At the new Ashford Studios, south of Dublin, mud-spattered Viking warriors take a break from the action to check their email on their smartphones.
Ashford opened last summer in time to host the first series. It was built by entrepreneur Joe O'Connor on his own Wicklow estate, at O'Sullivan's behest and to the exacting specifi cations of various department heads.
With one 30,000-sq.-ft. soundstage and two at 15,000 sq. ft. alongside an extensive backlot, it's tailormade for the kind of large-scale international projects in which O'Sullivan specializes.
Over the past two decades, O'Sullivan has brought more production into Ireland than anyone else -- from movies such as "Braveheart," "Saving Private Ryan," "The Count of Monte Cristo," "Reign of Fire" and "King Arthur" to more recent TV fare such as "The Tudors" and "Camelot."
"The Vikings" was developed by O'Sullivan with writer Michael Hirst, following their collaboration on "The Tudors" and "Camelot," both of which shot at Ardmore Studios nearby. The Irish tax break alone is worth $1 million per episode, with a Canadian co-producer, Take 5, contributing $700,000 more. The benefit to the local economy is estimated at $27 million per season.
O'Sullivan makes sure that his productions employ a high number of local directors and heads of department, who have earned international reputations.
"Of course we want to use the best too, but now we've got to a stage where we've pretty much got the best here in Ireland," he says.
Indeed, with Showtime's "Penny Dreadful," an eight-part big-budget mini that will begin shooting at Ardmore in October, Ireland is proving that it can remain competitive as a location for big TV projects, despite the introduction of a rival TV tax break in the U.K. this year.
The result is a virtuous circle of international investment and opportunities to develop local talent. It's also why O'Connor is already drawing up plans to expand Ashford, so that it can host more than one major production at a time.
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