Irish audiovisual industry nears tipping point
Outgoing Irish Film Board chairman says film-making industry now much more ambitious
A lot has happened in the Irish economy since 2005 when James Morris became chairman of the Irish Film Board, most of it bad.
Yet few industries have survived the recession with anything like the resilience of the Irish audiovisual industry.
In 2005 it was worth €152.2 million; the Government-sponsored Creative Capital report two years ago estimated that it was now worth upwards of €500 million. In 2005 there were nine films made; last year that figure was 19.
Much of the increased demand is powered by foreign direct investment in marquee TV series like The Tudors and Vikings, but also in Ireland’s booming animation sector.
Sitting in the busy Windmill Lane Pictures studio – the post-production company, where he can now concentrate his energies – Morris has cause for a degree of satisfaction as he steps down this week after two terms as chairman of the board.
“The direction is good. We are making more film, more film-makers are making a living, we’re making better films,” he says. “It is really a work in progress. It was when I started and it is when I’m leaving, but the ambition is bigger now. When you realise you can achieve something very good, it ups the ante.”
The level of activity has led to a virtuous circle. Directors are getting a second chance even if the first film didn’t work out and some, most notably Lenny Abrahamson and Kirsten Sheridan, have gone on to promising careers. “You want people to develop a viable career. It is only by doing it more often that you get better.”
Art traditionally thrives in hard times, but films need money and lots of it. There is not a lot of money around Ireland for film-making at present, but there is plenty abroad. Five co-productions with foreign companies were made last year. The money to co-finance Stella Days, starring Martin Sheen, came from Norway.
There has been a number of well-received Irish films over the past eight years, but not many box-office hits at home. The Guard (€4 million), The Wind That Shakes The Barley (€3.7 million) and In Bruges (€3 million) were the biggest.
Even an Irish film such as What Richard Did, which got excellent reviews, didn’t do much more than €400,000 at the Irish box office.
Morris says Irish films have a battle with Hollywood blockbusters. Compared to a blockbuster like The Hobbit, which took €5 million at the Irish box-office, Irish films might be seen to be doing poorly. Yet compared to a semi-art house film like Up In The Air, with which there is a more appropriate comparison, the numbers are respectable.
“In terms of building a stronger audience, we need structures in place to help that. The films that we have made when they are seen by an Irish audience on TV get a great response, but the same films might not get a great show in the cinema because it is next door to The Hobbit.”