Saturday, May 8, 2010

(Film) location, location, location

Film and TV companies are always scouting for new locations and your home, be it a stately pile or a semi-d, could be the perfect backdrop to the next Irish production. Susan Daly reports

Friday May 07 2010

NOT everyone has a face for showbiz, but when it comes to providing a backdrop for film and TV, even a modest family home can have real star quality.

Andrew Tighe and his wife Dara were astonished when they received a letter in the door of their three-bedroom bungalow in Sandyford, Co Dublin. It was from a company scouting locations for the BBC thriller The Silence, which is directed by Emmy-winning Irish director Dearbhla Walsh and due to air this month.

"It ended up being between us and another house," says Andrew, "but I think they picked us because there is a big car park next door for all their trucks. The other house was also further up the mountain. They have a great view of Dublin from their lounge, but the series is meant to be set in Bristol so it was probably a bit too identifiable."

Andrew, Dara and their daughters Ellen (12) and Ariane (10) had to move in with nearby family members for a month but Andrew says the excitement livened up a chilly and dreary January this year.

"The girls got great enjoyment, being able to come down and watch the filming -- they were very popular in school!" he laughs. Filming only lasted for six days but the crew spent over a week on either side painting and wallpapering some rooms to suit the strong filming lights, and then to return the house to its owners' preferences.

"I'd say the fee just covered our costs really but we got a makeover for free too," says Andrew. "In the sitting-room they did a lovely contemporary wallpaper but after a few days we asked them to come back and remove it again because it had a feeling of closing in the room a bit. They were very good about it."

The experience of the Tighes to find their 'normal' family home in a starring role is not unusual. Mags O'Sullivan, Deputy Film Commissioner at the Irish Film Board, says that there are up to 15 location managers working in Ireland and they are always scouting for a wide range of properties.

"The list of requirements is endless and depends on the project they are working on," she says. "They can require anything from a stately home to a disused property. In fact, all these empty apartment blocks lying around the place at the moment can be popular because disturbing other residents during filming is not an issue.

"And a script might call for a property not to be in pristine condition at all."

That is exactly what surprised David Wright after he was approached about the use of his state-of-the-art riverside house for last summer's RTE/ITV drama Father and Son. The three-storey Swan Lake property overlooking the banks of the River Liffey boasts some incredibly luxe features. There are floor-to-ceiling windows, underfloor heating and intelligent lighting in each room.

A dedicated cinema room is fitted with electric recliner seats and the car port houses an industrial turntable so residents don't have to bother with all that reversing malarkey when setting off for work in the morning.

"The Apprentice show had been interested in using the place but ultimately it was too small to fit all the contestants," says David. "It was between leasings when the director of Father and Son came out and saw the place and he went mad for it. They made me an offer I couldn't refuse!"

But the script for the three-part drama actually required that the property undergo a (temporary) make-under. "The story was that this guy and his wife lived here and she gets killed on the lawn," explains David. "I wasn't too sure about that bit when they first offered to me! Anyway, he comes back 10 years later and the place is all boarded up and overgrown."

The film crew "transformed" Swan Lake in a matter of days, replanting the garden and shifting in tons of earth and plants. When filming finished, they restored the garden and exterior to its previous immaculate condition. David, who currently has a tenant living in Swan Lake, says he would rent a property as a filming location again "in a heartbeat".

He adds: "They were very respectful, in and out with their blue shoe covers. And even if I won't ever be famous, at least my house has been on film."

There is of course still plenty of moonlighting opportunities for those properties at the upper end of the spectrum. The Earl of Meath, Jack Brabazon, says his family have become very used to film crews at the ancestral pile of Killruddery House, Co Kildare.

"It brings in much-needed revenue that goes back into the historic buildings and gardens," he says. "It's jolly useful from that point of view. We've been able to put a lot of new lead on the roof and put in new windows, things that would have been impossible otherwise."

The Brabazons have a longstanding relationship with nearby Ardmore Studios, which means they have hosted filming of 'The Tudors' and this summer will be the setting for new Canadian period drama Camelot. Other films to have shot scenes at Killruddery in the past range from The Magnificent Ambersons and Lassie to Far and Away and The Count of Monty Cristo.

The Earl says he's never been tempted to wander into shot. "I have one daughter, Serena, who is an actor though and she was an extra in The Tudors with a speaking part," he says. "She was a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn. It's quite fun seeing parts of the garden or the estate on film."

Despite the continuing popularity of large properties like Killruddery, the Irish Film Board has a huge range of locations registered on their website, at

"We don't get involved in the negotiation of how much a property will earn for being featured," says Mags O'Sullivan, "that is between the owner and the location manager and it can depend on a film's budget, the inconvenience to the owner and so on."


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