Posted by Ian Kennedy

The boom of Northern Ireland’s screen industry

These are heady days for Northern Ireland’s screen industries.

The film and high-end television drama sectors are thriving, the tax breaks are in place and the hits keep coming – The Fall, Line of Duty, Philomena, and, of course, the super-tanker that is Game of Thrones; all, to a greater or lesser extent, made here, all helping to build and develop our craft and technical skills base and all helping to nurture future talent.

Northern Ireland Screen has been given a great vote of confidence with a serious increase in its budget for the next four years, and both the BBC and Channel 4 have vowed to spend much more of their respective network budgets here.

The Province is fast developing a reputation as a great location - but sometimes the cracks start to show!

Last summer Universal brought a new movie - Dracula Untold - to shoot in Northern Ireland with a budget of £45million. Production on the fourth series of Game of Thrones was already underway and….guess what?

Dracula Untold couldn’t source enough craft and technical crew with the right skills locally, and the producers were forced to bring people in from across the UK and Ireland to plug the gaps.

This was something of a wake-up call for all of us involved in skills development and training in Northern Ireland. Given the large numbers of unemployed young people here, this should not be necessary; it demonstrates a missed opportunity for people to exploit and develop the basic skills which they already have and make them relevant to this specialist and growing sector in the local economy.

So we came up with a plan, the implementation of which got underway at the beginning of this month, and it illustrates how effective we can be in Northern Ireland in pulling together the right people and organisations quickly to work for the greater good.

The Department of Employment & Learning (DELNI) had announced a new funding opportunity – its Skills Collaboration Fund, Northern Ireland Screen had monies ready to commit to the right project and Creative Skillset’s own TV Skills Fund was open for business; so we all got together and decided to run a series of workshops, aimed at 18 to 24 year-olds already possessing the right basic skills in ‘Craft Skills for High-end Television Drama and Film’.

The skills areas we identified included Special Effects Make-up, Wig and Hair Design, Costume-making, Stunt Skills, Plastering and Carpentry – and we found the perfect partner to deliver the workshops for us in Ailie Smith’s Creative Media Skills based at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.

Ailie and her team have devised a series of intensive, four-day workshops which they are delivering in Belfast and which will result in 80 young people acquiring the skills and knowledge they’ll need to compete for highly-desirable employment opportunities in our screen industries.

Truly high-calibre, successful industry professionals act as tutors, and the workshops provide the trainees with real ‘hands-on’ experiences and valuable networking opportunities.

The first two courses – in Special Effects Make-up and Hair and Wig Design – have been completed. Both were over-subscribed as, indeed, are the next two in May – An Introduction to Costume-making and An Introduction to Stunt Skills.

Given this level of enthusiasm we’re already thinking about repeating the exercise next year, because one thing is certain: if Northern Ireland’s Creative Industries sector continues on its current upward trajectory (and there is no reason to think that it won’t!) then Creative Skillset and its relevant partners must ensure that we are able to offer world-class talent and skills, based locally and across all departments – creative, craft, technical – to meet the exciting production challenges which the rest of the world seems increasingly determined to throw at us!

To find out more, contact us on info@creativeskillset.org.

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