Thursday 25 April 2019

Studio shortage threatens $100m Artemis Fowl film

Film board now seeks help to build new studios

Eoin Colfer
Eoin Colfer
Artemis Fowl
AUTHOR: Eoin Colfer and his wife Jackie. Picture: Patrick Browne

Nick Webb

Ireland's attempts to capture the $100m-budget Hollywood production Artemis Fowl, based on the fantasy novels of Wexford author Eoin Colfer, may be hit by delays in developing new studio space.

It is understood that senior Hollywood executives have visited Ireland in recent weeks to view potential locations and infrastructure. Disney and the Weinstein company are developing the movie, which has been given the green light to film. Industry insiders believe that the Artemis Fowl books could be turned into a major Hollywood franchise – becoming "the Irish Harry Potter". Filming movies of the eight books in Ireland could see investment well over €1bn from the Hollywood backers, generating thousands of high-quality jobs.

"This shortage of space is a serious issue and we would say that Ireland is losing business as a result. Whilst internationally, reaction to our new tax credit is very positive, there are genuine concerns about the lack of available studio space in Ireland to match the new business potential," according to Ardmore Studios boss Siun Ni Raghallaigh.

Ashford Studio founder Joe O'Connell has submitted a major planning application to expand his Wicklow Studio. However, his plans hinge on a change in government policy in relation to studios. Mr O'Connell has met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and key officials from the Department of Arts and Department of Finance.

He is seeking to have treatment of studios changed from being classed as commercial buildings to being classed as strategic infrastructure. This would enable the studio to pay less in planning and development fees and business rates. Mr O'Connell estimates that he could pay business rates of up to €3m based on the size of his planned sound stages. This would render the project uneconomic.

Mr O'Connell believes that attracting Artemis Fowl to his studio would be an enormous coup and has pencilled in plans for a dedicated visitor centre as the jewel in the crown of his expansion project. He cites the experience of New Zealand, where 10 per cent of tourists visit the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit sets.

Last week, the Irish Film Board sought expressions of interest from key industry players about what they could commit to building if the State stepped in with an incentive package. "We believe that the changes to the Section 481 tax incentive have been very helpful and if there's something that can be done with the studios that would be helpful too," according to Irish Film Board chief executive James Hickey.

It is believed that high-level departmental meetings have discussed a government scheme to promote new movie infrastructure such as sound stages.

The shortage of film studio space has led to a number of movie projects being made elsewhere. Ashford Studios recently turned away a Chinese delegation as it did not have the space as it is hosting the $35m Vikings series.

Northern Ireland's film industry is becoming increasingly competitive, fuelled by tax breaks and direct grants. Northern Ireland Screen – the state film agency – has a £43m fund to attract productions. Northern Ireland has just snagged the Brad Pitt project The Lost City of Z, which may star Sherlock pin-up Benedict Cumberbatch.

It is understood that a number of international studios and movie infrastructure groups have considered building new facilities in Ireland.

Two industry sources told the Sunday Independent that Pinewood Studios, the home of the James Bond movie franchise, was interested in partnering with an Irish group about creating new studio space or facilities here.

A spokesman for Pinewood dismissed this, saying that the studio was concentrating on its expansion plans in the UK, after receiving the green light for a major redevelopment of its campus last week.

Sunday Indo Business

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