Report today in the Irish Times by Business Correspondent Ciarán Hancock that Ardmore Studios are about to close after World 2000's Vikings has decided to shoot at Ballyhenry Studios, Ashford.
This has been on the cards for some time so it's not entirely unexpected, particularly since a second series of Camelot was not greenlit. Morgan O'Sullivan of World 2000 was the person who obtained planning permission in 2009 for studios at Ballyhenry after two previous attempts failed in 2004 and 2006.
I have written previously about Ardmore here and about Ballyhenry here.
In recent years Ardmore has been getting quiet little funding bail-outs from the Film Board (€500,000 in 2006/7) and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (€221,970 in 2010). Anyone in the business will be aware that the old sound stages were no longer adequate for the major off-shore productions that the tax break has been generously re-designed to capture.
I believe it is currently owned 32% by the state through Enterprise Ireland with the remaining 68% being held in equal 34% shares by Ossie Kilkenny and Paul McGuinness. The facility has suffered from a lack of investment over the years and as a result it has become somewhat obsolete.
Successive Ministers - John O'Donoghue, Seamus Brennan, Martin Cullen, Mary Hanafin and Jimmy Deenihan - have arrived in office to find an Ardmore file on their desk and, I've no doubt, it will have contained a worryingly potted history of its cost/benefit to the state since it was first founded over fifty years ago.
Time and again the state in various guises has had to step in to throw it a lifeline and it has also benefitted indirectly from Film Board production funding decisions, particularly in the case of 'international production fund' backing for TV projects. With a new studio opening one would have to presume that Ardmore can no longer count on this indirect subsidy.
There was a real opportunity to capitalise on Ardmore's real estate value during the height of the property boom and to reinvest the sale price in a new green-field facility. There was a proposal at one stage to buy out the private sector interest, sell the property and develop a new studio as a PPP project with capital from the NDP.
This was stymied on the one hand by political and planning concerns in Bray and on Wicklow County Council, and on the other, arguably, by the possibility that none of the shareholders were entirely committed to the business of running a film studio. And then the property boom ended.
There are a range of ancilliary businesses and company offices at Ardmore and presumably they will remain in situ at least until the facility is sold, if that is what is to happen.
As to Ballyhenry's long term prospects - one would have to be very optimistic. Studios are booming across the water in England, so much so that Warner Brothers are building their own new facilities at Leavesden at a cost of $200m. It has a 100 acre backlot and 115,000sq ft of workshop, office and facility space in addition to its several enormous sound stages.
Competition is fierce in this business and, as Ardmore has discovered, there's no point in half measures. It would be a shame if it were to turn out that Ballyhenry is merely a better facility for large-scale TV production than Ardmore.
[PS - I take it that the use on RTE News of a clip from Song For a Raggy Boy was not intentionally ironic - it was deliberately filmed 'off grid' in a disused school in West Cork]
[PPS - Albert Reynolds speaking in the Dáil on the closure of Ardmore 30 years ago: Ardmore Film Studios were purchased by the Government in 1973 at a cost of £.5 million in the belief that this was an essential prerequisite to the development of the film industry in Ireland. The total employment in the company was 46. Total Exchequer grants of £1.5 million were paid since the company were set up. The company incurred losses of the order of £.5 million per annum before grants, due to their inability to attract sufficient business and the lack of a proper capital structure which resulted in heavy interest payments. The losses projected for this year alone were approximately £780,000. Indebtedness to the banks had reached almost £2 million. That puts the loss situation into perspective.]