Coronavirus: ‘Dramatic’ impact on Northern Ireland’s film industry

Coronavirus: ‘Dramatic’ impact on Northern Ireland’s film industry

Twenty-five film and TV productions have been halted in Northern Ireland due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some companies will not survive as a result, according to the head of the industry body Northern Ireland Screen.

Richard Williams said the impact of Covid-19 on the industry had been “dramatic”.

Large-scale productions filmed in Northern Ireland have also been put on hold.

They include the hit BBC series Line of Duty and Viking-age drama The Northman, starring Nicole Kidman.

It was due to begin filming on location in County Antrim, and Richard Williams told BBC News NI its postponement would have a huge impact.

“That’s a project that’s financed out of the US studio system in America,” he said.

“Nicole Kidman was in the cast of that and there were tens upon tens upon tens of millions of dollars in the production budget.”

Jon Snow
Image captionNorthern Ireland’s film and TV growth in recent years has been anchored by the success of HBO’s fantasy epic Game of Thrones

“In terms of numbers of crew, you’re talking about 500 to 600 people.”

The Northern Ireland film and TV industry – and the number of people who work in it – has grown substantially in recent years.

Richard Williams said that while many local crew had been able to access government schemes to support their income, a substantial minority had not.

“We’re a freelance industry and while the treasury and UK government have put a massive amount of financial support underpinning jobs we have a very considerable problem here that a big chunk of our freelancers fall in between the two stools of those supports,” he said.

‘We’re a freelance industry’

“In our analysis about three-quarters of the crew in the sector are receiving some sort of support so that aspect is good but that’s cold comfort for anybody who’s not.”

He also said 25 local factual and entertainment productions had been suspended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“There is no doubt that there will be companies that will not survive this period of time,” he said.

“A lot of these companies are small and don’t have huge investment behind them so it’s a tough enough place to be, but we have put out emergency development funding to help them during this period.”

Nicole Kidman
Image captionNicole Kidman was to star in The Northman

Northern Ireland Screen’s funding comes from a variety of sources including Invest NI, the Department for the Economy (DfE), the British Film Institute (BFI) and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI).

Its budget was about £17.8m in 2017/18, and it aims for a £6 return to the Northern Ireland economy for every £1 it provides in funding.

“The contribution to the economy for this financial year will be substantially down,” Richard Williams warned.

“If we have 40% of the value that we would have been projecting pre-Covid in this financial year we’ll be doing pretty damn well.”

The impact of the pandemic on the film industry is being felt globally.

Northern Irish film-making brothers Andy and Ryan Tohill had started work directing a new version of the horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and were due to begin filming on 4 May.

But the shoot, like so many others, has been postponed.

“There are so many people all of the time in such a confined space that is quite problematic and how to control that is something I can’t even wrap my head around at the minute,” Ryan Tohill told BBC News NI.

“I’ve no doubt that it will come back it’s just how slowly that process happens.”

“Now that’s being put on hold we are working away on our shot list and fine tuning the script.”

Ryan is, though, excited about the film when they are able to begin filming it again.

“What we’re trying to do is bring Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the 21st century and make it exciting and make it fun.”

Source: BBC

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