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.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Irish film box office results

At the beginning of this year there were a considerable number of Irish/Irish-funded films that had yet to be released in the home market. Here is a list of titles that might now be considered a release backlog, some have been screened at Irish festivals.

Some Other Stories
The Wake Wood
The Race
One Hundred Mornings
Occi Versus the World
Love and Savagery
The Investigator
Nothing Personal
A Shine of Rainbows
The Hanged Man

There has been some catching up over the last few months which has removed a few titles from the backlog. Here is a list of Irish films released so far in 2010. I'm publishing this as a precursor to a commentary piece I'm working on about the broader picture which will quote the box office figures I have been able to get for these titles.

Leap Year
Dorothy Mills
Perrier's Bounty
The Fading Light
The Daisy Chain

Note - I'm not including Jim Sheridan's Brothers (which may have earned more than all of the above together) since there's no Irish angle to it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What's in a name...

...a government department by any other name would smell as sweet.

I have belatedly changed the link name for what was the Department of Arts, Sport & Tourism to the Department of Tourism, Culture & Sport, although the actual url remains the same, at least for the moment.

At the time of the Cabinet re-shuffle, the re-naming of the Department, and the appointment of Mary Hanafin as Minister, there was some discussion about whether the Department and the Minister herself were being downgraded.

I believe the alphabet is never far from Irish politicians' minds since election candidates' surnames can be a factor in electoral contests, particularly in the multi-seat constituency system. So the listing order of names is something they pay attention to.

Petty or not as this may seem, the forgrounding of Tourism, in the place of Arts (or Culture), in the Department's title now puts it well down the listing of Government Departments. That looks deliberate, to me.

The Department also suffered a degree of marginalisation arising from the illness of the two previous Ministerial incumbents, and from the fall from grace of their predecessor, John O'Donoghue, whose expenses became a matter of public controversy.

O'Donoghue was also responsible for decentralising significant parts of the Department to his home county of Kerry. Now however, we have a Dublin-based Minister for a Department where many functions - including the film section - are split between Dublin and Killarney.

Perhaps there has been no organisational fall-out (or loss of institutional expertise) from the geographical rearrangements. Perhaps Minister Hanafin finds herself in a Department that is in good shape and able to maintain a watchful eye on the agencies that report to it. Time, and budgets, will tell.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Film +/- Art

Another film director, Conor McPherson, was elected to membership of Aosdána (An affiliation of creative artists in Ireland) at the organisation's annual AGM, held last week in Armagh.

Since those artists who wish to become members must work in either Visual arts, Literature, Music, Architecture, or Choreography it must be assumed, I suppose, that film making per se is not an artform.

Instead, those film makers who have been elected to Aosdána achieved their membership either as visual artists or, like McPherson and Neil Jordan before him, as writers of literature.

It seems odd, to me at least, that film making has not been deemed an eligible art form in its own right. If architecture is not a visual art - although it is heavily design-based - then how is film a visual art when so much of film making is to do with story-telling?

The following film makers are members of Aosdána:
Visual Artists
Cathal Black
Joe Comerford
John T. Davis
Vivienne Dick
Louis Marcus
George Morrison
Pat Murphy
Bob Quinn
David Shaw-Smith

Carlo Gébler
Neil Jordan
Louis Lentin

I would consider all of the above to be creative artists who use film as a story-telling medium.

I've included only those readily identified as authors (directors) of films and I have excluded the many writers (such as Billy Roche and Bernard MacLaverty) who have extensive screenwriting credits.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tescovision II - the sequel

Following up on my post (below) about Tesco's Irish DVD promotion Tesco have got back to me as follows -

The current range of Irish films on DVD at Tesco were part of an Irish promotion for St Patrick’s Day and runs nationwide. This promotion started on St Patrick’s Week and is still running in stores due to its popularity. There are 37 Irish films in this range, with over 12,000 units sold in the four weeks since St Patrick’s Day. The top five most popular Irish films in the promotion have been:

The Snapper
The Van
The Quiet Man

Throughout the year we maintain a strong presence of Irish films in our back catalogue DVD section, along with promoting any new Irish DVD releases in our chart.

12,000+ units is pretty good going in a four week period. I've sent in a supplementary enquiring how they are sourcing the films but that may be deemed a commercially sensitive issue.

[update: Tesco tell me the films are sourced through BeaumeX in Walkinstown in Dublin. "We work with an Irish Distribution Company, Beaumex, to source our DVD titles for promotions of this nature – they would work directly with the studios for nominations for the promotion and we would have final choice."]

A number of other questions do come to mind. Are the films' producers seeing any return (however modest) from this, or are distributors finally seeing some payback on rights they may have paid for many years ago? But do they still legitimately hold those rights, in Ireland?

And what of those cases where the production company has been wound up? There are a few Littlebird* titles in there, for instance, who now owns the rights to those titles?

I can update the list of titles with the following (from another perusal of the shelves) -

In Bruges (Universal) €5
Hunger (Pathé) [again, but for €3.50]
Fifty Dead Men Walking €7
Once [unpriced]
Nothing Personal €5

*I will at some stage write about my attempts last year to come by the facts of the demise of Littlebird.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Some funding-related musing

The IFB announced another round of funding offers on March 30th. That's almost two months since the last round of offers was made on Feruary 1st.

It would be useful if the agency were to indicate whether these were the dates the decisions were made, or the dates the decisions were published. In the absence of the clarification one might be forgiven for thinking that few funding decisions have been made in the first quarter of 2010.

I was somewhat surprised by the amounts offered by way of distribution (print and advertising) loans to Ondine and Zonad, on March 30th. That is, after the films had been released.

Ondine's distributor Paramount Pictures has been offered a loan of €50,000. Zonad's distributor (and producer) Element Pictures has been offered a loan of €75,000.

Both films have now finished their run at the Irish box office. Ondine has grossed €207,838 while Zonad has grossed approximately €36,000.

A comparatively small number of development loans were offered this round. Just six, including four 'First Draft Loans', with amounts from €10,000 to €20,000.

Interesting to see Brock Norman Brock, British screenwriter (Bronson) and former UK Film Council executive, is the recipient of one of the four €12,000 'First Draft Loans'.


It's been a while since I posted anything here. I was doing some writing for money and then I was a bit ill, and then I had more paying work to do, and then I was another bit ill followed by a bit more work. And then, in a surprising medical intervention, I was detained in hospital for the guts of a week. The saga continues... (Nothing too serious I'm told, but the root cause has yet to be determined).

But back to the subject matter of this here blog.

I was in Tesco, on a hunt for 60% dark Easterolate, when I noticed the depleted rack of Irish DVD titles on sale. They were priced at €5 each for the most part, although a few were higher.

I'm presuming that this promotion*, if that's what it was, was on offer thoughout Tesco's outlets in the Republic but I wonder if they put it together themselves or if an enterprising wholesaler thought up the idea to clear their 'remainder' bins.

Many of the DVD boxes had no obvious distributor named and as I turned over the boxes in my hands I was asking myself questions about Irish rights-holders, Irish producers' shares, Irish production companies that have since gone bust, and when the films might have received their Irish classification ratings, where they were evident.

Here's the list of what was on offer, in no particular order. There are some real rarities here, and some titles that just aren't Irish at all.

The Snapper (BBC Films) €12.95
Hunger (Pathé) €7.00
The Van (20thC Fox) €7.00
The Commitments (20thC Fox) €5.00
My Left Foot (Ferndale) €5.00
The Field (Ferndale) €5.00
Into The West €5.00
Angela's Ashes €5.00
The Informer €5.00
Mickeybo and Me €5.00
Borstal Boy €5.00
Crushproof €5.00
Dancing at Lughnasa €5.00
Dead Long Enough €5.00
December Bride €5.00
Headrush €5.00
Evelyn €5.00
In America €5.00
The Magdelen Sisters €5.00
Moondance €5.00
Ordinary Decent Criminal €5.00
Ryan's Daughter €5.00
Small Engine Repair €5.00
Song for a Raggy Boy €5.00
The McMullen Brothers (sic) €5.00
The Butcher Boy (WB) €5.00
The Halo Effect €5.00
Waking Ned €5.00
When Brendan Met Trudy €5.00
The General €5.00
48 Angels €5.00
Bloody Sunday €5.00
The Quiet Man €5.00
Michael Collins (WB) €5.00
The Wind That Shakes the Barley €5.00

*I've put some questions to Tesco about this and if they get back to me I'll post further details here.