25 June 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
New Film Studio in West Cork granted planning permission by Cork County Council
14 Apr 2022 : Nathan Griffin
West Cork Film Studios
Cork County Council has granted planning permission for a new film studio in Skibbereen, West Cork.

Cork County Council has granted planning permission for a new film studio in Skibbereen, West Cork. The studio, operating under the name of West Cork Film Studios,  will be located at the O’Donnell Design factory on the Baltimore Road. Cork County Council granted permission for “change of use” of the building, which will allow it to be used as a film set.

The former furniture factory is expected to use a planned capital investment of €1.5  million to soundproof the building and repurpose 20,000 square feet of the premises into sound stages, offices and workshops and will act as a base of operations for visiting film production crews.

Founded by John Reen in 1902 in a shed in Ballydehob, O Donnell's is a large-scale furniture-making warehouse in Skibbereen, which has long been a supplier to hotels nationwide. John Reen's great granddaughter l Édaín Ní Dhomhnail who works in set design for film and television, set the ambitions plans for the site’s transformation in motion when she was working on Holding, the adaptation of Graham Norton’s debut novel.

 ITV’s four-part adaptation began filming  on location in Skibbereen and Drimoleague  in West Cork in August of last year. The series is directed by Kathy Burke, who won best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 for her work in Gary Oldman’s Nil by Mouth, from a script by Dominic Treadwell-Collins, who was Executive Producer on the Hugh Grant-starring A Very English Scandal.

The show stars Conleth Hill, Siobhan McSweeney, Charlene McKenna, Helen Behan and Pauline as well as marking the return of Irish Oscar-Winner Brenda Fricker to screens for the first time since 2013. Holding premiered on ITV on 14 March, and was the flagship show on the newly launched Virgin Media More on Tuesday.

During production, a  side lot at the factory was taken over by Édaín, who pitched a marquee for her art production team to construct and paint sets. It was then that the idea for a more permanent hub for filming in West Cork and the potential for a dedicated film studio was discussed. The team are now hard at work making this a reality, utilising local experience, as well as planning to make the Studios a leader in environmentally-conscious filmmaking.

Speaking to IFTN Ní Dhomhnail outlined some of the key goals for the facility:

"We are beyond excited to announce we have a film studios in the works in the heart of West Cork. WCFS was founded by a small group of highly experienced film makers living in West Cork who recognised the express needs of the rapidly expanding film and TV production. Teaming up with an established world class Furniture Factory, it wasn't a broad leap to diversify the building into a production studio. In this collaboration we share the same  ultimate vision  as an industry,  to embrace new ecologically friendly technologies and choose best practice when it comes to environmental sustainability.  WCFS is a state of the art facility, with arguably the best equipped, construction workshop in the country!

This “small group of highly experienced film makers” includes the Oscar-winning producer of Chariots of Fire Sir David Puttnam, as well as Stan Nangle, a film location manager who in addition to working on Holding has worked on Sir Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and The Young Offenders, Martin Goulding, an Art Director and Production Designer whose credits include Apple TV’s Foundation, and Construction Manager Stephen Park, all of whom live in West Cork.

She outlined the assets the team brings to the project, saying: “We will use our expertise to be innovative, in how we assist our forthcoming productions, by strategising, organising and executing a seamless shoot. We have a large experienced film crew all within the radius of the studios.”

Ní Dhomhnail  noted that West Cork itself is a major asset for the project and a hugely attractive proposition for filmmakers adding that “Skibbereen is Ireland's first gigabit digital hub, with ultra fast internet connection and lest we forget, West Cork is the food capital of Ireland!  The full potential of West Cork for film making, has yet to be realised. With its coastal areas warmed by the Gulf Stream, temperatures are warmer than other parts of Ireland,  this micro climate supports a lush almost tropical vegetation, dense woodland, and extraordinary beaches. Each town offers  different possibilities, from unspoilt historical locations to contemporary architectural styling. And Cork city is only up the road, as is an International airport. “

Speaking to the Southern Star, local Fianna Fáil TD, Christopher O’Sullivan praised the initiative and the sustainable nature of the enterprise, saying: “This is such an exciting opportunity for Skibbereen, and also for all of West Cork. Since first meeting the team behind this project​ a​ number of months back, I’ve been blown away by the talent and skills that we have on our doorstep in relation to movie and TV, from art directors, set builders, to carpenters, right across the board to make-up artists. This is a very unique opportunity to create a sustainable, recession proof industry in West Cork.”

Studios such as this represent  a key opportunity for Ireland’s film and television economy going forward: As outlined in the Olsberg report (2017), Ireland currently suffers from a shortage of high-quality studio space for its television, film, and media industry and the report highlights a requirement to make the sector more competitive internationally. In 2019, the then minister for Culture Josepha Madigan stated that studio space for Ireland's television and film industry needed to be treated as strategically important infrastructure.

Recent developments such as the greenlighting of a new €150 million Studio Space and Media Campus in Greystones, Co. Wicklow will effectively double Ireland’s studio space. The project would add to the existing Ardmore Studios and Ashford Studios who have already put Co Wicklow at the centre of the Irish movie and TV industry, with productions including Braveheart, The Tudors, Penny Dreadful, and Vikings shot there. Outside of Wicklow, there is Troy Studios in Limerick who are currently playing host to Apple TV+’s Foundation Series, which is believed to be the most expensive production shot on the island of Ireland, and in the North, there is the iconic Titanic Studios, which was host to HBO’s Game of Thrones.

The Greystones Media Campus in County Wicklow is being built on a 40-acre site as a €150 million state-of-the-art film and TV centre with 14 sound stages, offices, and production buildings. Another film and TV studio project are underway in Dublin in the Grange Castle business park that will have 12 sound stages, 100,000 ft² of workshop space, and 100,000 ft² of offices; and Deliverance director John Boorman is behind a project at Ashbourne Studios, which aims to rival Ardmore and Troy studios as one of the largest in Ireland.

Ní Dhomhnail notes that value of the proposed project in Cork:  “The projected Greystones Studio which is 10 mins from Ardmore and close enough to Ashford has been backed by the state to the tune of 300 million. We have the facility ready to go, we just need 1.5 million to adapt for film making. “

West Cork Film Studios would be the first of its kind in Cork and hope to attract more productions to the county to follow in the footsteps of productions like Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi, which featured Brow Head near Crookhaven, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, which was shot around Bandon, Cork City, Timoleague and Ballyvourney, the David Puttnam-produced War of the Buttons which was shot in  Castletownsend, Rosscarbery, and Skibbereen,  Neil Jordan’s Ondine  and Michael Collins, and the Young Offenders which was filmed in  Cork City and across West Cork, and which has since spun off into a highly successful TV Series.

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