Irish Film Industry Finds Funding Outside the Country

Co-production deals and foreign sales help small market secure audiences outside its borders

Sundance Film Festival Glassland

Ireland has a small population — under 5 million — which has forced local producers to look to international markets to help sustain the production of Irish films. They’ve married local talent with foreign money, through co-production and foreign sales, in order to punch above their weight.

At BAFTA in London, a recent panel discussion — co-hosted by the Irish Film and Television Academy — on Ireland’s tax credit, Section 481, attracted an SRO crowd of almost 200 film biz folk. The credit has been recently upgraded to 32% and eligible expenses have been expanded to include non-European Union talent, including Hollywood actors. This incentive can only be accessed through an Irish producer, so it’s likely to increase the number of co-productions.

“The U.K. is probably our single most significant co-production partner,” says James Hickey, chief exec of the Irish Film Board (IFB). “The main reason for having a co-production is to support Irish creative talent.”

Hickey distinguishes between majority co-productions, where the project originates in Ireland and is driven by Irish talent, and minority co-prods, which he calls “creative co-productions,” that do not necessarily originate in Ireland or are written or directed by local helmers or scribes, but do support other domestic talent.

Successful co-prods need partnerships that spring from creative needs of the project rather than being driven by financial imperatives, Hickey say. One recent example: “The Lobster,” directed by Greek helmer Yorgos Lanthimos, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. The Irish co-producer is Element Pictures, and the film received support from the IFB and through Section 481. Pic shot on location in Ireland.

Ed Guiney, co-chief at Element, is a co-production vet. “When you live in a small country like Ireland with a small domestic market you have to look at Europe as your domestic market, unless you are doing a very low-budget film,” he says.

Last year, Element produced four films. Two were financed entirely out of Ireland: Gerard Barrett’s “Glassland” (pictured), which premiered at last month’s Sundance; and Darren Thornton’s “A Date for Mad Mary.” The other two were co-productions: “The Lobster,” which Element developed with Lanthimos and which the company financed as an Irish-Greek-U.K.-French-Dutch co-production; and Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room,” an Irish-Canadian-U.K. co-production.

“When you’re making a low-budget film you can finance it out of Ireland but once you want to do something of any ambition you need to look for financing outside of the country,” Guiney says.

Element also acted as the minority co-producer on Jerzy Skolimowski’s “11 Minutes,” which originated in Poland and got financing from European co-production fund Eurimages, as did “The Lobster.” All five films received funding from the IFB.

Each film is different, says Guiney, and its essential character drives the choice of co-producer. “Every film has a different dynamic. It depends on where the film is set, the nationality of the actors and so on. You need to think about the best way of putting it together and what the opportunities are. What we are driven by are filmmaker relationships and what the film is about.”

Macdara Kelleher, managing director of Fastnet Films, is another active co-producer. The company was the minority co-producer on Kim Farrant’s “Strangerland,” which stars Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes and Hugo Weaving. The film, which premiered at Sundance, was an Australian-Irish co-production, with Dragonfly Pictures leading. Irish talent attached to the project, which shot in Australia, included d.p. P.J. Dillon and writer Michael Kinirons, who co-wrote the screenplay with Fiona Seres. The pic was supported by Screen Australia, the IFB, Screen NSW and Worldview Entertainment.

“When you are doing a co-production the thing that you try to do is not force something that’s not going to work,” Kelleher says. “You want to try to compromise as little as possible. ”

Kelleher tends to co-produce with the same partners. “It can be a daunting prospect if it is someone you have never worked with before. In most cases we have a group of producers now that we would work with if we are going to specific countries because you trust them, and it creates a shorthand,” he says.