Wexford Film Commission gears up for future

 

"You don't say anything until the hen is in the box," says Tommy Carr, a county councillor and former branch secretary of SIPTU for Wexford, discreetly declining to reveal the nature of the latest nibbles Co Wexford has had from the film industry.

Seed money of £20,000 for a pilot project in 1993 was all it took to start Wexford on the way to becoming a "film-friendly" county. That sum was quickly matched by the local authorities and the private sector, and the Wexford Film Commission was soon born.

The body, whose chairman is Mr Carr, has proved a success. Its most dramatic coup came last year when it convinced Steven Spielberg's team to use the fine beach at Curracloe as the location for shooting much of the forthcoming feature film Saving Private Ryan which re-creates the Normandy landings.

The commission is now a model for other regions aiming to attract film-makers. Mr Carr puts it down to organisation and planning. "We've set up a database with a staff of two girls. Whatever information a film-maker needs is in that database."

Directors, especially Hollywood directors, it appears, want precise answers fast when they're making decisions in the planning stages of their productions. Wexford can supply that service, thanks to the far-sighted vision and co-operation of local civic officials and businessmen and the initiative of Michael D. Higgins in facilitating the first grant.

The then minister for arts, culture and the Gaeltacht attached an important condition to the grant allocation. It stipulated that the Wexford Film Commission must act as a model for other counties and must publish and circulate an account of its work.

Since the county benefited by about £4 million from the 31/2week shoot of Saving Private Ryan Mr Carr and his team have handled many requests for advice and information. Local authorities in other counties and the Northern Ireland Film Commission have sought help.

The Wexford body has published a comprehensive report on how it set about organising the services that can make all the difference when film producers are choosing locations. It has also produced a stylish booklet setting out the county's resources and attractions for film-makers, both Irish and international.

The Spielberg film, which stars Tom Hanks and will be released later this year, was a most useful practical exercise for the commission. It brought worldwide publicity and inquiries from other production companies.

And the spin-off is not finished yet. "We hope to use Private Ryan as a marketing base, possibly with a mini-brochure using stills from the film," says Mr Carr.

Meanwhile, they've been analysing the revenue and employment generated by this one film. It is estimated that £1.25 million was spent on accommodation and living expenses, £300,000 on the direct labour payroll, £200,000 on transport, £70,000 on fuel, £1.5 million on other services, and £650,000 on the Army and FCA involvement as extras.

Now the Wexford team would dearly love to secure the premiere showing of the film for their county town.

It may be a long shot but they are pushing for it, and if they even get a second or third pre-release screening for Wexford it will be icing on the cake.