…Like in Greta (pictured). We talk to an expert about how it all happens.
IRELAND HAS SNOW-CAPPED mountains, busy cities, beautiful beaches, stunning islands, small towns and lots of countryside – all of which make it a very attractive location for international filmmakers.
But some of them don’t even come here to film Ireland. Instead, they want to take advantage of our film crews and tax incentive and turn our streets into those of different countries. It’s something that has long attracted filmmakers to these shores, and is big business. But how does it all work?
For the making of upcoming films Greta and The Rhythm Section, for example, Dublin was turned into New York and London. The person who helps bring projects like this to Ireland is Steven Davenport, the inward productions manager for Screen Ireland/Fís Éireann (formerly the Irish Film Board).
It’s his job to entice filmmakers and studios to Ireland, to show that it can stand in for big cities and beautiful landscapes – and that it is a photogenic location in itself.
Yellow cabs and Tube signs
Last year was “crazy busy” for Screen Ireland, with a number of big productions filming in the country. They include TV shows Vikings, Into the Badlands and George R R Martin’s series Nightflyers, which was shot at Troy Studios in Limerick (it’s due on Netflix this year).
The American TV series Quantico also “popped in for a short visit”, Davenport tells TheJournal.ie. The Irish scenes worked out so well that the last two episodes of that series (which is about FBI recruits at the Quantico base in Virginia) were re-written to be about Ireland. Some of the filming took place at Glendalough.
Big international features have filmed here too. These include the aforementioned Greta (directed by Neil Jordan) which shot Dublin for New York, and The Rhythm Section, produced by Bond’s Barbara Broccoli, which shot Ireland for London.
Meanwhile, a horror called The Turning, executive produced by Steven Spielberg, is to be filmed in Kilruddery House in Wicklow last year. The film Gretel and Hansel – directed by Oz Perkins – finished up filming in Ardmore studios in Wicklow in late 2018.
To turn a Dublin street into New York, yellow cabs and local street signs will be used. To transform streets into London for The Rhythm Section, Tube signs were stuck around the back of the Clery’s building off O’Connell St.
In order to turn Irish post boxes into British ones, crews paint them red with a lycra paint that can be peeled off afterwards. “Little details like that we do a lot,” says Davenport.
All of this isn’t without an impact on the public – streets have to be closed off while filming is going on. Local authorities and gardaí will help with the traffic management side.
Not just period times
Streets in Dublin like Henrietta and Merrion St really evoke the feel and look of period London, and work very well on camera, says Davenport. But it’s not just the period feel that film producers want from Ireland.
“The new modern section in the docklands [is used for filming]. Google offices, all that area now and Grand Canal Dock looks like many European cities. The new financial areas [globally] have similar architecture. Dublin has doubled up as Sweden.”
But here in Ireland, we don’t tend to do skyscrapers. Because of this, productions will often film here and then use digital trickery to make buildings taller. Davenport said that it is easier to use CGI to add more levels onto a building than to bring the building level down.
Away from the city, we have Wicklow, and especially the Sally Gap area, which “looks like the Scottish Highlands”, says Davenport. The interesting point about this is how near the area is to the capital and to studios.
“In Scotland filming in the Highlands means driving two hours with very little support like hotels, etc, around there, whereas Sally Gap is 40 minutes from Dublin city centre or 50 minutes from Ardmore [Studios],” explains Davenport. “Vikings is filmed at the Luggala Estate in Wicklow. It looks like a beautiful Scandinavian fjord.”
He says that Ireland can also “look like other worlds” which is attractive to those making sci-fi productions. Or for those who like their ‘sandals and swords’ epics, Ireland provides a good visual backdrop for this too.
“We have this great natural landscape and a lot of great national parks around Ireland that look untouched,” he says. “We have them in a very small area.”
Knocking on doors
Promoting Ireland as a film location and film-friendly destination involves a lot of knocking on doors, says Davenport, who has long worked in the film industry. It means lots of trips abroad but also plenty of showing people around Ireland, demonstrating the breadth of what the country has to offer.
Davenport was a location manager for 12 years and then a production manager and line producer, skills which help in his current role. So what does an inward production manager do? “In a nutshell I promote Ireland as a destination for filmmaking,” he says.
“It involves being a sales person and going around and promoting Ireland through media, through festivals, markets and also knocking on the door of studios in the States and in the UK and setting up meetings with the producers,” he explains. He visits LA around three times a year.
“The other side of it is the logistical support when they come into Ireland – showing them landscapes we have here. A lot of Americans have never been to Ireland.”
His job also involves letting filmmakers know about the homegrown crew available here in Ireland.
Interested parties get taken on a ‘familiarisation tour’ of Ireland to show what’s on offer – the studios, key locations and potential projects.
When productions do set up here, he’s involved in the logistics of pulling all the different strands together, communicating with local suppliers and giving practical support.
There’s also the communication between him and organisations like the IDA, the OPW and Enterprise Ireland, as well as working with local councils, gardaí, and getting permits for vehicles and working visas.
Competition from abroad
However, as attractive as Ireland can be, that doesn’t mean the business of bringing in filmmakers from abroad is an easy thing. For one, there’s lots of competition. “We are competing with other countries, not just Europe but across the world, to get people in,” says Davenport.
Screen Ireland also works to ensure the tax incentive is maintained in order to keep the country being attractive.
“We need that government support at that level,” says Davenport.
There are certain questions people have to ask before they decide to pick a location to film: “Where has got a good tax incentive, what locations are there, have they got the crew, what’s their infrastructure, what film studios are there. Can you rent a camera? Can you rent a trailer there?” says Davenport.
Choosing a country as a filming location can be a way to boost tourism – just witness the decision to film part of Star Wars’ latest films on Skellig Michael.
“A lot of people had to be told that Ahch-To wasn’t in outer space – it was off the west coast of Ireland,” laughs Davenport. There were some who thought the fantastical puffin-covered island was “CGI on the back of the stage” he says.
”Even something that comes here for a few weeks to film can become very iconic,” says Davenport. “It stays in the mind.” There are still American tourists who come to Ireland expecting the soft green fields of the Quiet Man.
Training and funding are important too. Screen Ireland says the industry has been growing, but it’s fundamental that Irish-based film professionals and crew get experience of working on international productions. It’s not enough for Ireland just to exist: crew have to have the requisite skills too.
“[They can] get that experience of these international shows without having to leave Ireland to do that,” says Davenport of people working on international productions here. “That helps the crew growth. Screen Skills Ireland runs workshops and transferring skills and that helps that progression.”
It’s also not that beneficial if it’s a case of films coming and going, with nothing staying here for long. That’s where TV shows like Vikings, Tudors, and Penny Dreadful (and of course Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland) come in.
“Working on one show… you know ‘I’m guaranteed this income’. It makes it more a viable place to work,” says Davenport.
There are two major film studios here in Ireland – Ardmore and Troy – but Screen Ireland would like to see the film industry grow even further. With more studios and more homegrown crews, there’s more potential.
Davenport also emphasises how important our indigenous and independent film industry is. “You can turn around and become a service industry and local industry dies, all of a sudden you’re taken in by big massive corporations,” he warns.
‘It’s not just them against us’
Added to this are the co-productions between Irish and international companies and studios. “We do all work together as well, it’s not just them against us,” says Davenport. “A lot of Europeans want to make the links much easier to get around the countries.”
Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful filmed here, but also filmed in Spain and Iceland, for example. Something as practical as good transport links can make co-productions easier and more feasible.
There’s also the area of VFX (visual effects) and post (post-production), skills on offer in Ireland. So while people might not film on location here, “you can come here for your post and VFX”, says Davenport.
With 12 feature films for Screen Ireland last year, and 15 lined up for 2019, things are busy. But though Ireland can offer a lot, there’s still one thing we can’t provide to film studios.
“We can’t do deserts,” says Davenport.