Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Found on the interweb...

Interesting paper by former Film Board CEO, Rod Stoneman - Chance and Change - a consideration of the part played by chance occurrence in audiovisual production (20 October 2010).

On production risk...
Sometimes we were party to the miscalculation of cash flow needs and a few years after An Gobán Saor, Deborah Warner‟s Last September (a much bigger feature project) was in great jeopardy in the second week of its shoot in October 1998. As one
of the producers Nik Powell was working with lawyers to interlock and make two complex national tax incentive schemes compatible in the financial structure, the electricians (a crew of sparks imported from Britain) threatened to abandon the production unless they were immediately paid. Searching for €10,000 in cash Neil Jordan, an executive producer on the project, turned to me with the half-joking but memorable remark “do you know any drug dealers?”–presumably they might be a source of ready cash. I had to admit that I had no such relevant acquaintances and in the end it was said that the urgent money was borrowed late that night via Paul McGuinness (manager of U2) from the safe of the Clarence, a Dublin hotel that the group owned.

And on the role of the IFB...
It was essential for a national film agency like BSÉ / IFB that there be some combination of success in both cultural and commercial domains. Film agencies and institutes in the 1960s and 1970s had more of a purely cultural remit, but the neo-liberal economistic discourses of the later 1970s and 1980s provided pressure for economic performance. In Ireland the Coopers and Lybrand Report from 1992 argued for the reconstitution of the Film Board, which had been dissolved in 1987, on the grounds that it would stimulate economic activity and thus employment. Of course these were important arguments to make and we produced figures to show the economic effects of our support for production. However we were concerned to maintain a judicious equilibrium between cultural, social and financial motives; there are always reasons for „thinking of the audience‟–if one is to avoid solipsistic or unthought-through forms of filmmaking practice.

It was important to keep the relentless financial tendencies at bay by balancing them with cultural arguments and so I wrote polemical comments like “In all its forms film is at its most innovative when it is experienced as unexpected, challenging social norms and complacencies of taste, extending the boundaries of the possible . .” in the annual report. [xxxi] In 2003 we came up with a mission statement: “We intend to encourage bravery and embrace creative risk. Paradoxically, in cinema, the further you push artistically the more genuinely commercial you can be.” [xxxii] Uttering these 'neither/nor' verbalizations and myriad other oxymoronic policy formulations seemed like indispensable discursive manoeuvres and the only way to absorb and deflect the implacable pressures of increasingly economistic discourses. Utilising public monies for the expensive business of film needed justification as right-wing public representatives and a hostile tabloid press were always pleased to indulge in a feeding frenzy the minute we failed to maintain a robust sense of purpose allied with some quick footwork.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gearscannáin (pron. gyaarh-scon-oin)

A correspondent writes...

I suspect you've been thinking about this already but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the recently announced new IFB scheme. Marks a U-turn from the 2008 strategy that sought to rescue Irish-language film from the ghetto. Does the new scheme suggest that few or no Irish language scripts were being submitted in the absence of the promise of special treatment or is there something else afoot in the current cultural-economic climate?

The correspondent is right, I had been thinking about the Irish language angle for a while because the IFB recently made very obvious efforts to declare that they do or can do business through the medium of Irish.

It struck me as ironic that the powers that be only issue those releases in the Irish language, in much the same way that RTÉ's Nuacht carries news items relating to language issues that are never reported on their English language bulletins half an hour later. Either the items are news or they're not. It's an approach that runs the risk of creating a ghetto effect around the Irish language.

I can only assume that the IFB were obliged to very publicly offer their services through Irish either under a timeframe laid down by the relevant legislation or because of political pressure. I suspect that this means that all their information and application documents have been or are being translated into the Irish language.

I might say here, for the record, that I believe any citizen ought to be able to conduct any aspect of their business with the state though the medium of Irish if they wish to do so. I believe that is their right. The image of a head of a state agency having to use an interpreter in discussions with a citizen is one that amuses me, I have to say. Just as much as it does when such figures address English-speaking audiences in Irish.

The first thing to observe about Gearscannán (interestingly this information was released in English and Irish) is that the IFB has given no policy explanation for the change.

The move does suggest to me that either Irish language projects were not being submitted in sufficient quantities, or someone decided they were not being funded in sufficient quantities. If they have been receiving Irish language projects for the various short film schemes, however, but found none of sufficient quality to support, then that raises a whole lot of other questions.

In the past the IFB is known to have solicited short film projects when the standard fell short among the projects submitted to it for the non-animated short film schemes. If this practice has continued into present times with Irish language film makers not being approached then that would raise another issue.

If there is now a guaranteed fund for two shorts in the Irish language will they be required to be of the same standard as their English language equivalents?

Will people with projects conceived in English just decide to translate their projects into Irish because they figure, as happened in the past, that their chances of success might improve? And, is there any particular reason that TG4 were not involved as they had been with the highly successful Oscailt scheme?

Spot the difference(s)...
Bord Scannán na hÉireann / the Irish Film Board is delighted to announce that applications are being sought for the new short film scheme ‘Gearrscannáin'. Applications will be accepted until 17th December 2010.
Tá áthas ar Bhord Scannán na hÉireann iarratais a éileamh don chéad bhabhta eile den scéim an-rathúil ‘Gearrscannán. Is é an Aoine 17ú Nollaig 2010 an spriocdháta nua don scéim.

Lastly, I believe this is the first time the IFB has introduced an age classification into one of their schemes, ba chóir go mbeidh siad in ann grádú ‘faoi 15' a bhaint amach. So projects in Irish but only suitable for the under 15s, and yet the distribution is going to be primarily online, Déanfar an scéim a sholáthar ar-líne den chuid is mó.

A case of two plus two equals cúig.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Europe, again

Following on from my post on Nov. 17 there is a thought-provoking interview with economist Olivier Bomsel on the Cineuropa website.

Some quotes stand out...

Editorialising means building a relationship of trust with viewers by enabling them to assess their risk as well as possible, to best understand the movie theatre’s editorial policy. It’s about becoming an approved label, like a collection of books or a wine appellation. The proposed film must be consistent with the proposed policy.


The European Union is made up of 27 countries and 23 languages: this is a major economic handicap not only because of the size of the markets, but also because of the cost of adapting products from one country to another. Europe was built on the idea of a unified market to produce economies of scale. But European civil servants have difficulty understanding that there are no economies of scale for the media market...

Meanwile in Rome, yesterday...

“GOING IRISH” - Convegno sulla co-produzione cinematografica fra Italia e Irlanda
(Roma, Casa del Cinema - 24 novembre 2010- ore 10.00-12.30)

Il convegno, parte della quarta edizione del festival di cinema irlandese IRISHFILMFESTA - è aperto a tutti i produttori italiani. Si pone l’obiettivo di esplorare le possibilità, i tempi, i modi e le strategie per accordi di co-produzione fra Italia e Irlanda, a partire dalla presentazione delle esistenti iniziative di sostegno e finanziamento, dei relativi enti promotori, e dall’esempio delle esperienze specifiche di alcuni esponenti chiave della produzione cinematografica di entrambi i Paesi.

L’Ambasciatore irlandese, S.E. Patrick Hennessy introdurrà i lavori.
I relatori presenti:
Patrick O'Neill, Industry Affairs Executive dell’Irish Film Board, illustrerà il panorama dell’Industria filmica Irlandese, la struttura e gli obiettivi dell’Irish Film Board e i meccanismi di finanziamento e facilitazione produttiva.
Siobhan O’Donoghue, Media Desk Ireland, spiegherà il funzionamento di Media Desk e presenterà i produttori irlandesi che hanno ricevuto tali finanziamenti.
Tristan Orpen Lynch, Ireland, Subotica (Small Engine Repair)
Stefano Massenzi, Italy, Lucky Red (This Must Be the Place)
Maurizio Antonini, Italy, Interlinea (La controra/Midday Demons)
presenteranno le loro esperienze di co-produzioni internazionali.
Moderatore: Avv. Leonardo Paulillo

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The recovery position

Hard to say exactly where things stand for film in this country with the publication of the Government's plan. More clarity will come with the budget.

Some points to note:

Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport
Revised Capital Expenditure Ceiling 2011 - 2014
2011 2012 2013 2014 Total
€96m €100m €85m €80m €361m
Will this impact on the annual capital available to the Film Board?

Artists' Tax Exemption
Earnings ceiling reduced to €40,000

VAT going up, and then up again. (2013-14) Minimum wage going down.

Some pointers on tax reliefs
Many are being abolished and the benefit from others being retained to be reduced to the standard (lower) tax rate. We'll have to wait to see if this or any other change is being made to Section 481.

The Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Mary Hanafin TD, has issued a statment on the implications of the plan for her Department.
The savings in current spending for 2011 total €17million, of which €4million will be in administrative non-pay overheads. Total current spending across the three sectors will be in the order of €296million in 2011. Over the lifetime of the plan the Tourism, Culture and Sport areas will contribute savings of €76million in current expenditure.
She also says, There has been an unprecedented investment in national and regional arts and culture infrastructure, performance venues and film and TV production capacities... In the context of the four year plan, we will continue to prioritise capital investment in the film and audiovisual content production sector...

So, if it's a cut of €17m in current expenditure in year one, and a total cut of €76million over the four years, then there will be an average of €19.66m cut in 2012, 2013 and 2014. In soundbite form that's a 24% drop over four years on current spending this year.

It's what we might call the recovery position.

Dublin Eurimages Seminar

The MEDIA Desk is holding a welcome Eurimages information session at IFI in Dublin on November 29. Eurimages is a pan-European co-production fund subscribed to by the majority of members of the Council of Europe. Registration for the event is at 9.30am and it will start at 10am and end at 11.30am.

Roberto Olla, Director of Eurimages, will discuss the fund and explain the operation of the new application rules being introduced in the new year. The basic information and web addresses are contained in the post I wrote on Nov. 15 (down the page).

The information session will be particularly useful for local producers who wish to apply to the fund with projects they have originated. In recent years very few Irish-originated projects have been backed by Eurimages. See my earlier posts on this issue.

People wishing to attend should contact the MEDIA Desk at info1@mediadesk.ie as soon as possible.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Up the Junction!

As the latest Harry Potter title blitzkriegs our cinemas today it will launch the country's newest cinema, a drive-in at Fota Retail Park in Carrigtwohill called Movie Junction.

It may not be the first ever Irish drive-in cinema but it will almost certainly be the biggest since the demise of the IMAX screen in Dublin that was eventually swallowed up by what is now the Vue/Cineworld in Parnell Street.

The new site is called Movie Junction and the operators hope to open similar ventures in Galway and Dublin. €16 a car. Let's hope the weather is kind to them. Pictures here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Subsidising Competitiveness or Supporting Culture?

The current MEDIA programme is running for seven years and has a total budget of approximately €755,000,000 for 2007-2013. The European Commission has launched a public consultation on a future EU programme for the audiovisual sector which would replace the current one. The consultation will remain open until 30 November, here.

During the second semester of 2011 the Commission intends to adopt a draft Decision of the European Parliament and Council establishing a new MEDIA programme after 2013. This new programme will help achieve the objectives of the new 'Europe 2020' Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

There is a lot that is problematic about the MEDIA Programme's schemes. Much of what passes for development funding, for instance, is used to cover producer overhead, especially the support for slate schemes. These financial supports bolster many audiovisual businesses that would otherwise be unsustainable because they generate little income in the market from the sale of their output.

This is certainly true in Ireland where, if we're hard-nosed about it, supports or subsidies that keep otherwise unviable companies in business do relatively little to promote cultural or market competitiveness with non-European audiovisual production.

In market terms 'competitiveness' has a very specific meaning. The consultation addresses various areas of MEDIA support or subsidy as though they would or could address issues of competitiveness in the market on a Europe-wide basis.

They reveal several assumptions being made about that market and the first thing to be said is that it is not homogeneous and the issues relating to competitiveness vary greatly from one country to another. The size of each country's internal market, its linguistic heritage, and the historical strength of its audiovisual industry are not reducible to a single European construct.

Nor can one, for instance, conflate the French market and the Irish market for audiovisual products. They are separate markets with a marginal areas of overlap within the single currency zone. That is all.

It is simply not possible to address issues of market competitiveness with subsidy or support schemes on a Europe-wide basis and it's time that the wisdom of attempting to forge a single market for audiovisual products was properly investigated.

But is market competitiveness really the issue? I fear that the language used in the consultation will limit respondents' focus to redundant issues. The focus should be on ways to support, enhance and promote the diversity of all our audiovisual cultures in Europe. That means supporting channels of access or outlets for that diversity as it emerges from within originating cultures.

That is not the same as subsidising a 'single market'-driven solution and it means being absolutely clear about the cultural purpose and the non-recoverable cost of any actions or support programmes being undertaken.

There is no public financial solution to market competitiveness issues in the European audiovisual sector. Taken to its logical conclusion any and all offers of funding support made to European audiovisual producers, distributors and exhibitors will not and can not guarantee an audience for audiovisual product.

Such support will, however, underwrite the costs of production, distribution and exhibition, thereby creating a sham economy in each area of the sector. Outcomes cannot be determined with any certainty by the intervention of public agencies and public funding.

That said I believe, again, that the emphasis on 'competitiveness' is misplaced. The focus on market pressures loses sight of who should really benefit from any intervention. That should be European audiences.

The expansion of choice and programme diversity for audiences will flow from culturally-motivated policies, and not from market interventions. They are too easily soaked up by otherwise unsustainable businesses.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Eurimages update

Changes in the Eurimages application proceedures have been brought in with effect from Jan 01, 2011. You can read them here and the full regulations are here.

It's worth having a look through the documents to see both the information required of producers/financiers and the criteria used to qualify films as European. One can then ruminate on how one might use similar criteria to qualify a film as Irish, or as having an Irish character:

In the case of fiction projects, the European character will be assessed on the basis of the points system included in the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production. These projects must achieve at least 15 out of 19 points, according to the points system set out below:
Director 3
Scriptwriter 3
Composer 1
First role 3
Second role 2
Third role 1
Cameraman 1
Sound recordist and mixer 1
Editor 1
Art director and costumes 1
Studio or shooting location 1
Post-production location 1

These are the four co-productions backed by Eurimages in 2010 that have an Irish angle, although only one of them might be said to have an Irish character.

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)

The Moon Man
By Stephan Schesch (DE)
Animation Film
Awarded: €600 000

By Irina Maldea (Ireland - Romania)
Awarded: €50 000

This Year's Corkers...

...or the prize-winning short films from the Cork Film Festival which ended yesterday.

Best International Short
Baby Daniel Mulloy, England
Special Mentions:
The External World, David O’Reilly, Germany/Ireland
The Forest/La Forêt, Lionel Rupp, Switzerland

Cork Short Film Nominee for the European Film Academy Awards
Incident by a Bank Ruben Ostlund, Sweden

Best Irish Short Film
Pentecost Peter McDonald
Special Mention:
Crossing Salween Brian O’Malley
The External World David O’Reilly

Claire Lynch Award for Best First-Time Irish Director
Small Change Cathy Brady
Special Mention:
S(Kin) Luke Daly

Best ‘Made In Cork’ Award
Kettle Brian Power
Special Mentions:
Hungry Hickory Damian McCarthy
Greyhound Track Mike Hannon

Award Of The Festival For Best Short Film
Holding Still Florian Riegel, Germany
Special Mention:
We Will Not Die/On Ne Mourra Pas, Amal Kateb, France/Algeria

Audience Award For Best International Short
Miss Remarkable & Her Career Joanna Rubin Dranger, Ireland/Sweden/Denmark

Audience Award For Best Irish Short
Passing David Freyne

OutLook Award For Best Lesbian/Gay Short
Blokes Marialy Rivas, Chile

Friday, November 12, 2010

Funding decisions

IFB project loans, 10 November 2010


First Draft Loans
Traders Peter Murphy & Rachel Moriarty €16,000
The Girl In The Green Kimono Jimmy Murakami Jimmy Murakami & Mary D'Arcy €16,000
Guitar Heroes Brian Lynch €12,000
Red Brian Finola Geraghty €12,000
I'm A Wheel Alan Gilsenan Paul Freaney €16,000
The Winter Truce Audrey O'Reilly €12,000
Ms. Mansfield & Me Paul Walker €12,000
Fiction Development Loans
The Canal Ivan Kavanagh Ivan Kavanagh Park Films €15,000
Noble Stephen Bradley Stephen Bradley Danman Films €20,000
I Am Not A Serial Killer Billy O'Brien Billy O'Brien & Chris Hyde Floodland Pictures €13,000
Simple Simon Terry McMahon Treasure Entertainment €22,500
Hate Brendan Muldowney Brendan Muldowney SP Films €18,000
Ten Dates With Mad Mary Darren Thornton Darren & Colin Thornton Element Pictures €40,000
Glass Houses Aisling Walsh Mary Duffin Fantastic Films €5,000
Star Of The Sea John Crowley Mark O'Rowe Parallel Film Productions €45,000
The Ranger PJ Dillon PJ Dillon & Eugene O'Brien Fastnet Films €5,000
Love Eternal Brendan Muldowney Brendan Muldowney Fastnet Films €5,000
Sanctuary Norah McGettigan Norah McGettigan Venom Limited €4,000
Standby Rob & Ronan Burke Pierce Ryan Black Sheep Productions €10,000
The Vehicle John Butler John Butler Treasure Entertainment €20,000
Food Guide To Love Dominic Harari & Teresa de Pelegri Eugene O'Brien Parallel Film Productions €15,000
Princess Judy Lunny Footnote Productions Limited €20,000
Down To A Sunless Sea David Gleeson David Gleeson Wide Eye Films €15,000
The Wet Senor Johnny Gogan Donal O'Kelly Bandit Films €5,000
Wooly Faces Pearse Elliott Pearse Elliott Great Meadows Productions €11,000
Animation Development Loans
Fronkey, Hugh & Chonkey Maurice Joyce Marcus Fleming Avalon Films €10,000
Bedheads Andrew Kavanagh Andrew Kavanagh Kavaleer Productions €48,000
Cosmo Jason Tammemagi Jason Tammemagi Monster Animation Provisional Offer Of Commitment
Nightglider Darragh O'Connell Jeremy Shipp Brown Bag Films €30,000
The Selfish Giant 3D Catherine Owens Catherine Owens Red Jam Productions €34,000

Fiction Feature Films
Silence Pat Collins Pat Collins South Wind Blows €300,000
Way Out Gerard Mannix Flynn Farcry Productions €5,000
Regional Support Fund
Grabbers Jon Wright Kevin Linane Samson Films €100,000

Marketing Support
The Pipe Risteard O'Domhnaill Underground Films €10,000

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Authorial alienation...

The director Ger Leonard has blogged about his alienation from his first feature film Five Day Shelter here.

This is how he describes it: The immune system was removed, and I could not save our film. Our film only exists in the hearts and minds of those of us that believed and kept faith, and it exists too in an abridged form on my hard drive but that can never be seen in public. Those that have seen and heard this film and the "official" one cannot fail to recognise the chasm of care and consideration that divides the two.

DoP Tim Fleming refers to it briefly here.

Rumours concerning the film have been circulating for more than a year and it seems now that there are some hard questions that need answers, not least of which is - how could this happen?

The "official" version of the film is being screened at the Cork Film Festival tomorrow, November 11.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A rhetorical post...

We're living in troubled times but let's imagine it's 1993 and the madness has yet to begin in earnest.

The government is being lobbied to support industry. A few legislative tweaks and a state agency, it is argued, will prime the pump, create lots of employment, and develop local entrepreneurial initiative.

Rojam Inc. promise 2,500 fulltime jobs making nannacs in return for an investment by the State of approximately €25,000,000. This will not be a one-off investment, however, like those offered to the likes of Dell or Intel.

Rojam Inc. require €25,000,000 a year for the foreseeable future because the market for nannacs is uncertain, but they argue persuasively that the fiscal return to the State in direct and indirect taxes will offset the non-profitablility of (a) nannacs, (b) Rojam (Ireland), its (c) affiliates and (d) sub-contractors.

The Irish government agrees the proposal despite reservations expressed by officials in the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners, mostly around issues of transparency to do with Rojam (Ireland)'s investment and accounting practices, and the actual production cost of nannacs.

Some 16 years later, and various re-treads of the Rojam (Ireland) support scheme, the State has invested, say, €400,000,000 in return for about 2,500 fulltime jobs.

There are a few wobbles over the years. Numerous other countries offer Rojam Inc. better inducements to set up similar operations and Rojam (Ireland)'s turnover suffers as a result. It becomes clear that very few nannacs will be made in Ireland without increased levels support from the Irish government.

The government steps up to the plate and offers additional direct investment going forward. It covers some infrastructural overhead which further subsidises the production of nannacs. It is even persuaded of the wisdom of part-financing the making of nannacs in off-shore locations because it provides some occasional work for Irish sub-contractors.

Meanwhile, the international market for nannacs is very poor. All nannacs are essentially nano-businesses in their own right, and almost always unprofitable. The government remains persuaded, however, that the market for nannacs is not relevant to its support for Rojam (Ireland), its affiliates and sub-contractors. The Irish government would rather close hospital wards and cut social services than rigorously examine the basis for its ongoing subsidy for the making of nannacs.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Whither the ACPISFG?

The Audiovisual Content Production Industry Strategy Framework Group - "the name is a mouthful," to quote former Minister Martin Cullen - has been toiling away on the future of the "industry" for a year or more, following on the publication of the Irish Film Board's Irish Audiovisual Content Production Sector Review in early 2009.

That review and the survey that underpinned it are, in my view, practically useless because of the overly broad approach, compounded by patchy sample and return rates.

It set out to tailor a new empirical suit of clothes for the audiovisual sector but the headline results, which have been cited ad nauseam by lobbyists and a succession of Ministers are largely meaningless.

Take the public funding away - the TV License Fee (including Sound & Vision); TG4; IFB finance; Section 481 - and there is little evidence of a self-sustaining business model for Irish 'independent' producers. This is implicit in the age-profile and attrition rate of employees leaving the sector, downplayed in the Review.

If the ACPISFG has been established with the Review dataset as its foundation then it's resting on a shaky set of premises. Membership of the ACPISFG has not been published so we don't know if it's made up of a self-serving coterie of policy influencers or a group of people with a broader view who can see the wood for the trees.

Back at the end of June the Minister referred to the ACPISFG in answering a question from Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore.

He asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, the number of meetings she has had with Bord Scannán na hÉireann since she assumed her role in the Department; her plans to support the film industry here; the discussions she has had with the Irish Film Board over the popularity of home produced cinema at the box office; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that often films can be designated Irish when they may not be deserving of this title for a number of reasons; her views on whether the amount invested into Irish cinema represents value for money; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport (Deputy Mary Hanafin): Primary responsibility for the support and promotion of film-making in Ireland in respect of both the indigenous sector and inward productions is a matter for the Irish Film Board (IFB). This agency is funded through my Department and is independent of the Department in its operations. In terms of value for money, it is worth pointing out that three of the nominations for Academy Awards earlier this year were for projects that were funded by the Irish Film Board and that employment in the Irish audiovisual content production industry was established at over 6,500 in a review carried out for the Irish Film Board.
An Audiovisual Content Production Industry Strategy Framework Group was established last year that will assist in providing a clear vision for the future of the industry and response to market changes. I anticipate receipt of that report in the early Autumn. Since I was appointed Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, I have met the Chairman and executives of the Irish Film Board. The Irish Film Board has confirmed to me any films designated as Irish, have to meet the relevant co-production treaty rules.
[my emphasis]

Any day now, then.

I wonder will it include a recommendation that the remit of the Irish Co-production Film Board be expanded to include the video-gaming business? It's not as if its role hasn't already been expanded to support businesses that would not be viable without its money. The last thing we need is unsustainable gaming businesses in parallel with our unsustainable film businesses.