Ahead of his address to the opening of the New York-New Belfast Conference, Oscar-winning film director and Belfast native Terry George, pictured here with his daughter Oorlagh, makes an impassioned plea to the North’s deeply divided political leaders not to squander the huge gains reaped from Northern Ireland’s transformation into a world-class movie hub.
By Terry George
“For enduring 55 straight nights of the cold, the snow, the rain, the mud, the sheep shit of Toome and the winds of Magheramorne quarry.”
That doesn’t exactly sound like a tourist advert, but that note of thanks from an assistant director to the crew on Game of Thrones is one of the few clues we have to what is probably the longest, most expensive battle scene, certainly ever filmed for television, and probably for cinema.
It’s the grand finale battle scene for the 8th and last season of Game of Thrones – one of the most lucrative series in television history.
Like everything else about Game of Thrones, news of the shoot is a closely guarded secret.
But I can say this with some certainty: It required the dedication of hundreds of skilled actors, extras, stunt men, crew and support staff, many if not most of them from Ireland, north and south.
Game of Thrones has put Northern Ireland on not just the film and television industry map but on fan-based tourism and digital technology maps as well.
Now as we head toward 2019 and the end of this groundbreaking series, Ireland, north and south, has a world-class film industry with world-class studios and editing facilities.
It is an enormous achievement for the people who first brought HBO and Hollywood to our country.
We can thank NI Screen and Invest NI — as well as the politicians in Stormont who fought for the grants and incentives.
I remember Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson struggling through traffic in Los Angeles to visit all the major studios, lobbying for more and more work.
Who is going to do that now? Who has the muscle, now that we are in a political vacuum, to take the bold decisions, and allocate the funds necessary to keep the work coming?
Back when the strategy of trying to attract world class productions to Northern Ireland was first attempted there were many detractors.
It was a very risky decision, to give huge tax breaks and grants to uber-rich organizations such as Time Warner and Universal. But it paid off and brought employment and tourist dollars across a wide range of industry.
Now, without our power sharing government who will fight the Westminster dragons after the Lannisters are gone?
Terry George hails from nationalist Short Strand in the east of Belfast. His film-making credits include In The Name of the Father (1993), Hotel Rwanda (2004) and The Epic (2016). He won an Oscar for his short movie, The Shore, in 2011. He now lives in New York.
The ninth annual New York-New Belfast Conference opens at the American Irish Historical Society at 6 p.m. this evening, Thursday June 7 with a night of celebration of heritage and the arts. Highlights will include a reenactment of a Frederick Douglass’ speech in Belfast in 1845 and a salute to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album 50 years after it was first released in New York. The conference continues in plenary session on Friday June 8 in Pier A Harbour House, a former immigration hall at the very tip of Manhattan, where contributors will include New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, KPMG Global COO Shaun Kelly, actress Geraldine Hughes, and Elizabeth Crabill, CEO CIE Tours.