A MAJOR €1.5m investment will result in the creation of a new film studio and film set in Skibbereen.
Planning permission has been granted by Cork County Council for the new studio, which will be located at the O’Donnell Design factory on the Baltimore Road.
The initial investment will see approximately one third of the furniture-making factory transformed into a base of operations for visiting film production crews and will include four sound stages, offices and workshops.
Cork County Council granted permission for ‘change of use’ of the building, which will also allow it to be used as a film set.
‘This is very good news for West Cork and the region,’ said Jim O’Donnell, the founder of O’Donnell Design.
‘We have been in the furniture making business here for 43 years and the new studio with workshop and staging areas will complement the existing business. The new studio will be a significant boost to local employment in the area,’ he added, given the success of recent productions such as Graham Norton’s Holding.
Production teams can vary between 50 and 200 people, he said, but the new studio will be set up to train local people in the art of filmmaking.
‘We decided to do this,’ Aodh O’Donnell said, ‘to provide young, local people around with interesting and varied work prospects.’
He said the project – which will involve about eight weeks’ conversion works – will also boost tourism because the industry is considered ‘recession proof’.
The project has already enlisted the participation of Stan Nangle, a film location manager, as well as Martin Goulding, production designer, and Steve Park, head of construction, all of whom live in West Cork and previously worked on Holding.
Screen Ireland estimated that in 2021 alone, the spend for film, documentary, animation and TV drama in the Irish economy was €500m – 40% higher than 2019’s previous record spend.
The Oscar-winning producer Sir David Putnam has already endorsed the new venture which, like his movie War of the Buttons, will put West Cork on the film-making map.
The project came about when Édaín, daughter of Jim and Mary O’Donnell, who has been working in film for 30 years, was employed on Holding.
A side lot at O’Donnell’s was ‘borrowed’ by Édaín, who pitched a marquee to construct and paint scenery for Holding.
She said the idea for a more permanent base came to her on one blustery day in August, when her brother Aodh was trying to tie down the marquee.
‘It confirmed for us that it would be amazing to have a proper dedicated space for building and painting sets,’ she said.
Virtually every member of the O’Donnell family was involved in the filming of Holding. Jim landed a role in the film as Willie, while Mary was an extra and Fiachna, Jim’s youngest son, worked in the prop department. Aodh was the maritime consultant on another production, Sparrow, which was also filmed here last summer, as well as ITV’s Holding.
‘We were astonished to find out how many film crew are living in the south west and how happy they were to be able to work from home for a change,’ said Jim.
‘At the time, we basically did a survey to find out how many crew, and particularly senior crew, were living in the region, and then we asked them if they would be interested in building up capacity in West Cork to attract TV and film productions to the area.
‘It will be great to have this facility on our doorstep,’ said Martin Goulding, who has decades of experience in the industry.
‘The benefits to the local community during production are huge,’ according to Steve Park, who confirmed that all of the construction materials were bought from local suppliers.
‘We were delighted to build up relationships with local businesses such as Fusion, Berry Brothers, and Drinagh Co-op, as well as the local charity shops such as Lisheen House,’ he added.
‘West Cork has been hidden for too long and the new film studio is ready to harness that beauty and showcase it to the rest of the world,’ said Steve.
Local Fianna Fáil TD, Christopher O’Sullivan, who is supporting the initiative, said: ‘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,’ he added.