Incentives review seen as chance to fine-tune perks

“Austerity” has been a watchword among European governments. So when Ireland finance minister Michael Noonan announced a review of the country’s film and TV tax incentives last week, it’s easy to see why the news unsettled many in the local biz — and across the Pond.

Shows like History drama skein “Vikings” and BBC America crime series “Ripper Street” are filmed in Ireland, thanks in part to the incentives — Section 481 in the Irish tax code — which allows producers to reclaim up to 28% of their production costs.

James Hickey, chief exec of the Irish Film Board, downplays the announcement, saying that Section 481 credits are up for renewal anyway in 2015, and seeing a review as an opportunity to fine-tune them.

“A review now would be helpful in addressing any issues that might arise from changes in the U.K. or Europe in general,” Hickey says, referring to Blighty’s recent move to extend its tax offsets to include TV drama and animation production and, chillingly for U.S. producers, the European Union’s proposals to cut coin for Hollywood pics shooting in Europe and tighten restrictions on co-productions.

Arts minister Jimmy Deenihan visited the set of “Ripper Street” in Dublin a few days before Noonan’s announcement, and pointed out that the production had pumped $10 million into the local TV industry and created more than 250 jobs for Irish cast and crew.

Hickey sees the review as a chance to strengthen ties with British producers.

“We could look at models whereby co-productions can be set up between U.K. and Ireland,” he says. “It is not just a question of one set of incentives competing against another. It’s also a question of combining the incentives and working together in terms of the talent that might be available.”

Hickey, who on June 1 celebrated his first full year as Film Board topper, continues to pursue the objectives set out by the Irish government last year, which include doubling the number of highly skilled jobs in the biz to 10,000 and doubling its annual revenue to €1 billion ($1.25 billion) in the next five years.

Aside from those targets, he also seeks to boost the audience for Irish films and TV shows, both at home and abroad. With that in mind, the IFB has partnered with two industry events this month, Banff World Media Festival in Canada and Annecy Animation Festival in France, to create territory spotlights that highlight Ireland’s creative output.

Seven Irish producers will join the IFB in Banff, looking to attach partners to local projects as well as to bring more foreign series to the Emerald Isle.

This week, Hickey is in Annecy, where 48 Irish toons are screening, including work from established industry player like Brown Bag Films, Cartoon Saloon and Jam Media, and new talent, repped in the official selection by Giant Creative’s “The Last Train” and Chris O’Hara’s “A Different Perspective.”

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