Ever since Element Pictures’ “The Guard” premiered at Sundance this year, the Irish shingle has been bucking the nation’s unstable economy to become a promising international player.
Andrew Lowe and Ed Guiney’s year started with a good omen: “The Guard,” helmed and penned by John Michael McDonagh and co-produced with Repisal’s Chris Clark and Flora Fernandez Marengo, quickly became a Sundance favorite. A raft of U.S. distribs vied for the pic, which was snapped up by Sony Pictures Classics.
On Thursday, the pic will be unveiled to its home audience when it screens at the Galway Film Fleadh, where the film was shot.
“It’s been picture perfect in a way,” said Element’s Lowe. ” ‘The Guard’ was very well received in Sundance, Tribeca and Edinburgh and now it’s going to Galway. All those different lives, and still the audience responds.”
In the past 12 months, Element has been involved in productions including Paolo Sorrentino’s Cannes competish title “This Must Be the Place,” which it co-produced with Italy’s Lucky Red; Jerry Skolimowski’s thriller “Essential Killing,” which snapped up two awards in Venice; and is currently in the works on Clive Owen-Andrea Riseborough starrer “Shadow Dancer,” helmed by James Marsh and co-produced with Chris Coen’s Unanimous Entertainment.
A decade after Lowe and Guiney founded Element, they now have a clear understanding of what it takes to succeed in the Irish filmmaking world.
For them, location is key. Ireland, despite the its staggering national debt, is a great place for them to access financing in Europe as well as forge relationships with key players in Blighty.
“The great thing about Ireland is that it is very co-production friendly in a way the U.K. isn’t, particularly because we’re the only English-speaking country that is a member of Eurimages [Europe’s development fund for co-productions],” said Lowe. ” ‘This Must Be the Place’ is a prime example. We’re definitely trying to find more of those English-language European projects on that kind of scale and that is the advantage we have being able to sit in both camps.”
Lowe adds that it’s important for industryites to divorce what’s going on in the Irish economy from what’s going on in the film industry.
“The incentives are still very stable. There’s strong political support for the sector. At a higher budget level, you’re looking at getting 28% of your spend in Ireland compared to 20% in the U.K. That’s a very big difference.”
In 2007, Element set up its own distribution biz in Ireland, which they say has been key to shaping the types of films they board.
Element’s first pic distributed in Ireland was Lenny Abrahamson’s “Garage” in 2007, which ended up being the highest- grossing Irish pic that year, earning more than €350,000 ($508,000) at the box office.
Since then, Element distributes its own productions and acquisitions and benefits from a relationship with the U.K.’s Optimum Releasing where it releases Optimum titles in Ireland. This, the principals say, enabled them to build an infrastructure.
Forging relationships like these are key to Element’s gameplan.
“In a world where traditional models are falling down, the thing that shines through is quality and what is always going to be a value are your working relationships and talent relationships,” said Guiney.
Element has forged a unique relationship with Abrahamson (“Adam and Paul”) and are working on his next projects, which include an untitled low-budget murder pic and comedy “Frank,” which is “in the vein of Napoleon Dynamite” and is produced with Stevie Lee and David Barron (“Harry Potter”).
Film4, with which Element also has a very close relationship, is backing “Frank.”
The company has hired former Focus Features VP of acquisitions and productions Lee Magiday to work in its London office and focus on its European biz and forging contacts with potential partners.
“We’re in London frequently,” said Guiney. “A lot of development activity will be here in the U.K. and people looking for projects that come from the U.K. is a big thing for us.”
Additionally, Element is developing its own VOD platform, Volta, aimed at distributing arthouse pics, which it expects to launch before the end of the year.
“The ambition is to eventually offer every Irish film ever made and the best of international cinema,” said Lowe.
“One of the things we’re very keen to do and haven’t yet is partner with American filmmakers and producers and help them find funding in Europe,” said Guiney. “That’s something we thought we could do easily because we know the landscape well and it’s our back garden.
“American producers in their DNA are very collaborative. They’re open and happy to involve you and that makes it very rewarding.”