Tuesday 12 December 2017

O'Connell mulls a plan to build new movie studio

But film tax breaks need to improve

Nick Webb

Nick Webb

Joe O'Connell, the maverick industrialist turned movie studio boss, is considering plans to massively expand his €22m Ashford Film Studios in Wicklow. However the ambitious development may hinge on whether the Government moves to make Ireland more competitive in the battle to bring big movies and television productions to Ireland.

"We're at a situation where we are thinking, what do we do next?", he told the Sunday Independent. "Basically to make it work, we'd need a level playing field." If we have a level playing field and we win the business, then we'll build again."

Entrepreneur O'Connell, who has made a fortune manufacturing patio heaters and light engineering in China, spent almost seven years in planning battles as he tried to build the Ballyhenry studio. It has the biggest sound stage in the country, rivalling facilities at nearby Ardmore.

O'Connell told the Sunday Independent that support for the Irish film industry could lead to the creation of a major film production campus in Wicklow. The complex, which may cost up to €100m, would house all aspects of film production from studios to CGI or editing facilities. This ambitious project and movie infrastructure could make Ireland high desirable for Hollywood productions.

"England has very good incentives and so does Northern Ireland. It's a question of how you respond to that," O'Connell said. While the costs of Irish film have come down, having the right infrastructure and incentives is key to luring the next Star Wars or Skyfall.

"I have a plant in China. They help me in every which way to try to keep me there – I've brought other people there," he added. "This isn't rocket science."

Morgan O'Sullivan's hit TV series The Vikings is being filmed at Ashford. The €30m production is the second season of the ratings-topping show. "The primary market is high-end television in the US," O'Sullivan told the Sunday Independent.

There is a massive opportunity for Ireland to tap into the demand for high-end productions like The Vikings or Ripper Street, O'Sullivan told the Sunday Independent. "There is a demand in the UK. They've run out of space. We'll get the spillover," he added. "The British recognise the potential of this."

Ireland's movie industry faces a raft of new challenges as the UK has ratcheted up its incentive package in a bid to win more television and movie productions from abroad. In May it emerged that Northern Ireland had nabbed a €70m production of Dracula, starring Javier Bardem, from Ireland, after hiking its incentive and grant package.

Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan said: "Every country faces challenges to win business, but Ireland's offering is strong and is improving. There are a range of things that Government is working to improve, including incentives, so that we can build on the contribution that film and television is making to our economy."

The Department of Finance said it had already amended the Section 481 film tax incentive scheme.

Irish Independent

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