Photo of set for Stanley Kubrick's “Barry Lyndon“ Production Design: Ken Adam
”Ireland has been attracting film and TV dramas over the last 20 years due to the stunning landscape, the good variety of locations, the highly skilled workforce and of course the various tax incentives that have been in place since 1994. These tax incentives were increased last year, which is already having a positive impact on foreign productions coming to Ireland. In 2014 the Irish Film board supported 20 Irish features and 11 co-productions, as well as numerous indigenous documentaries, short films and animations. In the last couple of years Vikings, Penny Dreadful & Ripper Street have all been shot here. This year season 2 of Badlands has just begun production, Vikings is running for another season, and a pilot for MGM/Hulu has just been completed, a number of smaller Irish and UK TV & film dramas are also in production.
There are 2 main studios, which are close to Dublin and this is also where most of the crew are located. Dublin city has a decent variety of architectural styles & period houses, particularly Georgian, Victorian & Edwardian, and it’s close to Wicklow, which has some of the most stunning scenery in the country. Dublin is big enough to have variety, but small enough to be easy to get around and shoot in. The city has doubled for numerous UK cities, New York, and many modern Cities.
There is a small number of production designers based here (around 20), although some of those work in the UK also. In the past, productions designer were generally brought in for foreign productions but that has changed over the last 10 years and local designers are now employed on some of the biggest jobs. The type of work that comes in has changed too, the largest jobs now tend to be American TV series, 10 to 15 years ago the biggest jobs were American movies. A few years ago there were a lot of UK TV dramas shot here, that number has decreased a little recently. In general the feature films shot here are a mixture of local and foreign co-produced, the majority are fairly low budget, and a small number of medium sizes films are made some of these have recently made a big impact on the international stage, Room (an Irish co-production shot in Toronto), Brooklyn & The Lobster in the last year alone.
The art department in Ireland follows the British structure, over the years most of us have worked on American (and European) films so our crews adapt to whatever structure is required. Most crew work on both smaller and larger scale work, the industry here isn’t divided into crew who only work on television drama and others who only do features, there’s not enough work for that to happen. In some way it’s a good thing as we all gain a wide variety of experience. As it’s a small industry attracting some large scale productions, like in many places, we can run out of experienced crew very quickly – this is exasperated by the fact that most of the productions happen all at the same time, in the summer months when the daylight hours are exceptionally long.
As the industry is relatively small, the associated service industry can be limited, for example there is only a small number of prop houses here, so we often need to go to London for props. This adds a cost to the production for transport and, depending on the type of funding the film has we can be restricted in the amount of money we can spend outside of Ireland, this is usually only a problem on really small budget projects. There are good skills here in construction, props, prosthetics, prop making etc, again this is due to crews getting the opportunity to work on larger scale productions. With a small industry comes the advantage and disadvantage of working with the same crew again and again, at least it means we all have to get along and work together, there’s no room for falling out! As a result Irish crews are generally good to work with, it’s something that is often commented on by foreign productions. And, due to the broad experience base, Irish crews also have a good reputation for hard work & high standards due to their consistent exposure to high-end productions.
There is one school in Dublin that specializes in production design training, although the focus is towards TV light entertainment and theatre. My own path into film was through that same art school, before they had a specialized course in production design. I fell into it by accident, the school had a film course and I designed film student’s graduation short films. Looking back it was a natural progression as I had previously studied architecture for 3 years and learned the practical skills I needed for design there. There is also an organization here called Screen Training Ireland and they provide workshops for all areas of film training, including postproduction. They work very closely with industry professionals and focus on specific training requirements, often bringing in the top professionals from abroad to do workshops.
It’s rare I get to work on a film that is actually set in Ireland. When I do, I am very particular about how Ireland is represented on screen, I want it to be authentic and not romanticized or glamourized. Because Ireland was gloriously romanticized by Hollywood in the past (The Quiet Man comes to mind!), there is still a tendency to romanticize it, even today. Most of the jobs I do are set elsewhere, and usually that elsewhere is London. I have done quite a few period dramas recently, all set in England, so Dublin has doubled for Victorian London, Jane Austen England, Post war/Cold war London and 1960s north east England. I love doing period work, you learn so much, and the research is always interesting. The only drawback is finding new ways to hide radiators and light switches! My most recent project was a film called Love & Friendship, directed by Whit Stillman. It’s an adaptation of a Jane Austen unfinished novella set in England in the 1790s. We shot on location in Dublin and the surrounding areas, dressing existing locations for the period. The film is smart and funny and is getting great reviews. It’s rewarding to see an independent feature film (which are all struggling these days to get proper funding) do so well. It makes all the effort worthwhile!“
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