Screen Ireland plans ‘crew hubs’ in Limerick, Galway and Wicklow to sustain boom

Agency puts emphasis on skills amid labour squeeze in global TV and film industry

On the set of drama series Holding: Screen Ireland chief executive Désirée Finnegan (left), actor Conleth Hill in character as Sergeant PJ Collins, series co-writer Karen Cogan and Screen Ireland chair Susan Bergin. Photograph: Screen Ireland

On the set of drama series Holding: Screen Ireland chief executive Désirée Finnegan (left), actor Conleth Hill in character as Sergeant PJ Collins, series co-writer Karen Cogan and Screen Ireland chair Susan Bergin. Photograph: Screen Ireland

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Screen Ireland will create regional crew hubs in Limerick, Galway and Wicklow and invest €3 million in developing skills in film, television and animation as part of a three-year strategy to help the Irish industry sustain its current boom and grow further.

The State development agency will shortly announce details of the lead organisations that will work to improve the availability of skilled screen industry workers across Ireland at a time when record levels of production have led to crew shortages.

Screen Ireland chief executive Désirée Finnegan said the €1 million regional crew hubs would support existing and planned studio infrastructure, making them more attractive for international productions seeking to locate in Ireland. They will operate alongside two national talent academies – one focusing on film and television drama, the other on animation – in which €1.75 million is being invested.

“It’s definitely ambitious, but we want to do everything we can to build on the momentum we had before the pandemic,” Ms Finnegan said of Screen Ireland’s three-year plan.

The squeeze on skilled crew comes as the industry races to catch up on productions postponed by last year’s Covid-prompted hiatus and meet high levels of demand for content from big-spending streaming services.

The bottlenecks are “a global challenge from what we’ve been seeing”, said Ms Finnegan, speaking after a visit to the set of the Screen Ireland-backed drama series Holding, an ITV-commissioned adaptation of Graham Norton’s novel, which has been filming in west Cork with Virgin Media Television as co-production partner.

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Amid fierce competition for audience attention, Screen Ireland will soft-launch a Where to Watch website by the end of 2021 to help audiences identify how they can watch Irish screen content, with visitors directed to either local cinema show times or the relevant on-demand platform.

Its strategy, titled Building for a Creative Future 2024, also includes new loan-style schemes for film distribution and project development. Under the Creative Futures Fund, a total of €2.5 million will be shared among applicant production companies to develop a slate of projects, with the money awarded partially recouped if the titles later go into production.

‘Exceptionally difficult’

Loans of up to €200,000, meanwhile, will be available to Irish distribution companies to promote productions internationally, “in recognition of the exceptionally difficult time film distributors have had over the last 18 months”, Ms Finnegan said.

Lockdown-mandated cinema closures, production delays and competition for exhibition space in reduced-capacity theatres since their reopening have combined to put pressure on distributors since March 2020.

The Screen Ireland plan is being published in a week of optimism for many exhibitors, however, after the James Bond film No Time to Die brought in €1.73 million in its opening weekend – and €2.35 million across its first five days – to cinemas in the Republic and Northern Ireland, outperforming the two previous Bond films, despite capacity limits and proving that audiences are ready to return.

Some 23 Irish cinema operators received funding through Screen Ireland’s cinema stimulus support fund to help them survive the crisis, said Ms Finnegan, who welcomed the recent releases secured by several Screen Ireland-backed films, including Cathy Brady’s Wildfire and Clare Dunne’s Herself, despite pandemic delays.

“In the strategy, we state that we are passionate supporters of cinema,” she said of the agency’s commitment to the big screen.

The Screen Ireland boss said its focus was to be “as open and inclusive as possible” as it bids to bring more people into the industry through paid work experience and placements, while Screen Skills Ireland, for which Screen Ireland has responsibility, will “adopt a more central role” within the organisation by the end of 2021.

“To see the industry on track for a record level of production, I think it’s just remarkable,” Ms Finnegan said.

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