Ballyhenry Studios can help revive the Irish film industry, but there are other factors.

After more than 7 years of planning and some setbacks along the way the much awaited Ballyhenry Studios will finally open its doors for a new 10 part series The Vikings. Situated in the peaceful village of Ashford Co. Wicklow, the man behind the project Joe O’Connell has been very diligent in planning and developing Ballyhenry Studios costing an estimated €25 million. A successful business man and engineer by training O’Connell his business interests include Christmas trees, a packaging company, barbeques and patio gas heaters. O’Connell says he became interested in film after renting out one of his units on Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’.

Situated on 350 acres close the M11, Ballyhenery Studios, is using the latest technologies to keep energy costs in check, is a open stop shop for film production, containing three stages the largest at 25,000 square ft, with the other two each measuring 13,500 square ft, a 250 seater restaurant, dressing rooms, offices spaces, prop shops and workshop spaces that still only have temporary planning permission. Joe O’Connell in a recent newspaper article said “I want Ireland to become the destination of choice outside of LA”

Certainly Ballyhenry will generate a lot of interest from international producers, O’Connell deserves full credit for his vision and ability to deliver a top class studio facility, but there are other factors not within Joe O’Connell control.

The final decision for any international production company is, are we getting the best value for our money to bring this project to Ireland? Other factors considered when making a final decision include:

  1. Studios competition: Ballyhenry is only one of many new studios around Europe seeking business. The Korda Studios in Budapest opened in 2007, and successfully attracted Ireland’s Neil Jordan’s to produce ‘The Borgais‘ there. The Korda studio contains 6 sound stages one of which is 64,000 square feet. Also in 2007 Barrandov studios built 2 new stages on of which is over 31,00 square feet both of these facilities are built to the highest standards. Both of these studios are very competitive on price and their labour rates are more that 25% lower than Irish rates. They both would like to see themselves as the studio of choice outside LA.
  1. Tax incentives currently the current tax incentives will expire in 2015, production are planned up to 2-3 years in advance and producers will already be seeking assurance from the IFB that if they plan to come to Ireland can they write their budgets based on those tax incentives been in place?
  1. TV production: currently Ireland has a distinct advantage over the UK in that Irish tax incentives cover TV productions. Articles in the UK weekend newspapers regarding  Chancellor George Osborne  plans to make changes to UK tax laws to cover TV production also. The British film industry is not happy in the fact that 4 UK TV dramas have already been gone into production in Ireland this year. Changes in UK tax law will also make it more difficult to compete for larger American produced dramas such as The Tudors and the new series of The Vikings.
  1. Working agreement’s: Today’s film making has become increasingly challenging budgets are smaller, and at the same time audiences expect more, fewer people are attending the cinema opting to wait for the DVD, then there is piracy, movie channels and now Netflix. To remain competitive working agreement’s need to be more flexible, the opposite has been the case here particularly here with the craft unions. The basis for the present union agreement’s dates back to when Ardmore opened in 1958, with minor amendment in the 70’s. For more than 15 months there has been a stand-off between Screen Producers Ireland and the craft unions on new agreement that reflects today’s industry. Several productions in recent years have been targeted by wildcat actions and protests which have been damaging to our reputation abroad. Now that Ballyhenry is about to open it is reported that the craft unions are seeking one hours traveling time to Ashford each day. To put that in perspective 2 hours travel time each day on a production of similar scale to The Vikings would cost the production in excess of €400,000 before any work commences.

It looks like Joe O’Connell has secured his first booking, but before the lights come on decisive action need to be taken on outdated work practices with in the industry. Union officials have every right to seek travel time to Ballyhenry, but its time Irish producers role to make it clear the economic reality the industry faces, if such perks remain in agreements international Producers of medium to large scale movies will continue to over look Ireland for more competitive film centres such  Brrandov, Korda and Canada. We cannot ever survive solely on an indigenous industry either in employment or training.

For Joe O’Connell and  Ballyhenry studios the potential is huge, it would be a shame after such an investment to find itself burdened with outdated industrial practices that have no place in an extremely competitive market.

Its time for long term stagedy instead of short term gains.

© Tom Dowling

Categories: Film and TV

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