“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention” – Ramsey Bolton
As most of you are well aware Game of Thrones has wrapped on filming this week. The first week in July was Game of Thrones last week filming in Belfast forever. With many goodbye posts from popular cast and some crew this is a sudden reality we choose to put off till it was too late. Game of Thrones began filming in 2010 the American giant HBO were persuaded to make the grey old port of Belfast into the next Hollywood by “Screen NI”. Most countries have a film board that bid and head hunt productions to film in their part of the world usually promising advantages like quality service and investment into the production. Screen NI went the extra mile and offered all of that along with an empty warehouse that some productions have previously filmed in, like city of ember (The Throne room was reused from another film a fantasy comedy called ” Your Highness ” look it up). Also HBO were offered 3.2 Million pounds and creative arts tax reductions to help increase their appetite for Belfast and Northern Ireland. Screen NI did an amazing deal for Northern Ireland and potentially unknowingly kicked the doors open like Wun-wun at Winterfell for filming here in Northern Ireland.
Filming began at the end of July 2010 in Belfast after an unsuccessful pilot episode that Dan and Dave have hidden away in a vault never to see the light of day again. After that pilot (That was shot partly in Scotland) they didn’t know if it was possible to make the show we have now become obsessed with. However they recast some characters and did some planning and Boom! The first thing shot here was the Dothraki making their way to “Vaes Dothrak” and we know this because our Dothraki Slave master father was there for the first 10 days with Emilia Clarke and Jason Momoa in the willow fields. Shortly after filming began they shot our favourite scene! DIREWOLF PUPPIES!!! at Tollymore forest 40 minutes south of Belfast and 8 years on here we are.
Game of Thrones has brought so much to this country in the past eight years directly and indirectly. Directly Game of Thrones has returned the investment given to its production back to screenNI in epic amounts. Here are some facts from Screen NI themselves:
2010-11 Game of Thrones pilot season 1 – funding from Screen NI £3.2M GOT return £21.2M
2011-12 Game of Thrones Season 2 funding from Screen NI £2.85M GOT return £21.8M
2012-13 Game of Thrones Season 3 funding from Screen NI £3.2M GOT return £22.5M
2013-14 Game of Thrones Season 4 funding from Screen NI £1.6M GOT return £23.2M
2014-15 Game of Thrones Season 5 funding from Screen NI £1.6M GOT return £26.3M
2015-16 Game of Thrones Season 6 funding from Screen NI £1.3M GOT return £32M
2016-17 Game of Thrones Season 7 funding from Screen NI £1.1M GOT return £34M
2017-18 Game of Thrones Season 8 funding from Screen NI £1.1M GOT return (estimated) £25M
With a Total investment of £15.95 Million GOT returned into the country £206 Million over the total 8 years! That’s a 13:1 return on average. For a population of 2 Million people this is an outstanding achievement for a country as small as ours. Game of Thrones presence here has created an Industry that many people in Belfast might not have ever thought about before. Now employing more people than the civil service the skill level Game of Thrones created is priceless.
When GOT first showed up there was a handful of crew and actors that had been working in the industry for several years. The common practice for making a film in Ireland north and south was to scout for cast and crew in London before considering Dublin or Belfast which meant we usually ended up with some terrible Irish accents on screen. As GOT arrived they cast in my estimate around 30-40% of their actors from Ireland and a great job they did as well! Some of the most popular being Hodor, Joffrey, little finger, Catelyn Stark, Rickon Stark, Roose Bolton, Ser Barristan, Ser Meryn Trant and more. Game of Thrones give Make up artists and hair dressers a career that wouldn’t be common here in Belfast a career that meant they could specialise in movie effects with blood and mud and everything else. Not only the increased knowledge and experience but the opportunity to work in other countries for the GOT production. Make up artists, Hair department and costume department could work in Spain, Croatia and Iceland at certain times depending on the demand for their help in those units.
Indirectly tourism and related services have increased over the past eight years including Cruise ships, flights and new hotels opening. “THIS has been the best year ever for overseas tourism to Northern Ireland, with around 2.26 million visitors ( up 6 per cent on 2016) contributing more than £586 million (up 8 per cent) in revenue to the economy.” The Irish News 19/12/2017 The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to Tourism in Northern Ireland since Game of Thrones started filming here. Constantly growing numbers of tourism to Belfast for Game of a Thrones tours we’ve experienced first hand over the last four years with people coming to Ireland just because Game of Thrones is filmed here and no other.
Game of Thrones has put Belfast on the map and it’s here to stay with a new studio built this year and rumors of major productions showing interest it’s safe to say Belfast is rubbing shoulders with giants in the film industry and we are thriving! Belfast May have made Game of Thrones but Game of Thrones made Belfast new.Is Belfast heart broken? Yeah we will miss the beautiful cast and talented crew gracing our bars and hotels. No longer will Jason Momoa make front page news because he showed up and drank with the cast in bars around Belfast. No longer will twitter explode with tweets because Kit Harrington or Sophie Turner walked down the Main Street to get to their hotel after shopping. Yes Game of Thrones is gone and hopefully the rumours of prequels filming here for the next 5 years are true but for now let’s just be happy to know that the most popular show in the world ever was filmed in our little city of Belfast.
As they say in the Nights Watch “We shall never see their likes again”
The future for Screen tourism in Ireland is bright and this is just the beginning.
Thanks for reading – Will Mulhall