Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Consultation - Section 481

Regular readers will know that I have been harping on about the workings of Section 481 for some time, most recently here.

Yesterday the Department of Finance announced that a consultation on Section 481 will take place between now and July 31st.  A good briefing on the consultation and the workings of Section 481 is available on the Department website here.

The one issue that is not mentioned is that a new European dispensation for the industry is to come into effect before our present Section 481 arrangements come up for renewal in 2015. That said, the Department may be taking the view that any change to the regulatory framework to be introduced at the European, supra-national level may be minimal in its effects.

The consultation questions are summarised as follows:

1. Is the exchequer’s supports to the film and TV sector in Ireland through Section 481 relief an efficient use of scarce resources and if so why?
2. Is the current Scheme maximising the potential economic benefits to Ireland in terms of stimulating activity in the film and TV sector? If not, why not?
3. What are the economic arguments for restricting or terminating the scheme?
4. What possible changes to the existing scheme, if any, should be considered and why?
5. Do interested parties agree that there is merit in extending Section 481 Film Relief Tax incentive scheme beyond 2015? If yes, why? If no, why not?
6. How does the scheme interact with other enterprise tax incentives such as the BES/EII?

Get your spake in, as they used to say before we got posh.

update - James Hickey, IFB CEO, speaking about the consultation on 'Morning Ireland', RTE Radio 1, this morning - at this link.

Friday, May 18, 2012

All the world's a stage...

A correspondent has passed on a link to a news item in 'The Stage' yesterday headlined Actors protest over BBC dramas made in Ireland - BBC Drama has been accused of neglecting the corporation’s target to spend 17% of its network TV budget in the nations, after it emerged that three new shows are being made in the Republic of Ireland.

The first thing to be said is that no actors are quoted in the story. The charge is led by Equity assistant general secretary Stephen Spence who is particularly focused on the fact that none of the productions cited - Loving Miss Hatto, Vexed and Ripper Street - are being filmed in Northern Ireland.

The second thing is that many British actors are employed on these shows.

The third thing is that as they are citizens of a member state of the EU, British personnel, including actors, employed on these shows qualify as 'Irish' spend under the Section 481 regulations. The money to pay them may not be coming from BBC or other British sources. I'm not sure that the same applies to Irish personnel working on film projects in the UK (including Northern Ireland) that utilise British incentives.

We do need more transparency and research data around the employment spend on projects using the tax break and Film Board funding, particularly employment numbers and levels of pay broken down by Irish resident and non-resident personnel.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Meanwhile, somewhere in France...

Thus the whole circle of travellers may be reduced to the following Heads. Idle Travellers, Inquisitive Travellers, Lying Travellers, Proud Travellers, Vain Travellers, Splenetic Travellers. Then follow the Travellers of Necessity. The delinquent and felonious Traveller, The unfortunate and innocent Traveller, The simple Traveller, And last of all (if you please) The Sentimental Traveller (meaning thereby myself) who have travell'd, and of which I am now sitting down to give an account—as much out of Necessity, and the besoin de Voyager, as any one in the class. Laurence Sterne, 'A Sentimental Journey Through France & Italy', 1768.

Sterne, born in Clonmel in 1713, was perhaps the first 'modern' writer and said nearly everything that may be said about travel as it is experienced by the traveller, especially on journeys in continental Europe. I imagine the perennially peripatetic folks down in Cannes might agree.

Some 150 Irish delegates are making the trip this year, working for 80+ businesses, agencies, festivals, organisations and representative bodies.

Minister Deenihan will also be putting in an appearance to 'ink' a new co-production agreement with South Africa. [update - rescheduled as follows]

Initial news emerging from the PR mill includes talk that Pierce Brosnan's Irish DreamTime is setting up the first project, November Man, in what is hoped will become a new franchise starring the actor based on a series of spy novels. And apparently Scarlett Johanson is out and Kiera Knightley is in the next John Carney project, Can a Song Save Your Life?

There'll be footage of Byzantium being flogged, along with a non-Irish film starring Ronan Keating, John Michael McDonagh's Calvary project, Terry George's post-Oscar feature Whole Lotta Sole, North-South co-productions developed in Northern Ireland - Jump and Good Vibrations, Katrine Boorman's doc about her father John - Me and Me Dad, Chris O'Dowd's next big outing The Sapphires.

Fionnula Flanagan turns up with a chorus of (mostly) country music stars in a Christmas movie called When Angels Sing. Cillian Murphy turns up in a new British debut feature and I'm sure projects with Gabriel Byrne, Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell and Michael Fassbender are all being hawked somewhere along the Croisette.

The Film Board will be formally setting out its stall with the following although I'm sure plenty of other recent titles will turn up in sales agent catalogues. I wonder if there'll be even more pricing than usual denominated in US dollars and Sterling, rather than the Euro?

The people on the bus...

It's a mark, surely, of how small the Irish audiovisual sector is that the two people selected to participate in the 'Inside Pictures' training programme advertised by the Irish Film Board on March 2 are a serving and a former member of staff at the agency.

Both Alan Maher and Rebecca O'Flanagan undoubtedly meet the criteria of being executives and producers who display determination to succeed and.. have at least five years' experience in film or an associated creative industry such as television. Maher is due to leave the Film Board in July while O'Flanagan was Ireland's EFP 'Producer on the Move' in 2011, having developed and produced the feature 'My Brothers'.

While FÁS Screen Training Ireland and the Irish Film Board were collaborating with Inside Pictures to offer support for up to two eligible and experienced Irish applicants the nature of the support was not detailed.

The registration fee for a Full Participant place is €6,000. The fee covers programme participation, documentation, return economy travel  allowance to and accommodation in Los Angeles, certain meals and transport from the module base to and from venues. For non- UK participants it also covers return economy travel allowance to and accommodation allowance in London.

The 'Inside Pictures' programme has been running for nine years and has offered 16 places on the current programme from more than 100 applications which had been selected by a panel. It is not known how many Irish applications were received, or whether the two places to be offered to Irish participants were guaranteed. The programme consists of three full-time, one-week sessions taking place in London and LA over the latter half of the year.

The extensive list of industry practitioner speakers lined up this year include Ed Guiney of Element Films and Teresa McGrane, Deputy CEO of the IFB.

The Programme is funded by the MEDIA Programme of the European Union and by the UK film industry through the Skillset Film Fund which is supported by the UK National Lottery through the UK Film Council (sic) and the film industry through the Skills Investment Fund.

[Irish Participants last year were - John McDonnell, (Fantastic Films)  and Audrey Sheils, (Element Pictures). Irish 'Associated Observers' who attended the 2011 London sessions were Katie Holly (Blinder Films), Stephen McDonogh (BBC Worldwide), and Martha O’Neill (Wildfire Film & Television Productions).]

Monday, May 14, 2012

The wheels on the bus...

The announcement a couple of days ago by the Film Board of the departure in July of Production Executive Alan Maher suggested that there might be other changes on the way. It is not a time in the public service to be losing staff, given the embargo on recruitment, unless their replacement has prior approval, perhaps as part of a 're-structuring' process.

So it was not too surprising to see the following announcement on the IFB website today:
Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board (BSÉ/IFB) today announced changes to the organisation of the creative decision making structures in the Agency.
The current roles of two Production Executives and a Development Executive are to cease once the current contracts expire on a phased basis from now to the beginning of next year. In their place, three Project Managers will be retained to manage projects across all genres from the initial concept stage right through to the project launch onto the market. The new structure will provide multiple access points for applicants who will have the option to approach any one of the three Project Managers with a development or production application for their project.
One of the Project Managers will be based in Galway and two will be based in Dublin.
The new arrangements will also ensure an enhanced rigour to the development and production of projects supported by BSÉ/IFB and a greater focus from the start on consistent support for the creative talent in each project and a renewed focus on the audience throughout the whole process.
James Hickey, Chief Executive of Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board said "I believe that the new structure will provide applicants with access to a broadly experienced creative team. A member of the team will assist applicants in taking their project from the first stage of development to full scale production and distribution of the film with a focus on delivering high quality projects with strong Irish creative talent behind them and a focus on audiences both local and international".
The changes will come into effect on a phased basis but will be fully operational by the beginning of 2013.

This means that the positions now occupied by Alan Maher, Emma Scott and Andrew Meehan will cease to exist by the end of this year. It will be interesting to see if the Board will employ people or seek tenders in order to 'retain' the three new Project Managers.

The change mirrors that which took place some years ago when a number of positions were dispensed with and a new, supposedly 'flatter' structure was put in place. One sensed at the time that part of the (unspoken) reasoning was that people in such positions should not hold them sufficiently long, or have their contracts renewed so often, that they could claim permanancy under employment legislation.

Of course there is nothing to stop the Board instituting the process changes mentioned in today's release while using their existing staff in their existing positions.

One also senses, particularly in the area of 'Creative' Co-Production, that these staff may have been under-utilised when the previous CEO was in charge. It is difficult to see how, for instance, the Development Executive's input could have been required on the many productions which were originated in other countries. Perhaps I'm wrong.

Out of the past...

... or plus ca change...

Here's one from the archives... while not the same as some of the ongoing woes of workers in the sector it is an incident that might come to the Tánaiste's mind should he hear about current labour relations issues in the industry ....

Dáil Éireann - Volume 416 - 04 March, 1992 Adjournment Debate. - Closure of Dún Laoghaire Firm.

Mr. Gilmore: I thank you, Sir, for giving me this opportunity of raising this matter on the Adjournment this evening. The matter concerns 31 employees of a film animation studio in Dún Laoghaire who have not been paid wages since 22 October last and whose employment has now ceased.
Originally the film studio was known as Emerald City Animation Studio and closed down in March 1991. It was reopened in August 1991 by a Dorset-based company called Fairford Films, the directors of which are a Mr. Radford and a Mr. Andrew Holford. Thirty-one employees were recruited, most of them former employees of Emerald City Studios. At first the company appeared to be doing well but, towards the end of October last, their employees were informed there would be a delay in the payment of that week's wages, the directors stating they were experiencing difficulty in transferring funds from Switzerland and the United States. The staff expected this to be a short-lived problem. However, it dragged on for another week and yet another. The staff kept inquiring and the directors kept assuring them that the money was on the way. For example on 6 November last Mr. Radford wrote to the staff stating that he expected the problem to be resolved with the minimum delay. It dragged on to Christmas, staff continuing to work on the promise that they would get their wages. The studio did not re-open after Christmas. To date, the 31 employees have not been paid for their work between 22 October and Christmas.
I became aware of the problem in early January when I wrote to the Ministers for Industry and Commerce and Labour. I also wrote to the company. On 21 January last Mr. Holford replied to me that “solicitors acting for our funders confirm money will be available for us to pay staff before the end of this month”.
That was nearly six weeks ago and the staff have still not been paid. A similar promise was given recently to one of the local newspapers. Yet no money has been produced. It appears to me that the employees of this studio have been grossly exploited, the company having ripped off their labour for two months. The company have spun them a fallacious yarn about money being held up in Switzerland, the Isle of Man, Norway and the United States. The company have now disappeared.
I am now requesting the Minister for Industry and Commerce to take action under the Companies Act, to send in an Examiner, because I believe this studio is still a viable business concern. I appeal to him to take whatever action he can to ensure that the employees are paid the wages due to them, for which they worked between October and Christmas. This company, in quite a disgraceful, exploitative manner, have disappeared without paying the staff the wages for which they had worked for two months.

Following an LRC recommendation in the workers' favour (that was not honoured by the company) Mr Gilmore had represented the workers at a Labour Court hearing which confirmed the LRC recommendation (19th February, 1993). Somehow I doubt that the workers ever saw a penny of what they were owed.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Arts Council - catch up

I think the Arts Council's important funding for film organisations and film makers is under-reported. The above is a table I've put together on this year's funding offers to film organisations and a look at how the total funding available has decreased over the last five years. Good to see that a new organisation, Kerry Film Festival, has been funded this year.

Funding for film makers so far this year is as follows:

Bursary Awards:
Donal Foreman,       €4,000
Christina Gangos,    €8,000
Clare Langan,          €7,000
Andrew Legge,       €5,000
Trish McAdam,       €5,000

Project Awards:

Christina Gangos,  €21,000
- To produce a series of intimate filmic documents, portraying people immersed in Limerick’s gang-wars, which will be presented in several different forms including gallery exhibitions and in cinemas.

Orla Mc Hardy,  €42,000
- To explore the possibilities of relationships between different media, techniques and methods of display in order to make and present experimental work in film. To explore ideas of place and spoken language informed by Donegal and its people.

Dara McCluskey,   €5,000
- To make a short film with an approach combining the creative processes of film, dance and visual arts.
Other awards -
Bollywood Ireland Ltd 3rd Indian Film Festival of Ireland €2,500

Dingle Film Festival  €8,500

UCD Imagine Science Film Festival   €6,000

Access Cinema - €8,950
- Films from the Southern Mediterranean: A curated programme of films that will tour to 3 of access CINEMA'S 35mm/digital venues.

Darklight Film Festival  €7,500
- The Darklight Circus Tour: A nationwide tour bringing innovative film and video work to celebrate and promote local grassroots and emerging talent.

Irish Film Institute €10,295
- Mayo Ciné-Concert Tour: Re-animating a series of silent films made in Mayo between 1908 and 1960 which will be restored and presented with a new musical and sound effects score devised by harpist Cormac de Barra and musicians Colm and Rossa Ó Snodaigh from Kíla.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The new Cinema Communication (2)

As previously posted here, the European Audiovisual Observatory is focusing its workshop in Cannes this year on the rules for public film funding in Europe. One of the key presentations at this workshop will centre on the Observatory’s latest 'IRIS plus' report, as follows -

The lead article by Observatory Legal Analyst, Francisco Cabrera, looks towards the passing of a new Cinema Communication, the European Commission’s key set of rules for film funding in Europe currently under review and the subject of wide-ranging public consultation. The current Cinema Communication determines the criteria that the Commission uses to assess the compatibility of state aid schemes for film and audiovisual production in Europe with current EU law. Clearly a central document for the attribution of public aid to film products, therefore.

Cabrera opens with a useful overview of EU competence on cultural matters. It is the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which stipulates that state aid in general may not distort competition. However, aid to promote culture and heritage conservation may be compatible with the common market where such aid does not affect trading conditions and competition in the Union to an extent that is contrary to the common interest.

The article then looks at the text of the current Cinema Communication dating from 2001. This document and the validity of the rules it contains were extended three times in 2004, 2007and 2009. Globally, it provided to be satisfactory and functional for industry and decision-makers alike. However, certain trends in the audiovisual industries such as “support for aspects other than film and TV production ([…] film distribution and digital projection), more regional film support schemes, as well as competition among some member states to use state aid to attract inward investment from large-scale, mainly US, film production companies” incited the Commission to apply the current criteria until the end of 2012 at the latest and at the same time to launch a public consultation on the revision of the Communication.

This public consultation was based on an Issues Paper which contained what the Commission felt to be the main areas of consultation and served as a basis of all answers to be submitted by 30 September 2011. The issues paper addressed questions such as the “subsidy race” (the attracting of large-scale inward investment in a particular country through funding or indeed tax shelter incentives), aid for activities other than production as well as for the digitisation of cinemas, the scope of works to be supported (opening up the whole ‘cross-media’ debate), territorial conditions for spending aid awarded and of course the consequences for state aid of the digital revolution.

Cabrera then goes on to provide an exclusive overview of some of the responses to the Issues Paper from the representatives of the various branches of the film industry. Not surprisingly, most interested parties agreed that the rules on aid intensity (proportion of aid to the total budget) should not be lowered. Indeed some professional organisations were in favour of increasing the proportion of aid allowed. When questioned on the “subsidy race” issue, most professional organisations adopted a pan-European stance, pointing out the overall benefits for the European industry as a whole of welcoming large productions from outside of Europe. Regarding the Commission’s proposals to reduce territorial spending obligations (the current Communication allows a member state to attribute public support on the requirement that up to 80% of the film production budget be spent in its territory) most professional organisations gave this proposal a lukewarm reception, arguing that, for example, “territorial conditions do indeed ensure the continued presence of human skills and technical expertise required for cultural creation”.

Cabrera concludes his leading article with a round-up of the propositions included in the current draft Communication published in March of this year. We are currently in the heat of the three-month consultation period to end in June 2012. The author concludes that “it is to be expected that the European Commission will meet with resistance from some member states and professional organisations on at least the most controversial issues such as territorialisation and the “subsidy race”.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

the best of irish... at a shop near you!

Every now and then I do a post about the Irish DVD titles I stumble upon in shops near us here at the Irish Film Portal. You head up towards the windmill and take a turn for the town where, sometimes, you'll happen across a bit of an Irish DVD jumble sale.

I found this set of shelves recently with a scatter of Christmas market left-overs and a few additional titles. Sometimes I do a bit of re-arranging, just so as you can see all the titles that are available, but as I didn't do that this time I only spotted a copy of 32A lurking behind Mrs Brown's Bloomers after I had taken the picture.

These shelves were probably the least auspiciously placed in the section so the merchandisers and distributors (mostly Element and Beaumex) need to shmooze the shopkeepers a little to ensure the product can be seen by passing shoppers and not just by inquisitive Irish film nerds such as myself.

I wonder - as ever - if there's any return to the producers or the Film Board (where it's involved) from sales of these DVDs?

Oldest title - Da? Newest title - Parked?