Look out, Hollywood! Ireland is more than ready for its closeup. While visiting Galway and the surrounding area, I got a behind-the-scenes look at its expanding role in global entertainment production.
It Came From… Roger Corman
Legendary for a huge output of low-budget films that became cult classics, the American director Roger Corman was among the first to promote the benefits of shooting and editing in Ireland. Encouraged by Irish government grants and favorable tax treatment in the mid-1990s, he built studios in the small village of Spiddal, near Galway. Corman is often credited with boosting the early careers of big Hollywood names, such as Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, James Cameron, Ron Howard and many more. But he also helped put Ireland on the global production map. The core of local production staffers trained on Corman films led to the skilled labor pool that exists today.
Corman moved on, but the two Telegael sound stages in the plain metal building just off the main coastal highway are still busy with international projects like Captain Morten and the Spider Queen. The stop-motion adventure based on a children’s book from Estonia requires extraordinary attention to detail, with the crew cranking out 6 seconds of action footage per day. The all-star Irish voiceover cast includes Brendan Gleeson, Pauline McGlynn, Ciarán Hinds, Tommy Tiernan and Jason Byrne.
A Global Stage
Telegael CEO Paul Cummins stresses the importance of international funding for projects that fall outside the big-budget blockbuster mentality of Hollywood. European film commissions and production companies can pool their money in Ireland to produce projects they could not finance alone. “Broadband has made all the difference,” he explains, recalling how one producer from Los Angeles found that collaborating online with production staff in Ireland was “much easier than driving across LA in traffic.”
My tour guide at Telegael was transplanted American Scott Smith, who oversees color correction for Telegael live action productions, such as Jack Taylor. The Irish crime drama (available on Netflix) features Game of Thrones actor Iain Glen and scenic locations around Galway. But on another day, Scott might be working his magic on video for a teen comedy show from Australia. I’ve known Scott since my news anchoring days at KTLA, when he worked at Warner Brothers Telepictures and other top studios. He has no regrets about leaving La-La land for his ex-pat lifestyle In Ireland. Downside: lower pay scale, higher taxes and often-gloomy weather. Upside: lower cost of living and affordable housing prices, as well as a steady stream of interesting, creative work.
An Irish Town: Real and Fake
Who wouldn’t love relaxing after-hours in Spiddal, a charming town with traditional music and pub fare on offer at Tigh Giblin and An Cruisin Lan? And thanks to low-cost airlines like Ryan Air, all of Europe is on Ireland’s doorstep.
Behind the converted parson’s home that serves as Telegael headquarters is another village. It’s the set for a soap opera filmed in the Irish language. Ros na Rún is a fictional Irish coastal village that supposedly is near Spiddal. The show has aired on Ireland’s state-owned TG4 for 30 years, and can also be seen on the PBS station in Philadelphia. This and other Telegael productions play an important role in the Gaeltacht, areas of the Republic of Ireland where the national language — long banned under British rule — is proudly spoken. There’s also a studio where TV news is delivered in Gaelic. Worldwide, Telegael’s productions have been translated into 40 different languages and distributed in more than 100 countries.
Ireland’s film industry is getting another boost as one of the pillars of Creative Ireland, a government initiative to promote the quality of the country’s workforce in everything from the performing arts to innovative computer coding. Telegael has a core of about 80 employees in Galway, which expands when major projects are working in town.
There’s a hint of jealousy in these parts over the tax incentives offered by Northern Ireland to lure the the hundreds of jobs created by HBO’s Game of Thrones. The high-budget HBO production required so many extras that “everyone knows someone who was on Game of Thrones,” said one veteran production manager. “It’s not even cool anymore.”
Terry’s Travel Tips
Ireland’s breathtaking scenery is attracting even more big-budget productions. The locations also happen to reward tourists with spectacular sightseeing. Check out my post on Skellig Michael, featured in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and poised for a bigger role in The Last Jedi.
You can also visit the Cliffs of Moher, which provided backdrops in such films as Ryan’s Daughter, The Princess Bride, and Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince.
Dublin is a frequent stand-in for historic London, as well as other European capitals. While touring the crypt of Christ Church Cathedral I came across costumes from the drama The Tudors, filmed here.