Wednesday 13 December 2017

Plan to bring Hollywood to Docklands will star major US film company

An ambitious plan for the Glass Bottle site, backed by Brooklyn producer Alan Moloney and TV3 founder James Morris, awaits a zoning decision by Dublin City Council

Film producer Alan Moloney and TV3 founder James Morris in Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin. Picture: David Conachy
Film producer Alan Moloney and TV3 founder James Morris in Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin. Picture: David Conachy
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

In 2008, Alan Moloney, producer of the movie Brooklyn, and James Morris, founder of TV3 and Windmill Lane Pictures, were chatting about the lack of film studio space in Ireland.

"At that stage, there was only Ardmore and it was busy. What I had to do was take over industrial warehouses and factory spaces around town for filming," said Moloney. The conversation convinced both of them that Dublin needed to develop new film studios.

Driving past the vacant Glass Bottle site in Ringsend a couple of years later, it dawned on him that the site would provide a perfect location for a world-class film studio.

Since then, they have been working behind the scenes to make the project a reality, initially commissioning a feasibility study by Accenture and more recently talking to potential investors about funding the project, which would cost €70m to €80m to build.

At the moment, Dublin City Council is in the process of zoning the site as it draws up a Strategic Development Zone plan for the 84-acre space in the Docklands. Some 3,000 houses will be built, but Moloney and Morris are seeking 20 acres for what they now call Dublin Bay Studios.

Gary Levinsohn, the producer of Jack Reacher, has already come on board. "He was here for Saving Private Ryan, which he produced, so he has an affinity with Ireland," said Moloney. Bono has lobbied for the plan.

They have just secured a partnership agreement with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the world's biggest film companies. "CAA is one of the leading artists' management companies. Clients include Steven Spielberg, Liam Neeson, and Colin Farrell," said Moloney, whose recent productions include The Siege of Jadotville for Netflix.

"It represents key directors, producers, key acting talent and additionally puts financing packages together around feature films and television."

He described the relationship as a strategic partnership. "CAA's role would be everything from putting movie together movie packages, financing packages and the promotion of the studios."

"They are actually the rain makers who bring the studios and the finance together," said Morris.

Morris and Moloney's project has been buoyed by a shortage of film studio space internationally.

"There are 100 sound stages in London and last week the mayor of London said they don't have enough," Morris said.

"There are 12 in Ireland now and the plan is to develop eight large sound stages. That would be just under 200,000 sq ft and another 150,000 sq ft of ancillary production services."

This would make Dublin Bay Studios the third-largest studio facility in Ireland and the UK.

They envisage bringing in projects with a budget totalling €400m to €500m a year. "We want Netflix coming in, we want international franchises, productions at the highest level," said Moloney.

They have already been working with the Film and Television Workers Association, the local union, preparing for apprenticeship schemes which would be based in the studios. Some 1,800 jobs could be created, they believed and 1,800 indirect jobs.

They have used the Montreal Cite du Cinema as a model for Dublin Bay Studios. Canada's largest film production facility started in 1988 with a €10m investment. A large cluster of creative industries has grown up around the studios, generating around 35,000 jobs.

However, with land for office and residential development in Dublin's city centre in high demand, has a film studio proposal a real chance?

"We have presented to Dublin City Council. It went in as part of the call for submissions, we know they are considering it. We have met with a lot of politicians, the residents' association," said Moloney. "This will come down to the planners seeing that this project is in the national interest and the city's interest."

The land is owned by Nama and the Dublin Port Authority. Moloney said that they want to acquire the land if the zoning is granted and a sale process begins.

"If there is the will for this, there is a way that will compliment housing, that will bring a major new industrial sector into the heart of Dublin," said Morris.

"Will it be our proposal for international studios or will it be more offices?," he said.

KMPG has being working on the financial side of the proposal, which would be funded through equity investment and debt.

"We have the offers of financial backing," said Moloney.

Although the investment in the project would be front loaded, it is a good cash flow business if working to capacity, according to Morris. To date, a number of documents have been prepared including an investment memorandum outlining return on investment and detailed business plan.

They believe that once a commercial investor is on board, the project would be a good fit for the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, managed and controlled by the National Treasury Management Agency. Morris, Moloney and Levinsohn would be equity partners in the project.

The IDA has been "very supportive" of the plan, and representatives of the agency have already met with Levinsohn and CAA.

"The CAA are a very important part of the jigsaw for us because they do provide a very important assurance for us," said Morris.

The pair said that the plan is underpinned by Ireland's success this year at the Oscars, as well as growing demand for content.

Sky, Netflix and Amazon are all relatively new entrants to the market and are spending billions on production.

Moloney said he and many others in the sector have to work abroad to make a living. "This will stop the flow of creative talent leaving the country," he said.

Morris said: "Nobody disputes there is increasing demand for film and television entertainment." Studios are also needed for video games, for virtual reality. It's talent and technology that make studio work and 60pc of what you spend on a show is on payroll, that's employment."

"Is this something that is going to enhance and create something of value - socially, economically, culturally?" said Morris.

"Those are the judgements that will ultimately have to come to bear."

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