Our Friend in Belfast: A-list movie stars drink in the city’s bars and its content sector is buzzing. Kieran Doherty hails the Game of Thrones legacy
So Game of Thrones is coming to an end and the world is quite rightly in mourning. But I’m not. Not just because I’m the only person in Belfast who hasn’t seen a single episode, or the only person in Belfast who hasn’t been an extra in an episode.
But because it means the amazing crew will finally be available for other work. That will be the enduring legacy of Game of Thrones and the hard work of everyone at NIScreen.
Northern Ireland now sits among the greats when it comes to world-class talent. And they’re not just renowned for being the best in the business, they’re also renowned for being the nicest, which, when you consider the business we are in, is quite the achievement!
The biggest achievement in my mind, however, is tangential. Convincing people to come to Belfast to make a show got an awful lot easier once Game of Thrones arrived.
There’s no underplaying the effects Game of Thrones had on the Northern Ireland production sector. Countless articles have been written by people far smarter than me outlining the many economic benefits.
"It takes a while for Londoners to get used to random taxi drivers talking to them"
I can only speak for my own experience. Everything is better now. Everything. And I don’t just mean we’re getting more work. There’s an energy here that didn’t exist before. There’s a real sense of positivity. For crying out loud, there are A-List movie stars drinking in the Cathedral Quarter. Actual movie stars!
That’s not to say everything is rosy in the garden. It’s still ridiculously difficult to land the big commissions. But they’re difficult to land because they’re big, not because we can’t deliver them.
When we were commissioned by Netflix last year to make Flinch, it did not flinch at the idea of making it in Northern Ireland. That’s the Game of Thrones effect. Beforehand, there may have been talk regarding a lack of talent in Northern Ireland. Not any more. No one questions our ability to get the job done.
And people only have to visit here for a few days to fall in love with the place. It takes a while for Londoners to get used to random taxi drivers talking to them. Or random people in the shops talking to them.
Or just people in general talking to them. We’re a very friendly place. Everyone knows everyone else. It’s impossible to resist. You just have to embrace it.
We used to be considered a centre of excellence for documentaries, due in no small part to our own particular history. Now, it’s documentaries and high-end drama. That’s quite a thing, considering how small we are, geographically.
There may not be that many of us but we punch above our weight. I say “we”. My side of the business isn’t docs or high-end drama, it’s formats. When Game of Thrones came to Northern Ireland it transformed the drama genre. We haven’t yet had the equivalent long-running super successful format from Northern Ireland.
Only time will tell if we managed it with Flinch. But, either way, we know someone from here will come up with it, eventually. That’s the Game of Thrones effect.
Kieran Doherty is Joint Managing Director of Belfast-based Stellify Media.