Anybody curious to get a sense of Victorian London could do a lot worse than visit Dublin right now. Pockets of the south-inner city have been given an 1890s makeover thanks to Sky Atlantic's period thriller Penny Dreadful which is entirely filmed in Dublin and Wicklow.
ts second season began shooting in September and, in what's something of a massive production, will continue filming until the end of March. That's good news for the estimated 350 Irish cast and crew who will enjoy sustained employment either side of the festive period.
It wasn't the only big production set in late 19th century London that took over a chunk of Dublin this year. Ripper Street - and its 130 Irish cast and crew - returned to the city for its third season this summer. And there's talk that they will be back next year to work on Season Four.
It's not an exaggeration to say that there are times when it is difficult to walk through Dublin and other towns and cities and not see a camera crew filming a TV drama or feature film. From Ireland-set series like Moone Boy and the soon-to-be-screened Charlie - which centres on former Taoiseach Charles Haughey - to foreign dramas using the country as a 'double' for somewhere else, including a German soap opera, Ireland's film and TV industry has never known anything like it.
And audiences are responding in kind. More than one million people watched the season finale of RTE's hugely successful crime series Love/Hate on Sunday night and a significant number tuned in for the opening episode of the second season of the Anglo-Irish hit show The Fall which, while set in Belfast, boasts a large contingent of actors and crew from the Republic.
"The sector is unrecognisable from even 10 years ago," says Donald Taylor Black, head of the film school at Dun Laoghaire's Institute of Art, Design & Technology (IADT). "There are a huge number of Irish and international productions happening here now, and that means far more work for people in this industry than before."
IBEC estimate that more than 6,000 people are directly employed in film, television and animation in Ireland - and that's up from a figure of just 700 20-odd years ago.
"There is a lot of work out there," Taylor Black says. "I know of one technician whose contract on Ripper Street ended on the Friday and he began on Penny Dreadful that Monday. Whereas previously, Irish graduates might have had to emigrate in order to get the relevant experience, they're now able to get work in their own back yard, so to speak."
The picture is especially rosy for the 30 animation graduates who leave IADT each year. "Not only are they guaranteed employment," Taylor Black says, "but they're guaranteed employment in Ireland. How many industries can say that today? The animation sector is booming in Ireland and while it was a case of people having to leave the country to get work when I first started here 12 or 13 years ago, now third year students can easily get summer work in one of the studios and our worry is that they'll leave and not continue with their degree."
There's less certainty in other areas of the audiovisual entertainment, but Taylor Black points out that skilled technicians who cut their teeth in Ireland can find themselves in demand internationally. "You've got a young filmmaker like Gary Shore who's given an $80 million budget to make Dracula Untold and you have a cinematographer like Ruairi O'Brien working on The Fall," he says.
"You no longer have the situation where a big American production would come to town and they would be importing all the technical crew. And no longer are they saying 'we'd employ an Irish editor or director of photography if there was one with suitable experience' - they're all here now. We have a reputation for a skilled, specialised workforce and that makes Ireland attractive for would-be producers."
And yet, there are some who say that Ireland does not have enough suitably qualified and experienced talent to cater for the glut of work being made here. Entertainment lawyer Simon Carty says huge productions can lead to a veritable talent drain that can affect Ireland's abilities to bring in other films and TV series. "Game of Thrones [which is made in Belfast and part-filmed on the Antrim coastline] is a case in point," he says, "A production as big as that requires the finest cast and crew it can get on both sides of the border and that can mean that there may be a skills shortage for other projects."
It's not the only worry for those keen to see Ireland cement its place as a European Hollywood. Siún Ní Raghallaigh, the head of Ardmore Studios, Co Wicklow, says a lack of studio space in Ireland is stymieing the country's ability to meet its potential. "The lack of studio space is an issue of great concern for the industry," she said this week. "Studios are essential enablers for the industry to scale.
"There is strong international interest in Ireland as a production location thanks to positive tax incentives. However, the missing piece of the jigsaw is the availability of appropriate full service studio space in the county."
Ireland has in the region of 110,000 sq ft of such facilities at present and Ní Raghallaigh believes almost double that capacity is needed to meet the target of creating 5,000 new jobs and increasing annual revenue to €1 billion by 2016 as outlined in an arts department report published in 2011. It's feared that the republic has lost big projects - including Game of Thrones and Dracula Untold, which were both made in Northern Ireland - for this very reason.
The country's advantageous tax laws for filmmakers - Section 481 - have proved hugely important for attracting overseas investment. Finola Doyle O'Neill, who lecturers in Irish film and media history at University College Cork, says it didn't just transform Ireland's ability to woo big projects, but also boosted the careers of a slew of new home-grown filmmakers. "It's been of huge help for a generation of Irish directors like Lenny Abrahamson who have been able to make the films they wanted to," she says. "It's a pity it wasn't there for the first wave of Irish filmmakers - for people like Pat Murphy and Joe Comerford - who made very fine films in the '80s when securing funding was so difficult. It wasn't really viewed as an art form by many people then, but there's much more appreciation of the work of directors today and that can only be a good thing."
For an Irish producer, who does not wish to be named, Section 481 is the primary reason why big international projects have set their stalls in Ireland. "Yes, it helps that there are are really accomplished actors, brilliant technical staff and some fantastic locations and so on in this country," he says, "but the primary reason is the tax break. Lots of other countries are offering them too but, for once, we were quick off the mark and got in there early.
"The most recent budget - which makes Section 481 even more attractive than before - will help to make Ireland an appealing place for TV and film until at least 2020, but I'd be a little bit worried that we're getting complacent and patting ourselves on the back a bit too much."
Mark Deering, Sky Ireland's head of corporate affairs, believes the country's drama output is a cause for celebration and points to the success of its comedy series Moone Boy as evidence of "Ireland's ability to make television that has appeal both here and abroad." Co-written by actor Chris O'Dowd and young Kilkenny screenwriter Nick Vincent Murphy, it is entirely shot in O'Dowd's home town of Boyle, Co Roscommon, and each of the three series made to date has employed approximately 200 Irish cast and crew.
"Sky has spent in the region of €700 million on home-grown productions this year and much of that has been spent in Ireland," he says, talking of productions as large as Penny Dreadful, which Sky Atlantic is making in conjunction with the US network, Showtime, and more modest offerings such as the off-kilter documentary series, 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy, featuring the Dublin TV personality Baz Ashmawy.
"Big productions like Penny Dreadful don't just create jobs for skilled Irish people but also help put money into the local economy," Deering says. "When the then minister for arts, Jimmy Deenihan, visited the set in March he said that Penny Dreadful alone was worth €33 million to the Irish economy."
Meanwhile, Simon Carty believes Ireland's audio-visual industry should be accorded some of the energy that goes into promoting our food sector. "I think people underestimate how important it is, not just from a financial point of view, but culturally as well. We're getting to showcase our creativity on the world stage and I'm not just talking about the writers, directors and actors but all those skilled people who make the films and TV shows and animated series that get shown internationally.
"I was at [TV and media fair] MIPCOM in Cannes last month and there was a huge Irish presence there. They were selling dramas and game shows and formats and there was a real can-do spirit in the air. I got a real sense of a country that is punching well above its weight and that's really exciting because it didn't feel that way 20 years ago."
Donald Taylor Black is optimistic that upcoming generations will help consolidate Ireland's position as a vibrant place for creative arts like film-making and animation. "We get hundreds of applications every year and many of those people are really talented and have a huge amount to offer. We will be holding open days here at IADT [on Friday and Saturday] and that gives school students an opportunity to see the large number of employment possibilities that are in this industry.
"And it's not like they're applying to do a fine arts degree, which has limited enough opportunities for employment: this is an area where there is work to be had. And lots of it."