Northern Ireland offers low costs, studio space and great locations — and that’s before the expansion of Titanic Studios. Sarah Cooper reports.

With its stunning locations, easy transport to London and low cost base, Northern Ireland has established itself as one of the go-to filming locations for international productions.

And now the region’s capacity for such productions looks set to increase thanks to a series of expansion plans at Belfast’s Titanic Studios, located in the city’s shipbuilding quarter.

Already consisting of the vast 90 ft high Paint Hall Studio (where Game Of Thrones and Your Highness shot) and the combined 42,000 sq ft Hurst and MacQuitty sound stages, which were built in 2012, Titanic Studios has just received the greenlight to add a further two stages, totalling more than 43,000 sq ft. Some 53,000 sq ft of production support space over two levels will also be added.

“Almost as soon as we completed the Hurst and MacQuitty stages [named after two prominent Northern Irish film-makers] in 2012, HBO took them for Game Of Thrones, but the demand was still there and production seems to be ever increasing,” says Michael Graham, director of corporate real estate at the Titanic Quarter, of the decision to add two new stages, which will be in place by March 2015.

The $233m (£14m) development, which is being modelled loosely on Steiner Studios in New York, looks set to include a film and television school. And final negotiations are underway for a major equipment supplier to base itself on site. Meanwhile, the BBC is eyeing the studios as a possible new base for its Northern Ireland outpost.

‘The diversity and scale of locations, and the quality of the crews, now makes it a great place to film’

Piers Tempest, producer, Robot Overlords

“The idea is to create a media community. There’s no better place to put it than close to where all the action is happening,” says Graham.

But Titanic Studios is not the only solution for international productions looking to shoot in the region. When Universal was scouting build space for Dracula Untold last summer, it found the answer in the form of a former Britvic bottling plant two miles outside the city, while less than 30 minutes outside Belfast is The Linen Mill Studios, comprising 77,000 sq ft of internal build space.

Unique locations

Castle Coole, a stately home in Enniskillen, played host last spring to Liv Ullmann’s 19th century period feature Miss Julie about the daughter of an Anglo-Irish aristocrat and her valet, starring Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell.

“We were always going to shoot exteriors in Northern Ireland but we were looking at studios in other countries. Then we found Castle Coole, which was from the right period, and we decided to shoot all the interiors there,” says London-based producer Teun Hilte of Apocalypse Films.

“The house had never been used for filming before, but the National Trust [which owns the property] was very helpful. It was only an hour and half from Belfast, and it worked very well,” adds Hilte.

Meanwhile, the proximity to Belfast of a range of stunning locations continues to draw large-scale productions.

“It’s a small country, so you can very quickly get from Belfast into diverse countryside — an hour to the south you are into the forest and mountains, an hour to the north and you’ve got the Jurassic Coast,” says Catherine Geary, location manager on Universal’s Dracula Untold, which saw Northern Ireland doubling for medieval Transylvania on the film’s 20-week shoot.

As well as shooting at Tollymore Forest and the Mourne Mountains, the production also spent a day shooting at Giant’s Causeway, a huge coastal rock formation that also happens to be the region’s most popular tourist destination. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of local agencies and the National Trust, who bent over backwards to facilitate what we needed to do,” Geary says.

Currently in post, Jon Wright’s Robot Overlords also shot across various locations in the region last summer including the coastal town of Donaghadee and at Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim.

“The diversity and scale of locations, combined with the quality of the crews, now makes it a great place to film,” says Robot Overlords producer Piers Tempest, who previously produced Wright’s first monster movie Grabbers as well as Killing Bono, both in Belfast.

For Generator Entertainment’s Aidan Elliott, one of the benefits of shooting in Northern Ireland is how easy it is to make things happen. “We plan to film Sepia [a large-scale feature based on the Xbox game Halo] in the Titanic Museum in Belfast, a brand new museum complex. In London it would be unthinkable. Because of the size of Northern Ireland and the political willpower, we’re able to make it work.”