The Irish Film Board is playing a key role in the growth of Irish cinema. By Leon Forde.

Despite Ireland’s economic challenges, the territory’s film talent has remained something of a bright spot, gaining international recognition and rising in ambition.

The Irish Film Board (IFB), which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2013, has been instrumental in building Ireland’s film sector, but the board’s funding has dropped in recent years, from $21.8m (€16.5m) in 2010 to $17.4m (€13.2m) in 2012 and $15.7m (€11.9m) in 2013. But despite the fall, Irish production remains vibrant with total expenditure across the audiovisual sector hitting $236m (€180m) in 2012 — up around 30% on 2011.

CEO James Hickey — who replaced Simon Perry in June 2011 when Perry stepped down after five years in the job — says the board remains committed to funding a broad range of films. “We are driven by Irish creative talent all the way,” he says.

This creative talent has helped the audiovisual sector continue to grow despite the territory’s wider economic challenges. The 30 projects funded by the IFB in 2012, which included 22 features, attracted record levels of direct foreign investment, raising a further $155.3m (€118m) from foreign partners. Meanwhile, employment levels in the sector increased by 20% from 2008 levels to 6,500 full-time job equivalents in 2012. The Creative Capital report, which was prepared for the government by the Audiovisual Strategic Review Steering Group and published in July 2011, aimed to double the value of the Irish audiovisual sector from $657.9m (€500m) to $1.3bn (€1bn). This and other recommendations in the report are now included in the government’s Action Plan For Jobs 2013.

The IFB was reconstituted in 1993 after a six-year period without any government support and invests in the development, production and distribution of Irish film and TV. Hickey underlines the range and number of projects being backed and points to the links with other countries for co-production opportunities. “It is a great reflection on the creative talent that we have in Ireland that we are able to engage as extensively as we do with the various co-production territories,” he says.

Ireland has strong overseas links, including with the US, Canada, Europe and the UK. Of the latter, the IFB has backed Ireland-UK co-productions such as Frank, Calvary and Neil Jordan’s Byzantium and funded UK co-productions made in Northern Ireland such as Good Vibrations and Liv Ullmann’s Miss Julie (see set report, p14). “Simon Perry did a great job in terms of developing European relations,” Hickey says. “I am determined to continue [those].”

Recent initiatives within the IFB include the restructuring of the production and development team to introduce three project managers to oversee applications and follow projects through to delivery. The managers are Mary Callery, previously with RTE and Parallel Films, Keith Potter, formerly at the Film Agency for Wales, and Rory Gilmartin, previously of Brilliant Films.

The idea, says Hickey, is to create multiple levels of access for producers, with different perspectives on the various genres of film production. It also integrates the development and production process, so a project manager would take a project from the early stages of development to production and distribution.

The IFB is also charged with attracting productions to shoot in Ireland, overseen by film commissioner Naoise Barry. Incoming shoots have included Canada-Ireland co-production The F Word, Bollywood film Ek Tha Tiger and Canada-Ireland TV show Vikings for History Channel US. Section 481, the Irish tax incentive for TV and film, was recently extended to 2020 and the IFB is working with the government to introduce further improvements to an already competitive incentive.

The changes will make Section 481 worth up to 32% of a film’s Irish spend — up from 28% currently — and is intended to change 481 from an investor-led system to a tax credit. The amendments are scheduled to be introduced no later than the end of 2015, and may happen earlier.

“We want to compete on a world stage, both in terms of the value of our tax incentives but also what we have in terms of creative talent, facilities and services,” Hickey explains. He points to the strength of crews, as well as high-end heads of department.

Developing skills and talent is a key focus. Screen Training Ireland, which oversees all audiovisual training, became part of the IFB earlier this year. This, says Teresa McGrane, deputy chief executive and head of business affairs at the IFB, has given the organisation the opportunity to look at strategy and key priorities in order to “really enhance the creative skills, the business skills and the technical skills”. There will be a wide industry consultation on training and skills.

“One of the key strategies I think will be new partnerships for us, and that’s looking towards the UK, towards Europe,” McGrane says of training.

Ireland’s seam of talent is a major strength, says Hickey: “There is no doubt that as a country we always seem to have — in the past as well as currently — a high level of creative talent.”

Ireland by the numbers

  • The audiovisual content production sector in Ireland is estimated to be worth in excess of $725.9m (€550m), employing more than 6,000 people.

  • In 2012, there were 22 feature film projects produced in Ireland, 12 of which were official international co-productions.

  • These film projects attracted more than $72.6m (€55m) in international finance, and generated more than $33m (€25m) in Irish expenditure in 2012.

  • The Irish box office in 2012 was $143.9m (€109m); 603 films were released theatrically, 20 of which were Irish.

  • There are 465 cinema screens in Ireland, across 70 different sites. Some 335 (72%) of these screens are digital.

Source Irish Film Board

IFB Capital Funding

  • 2010 $21.8m (€16.5m)
  • 2011 $21.1m (€16m)
  • 2012 $17.4m (€13.2m)
  • 2013 $15.7m (€11.9m)

Source Irish Film Board

Value of the Irish Film TV and animation industry, 2010-2012

 2010 2011 2012 
 Total budgetsIrish spendTotal budgetsIrish spendTotal budgetsIrish spend
Total film$147.6m (€111.9m)$45.5m (€34.5m)$149.3m (€113.2m)$40.6m (€30.8m)$87.2m (€66.1m)$34.7m (€26.3m)
TV$262.8m (€199.2m)$114.4m (€86.7m)$91.3m (€69.2m)$56.5m (€42.8m)$139m (€105.4m)$111.7m (€84.7m)
Animation$57.7m (€43.7m)$24.5m (€18.6m)$69.6m (€52.8m)$24.1m (€18.3m)$60.8m (€46.1m)$32.6m (€24.7m)
Total$468.1m (€354.8m)$184.4m (€139.8m)$310.3m (€235.2m)$121.4m (€92m)$286.9m (€217.5m)$179m (€135.7m)