Global Locations Hope to Attract New Projects After ‘Game of Thrones’ Ends

Game of Thrones Productions Films and
Courtesy of HBO

HBO’s announcement that the eighth season of “Game of Thrones” will be its last didn’t just sadden its legions of fans; groans of disappointment could also be heard across Europe from the show’s filming locations, which now have to grapple with how to fill the Westeros-sized hole left in their economies when the series packs up for good.

“Game of Thrones” has been shot almost entirely in Europe, in the U.K., Spain, Iceland, Croatia, and Malta. To varying degrees, it has boosted local economies, created jobs, and brought in tourists eager to see the locations depicted in the show.

Nowhere has the impact been greater than in Northern Ireland, the “Game of Thrones” production base. Until recently, the province was known for having more civil strife than the fictional Westeros, but the show put the region on the filming production map, so much so that Belfast’s Port Authority is building a new production facility, Belfast Harbour Studios, in hopes that other productions will follow in HBO’s footsteps.

“We built that in the full knowledge that we were in the final chapters of ‘Game of Thrones,’” says Richard Williams, chief executive of the state-backed production support agency Northern Ireland Screen. “I’m hugely excited about the period after ‘Game of Thrones,’ where we have a level of stage capacity such that there really isn’t a project we couldn’t facilitate.”

“I’m hugely excited about the period after ‘Game of Thrones,’ where we have a level of stage capacity such that there really isn’t a project we couldn’t facilitate.” 
Northern Ireland Screen CEO Richard Williams

Williams’ agency estimates that production expenditure in Northern Ireland since the show began shooting there in 2010 has been £146 million ($192 million). Beyond that, the series has enhanced local facilities, support services, and worker skills. “The screen industries have been completely transformed,” he says.

Bernadette Caulfield, an executive producer on “Game of Thrones,” says it has helped below-the-line staffers rise through the ranks. “We have many people who started out as production assistants and are now going up the ladder,” she says. “People have been able to go to that next step quicker than if it was from one shorter series or movie to another.”

HBO’s presence in Northern Ireland has helped encourage other producers to come, she says. “People know that … if we are here for years, it must be working.” Among the shows returning to Northern Ireland is A&E and ITV’s “The Frankenstein Chronicles,” starring former “Game of Thrones” actor Sean Bean, and exec produced by Frank Doelger, who serves the same role on “Game of Thrones.”

Tourism to Northern Ireland has also been boosted; earlier this year, Northern Ireland Screen launched a “Game of Thrones” app that guides fans to 21 locations featured in the series. John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism Northern Ireland, says there are now 25 “Game of Thrones”-related tourism businesses that offer everything from guided tours to archery lessons and banquets.

The show has also proved a boon for Croatia, where four seasons have been filmed. In 2014, HBO spent €5.7 million ($6.34 million) in the nation, one of the European Union’s smallest and
poorest members.

Local Color
“Game of Thrones” has enriched European locations
$192m Total spent in Ireland since 2012
$6m The show’s 2014 spend in Croatia
$3.9m Contribution of a two-week shoot in Girona, Spain

In Spain, the main location outside Northern Ireland for the past two seasons, the impact has been so significant that one production service provider talks about a “before and after” effect. For instance, the fact that the show is boosting tourism has encouraged historical monuments and the city halls of historic municipalities to be more open to the idea of hosting TV and film shoots at their sites; the country hosted three weeks of filming in 2014 for Season 5, with shoots in Seville’s Alcazar palace — a UNESCO heritage site — and the bullring in Osuna. The show also gave Spanish crewmembers better knowledge of the aesthetic, expectations, and requirements of a big-budget Hollywood TV series — before “Game of Thrones,” independent feature films and commercials had been more the norm.

And after the Spanish government introduced a 15% tax credit at the start of 2015, Peter Welter Soler — head of Fresco Film, the show’s production services company in Spain — was able to iron out wrinkles in the new law with the tax authorities, at which point “Game of Thrones” became the first U.S. show to use the new Spanish tax incentive. After that, HBO decided to return for the sixth season, making Spain, rather than Croatia, the home for the show’s Southern worlds.

The season six shoot, totaling eight weeks, took the crew around the country, with stops in Girona, Navarra, Guadalajara, Peniscola, and Almeria. The two-week shoot in Girona alone contributed €3.5 million ($3.9 million) to the local economy, according to the Girona Film Office.

Welter Soler had more than 1,000 people on the payroll across season six. “We’ve all learned a hell of a lot,” he says.

“Game of Thrones” returns to Spain for the seventh season, but Welter Soler is considering the prospect of life without it. He has recently worked on NBC’s “Emerald City” and has three other international productions lined up. “It’s our responsibility to keep up the promotional work to be able to make use of the ‘Game of Thrones’ legacy to attract other shows as well as films,” he says.