Octagon Films producer finds funding in tough times
Neil Jordan spent a decade trying to make a movie about the Borgias. It was only after he hooked up with Dublin-based producer James Flynn to shoot “Ondine” that they found an alternative route to get the stalled story onto the screen.
Flynn, 45, is one of Ireland’s most can-do producers. He spent six months in Budapest last year with Jordan, shooting “The Borgias” as a 10-epsiode series for Showtime.
At the same time, his company Octagon Films also managed to deliver the most nominated film at the upcoming Irish Film & Film Awards — Bosnian war drama “As if I Am Not There,” written and directed by his wife, Juanita Wilson — along with the most nominated local TV show, “Love/Hate,” an Irish gangster series starring Aidan Gillen.
Flynn also is developing and exec producing Starz Media’s 10-parter “Camelot,” which airs in April, and exec produced the final season of Showtime’s “The Tudors,” both through his alliance with veteran producer Morgan O’Sullivan.
It’s an impressive work rate, particularly against the backdrop of Ireland’s desperate financial plight, a harsh hangover from the global banking crisis.
“We are stretched, but that’s a good thing in these times,” Flynn says. “The Irish economic troubles haven’t affected us yet, except that I find myself having to explain the situation in every meeting in Los Angeles.”
Flynn does his best to reassure anxious Hollywood execs thinking about shooting in Ireland that they can still trust their budgets to Irish bank accounts; and that the International Monetary Fund isn’t about to abolish Ireland’s generous film and TV tax breaks.
“We are still on solid ground,” Flynn insists. “But if an American company thinks an economy is in danger, they won’t send money to the bank.”
Flynn’s background means he’s comfortable describing the intricacies of Ireland’s fiscal crisis. He studied banking and finance, then worked for the Investment Bank of Ireland before switching careers to develop projects for John Boorman.
After a stint as business manager for the Irish Film Board, he set up his own company with Wilson, then a fellow producer. They made pics including “Inside I’m Dancing” for Working Title, and got married along the way, before Wilson decided she would prefer to write and direct. Her debut short, “The Door,” which Flynn produced, was nominated for an Oscar.
Flynn also teamed with O’Sullivan to help producers from Hollywood, the U.K. and the rest of Europe to take advantage of Ireland’s attractive tax break for location shooting.
That led to credits on “Reign of Fire,” “Count of Monte Cristo,” “King Arthur,” “P.S. I Love You,” “Becoming Jane” and countless other co-productions, which made a major contribution to boost Ireland’s infrastructure. Big TV projects, notably “The Tudors,” gave an opportunity for Irish talent to prove their chops.
“When ‘The Tudors’ was looking for money to come to Ireland, the Film Board was very smart in making funding conditional on using Irish directors,” Flynn recounts. “As a result, we now have a lot of Irish directors who are considered salable to the U.S. networks, such as Ciaran Donnelly, Dearbhla Walsh and Brian Kirk.”
Flynn’s own slate isn’t tied to shooting in Ireland, or limited to Irish stories. He and Wilson made “The Door” in the Ukraine and “As if I Am Not There” in Macedonia, both in local languages.
Their next film, “The One You Do,” based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell (“Winter’s Bone”), is set and will be shot in the U.S. “It will actually be Juanita’s first English-language film,” Flynn notes.
“The Borgias,” which shot in Hungary, airs on Showtime in April, and looks like a good bet to be renewed for a second season. “Love/Hate,” produced for Octagon by Suzanne McAuley, is already shooting another six episodes for Irish pubcaster RTE, and is selling around the world through ITV Global.
Flynn also is developing a new feature with Jordan and U.K. producer Stephen Woolley to shoot next year. It’s adapted from Paul Murray’s novel “Skippy Dies,” a tragi-comedy set in an Irish school.
Flynn clearly isn’t letting Ireland’s economic woes slow his stride.