Friday, April 23, 2010

Flags of convenience - Updated 20 May 2010

UPDATE - 20 May 2010

I debated this issue with Simon Perry, CEO of the Irish Film Board on the Pat Kenny show on RTE Radio One this morning. It should be avaiable on the RTE Radio One website. The item ran for about twelve minutes from 10.32am (the programme starts after the news at 10am). Link available here (this may change after today).

Simon put a sterling case for All Good Children, saying that it was written and directed by a member of the Irish diaspora. He also stated that the Irish story elements were a creative choice, in departing from the original material, and that it had nothing to do with IFB money going into the film.

This was in response to my saying that people probably think that Irish public money goes into a film because it's Irish to begin with, not that the money goes into a film to make it Irish.

Simon said the film's budget was in the region of €2m. This includes the IFB's €600,000, and the Section 481 that went towards partial post production (mostly sound, I believe) in Ireland.

So, say the Irish contribution is 40% or €800,000 from the public purse. It's fair to ask how much return (spend) did we get for our Eurobucks? What was the gearing?

As far as I can establish, the French regional fund contributed €200,000 and the Belgian fund contributed €115,000. The Belgians estimate a return (spend) of €3 for each €1 they put in. The French regional fund estimates €1.50 spend for each €1 they put in.

Eurimages contributed €300,000 (and notes for the regulations, by the way, that the director is a UK national. The UK is not a party to the Eurimages co-production fund.)

The balance of finance probably comes from broadcasters (Canal+ and FilmFour); possibly investment finance via BackUp Films in France; and there may be some distributor advances from France, Belgium and Ireland.

Finally, the UK Film Council may have rolled over their development funding (they paid for development) as a production contribution since they're certainly claiming to have backed the film. Although when I last looked it's not in their database.

In its 2009 annual report the CNC (France's national agency) gives a budget of €2.3m for the film, broken down as Ireland 43%; Belgium 32%; and France 24% (and yes, that does add up to 99%). That would push the Irish contribution up to €989,000, with €736,000 from Belgium, and €552,000 from France where Canal+ have the first 'window'. These amounts would include the Eurimages contribution, possibly credited pari-passus with each country's percentage involvement.

It is fair to ask if ever an Irish film, developed in Ireland with an Irish story, and shot in Ireland with and by Irish talent, would ever receive as generous support from public funds in France or Belgium? Remember, they only stumped up €315,000 for a film made in their own back-yard.

Given Simon's admonition towards the end of the item (to be very careful when discussing these issues) it's just as well we didn't touch on the Irish budget contribution to some other films filmed outside Ireland, the ones with no Irish story elements and directors lacking Irish forbears.

Reciprocity (and generosity) in co-production is meant to be a win-win situation for all of the countries involved. The reality may well be that the net increase in production or post-production activity is negligible for most of them since what each country gains on one film (casting, employment, post-production etc.) they will have to concede on others.

Countries that insist on gearing their investment to local spend (however 'territorialised' or chauvinistic this may seem) are far more likely to gain from the co-production process.

Original post follows...

This is may be a bit contentious, and/or pedantic depending on your point of view.

A ship is said to be flying a flag of convenience if it is registered in a foreign country "for purposes of reducing operating costs or avoiding government regulations" (Wikipedia). The reasons for choosing a flag of convenience are varied and include protection from taxes, the avoidance of national regulations, labour wage scales or political boycotts.

Let's try to transpose this to the film business -
A film is said to be flying flags of convenience if it is registered in several foreign countries for the purposes of increasing financing or attracting government supports. The reasons for choosing a flag of convenience are varied and include the availability of tax breaks, national and transnational subsidies, cheaper labour and production costs, and the creation of political capital.

This is prompted by a statement by Minister Hanafin -
"Having an Irish feature film selected for yet another prestigious event, is evidence of the consistent high quality output of the Irish film industry. The industry makes an important contribution to the Irish economy with Irish cast and crew employed in the making of the film as well as the Irish production team."

She is responding to the news that All Good Children
has been selected for the Directors' Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival. The festival is calling it an Irish/Belgian/French production but many in the UK are calling it a British film, including some trade press. They do so because the director, Alicia Duffy, is a British film maker and because the lead producer on project was Jonathan Cavendish, based in London at Caveman Films.

All Good Children is adapted by Duffy from the British novel 'The Republic of Trees' with some British story elements changed to allow for Irish casting. The film was shot entirely on location in France.

I was told last year, when trying to untangle the project's history, that it was originally developed by Little Bird under their 'super slate' deal with the UK Film Council. The UK arm of the company received approximately £1.6million from the UK Film Council under that development slate scheme. [edit: the figure of £1.6m may include monies other than those included in the super-slate scheme which ran for three years, 2005, 2006 and 2007.]

The Irish Film Board made its first (provisional) production loan commitment to the project when it was submitted by Little Bird in August, 2008. It subsequently offered €600,000 in production funding to the project, submitted by Element Pictures, on 18 December 2008.

Little Bird's winding up was announced in late December, 2008. Jonathan Cavendish of Caveman films was a former joint principal of Little Bird, based in the UK, who, according to himself, had had little or no involvement with Little Bird for a few years prior to its being wound up.

So Ireland has paid good money to put its stamp on All Good Children, and we may consider it 'one of our own' for that reason. But it wasn't developed here. It wasn't written here. It wasn't filmed here. And the source material has nothing to do with Ireland. It is hardly, as the Minister says, "an Irish feature film" or the output of "the Irish film industry". And yet we paid for it?

Go figure.


dermot tynan said...

While it may be true that we had little national involvement in the film, look at the sheer number of Irish films which were part-funded or totally-funded by Channel Four, Film Four, or BBC.

While the Irish Film Board was on hiatus during the late eighties and early nineties, it was the British film industry which supported our film-makers and funded our films.

Given the current blood-lust for funds by our Government and our banks, it's not unreasonable to suppose our nascent film industry might be funded by other countries again in the not too distant future.

irish film portal said...

That's true Dermot - and has continued to be true into more recent years (see my post on the abolition of the UKFC).
That said, there is something of an irony in Ireland giving €500,000+, and the tax break, to numerous projects originated elsewhere while a fair few Irish-originated projects are neither as well funded nor of sufficient scale to avail of the tax break.