Saturday, July 31, 2010

Two columns over from the death notices...

In yesterday's Irish Times there was legal notice of the imminent fate of Chartbusters, the country's 2nd largest home entertainment retail outlet.

The purpose of the notice was to alert creditors that a petition for the winding up of the company was presented to the High Court on July 12. The petition will be heard on August 11.

This is the latest twist in the downward slide of the company's fortunes over the last few years. Its viability may have been dealt a final blow by the recent regulation of the tanning booth business into which the company had diversified.

Chartbusters went into examinership in early 2009 and the Judge overseeing the case, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, was highly critical of company founder Richard Murphy at the time, reportedly accusing him of "sharp practise" and "sleveenism" in his treatment of a major creditor who was seeking to have the company wound up.

The company had 37 stores and employed 267 people at the time of the examinership while creditors were then owed a total of €19.8m. The restructured Chartbusters was intending to retrench with the 20 outlets said to be operating profitably at the time. A year and a half later it looks as if that has not worked.

The whole area of home entertainment has been undergoing a major shift over the last few years. The mass market retail rental model that first bloomed on the streets of our cities and towns with VHS tape and then gaming is possibly coming to the natural end of its existence.

Here as elsewhere people's attention, particularly that of the under-thirties, has shifted to the online sphere, whether it be video on demand, DVD purchase, online gaming or illegal streaming. And the older demographic has shifted either to satelite viewing or the many DVD-by-post options.

While some of the niche outlets may survive, 'Going down the video-shop' is fast becoming a thing of the past. Like the cassette tape, only quicker.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Meanwhile, from Belfast...

Comes news of Northern Ireland Screen's annual report for 2009-2010 (they run on the UK budgetary year which ended on March 31st, 2010). Allow me as an aside to point out that we are still waiting for the IFB's Annual Reports for 2008 and 2009. (Update 30/7/2010: the IFB's annual report for 2008 has just been published on the agency's website, dated June 22, 2010)

The headline grabber is Northern Ireland Screen’s main production investment fund returned £22 million to the local economy at a ratio of 5.5:1, on an investment of £3.9 million.

Whether the gearing would be quite so positive across total production spend is another matter, but it is a good return nonetheless and it would be useful to know the methodology they use in coming to that figure.

A recent evaluation by KPMG found that over three years, 2007-2010, Northern Ireland Screen Fund exceeded its target, delivering an economic return of around £45 million into the Northern Ireland economy – a ratio of 4.6:1, against investment of £9.8m.

More than half of last year's £22m spend came from Universal's Your Highness which made use of one of Northern Ireland's greatest production assets, the Painthall Studio. Production has just started there on the HBO series, Game of Thrones which will give another major boost to spend in Northern Ireland this year.

The era of cross-border co-production with the IFB seems to have reached a hiatus with, I hear, little inclination from the latter agency to support projects such as Killing Bono shooting in Northern Ireland. I'm open to correction on this.

Tellingly there is no reference to the UKFC's demise on NI Screen's website although there must be some concern as to how funding that came from or through the UKFC to NIScreen will be channelled in future, particularly the Irish Language Broadcast Fund.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

So fare thee well, UKFC... and some capital news

The startling sudden abolition of the UK Film Council by the British Government will sharpen thinking in certains parts of our own administration. "If the Brits can do it" they will ask, "then why don't we?"

The UKFC is to be wound down, to an April 2012 deadline, and there is no indication as to how the British government intends to disperse the money it promises is still committed to UK film production.

Given the news from across the water it now seems certain that Colm McCarthy or some other advisor will recommend the Irish Film Board's abolition again this year. Some solace may be gained from the Government's Capital Expenditure Review 2010-2016, which was published yesterday. It states at 12.2.4 -

Film Sector
The strategic objective of this programme is to support the development of the film and audio-visual content industry in Ireland, creating employment in this area, developing the indigenous industry as an exporter of cultural product and also attracting inward investment from the international film industry.

This is backed by a commitment that, More than €100 million will be invested in film and audio-visual content development and production programmes to ensure existing commitments are met, leverage inward investment, build a new skills base and to promote the film and audio-visual content industries in Ireland.

The report comments, There has been substantial investment in Film and TV production projects over the last number of years through the Irish Film Board, and continued concentration in this area can build on achievements in recent years. The strategy to develop this sector will be finalised later this year, aiming to double the economic contribution of the sector within five years.

A table indicates that the IFB is to receive capital funding of €15m per annum (a cut of about 12% on this year's allocation) between 2011 and 2016. Will there be a commensurate cut in the IFB's current expenditure and might it be better in those circumstances to work towards an IFB MK3 than to keep the currently operating model?

Across the water much has been made of the UKFC's annual operating costs of £3m but since UKFC film investment funding comes for the most part from the UK Lottery its actual annual exchequer cost is a good deal less than that of the IFB.

Late yesterday the Guardian produced an interesting snapshot of the performance of 24 UKFC backed films. It is hardly comprehensive because it deals only with the films' theatrical earnings in the UK and globally, where the latter information is available. It doesn't, as far as I am aware, take account of later earnings on other platforms.

Three of the titles cited are of interest to us in Ireland -

The Wind that Shakes the Barley
UK Film Council funding: £545,000.
Total UK take: £4,870,290, total global take: £14,777,563

UK Film Council funding: £216,342.
Total UK take: £775,221, total global take: £1,744,581

The Magdalene Sisters
UK Film Council funding: £600,000.
Total UK take: £1,279,771, total global take: in excess of £5m

These are among the more successful 'small' films and knowledgeable readers will already have spotted the anomalies. The 'UK take' referred to in each case is really an Irish take since more than 80% of these grosses were earned at the box office in Ireland.

Aside from that there is the thought that were it not for the UKFC these films, which attracted substantial Irish audiences, are unlikely to have been financed. In the aftermath of the UKFC's abolition we might therefore wonder what films with Irish subjects will now not be made?

And there, actually, is the key argument for the retention of the IFB, not its French, British, Spanish, Polish or Italian originated co-productions with their spin-off work for Irish post houses.

In the meantime we have John McDonagh's The Guards to look forward to, perhaps the last of the UKFC's 'Irish' films.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ripples from afar

Cineuropa reports that production has commenced on Istanbul, an Hungarian, Turkish, Dutch and Irish co-production directed by Ferenc Török.

The film shoots in Istanbul until the beginning of August before shifting location to Budapest for two and half weeks. The leading actors are Johanna ter Steege and Padraic Delaney. Dialogue is principally Hungarian but there will also be English and Turkish spoken.

The film has a total budget of €1.4m and the co-producing companies are Új Budapest Filmstudió and producer László Kántor, with Phanta Vision (Netherlands, producer Petra Goedings); Ripple World Pictures Ltd. (Ireland, producers Dominic Wright, Jacqueline Kerrin) and Kuzey Film (Turkey, producer Serkan Acar).

Lance Hogan who has also worked on Ripple's Lapland Odyssey co-production will score the film while picture grading and sound post will take place at EGG Post Production and Ardmore Studios.

Cineuropa states that Irish funding is from "the Irish Film Board, Section 481, besides Ripple and participation from the post houses." If the IFB has decided to fund the film it has yet to publish that information on their website.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The grant-aid slide

Because I haven't seen it laid out anywhere else I was curious to know how Arts Council grant aid for film organisations has fared over the last few years. Here's a table I've put together.

* RFO = Regularly Funded Organisations; AF = Annual Funding; APG = Annual Programme Grant. Note: the 2010 figures are the Arts Council loan 'offers' for the year.

Aside from the predictable annual decreases perhaps the most depressing aspect of the table is the absence of any new entrants over the three-year period. That and the knowledge that having eventually earned Arts Council support an organisation could face cuts, through no fault of its own, after more than two decades of steady endeavour.

I will check if the loss of IPSG and SDGI grants has been met to any extent by a contribution from the Film Board, although that might set up a dependency that would not be ideal. However, the Film Board's latest published accounts only come up to 2007. [Edit: see 2nd table below ~]

In addition to the above the Arts Council and the Film Board (the Cultural Cinema Consortium) also offered grants under the 'Cinema Digitisation Scheme'. These were grants "towards the cost of purchasing and installing digital projection equipment available to full-time cinema operators who can demonstrate that they currently provide a clear majority of diverse programming on a year-round basis."

The scheme offered grants to cover 85% of installation costs for up to ten cinema screens, subject to a maximum contribution of €75,000 per screen.

The recipients announced 21 January, 2009 were -
Light House Cinema 200,000
Irish Film Institute 150,000
Screen Cinema 110,000
Cinema North West 75,000*
Cinemobile 75,000*
Mermaid Arts Centre 70,000
Town Hall, Galway 70,000
Total 750,000
*mobile cinemas

~The table below is taken from the IFB annual report for 2007, the last year for which IFB accounts have been published. It includes the then support being given to the two Guilds along with other 'capital' grants which may have been increased or reduced since 2007.

1. The IFB does not publish these decisions when they are made so one has to wait one and a half years or more before finding out, for instance, that the Board gave significant subvention to Ardmore Studios, in addition to the substantial production funding given to projects shooting at the studio.
2. What 'other' European organisation(s) received €10,000?
3. Why has the 'Solas Picture Palace' been given funding on top of that from the Cultural Cinema Consortium or, to look at it another way, why have all the 'art house' projects not been similarly funded?
4. The Cinemobile seems a bit expensive when you add up all the public funding.
5. Is the Media Desk value for money at a time when most people use the internet for information?
6. At €120,000 in 2007 the allocation for IFTA seems high given that membership subscriptions, awards entry fees, and some income on awards night must bring in sizeable revenue.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kells under American stars

News reaches me of a special outdoor screening of The Secret of Kells in the US.

I was happy to be a member of the Rising Star Award jury at this year's IFTAs which made Tomm Moore the recipient for his work on The Secret of Kells. It's hard to imagine a better setting for seeing the film than outdoors on a warm evening as the darkness deepens.

This free screening of Cartoon Saloon's Oscar-nominated animated feature will take place on the lawn at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens, NY.

The event happens tomorrow at 8.30pm, after live music from 7pm, on the grass along the water at Socrates Sculpture Park, 3134 Vernon Blvd. (Long Island City, Queens).

CEO to Go

Confirmation has come of the rumoured departure of Simon Perry from the Irish Film Board at the end of this year. It coincides with the end of his five-year contract as CEO (and 'Editor-in-Chief') which began in January 2006.

While speculation has already turned to the matter of who might replace him, the bigger question is - will he be replaced?

The ban on recruitment in the public service has already stalled the appointment of John Kelleher's replacement as Director of the Irish Film Classification Office. That has resulted in the Deputy Director becoming Acting Director of that agency which, incidentally, makes a profit for the State.

If the Minister for Finance does not allow the IFB to make the appointment then, presumably, the Deputy CEO will become Acting CEO and perhaps the production executives will be given greater editorial responsibility. Alternatively, Perry might be retained pro tem as an editorial/commissioning consultant.

Given the fraught circumstances last year (when the future of the agency was put in doubt by the cost-cutting recommendations made to the government) there should be some effort made to ensure that the imminent departure of the CEO does not tempt the government to re-examine that proposal.

Maybe this speculation is unwarranted. Perhaps the minister will sanction an internal appointment. Perhaps the Board will be able to advertise the position in a matter of weeks, as it has indicated. But, who wants the job?

Someone call Lenny Crooks and see if he's interested.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Pardon the dreadful pun in the title, it refers to the latest round of funding from Eurimages.

I have noted before that of the eight feature film projects supported by Eurimages over the last two and a half years that involve an Irish co-producer only one of them is directed (and written) by an Irish director.

We now have two further decisions from Eurimages concerning projects with Irish participation, involving substantial amounts of public money, and neither is being led by Irish talent. The total Eurimages contribution to these ten projects is about €4.2m, not including the €650,000 awarded to La Mula which Ireland boarded after the Eurimages decision.

The two latest projects are -

A Royal Affair/Caroline Mathildes AR
By Nikolaj Arcel (Denmark)
Feature Film
Awarded: €600 000

This Must Be the Place
By Paolo Sorrentino (Italy)
Feature Film
Awarded: €600 000
ARP S.a.s (FR)

This Must Be the Place is also written by Sorrentino and has an offer of €500,000 from the Irish Film Board. A Royal Affair is written by Arcel and R. Heisterberg and received a provisional offer of commitment for an unspecified amount from the IFB in the same funding round as the Sorrentino project, 23 April 2010 (the third of only three rounds published so far in 2010).

Presumably IFB funding is being made available to both projects because either some (or all) of each film is being shot in Ireland, some crew are being hired here, or because the post-production is taking place here. Doubtless the projects will also apply for Section 481 funding.

That said, A Royal Affair has public funding from Riga City Council on the basis that the film will be shot in the Latvian capital. The Sorrentino project will shoot in Dublin and Wicklow for three weeks in August before relocating to the US for seven weeks. The film follows Sean Penn's character, an aged rocker, who hopes to reconcile with his dying father but has left it too late.

If one were to add up the amount of public funding going into the ten 'Irish' Eurimages projects - Eurimages + IFB + Section 481 - you would be forgiven for thinking that the 'service' side of film production was aggregating far more of this public money than Irish directing and writing talent and indigenously developed projects.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Three Muleteers

Variety's John Hopewell has a very interesting story detailing the current state of affairs with the Spain/UK/Ireland co-production La Mula, a project I have mentioned in previous posts here and elsewhere.

Hopewell's article is headed - Three of Europe's highest-ranking film executives -- U.K.'s John Woodward, Spain's Ignasi Guardans and Ireland's Simon Perry -- are battling to save "La Mula" (The Mule), co-written and helmed by Oscar-nommed director Michael Radford.

He has lots of interesting background on the production and the various parties' stance on the dispute. It cites the IFB's funding commitment to the project but does not say what the Section 481 tax contribution is going to be, nor does it mention the sizeable Eurimages contribution to the project.

The heads of the public film agencies in Ireland, Britain and Spain are all anxious that the issue be sorted out but Spanish producer Gheko Films is said to be moving ahead with the project despite the other co-producers' unwillingness to do so, and despite the IFB and the UKFC's refusal to release their promised funding to the production.

Because of this some UK and Irish costs incurred to date have not been paid and the negative is being held at a lab in London. According to the Variety article, Subotica has been granted $614,500 [€500,000] for post production from the Irish Film Board, which is also making $61,450 [€50,000] available for Radford to complete "Mule's" shoot.

The article also states, Dublin post-production facility Windmill Lane has been paid "some but not all" it's owed for f/x work, according to Subotica principal and IFB member, Tristan Orpen Lynch.

The article does not say if the project was put together under the European co-production convention but, whether it was or was not, the situation is likely to cast a long shadow over any potential co-productions with Spain.

No doubt this is a very regrettable situation, but even if there had been no difficulties between the co-producers one would be left with a question: why has substantial Irish public funding been committed to this project?