The Lobster [pictured] is presented as case study in co-production market.
The sixth edition of the Les Arcs European Film Festival turned its focus on Ireland with an aim to celebrate its cinematic beauty and history, and in turn, its filmic opportunities.
While the festival’s co-founders Guillaume Calop and Pierre-Emmanuel Fleurantin mentioned in an opening statement that this year had seen a persistent crisis within the European Union (EU) and a loss of confidence in its benefits, Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ambassador of Ireland to France) commented that “things were looking up for Ireland, and that the festival had clearly captured the essence of arts and culture that is very important for the EU.”
The festival’s ‘Irish Focus’ programming included 14 films, including older favourites such as John Crowley’s Intermission, Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father and Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins to more recent movies like John Carney’s Once, Alicia Duffy’s All Good Children and Ian Fitzgibbon’s Perrier’s Bounty.
In the official line-up, Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank was in Competition; Tomm Moore’s animated Oscar contender Song of the Sea was in the Youth Programme; and Agnés Merlet’s Hideaways, Jon Wright’s Grabbers and Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal were selected as Special Screenings.
President of the National Film and Moving Image Centre (CNC), Frédérique Bredin, praised co-productions, distribution and the dispatch of films in France, though welcomed additional European players. “This year, the Irish cinematography and industries are honoured, especially its co-productions.”
Loïc Jourdain’s documentary The Turning Tide in the Life of a Man, a France/ Ireland co-production about a struggling Irish fisherman faced with new European laws, screened as an exclusive premiere in the festival, while upcoming fantasy drama The Lobster starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw and Léa Seydoux was showcased as a case study within the co-production market.
The Lobster - A Case Study
With funding provided by the Irish Film Board (Ireland); British Film Institute (UK); CanalPlus and Cinéma Multimédia Communication (France); Greek Film Centre (Greece); De Filmfreak and Dutch Film Fund (Netherlands) and Eurimages - James Hickey, Chief Executive of the Irish Film Board, hailed The Lobster as a “a tremendous example of creative financing, and that hopefully there would be more of these creative activities, particularly where work originates from Irish producers.”
Andrew Lowe and Ed Guiney of Element Pictures were responsible for securing the film’s slew of co-production partners, which resulted in a budget of €4 million, allowing for its high-profile cast, six-week shoot in County Kerry, off-line edit in London, on-line edit in Holland and VFX in France.
Lowe discussed the project’s timeline that began in 2010 when Element joined forces with Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, of Dogtooth fame. Two years later, the production company began shopping around a 12-page script treatment about one man who breaks the rules in a dystopian town where people are arrested if they don’t have a partner.
“Once we had American/British producer Ceci Dempsey (of Scarlet Films) on board, followed by the support of Eurimages, we were able to attach Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, which then helped us secure the remainder of the partners.”
Lowe also revealed that, because they needed to operate in a tight time frame, CanalPlus enabled them to work with a bank in France, therefore permitting all legal documentation to operate through French law.
“For us, co-production is a breath of fresh air. Working with US, UK and Irish contracts is very complicated and can get very expensive. So operating through France made things much simpler and much quicker,” said Lowe.
The production also benefitted from Ireland’s tax incentive, Section 481. Currently the tax credit runs at 28%, though Hickey was pleased to announce starting January 2015, it will be increased to 32%, along with a qualifying expenditure that allows for non-EU personnel.
Additional Irish Co-Productions
Other Irish filmmakers were present at Les Arc’s co-production market, who, similar to Element, also praised the mixed European model both in terms of financial support and creative development.
Sophie Fiennes, director of Grace Jones: The Musical of My Life said a French co-production was a no-brainer since Grace Jones first came to attention in France as a model and then as a singer (La Vie en Rose). And since Fiennes grew up in Ireland and now lives in the UK, both countries were logical producing partners as well.
“This is a multi-linear film that is visually orientated, and France supports that type of filmmaking. So when you do co-productions, which is something that helps spread out the financial risk, you want to work with countries that share your same vision,” said Fiennes.
She also said, “Inevitably you have to spend money in those respective countries which can be frustrating at times, but it can also be very rewarding. I love filming in Ireland, and I love completing post in France (Digimage) so for me, it works.”
Irish producer Macdara Kelleher, whose film Strangerland will premiere at Sundance, also commented on the benefits of a co-production: “It’s difficult to make a film in Ireland without it being a co-production. Plus being in Europe makes it much easier to join forces with neighbouring countries.”
Strangerland, the producer’s first co-production in Australia, stars Nicole Kidman (who has Irish heritage), is shot by an Irish cinematographer and is co-written by an Australian writer with an Irish passport.
“You have to try and make co-productions organic. So like Element and The Lobster, we knew we wanted to make this film. The Irish tie-ins just came naturally,” attested Kelleher.
Grace Jones: The Musical of My Life producer Katie Holly agreed that while co-productions can be very challenging, they are also wonderful in bringing business to Ireland. She references Grace Jones, that will use Ireland as the location for the artist’s concert scenes.
Her upcoming film Love and Friendship, a period comedy based on Jane Austen’s early novella Lady Susan - also benefitted from French co-production partners. Thanks to ARTE (amongst others), the film - that has Whit Stillman lined up to direct, and Chloe Sevigny and Sienna Miller as its two leads - will begin filming in Ireland early next year.
She attributes the initial rise in Irish co-productions to Simon Perry’s outward thinking (while he was working as Chief Executive at the Irish Film Board), along with homegrown talents like Lenny Abrahamson (Frank), Ciaran Foy (Citadel), John Michael McDonagh (Calvary) and Gary Shore (Dracula Untold) that have helped place the Irish film industry on the global map.
Sundance’s 2015 line-up is also a testament to Ireland’s growing profile. In addition to Strangerland, John Crowley’s Brooklyn based on Colm Tóibín’s award-winning novel and starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters will premiere in Park City, as will Corin Hardy’s woodland horror The Hallow starring Michael Smiley and Joseph Mawle; Gerard Barrett’s human trafficking drama Glassland with Toni Collette, Jack Reynor and Will Poulter; and Michael Madsen’s faux documentary The Visit.
Apart from Glassland, the films are co-productions, with all benefitting from Irish Film Board’s support. Hickey reiterated, “The Irish government very much supports film. We are very excited to see how our strong storytelling nation will continue to share its stories around the world.”
Not all Irish filmmakers, however, believe co-productions are necessary. John Butler, whose film The Stag also screened in the Irish Focus section, believes you have to do what is most sensible for the film. For him, and producer Rebecca O’Flanagan, a conscious decision was made to keep the film entirely funded within Ireland.
“We decided to take the plunge and fund it entirely from the Irish Film Board, in addition to a boost from the Irish tax incentive. There was no waiting around for co-production financing and we could make all of the decisions when it came to creative,” said Butler.
The stag party comedy cost €600,000 to make, premiered in 15 countries and took in an estimated €500,000 at the Irish box-office - something both Butler and O’Flanagan worked diligently (and for little pay) to make happen.
“We had to pull in a lot of favours. I had more money in my bank account when I was 13 years-old,” joked Butler.
But when asked if he would do it again: “It depends on the project. I don’t want to get to the point where the deal takes precedence. We all have to be smart with business, but never forgetting the heart of it is the story. I don’t want to have to cast someone from Flanders because we need €100,000. The Stag is first and foremost a modern Irish film.”
Producer Conor Barry’s upcoming project You’re Ugly Too was also fully financed with Irish spend, predominantly with the Micro-Budget scheme.
Selected for the Berlin Film Festival’s Generation section, the film brings together a girl on release from prison (Lauren Kinsella) who must move in with her obstinate uncle (Aiden Gillen) in the remote Irish midlands.
Shot for approximately €100,000, the film was quickly made, starting in October when Barry was given the script, to the completion of filming in February.
“There is a time and a place for co-productions, but it’s also nice when you can work solely with Irish money. We have a Belgian actress who is very talented (Erika Sainte), but this is mainly an Irish story with an Irish cast and crew,” said Barry.
On hand to support Good Vibrations and Perrier’s Bounty at the festival, actor Liam Cunningham summed up the benefits of being at Les Arcs: “I think the public still think of Irish films as being either folk dancing or genre-based.”
The Irish actor, who stars in the upcoming Belgian/ South African/ British co-production Lady Grey directed by Alain Choquart and shot in South Africa, continued, “So it’s nice when you come to a place like Les Arcs where people come from around Europe to discuss ideas. A good story doesn’t have to purely revolve around your country and its traditions.”