Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ardmore Studios

In a post during October about the Irish Film Board's other capital spending in recent years I put together a table which included payments to Ardmore Studios totalling €500,000 for operational purposes over 2006/7.

There was no public discussion of these payments at the time. Nor was there any announcement made which explained the virtue or the necessity of this money being offered to Ardmore.

The payments were not made public until the annual reports for 2006 and 2007 were published, respectively, in 2008 and 2009. The annual reports record these as operating grants rather than recoverable loans.

In a 'Sounding Off' piece for the current issue of Film Ireland I mentioned several of the pressing issues in the film business that we do not openly discuss. Nor do we encourage any wider public discourse or engagement with these issues, one of which is Ardmore Studios.

This is what I wrote, The Irish public owns a piece of Ardmore Studios [32%] but its fate is not a matter of public discussion. What’s going to happen to Ardmore when the new studios open at Ballyhenry? Ardmore has been directly and indirectly supported by the Irish taxpayer in recent years but we won’t talk about that. Is Ardmore now going to cost us more money?

Ardmore raises another serious matter that is implicit if unstated in the 'Sounding Off' article - potential conflicts of interest in the sector and the perception that decision-making could be compromised by those potential conflicts.

In the 2006 annual report the Irish Film Board provides the following information on disclosure of Board Members' interests:
Board Members - Disclosure of Transactions
In the normal course of business the Irish Film Board may approve assistance to film projects and enter into other contractual arrangements with undertakings in which Board Members are employed or otherwise interested. The Irish Film Board has adopted procedures in relation to the disclosures by Board members and these were adhered to during the year. The members and the Board complied with the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies covering situations of personal interest. The members did not receive any documentation on the transactions nor did the members participate in or attend any Board discussions relating to the matters.

The report notes under the above:
Kevin Moriarty Ardmore Studios 400,000

The IFB annual report for 2007 notes:
Board Members - Disclosure of Transactions
In the normal course of business the Irish Film Board may approve assistance to film projects and enter into other contractual arrangements with undertakings in which Board Members are employed or otherwise interested. The Irish Film Board has adopted procedures in relation to the disclosures of interests by Board members and these procedures were adhered to during the year.

Kevin Moriarty Ardmore Studios 100,000

This is clear. What is less clear is how, for instance, a Board member who is the director of a film or TV project funded by the Board would not be part of the decision-making on that project for the reasons above. Whereas the owner or director or employee of, for example, a facility business which might benefit far more substantially (than a director) from IFB funding for a project would be permitted, as a Board member, to be involved in approving that project for funding.

In 2006, for example, an 'International Production Fund' loan of €500,000 was made by the IFB to The Tudors. Presumably this loan was a factor in the decision of the production to shoot in Ireland at a time when S481 was both less competitive and less generous than it is now. The series filmed at Ardmore.

However, the standard disclosure is not made in respect of this loan so did the Board comply with the spirit of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies covering situations of personal interest?

A contact has brought an article by Gavin Daly in last Sunday's Sunday Business Post to my attention. The article is headed Ardmore in talks with Film Board and states, The issues under discussion are understood to include funding plans for Ardmore

To quote further from Daly's article, Kevin Moriarty, managing director of Ardmore, said that he was in constant contact with the film board but was "not in a position to comment" on any funding talks. "We always have discussions with the film board. We talk to them about upcoming film productions and they talk to us. That's normal," he said.
He said the studio was "very busy at the moment" despite the difficult economic environment. Filming began at Ardmore last week on Byzantium, a vampire film directed by Neil Jordan and starring Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton.

It is not stated in the article that Mr Moriarty has been a member of the Film Board since 2005.

In recent months the IFB approved a production loan of €1,180,000 for Byzantium. One can only assume that Ardmore Studios will benefit substantially from this loan, and that the production would not be taking place, or would not be taking place in Ireland if this loan was not forthcoming.

One must also assume, in the ordinary course of events, that any number of facility and service providers will be contacted by producers who are pricing facilities for forthcoming productions and that this information will be part of the budget documentation that is submitted to potential funders for consideration.

One can only presume, notwithstanding the very many sound reasons for supporting Byzantium, that all necessary disclosures were made by any IFB Board member(s) who might either benefit directly or indirectly from the production, or be in competition with other providers to other productions who themselves might stand to lose out by virtue of this (or any) project being funded while others were refused.


Anonymous said...

Conflict of intrest? [edit] If money was given to Ardmore what was it spent on? I have worked abroad where studios in other countries with less of a film history than ours are state of the art. As far as Byzntium filming there... if you are out that way and fancy some intrepid reporting drive into Ardmore past security all the way to the end. Park your car in the empty car park behind the big house. Walk around the empty studios and view the empty stages and then have a cup of coffee in the empty restaraunt. Other than a few production offices there is really nothing else happening. Watch out for the tumbling tumble weed that is blowing around.

Anonymous said...

It would seem that Mr. Moriarty continues to talk the talk. Rumor has it that he has retired
but will continue to be retained by Armore Studios on a consultancy basis. I wonder if you can confirm this?

irish film portal said...

Anonymous 1 - Byzantium is due to arrive in Ardmore toward the end of the month after time on location in Kent.

Anonymous said...

From what I hear Byzantium is not using any of the stages in Ardmore but is just using it as a production base. Can anyone confirm or deny this?

Anonymous said...

Well IFP , I hate to burst your bubble , but as an employee of Byzantium I can confirm they plan from today to start shooting in Ireland . Ardmore Studios contribution is merely a Production Office , a Prop Room and a single Construction workshop . They ( Byzantium ) are trying to borrow a Stage , not to shoot on but to Pre Build a set to transport to the West of Ireland . Originally they planned to build and shoot on a set in this Studio , but that was scrubbed in favour of shooting in Ballymun Flats . The only part of the shoot planned for Bray is the other Studio in Bray called the Bray Head Hotel , which for the last number of years is the place of choice for most productions .

irish film portal said...

Thanks for that information.

It does call into question the viability of the facility - if it is largely unused and producers are choosing to shoot elsewhere?

I can only imagine that the justification for giving Ardmore public money in the past was because it was considered a crucial piece of infrastructure. If it no longer crucial should it continue to be supported or should be allowed to fail as a business?

And if it is decided to offer Ardmore a bail-out then shouldn't that offer be made to every facility that gets into difficulties?

Anonymous said...

Bray head hotel. Is that place not condemned?

Anonymous said...

Has Ardmore finally fallen victim to the low-budget filmmaking culture here?

We all know that so-called "producers" have been using totally unsuitable and even hazardous warehouses and sheds as "studios" for many years here...and are the newer digital cameras making 100% location-based films possible now (i.e. easier to light and shoot real interiors)?

irish film portal said...

Bray Head Hotel is Wicklow's equivalent of the Overlook Hotel.

The problem with Ardmore is that it is usually not needed for more frequent low budget production and it is not really of sufficient scale for the larger international shows that Section 481 is intended to capture.

It is adequate for TV series but the big blow this year was the cancelling of a second series of Camelot.

Meanwhile, the Ashford/Ballyhenry set up is waiting in the wings.

Anonymous said...

One of the main reasons very few productions use Ardmore anymore from what I hear are the ridiculously high costs of hiring a Stage or even a Workshop , even when there's nothing shooting on a stage it seems the management don't bend regarding what they charge . They would rather an empty Stage at Full Rental Price than entice a small Production or Two below cost. It's always been like this even when my Father worked there as a young man and it was a Semi- State enterprise . The Managerial line must be , who cares were still getting paid regardless . The Irish Film Industry in a Nutshell , similar mentality with SPI we'll produce MUCK and MAKE HAY OFF THE TAXPAYER !!!! Disgraceful !

irish film portal said...

I'd imagine when it comes to hire cost that the Studio's damned if it pushes the full price and damned if it doesn't.
That said, I have heard of many instances over the years when Ardmore facilities was made available in downtime to no-budget projects at little or no cost.
The point you make about the old days is a lesson for current times - the studio as NFSI became a drain on the public purse.
While I wouldn't put it quite the way you do, there are real issues of transparency with regard to public spending on production.

Anonymous said...

Just to counter a previous comment , I as an employee of Byzantium can confirm they will shoot on A stage and possibly D stage . People need to clarify all the loose talk going about . If they focused more on what the Unions are planning regarding crew rates they should be more alarmed at this rather than where a Shoot is taking place !

RodintheWorld said...

Anyone know if Ossie Kilkenny was chairman of the IFB when it awarded Ardmore €500k in 2007?

irish film portal said...

Ossie Kilkenny's chairmanship of the Film Board ended in January 2005. Kevin Moriarty, MD of Ardmore Studios was appointed to the new Film Board at that time. He was re-appointed at the end of that term and so remains a member of the current board.

The IFB gave operating grants to Ardmore of €400,000 in 2006 and €100,000 in 2007.