Vikings commences production – Irish Film at a crossroads

After much anticipation production commenced on ‘Vikings‘at Ashford Studios, Co Wicklow,  yesterday with Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects) and Travis Fimmel (Tarzan) among the lead cast.

Successful writer/creator Michael Hirst of The Tudors and Camelot was assigned the task for the 10-episode drama Vikings, and will also be executive producer along with Morgan O’Sullivan, and John Weber of Take 5 Productions. ‘Vikings’  depicts the adventures of the leader of the Vikings, Ragnar Lothbrok and his fellow Norsemen who travelled by long boat raiding, plundering and traded in Ireland during medieval times, many of whom eventually settling here.

This is the first high-profile TV project to be undertaken at MGM since it was restructured following bankruptcy. Canadian indie Take 5 Productions will co-produce with Shaw Media’s History Television and Morgan O’Sullivan’s World 2000. The series went into pre-production back in April with a production loan of €250,000 by the Irish Film Board.

Shaw Media will be the broadcast partner in Canada, (who have previously produced the series The Kennedy’s), airing the show on History Television in Canada. MGM will distribute the drama outside of Ireland and Canada, and AETV’s History channel will air the series in the U.S. market. Morgan O’Sullivan’s World 2000 retains the rights to the Irish market.

The €30 million series of ‘Vikingsbegan shooting at Ballyhenry Studios, Ashford  for at least the first 3 weeks, before moving to other Wicklow exteriors and location shoots throughout Northern Europe. In total it will shoot for 18 weeks, providing a much needed boost to the Irish Film industry.it will be aired in 2013. This will be the first production at Joe O’Connell’s €25 million studios complex. Consisting of 3 studios, the largest The Gasworks Studio is 28,000 sq feet, The Box Studio and The Christmas Tree Studio both around 13,000 sq feet, all deriving their names from successful businesses of Joe O’Connell.

The Irish Film Industry is at a crossroads, last week Ireland’s first studio Ardmore (opened in 1958) issued notice to 7 of its staff and in grave danger of closing down. While this week the new Ashford Studios commences its first week of production with Vikings.

Some of the outdated work practices have been removed with the move to Ashford. This is still not enough there are hidden perks that most refuse to admit are being paid out and must be discontinued; unions insisting on have a quota of crew on small productions must be stopped. On top of this The Irish Film Board and Irish Producers need to develop a long term strategy to build a sustainable industry with concrete goals and deadlines to bring about that change.  Ireland is not only failing to capture new business on cost; there has been no joined up thinking on a changing environment or new markets.

Ireland needs Section 481 to compete with other territories,  but without real reforms and clear strategy for the next 20 years Irish Film will never come close to achieving it’s true potential. Our culture and heritage is our biggest selling asset abroad we have got to capitalist on it.

Johan Renck will director will the first three episodes with further episodes directed by Ireland’s Ciaran Donnelly (The Tudors) and Ken Girotti (Rescue Me). Emmy award-winning cinematographer John Bartley (The X Files) will be director of photography.

Other cast attached to the series include ‘Glee’ actress Jessalyn Gilsig, actor Gustaf Skarsgard , Clive Standen (Camelot) and ‘Bones’ actress Katheryn Winnick. Irish actors Eric Higgins (The Tudors)

Irish crew include line producer Séamus McInerney, production designer Emmy winner,  Tom Conroy, costume designer Joan Bergin, Dee Corcoran is looking after hair and Tom McInerney doing make-up, Paul Hedges as Prop master.

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