Ireland’s Rebirth Fuels Film Boom

A small nation has inspired the growth of a big business

The Lobster Ireland Film Production
Courtesy of Picture House

Eyes are smiling in Ireland.

Not only has the Irish film and TV industry weathered the credit crunch storm that plunged the country into deep austerity, it has also mushroomed in the past five years to the point that Ireland has become a capital of filmmaking as well as a thriving business site for established industry pros and entrepreneurs alike.

There’s a resurgence of Irish talent such as helmers John Crowley and Lenny Abrahamson, whose respective pics, “Brooklyn” and “Room,” have notched up seven Oscar noms, including a best picture nomination for both.

To boot, the country remains one of the world’s most attractive production environments thanks to amendments to its already lucrative tax credit, Section 481, which was upped from 28% to 32% last year.

“Ireland has traditionally survived at one level of being a co-producing territory and we’ve seen a lot of success on that front,” says Parallel Films’ Alan Moloney, who produced “Brooklyn.” “But at the same time the indigenous producers have been developing their own projects over the years, and that is really beginning to show return.”

It’s the combo of these two elements that has enabled the film industry to become a big employer in the small nation.

Huge Tax Break
Ireland’s recently increased tax incentive has encouraged more production
1st Jan. 1, 2015 – tax incentive introduced
28% to 32% – Amount by which incentive was raised
2020 Year incentive will expire unless it’s renewed
80% Portion of production cost upon which incentive can be claimed
$72.2m Annual cap on incentive

“The ancillary benefits and the benefits to local communities have been big,” says the veteran producer, who’s just wrapped war thriller “Jadotville,” toplining Jamie Dornan, and is in pre-production on Mary and Percy Shelley tale “A Storm in the Stars,” starring Douglas Booth and Elle Fanning.

Industry stalwart Element Pictures is coming off a stellar year with productions “Room” and Cannes pic “The Lobster” (pictured above), helmed by Yorgos Lanthimos. The shingle, which is also in the distribution and exhibition game, is reteaming with the Greek helmer on supernatural thriller “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.”

“In general, the Irish film industry has thrived in the face of a recession,” says Element’s Ed Guiney, who points to cheaper shooting and office costs in the country.

Production facilities have also been busy with Ardmore Studios and Ashford Studios, both in County Wicklow, housing TV shows like Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” and the History channel’s “Vikings,” respectively. Limerick Studios, a 25-acre film facility, is scheduled to open in July.

Locally produced animated fare has broken onto the international scene thanks to the likes of Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon, headed up by Paul Young, which has been responsible for Oscar-nominated pics “The Secret of Kells” and “Song of the Sea,” as well as children’s TV show “Puffin Rock.”

Irish Film Board chief James Hickey says the success of local talent at this year’s Sundance with the likes of John Carney’s “Sing Street” and Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship,” the latter produced by Irish shingle Blinder Films, is an encouraging sign of things to come. “There is a strength and depth in the creative and producer talent that has developed over a number of years at this stage, and we are very excited for the potential of sustainability and for growth that is being seen in the country,” Hickey says.

James Morris, founder of post-production house Windmill Lane Studios and former IFB chairman, is also optimistic. “The new tax credit, a growing industry and the growing global demand for high-end film and TV indicates for the first time that high levels of production will be sustained over a long period,” he says. “This will have the effect of attracting back to Ireland the many hundreds of talented Irish artists, technicians and filmmakers that have in the past had to leave the country to achieve their ambitions.”

Helmer Terry McMahon, center, directs “Patrick’s Day” on location

But it’s by no means time to rest on laurels. Whether the Irish biz will continue to thrive rests on its ability to invest in development and break new talent.

“Changes to the tax credit have, of course, been beneficial,” Guiney says. But he argues the industry should do more to encourage the development of the indigenous sector and help Irish companies grow into exporters rather than remain a “big facilities house for the rest of the world that is driven by incentives.”

There is a sense that more government support is needed. The IFB, for instance, suffered at the hands of austerity, having had its budget slashed by nearly half since 2008, with just €11.7 million ($13 million) to invest in home-grown development and production. Somewhat encouragingly, this number was up 4.5% year-on-year in 2015.

“It’s a challenge for the IFB as it is the only shop in town,” admits Element’s Andrew Lowe, who points to a lack of broadcaster support in the territory, as in its U.K. neighbor. “Government heads point out that we are the best little country to do business in, so you would argue that the film board should have a very sizable budget.”

The Irish presence at this year’s Oscars is no flash in the pan; it’s the result of sustained investment over a number of years. For example, Abrahamson’s IFB- and Element-backed first pic, “Adam & Paul,” back in 2004.

“We should be spending more money on development,” admits Hickey, who says the IFB is seeking to increase its budget back to 2008 levels. “Funding is at its best value if you can successfully develop with Irish talent early on. Obviously, the government has had a difficult period, but Ireland is growing again, and now is the time to capitalize on that.”

Likewise, the country’s post-production sector, although vibrant, needs to learn to “shout louder” about its offerings, says Screen Scene co-founder Jim Duggan.

“We need to get the message out there that producers and directors should consider Ireland as a home for post and visual effects with serious talent scale, and hopefully the success of ‘Room’ and ‘Brooklyn’ should convince people of that.”

“There couldn’t be a better moment to embrace film and TV in Ireland and that, as ever, is about government policy,” Moloney says. “There is no doubt that U.S., European and U.K. studios are happy to come and work here with our talent and co-produce, but it needs empowerment on the Irish side, and that can only come from the government.”

Guiney agrees: “The spotlight is on Ireland now, and there is real opportunity here. The question is, do we maximize the upside of that or do one or two people emerge and the rest all fall by the wayside?”

Only time will tell.