Saturday 19 October 2019

Kevin's starring role in Wicklow film industry Ardmore chief a key player in Irish film business

When historians come to write the story of film-making in Ireland the Bray studio which has been at the hub of that industry for nigh on half a century will loom large.

And the name of the current chief executive of Ardmore Studios is also certain to have a place in the roll of honour, in large part as one of those responsible for bringing an industry back from death's door following the catastrophic collapse of film making in Ireland close to 20 years ago.

Kevin Moriarty has been the man at the helm of the Herbert Road studios since taking the chief executive's job at Ardmore back in 1990.

But his links with Ardmore date back much further, as the self-confessed 'film buff' admits when he recalls the highs and lows of film making in Bray over the past 25 years.

'I first became involved with Ardmore back in 1974 when I worked initially on the financial side, and subsequently as the studio manager of what were then the National Film Studios of Ireland'.

'But it all went wallop in the early 1980's and overnight I found myself out of a job. I remember receiving a telephone call on a Saturday night, about ten minutes before the news, to be informed that the Government had decided to pull the plug on the studios. Just like that,' he recalls of those worrying times.

'I had a young family at the time and one of my children was on the way. I remember that it was devastating,' he says.

Despite the closure of the studios and the resultant impact that that had on film making in Ireland, Kevin Moriarty kept his foot hold in the industry, working at times as a freelance film producer, accountant, and film consultant.

'The film production work certainly taught me a lot which helped me later, but the job itself certainly wasn't for me in the long term. When you are working on a film you can find yourself giving the project every hour of the day and night. I had a young family whom I wanted to spend time with, so a regular job was always the preferred option,' he says.

In early 1986 he returned to Ardmore when the high-flying Mary Tyler Moore-led MTM productions took a controlling interest in the studios, and Kevin Moriarty was involved in doing a business plan for the company.

'When I came back up the drive after four years the place looked like a farm. There had been no-one here except for security personnel since the closure, and Ardmore House itself had fallen into disrepair and was suffering from extensive dry rot,' he recalls.

The resurrection of Ardmore Studios under MTM was to prove something of a false dawn however, and although an amount of film and TV activity, - and particularly MTM pilots and episodes of series such as 'Remington Steele' were shot in Bray, a stock market slump in the late 1980's resulted in the take-over of MTM by the company TVS, and efforts to dispose of their Irish asset were set in train.

Morgan O'Sullivan, who had been the head of Ardmore both prior to and post the MTM revival stepped aside to develop his own production company, and a consortium then interested in securing the TV3 franchise took over the studios and put Kevin Moriarty at the helm.

The take over of Ardmore by U2 manager Paul McGuinness and the band's then accountant Ossie Kilkenny coincided neatly with what were to prove the first shoots and buds in the revival of film making in Ireland.

'It was around that time that Jim Sheridan's 'My Left Foot' landed several Oscars, and suddenly provided us with a new impetus and a new opportunity to market and promote Bray as a film making centre,' Kevin Moriarty says.

And shortly after that came the Tom Cruise famine vehicle 'Far and Away' , a big budget feature which gave Moriarty and his team even more with which to be able to promote Ardmore.

'You cannot under-estimate the benefits of having these big budget productions. Being able to talk about this film or that film is being able to tell people in the industry that you are capable of working at the highest level,' he says.

And so it has been - with a series of tax breaks and incentives introduced by the then Arts Minister Michael D. Higgins leading to a virtual avalanche of movie making activity at Ardmore.

'It certainly gave Irish film making a massive boost where movie makers need it most - in their budgets. The Section 35 and latter Section 184 incentives made Ireland an extremely attractive place for international films to be made, and resulted in some massive productions for Bray including 'Braveheart', 'Space Truckers' and 'Moll Flanders'.

'Elsewhere we were continuing to get vital work from Irish based international movie makers such as Neil Jordan, John Boorman and Jim Sheridan, but to have these big US and European productions as well was just fantastic,' he said.

The film boom in the middle years of the 1990s weren't without its hitches however - and the pressure on the industry to cater for the demands of the huge amount of film activity being attracted was a difficult balancing act for Ardmore.

'On the one hand we didn't want to lose the momentum and effectively kill the baby at birth by curtailing and restricting the amount of business we could do, but at the same time we didn't want to risk expanding at a rate that could not be sustained in the longer term', he says.

The upshot was an expansion programme which extended studio space, increased available workshop and office space at the studios, and the development by an independent company of post production editing and sound facilities on the studio campus.

Kevin Moriarty says that wider measures were also taken to address the problems encountered as a result of the boom in the industry at that time, most notably the introduction by the Irish Film Board of courses which gave people the training and skills that they needed to work in the movie industry.

'When we were doing a lot of big productions some years ago with a lot of British and foreign crews there was an amount of criticism that the tax incentives were creating jobs for foreigners and not for Irish people, but with each passing year the numbers of Irish people working in the industry is growing substantially'.

To illustrate this point he says that a far higher percentage of those employed on the recent big budget production 'Reign of Fire' were Irish, as compared even to the numbers who worked on 'Braveheart' six years ago.

Ultimately, the Ardmore Studios chief executive believes however that it will be indigenous Irish film making which can provide the securest future for our film industry, and that steps currently being taken by the Irish Film Board and such bodies to support script writing, fledgling film companies and the like will be critical to the industry in Ireland.

'Any amount of factors can affect whether international films come to Ireland or not. At present it is attractive because of the tax breaks and the strength of the dollar, but there's nothing to say that that won't change next month or next year. If we can develop the industry in Ireland then our fate will be in our own hands'.

n Stars of some of the films shot in Bray in the past ten years -from left Robin Wright (Moll Flanders), Tom Cruise (Far and Away),

Brenda Fricker and Daniel Day Lewis (My Left Foot), and Stephen Dorff and Debbie Mazar (Space Truckers).