Eimear Dodd investigates the many concerns surrounding the sale of Ardmore Studios.
Ardmore Studios may be privately owned but its future lies in the hands of politicians. This is not the first time that the studio’s fate has depended on other concerns beside commercial realities.
Since opening in 1958, over 100 productions have been filmed at Ardmore Studios. These include Braveheart, Excalibur, and My Left Foot. It has hosted big budget television series including The Tudors and Penny Dreadful.
Over recent months, international productions The Professor and the Madman and Into the Badlands have used the studios. It is also the venue for RTE’s entertainment series Dancing with the Stars.
But this success has not always meant a secure future. The studio’s survival was also in doubt during the 1980s when government funding was withdrawn. More recently, there were concerns about the impact of the recession on its finances. In 2012, a loss of €852,000 was reported. However, it had returned to profitability and reported a €1.6 million profit for 2015.
The business is a major employer in Wicklow and South Dublin with a workforce of around 500 when at full capacity. The area also benefits from indirect spending. The filming of the second series of Penny Dreadful in 2014 resulted in a spend of €33 million.
In October 2016, it was announced that the business was for sale as a ‘going concern’. The majority shareholders, Ossie Kilkenny and Paul McGuinness, have owned the studios since 1990.
The Irish state has a 31.6 percent stake in the company through Enterprise Ireland. Since the sale was announced, there have been concerns that the state may not retain this interest. In December 2016, RTE reported that the sales prospectus for the site included information about its potential for residential development.
Workers at Ardmore Studios have mounted a campaign to urge the government to retain Enterprise Ireland’s stake in the business and keep the studio in operation. Around 3,330 people signed a petition in support of their aims. Their efforts lead to a public meeting at the Royal Hotel Bray on 25 January 2017.
This meeting was attended by local TDs, county councillors, film industry representatives and members of public. Speakers highlighted the economic and historical importance of the studios to the area.
Paddy Trainor, a movie grip, said at the meeting that ‘the skills developed by local workers would be lost,’ if the studio closed.
At the same meeting, Pat Casey, local Fianna Fail TD, said there was ‘no credible reason’ for the state to sell its share in Ardmore Studios.
‘The film industry is a key plank to the economic development of the region,’ Deputy Casey said.
Minister of State and local Fine Gael TD Andrew Doyle confirmed the government’s commitment to encourage Enterprise Ireland to retain its stake in Ardmore Studios.
Minister of State Doyle said he will ‘continue to work alongside Minister Mitchell O’Connor to secure the best possible future of Ardmore Studios and ensure that the film industry in Wicklow is protected’.
The draft Wicklow County Development Plan 2016-2022 identifies the film industry as a key driver of direct and indirect employment in the region. The plan estimates that ‘the effective management of this key employment sector could leverage up to €1 billion in inward investment and up to 5,000 direct and indirect jobs’.
Recent years have seen an increase in demand for studio space in Ireland. The Section 481 tax incentive scheme has attracted productions to the country and new studios have opened to meet the demand.
Ashford studios, also located in county Wicklow, opened in 2012. Further studio space became available in November 2016 at Troy Studios in Limerick. There are also plans to build a large studio in the docklands area of Dublin city.
The initial results of the sales process are expected to be made public in the coming weeks. This should make it clearer if Ardmore Studios will still be in operation for its 60th anniversary in 2018.
The Ardmore Studios site in depth
The 18 acre site is on the Herbert Road in a residential area of Bray town. There are five sound stages and two backlots of 1.8 acres and 0.8 acres. The site also includes: workshops, props, wardrobe, make-up and hair facilities. There are also two listed buildings on the site. Space is rented to tenants who provide production, post-production and support services.
Ardmore Film Factory opened in 2015 in the Bray Business Park on the nearby Southern Cross Road. This provides additional production space.
One of the backlots was formerly used by a haulage firm and a commercial oil distributor. Temporary planning permission was granted in 2013 to use it for the purposes of filming. This was extended by three years following another application in 2015.
Updated 7 May 2017: There have been no further public announcements about the planned sale of Ardmore Studios.
Image captions have also been updated.
Ardmore Studios backlot, Feature Image by Eimear Dodd