said.

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