As a garrulous and gregarious people from a small country that uses both the English language and the euro, the Irish have a natural talent for co-production.
Those skills have become all the more essential since the credit crunch killed the Celtic Tiger and plunged Ireland deep into austerity.
The Irish Film Board has seen its budget drop by more than 25% since 2010, to $15.7 million. But that’s a gentler cut than many other areas of public spending. The Irish government has identified film and TV production as a success story that can help lead the country out of recession.
The Section 481 tax break, worth up to 28% of Irish expenditure and paid on day one of principal photography, was recently extended to 2020. Talks are under way about making it even more friendly to incoming productions.
IFB CEO James Hickey argues that Irish filmmaking, which flourished during the economic crisis of the 1980s, is well-placed to do so again in the stony soil of the current recession.
This has already made shooting in Ireland cheaper and office costs lower. But the industry’s greatest asset is the resourcefulness of its producers.
Ever since the introduction of tax breaks in 1987 and the IFB’s relaunch in 1993, a generation of producers has grown expert at leveraging state support via international partnerships to create a much more substantial industry than Ireland alone could sustain.
“As a group of producers, we’re incredibly skilled at piecing together these deals,” says Samson Films’ David Collins, who co-produces extensively with Canada.
“All Irish filmmakers have to have an eye on the international market,” agrees Brendan McCarthy of horror specialist Fantastic Films, which has a three-pic deal with Chicago-based MPI Media Group. “You can’t fund fi lms just from Ireland, and you can’t make your money back from Ireland.”
“We’ve never had an internal financing structure to make a film of any size out of Ireland, and that’s ever more so,” says producer Rob Walpole of Treasure Films. “There’s an even greater focus on co-production now.”
Of the six Irish films at this year’s Toronto Intl. Film Festival, five are co-productions: “The F Word” and “Stay” with Canada, “The Sea” and “All is By My Side” with the U.K. and “Life’s a Breeze” with Sweden. The sixth, “The Stag,” a comedy about a stag weekend that goes wrong, is the only one cheap enough to be wholly funded out of Ireland.
Walpole, who produced “The Stag,” says, “It’s harder to make indigenous Irish films if they aren’t co-productions, because those budgets are going down.” But co-production brings its own perils. “There’s been an attempt to create a European culture through co-production, but perhaps that’s not a very good way to make films which are true to yourselves.”
“When you have to get money abroad, you start to self-censor,” Collins echoes.
Samson agrees: “We have to make sure that we end up making films, not filming deals.”