The "time is now" to build a world-class film studio in Dublin's docklands that would help Ireland compete for Hollywood business and boost inner city employment, say the backers of the proposed Dublin Bay Studios on the Poolbeg peninsula.
Montréal in Canada, which has built up a "creative cluster" around its downtown Cité du Cinéma film studios, is being touted as the model of creative economy success that the backers believe could be replicated in Dublin.
James Morris, the founder of Windmill Lane Studios, said the 20-acre project, which has an initial investment of €110 million, would create 1,800 direct jobs and a further 1,800 indirect jobs. It would also provide a "nationwide" benefit, as it would serve as a catalyst for on-location filming throughout Ireland.
“I think we have a really good idea and I think our time is now. I can’t think of an industry more likely to create sustainable, inner-city employment. At a local level, we are confident that it works,” Mr Morris said.
The project is at a delicate stage as Mr Morris and his partners await the publication of Dublin City Council’s planning scheme for the strategic development zone (SDZ) for Poolbeg West. A draft scheme is expected to be opened to public consultation in January.
“It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to have a working, living community in the inner city,” Mr Morris said.
The backers originally identified the site of the former Irish Glass Bottle factory five years ago, but earlier this year it became part of the fast-tracked SDZ, with
Dublin City Council
intending to designate a large part of the area for urgently needed new housing.
Mr Morris and project partner Alan Moloney, founder of Brooklyn producer Parallel Films, have since said that the studios, which have an expected construction cost of €75 million-€80 million, would not have to be located on the old glass bottle site, but could be anywhere in the 84-acre zone.
“If there is the will to do it, there is room to accommodate the residential housing, the port-related activities and the studios,” Mr Morris said.
Dublin Bay Studios has the backing of CAA, the largest talent agency in Hollywood, as well as US-based film producer Gary Levinsohn.
“In the best possible case, if we are persuasive with Dublin City planners, we would be open for business in 2020,” said Mr Morris. He also said that CAA already earmarked major productions for potential shooting at the facility beyond this date.
“They’re supporting us as they see Dublin as being a prime location for their clients.”
The project has also secured an endorsement from Hollywood star Cillian Murphy on the basis that it would "repatriate" Irish film talent working abroad.
“Most of us have had no choice but to emigrate because Ireland has never had the scale of studio infrastructure needed to support big productions. Dublin Bay Studios is the missing piece of the jigsaw,” Mr Murphy said.
Dublin Bay Studios is proposing eight “very large” sound stages and a range of other facilities including a five-acre greenfield backlot.
With 180,000sq ft of sound stages, it would be the largest full-service studios in Ireland, far exceeding the 40,000sq ft at Ardmore and 45,000sq ft at Ashford, both in Co Wicklow, as well as the 70,000sq ft at the new Troy Studios facility in Limerick. It would also bring the total number of sound stages in Ireland to 25 and resolve the “stop-start” nature of the film industry here, Mr Morris said.
There are 100 sound stages in the London area, and they are "completely booked", prompting London mayor Sadiq Khan to commission a feasibility study into the creation of a new film studio on a 17-acre site in Dagenham.
“You need scale to be able to compete internationally, and at the moment, we’re not really on the map,” Mr Morris said.
In the 1980s, Montréal, the largest city in the Québec province, had no significant film industry, but some 35,000 people are now directly employed by it. Recent productions to use Cité du Cinéma include X Men: Apocalypse and the Amy Adams science fiction hit Arrival.
Dublin Bay Studios is also interested in how Montréal, which like Ireland has tax credits for film and television production, has developed a wider visual effects and video games cluster. It believes Ireland could repeat the trick at a time when the still nascent virtual reality (VR) content industry is tipped to explode.
Mr Morris said the project did not require a subsidy. He said it dovetailed with Creative Ireland, the Government’s recently launched five-year strategy to improve the State’s cultural infrastructure.
“The truth is, this is an industry that creates employment, prosperity and growth,” he said.