24/06/2008

Paint Hall Studio 'Burned Out' After City Of Ember?

A public relations offensive by NI Screen - highlighting the availability of taster scenes from the forthcoming made-in-Belfast blockbuster, City of Ember has successfully highlighted the worth of the former shipyard Paint Hall studio.

NIS provided a modest £800,000 in funding to net an estimated £9.2 million that fed into the local economy of Northern Ireland during July and October last year.

However, it has now emerged that the semi-governmental agency had to take out a lease on the giant Harland & Wolff shipyard-painting hall for three years - at a £200,000 annual rent - that doesn't run out until 2010.

But, while NIS has since bought all the rigging and lighting used by the City of Ember producers to deliver a ready-for-use studio and has been marketing the facility in a recent promotional tour of the US, there are no takers this year.

A special offer of free use and NIS funding of up to £500,000 - as long as a production will be worth at least £2m - has also so far failed to find a new filmmaker for the Northern Ireland facility.

However, discussions are believed to be continuing with both US and UK producers tempted by tax credits of around a quarter.

But, even though there have been around 36 movies shot in the area in the last decade, and a recent Belfast-made movie, Hunger, won the Camera d'Or prize at Cannes, the Paint Hall has now been unused for seven months.

Better news this month involves local-born stars Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt who have been filming Five Minutes of Heaven in Belfast.

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall), Five Minutes of Heaven brought together two men wracked by their experiences during the violent conflicts in Northern Ireland and focuses on how they struggle to come to terms with the after effects.

Meanwhile, a biopic of former NI First Minister Ian Paisley has run into financial difficulties with its screenwriter claiming it would have been easier to fund his script if it had been about the IRA.

Award winning dramatist and writer-in-residence at Queen's University Belfast, Rathcoole-born Gary Mitchell has completed the screenplay and started auditioning actors to play Paisley, but he claims that financing the project is proving difficult "because the Prods aren't sexy enough".

While Mitchell insisted that the film would go ahead and hopes that it will show that Northern Ireland is a good place to make a movie and also put on screen things from a Protestant perspective "for a change", he has admitted to problems.

It seems TV and film companies have no problem with dramas about the IRA - but they are not so keen on a loyalist/Protestant viewpoint, he believes.

See: City Of Ember Is 'Hot'

(BMcC)

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