Game of Thrones impact not irreplaceable, says NI screen chief

The Dark Hedges from Game of Thrones
The Dark Hedges from Game of Thrones

A hit fantasy drama that has revolutionised Northern Ireland's film industry can be replaced despite Brexit, a development agency said.

Multi-award winning series Game of Thrones is partly shot at the stately homes, beaches and forest parks of the region, but will end after its eighth season next year, US broadcaster HBO has confirmed.

The economy has received a multi-million pound boost and NI Screen chief executive Richard Williams said the development of skills and infrastructure as well as lower costs should attract more large productions.

He said: "Game of Thrones has delivered a number of revolutions in production technique and delivery of scale to budget.

"The idea that you could not sell the infrastructure and people and talent that produced that, I have absolutely no concern about our ability to sustain and build from the success of Game of Thrones."

He told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of MPs the number of workers from the EU outside the Republic of Ireland was not huge on the Game of Thrones sets.

"But it is nearly always that they are critical skills because it is easier and cheaper to find those people locally on the island of Ireland and the UK. Further away, it is likely to be more expensive."

Government-backed NI Screen is the lead agency responsible for film and TV production in Northern Ireland.

Mr Williams said: "Game of Thrones is very big. It is culturally unique, but as a piece of business, it is not unique.

"I would probably challenge a little bit the assertion that Game of Thrones as a piece of business is irreplaceable, I don't think that is true, but it may take two projects to replace it rather than one."

The set of Game of Thrones is at Belfast's Titanic studios and there are also several locations across the country.

Mr Williams said tours of the sites had attracted a more international and younger groups of tourists.

He said the highest number of EU nationals worked in visual effects and Brexit had been exercising those involved.

So far, the only change has been the dip in the value of the pound, which has had a significant short-term impact for large inward investors. EU sources co-finance up to 30% of productions.

The business leader expressed concern about the prospect of a hard border and claimed a porous frontier with the Republic of Ireland was critical for allowing last-minute access to workers for companies.

He said: "If it does not know with absolute certainty that it is going to be able to do something, it won't set off on that path."

He said if it was after 9pm, producers could bring someone up from Dublin for the following day's work in a way impossible from Great Britain.

"The idea of cutting off such an important trade resource would be concerning."