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Vikings studio owner's big plans after turning Disney offer down

The owner of the studio where hit US TV series Vikings is shot says he wants to turn it into an Irish "Silicon Valley of film".

The third season of the show - which featured newly-wed Gabriel Byrne - is currently being filmed at Joe O'Connell's Ashford Studios in Co Wicklow.

And he has big plans for the future of the state of the art facility with plans to expand the sound stages as well as open a massive tourist attraction.

Mr O'Connell (64) told the Herald: "I believe Ashford could be the biggest thing in the film world."

But, he added, "we need to act quickly" - referring to what he called "inroads" being made by the film industry in the UK due to incentives to film there.

"The infrastructure needs to be in place for Ireland to capitalise on what is already out there," he said.

With the encouragement of Irish producer Morgan O'Sullivan, Mr O'Connell built the €22m film and television studio near Ashford village, funded by business ventures in pre-decorated Christmas trees, barbeques and gas heaters.

Opening in 2011, it employs 400 people and boasts three sound stages with half of the scenes in Vikings shot there and the rest at a range of scenic locations in the Wicklow.

But Mr O'Connell wants to expand his studio to seven times its current size, adding 18 sound stages over the next two decades and employing as many as 5,000 people. He has lobbied Wicklow County Council on the matter.

He said he recently hosted former Disney executive Tony To, who was impressed and asked if a Disney production could be slotted in when Vikings ended.

"I said not really because we don't know how many series it [Vikings] will go on for. That did not go down well," Mr O'Connell said.

The studio owner recently made a presentation to the council arguing that his premises should be classified as infrastructure and made exempt from rates and development levies as part of an expansion plan.

He said the plans won't be able to proceed if the council charges rates, but that he is confident the council will grant his request.

He said he is not asking for any funding from the local authority and said that a number of spin-off businesses would be located on site and they would pay rates "so it's win-win".