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Irish films on the rise

Film Board supports increase in production

While keeping up with the changes in U.K. tax laws has become something of an annual sport for Brit film execs, their Irish counterparts are reaping the benefits of a bit of a fiscal stability.

In March this year, the British government announced it was further clamping down on tax loopholes, in this case the “sole trader” exemption for individual investors that offset predicted losses in film investments against other income.

In contrast, across the Irish sea, the Irish government’s Section 481 tax incentive, supplemented by the Irish Film Board’s international production fund, is helping to support a rise in both Irish productions and international co-productions.

Section 481, which can be applied for by an Irish production company only, offers producers up to 20% of a project’s Irish budget — with a maximum of e50 million ($78 million) — and is available to both film and TV productions; it’s in place until 2012.

Perhaps most importantly, the coin is paid out on the first day of principal photography. That means producers can receive up to $15 million on the first day of filming.

In addition to the government tax incentives, the Irish Film Board can invest $1.2 million in any given project in equity finance, with discretionary powers to raise that sum to $1.5 million on a case-by-case basis.

The result has been a number of announcements in recent months of high-profile projects being set up as Irish co-productions or coming to Ireland to shoot.

“That bottom-line figure producers receive from the tax incentive and the IFB is allowing us to compete internationally and with our closest rival, namely the U.K.,” says Irish film commissioner Naoise Barry. “The IFB is a film sponsor, not a producer. It relies heavily on the quality of Irish production companies that are co-producing these film and TV shows.”

Some of the projects already greenlit are dark drama “Triage,” starring Colin Farrell as a photojournalist who returns from Kurdistan harboring a secret about the disappearance of his best friend. The pic’s helmer is Danis Tanovic, whose “No Man’s Land” won a foreign-language Oscar.

Also in the pipeline, thanks to IFB support, are supernatural thriller “Daisy Chain” by Aisling Walsh starring Samantha Morton; Ian Fitzgibbon’s gangster caper “Perrier’s Bounty” with James McAvoy; as well as the third season of Showtime’s lusty period drama “The Tudors.”

“Mary, Queen of Scots,” which has suffered from a protracted development and financing process, finally should start lensing later this year. Pic, whose principal financier is U.K.-based sales company Capitol Films, stars Scarlett Johannson as the ill-fated monarch.

“Money from the IFB can make a difference, and helps to make Ireland competitive,” says IFB topper Simon Perry. “In most cases the subsidies and incentives on offer in Ireland are worth more than in the U.K., because they’re paid upfront; there are no intermediaries, no middle men and there is no waiting.”

The incentives are helping local and debut filmmakers get their projects off the ground. Jordan Scott, daughter of helmer Ridley, has set up her feature directorial debut, “Cracks,” a British boarding school-set period drama starring Eva Green, as an Irish co-production.

The IFB’s multiple project development fund, essentially slate development coin offered to 10 Irish shingles, should assure the continuing rise in profile of new Irish cinema.

Animation shingle Cartoons Saloon, set up largely by animators trained at Don Bluth’s now-defunct Sullivan Bluth Studios, received coin from the IFB for their debut, the full-length feature “Brendan & the Secret of Kells.” The project, a co-production with France and Belgium, received 20% of its $10 million budget thanks to the IFB and Section 481 incentives. The pic sees a young orphan tasked with completing the famous illuminated manuscript against a backdrop of invading Vikings.

“It would never have gotten off the ground without the IFB and the incentives,” says producer Paul Young. “Both the IFB and Section 481 are extremely important for producers here, particularly independent producers.”

Cartoons Saloon is working on developing its animated TV skein “Skunk Fu,” which sold to more than 100 countries worldwide, into a feature film.

“The incentives really helped us make the TV series, with both the pre- and post-production in Ireland,” Young says. “We had a lot of people in Ireland working solidly for two years thanks to it.”

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