Ireland Lures More Productions With Bigger

Last year, Ireland announced that it was upping the ante in the global contest for international film and TV shoots by increasing its tax incentive to 32% beginning next year. But production incentives alone do not a film industry make, as Irish Film Board chief exec James Hickey is quick to point out.

The increase in Ireland’s tax incentive, Section 481, and other changes, such as a broadening of the eligible spend covered by the tax credit to include the fees for Hollywood talent, will give Ireland one of the most generous production environments in the world. Its existing incentive, which stands at 28%, is already pretty attractive to foreign producers. Total production activity reached the highest level on record last year, pumping €168 million ($233 million) into the Irish economy, an increase of 18% on 2012 and 42% on 2011.

High-end TV drama production has seen a huge rise with spending increased from $38.8 million in 2011 to $112 million last year, with productions like History’s “Vikings,” Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” and BBC’s “Ripper Street.”

Ireland’s producers have also been busy on home-grown projects. The IFB invested $10.4 million in Irish projects last year. Among the pics funded were John Michael McDonagh’s “Calvary” and Lenny Abrahamson’s “Frank,” both of which played at Sundance, and Ken Loach’s “Jimmy’s Hall,” which is in competition at Cannes.

Projects shooting in Ireland this year include John Crowley’s “Brooklyn,” Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster,” and Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship.”

With the tax incentive cued up, Hickey is focusing on beefing up other areas that contribute to a country’s competitive edge. Further improving facilities is among his priorities. “We are looking at strengthening the situation in relation to the availability of dedicated film studios,” he says. “And we are looking at working with and helping in the development of the visual effects companies.”

His other focus is on supporting “creative talent both in front of and behind the camera, so as to make sure there is a comprehensive availability of cast and crew across all elements of production.”

The IFB encourages a broad range of productions to shoot in Ireland, and has done well at attracting TV dramas, sometimes at the expense of its closest neighbor. “We have had the benefit of a significant period of time where our offering in that area was available in the context where competitive offerings were not available in other jurisdictions, particularly the U.K.,” Hickey says.

That advantage ended last year when the U.K. introduced its high-end TV tax relief, which is worth 25% of the budget, so Ireland’s upping of the ante to 32% couldn’t come soon enough.

“I would be confident that Ireland’s offering, which includes the upcoming new tax incentive, will be a competitive offering on the international stage,” Hickey says.

In many ways the two industries are complementary. They are very close geographically; they are both English-language territories; and their incentives can work in tandem. Due to European Union rules, a tax incentive can only be claimed on 80% of the budget in any one country, so by splitting production across two countries with similar incentives a producer can maximize the benefit.

“Jimmy’s Hall” is a film that has successfully combined British and Irish talent. It has a British director and lead production company, Sixteen Films, but has an Irish co-producer, Element Pictures. Shot in Ireland, its cast and most of its crew are Irish. The pic had support from the IFB and the British Film Institute, as well as U.K. broadcaster Channel 4.

Element is headed by Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe and epitomizes a production company that can drive the Irish biz to the next level. “They have been very successful in both encouraging international productions to locate in Ireland, but also developing projects themselves,” Hickey says. Element co-produced “Ripper Street,” was the producer of “Frank,” and is now producing “The Lobster” and Gerard Barrett’s “Glassland.”

The level of production in Ireland is now high enough to keep Irish actors, writers and directors busy at home, if that’s what they wish, but the reality is that most work overseas for part of the year at least. “Irish talent is working very hard in Ireland, but Irish talent will always be working on an international scale,” Hickey says.

He cites the example of actor of Jack Reynor, who moved from Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction” to low-budget Irish feature “Glassland,” in which he appeared alongside Toni Collette. “That’s an example of where Irish talent, which is developed with the support of the Irish Film Board, is performing on the international stage, and is happy to come back to Ireland to work with Irish creative talent on budgets that would be significantly different to budgets they might be working on internationally,” Hickey says.

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