The Irish production sectorhas experienced its most difficult year since its resurgence in 1993 - but the hopenow is that a flurry of year-end shoots will help remove some of the tarnish.

Several live-action featureprojects are set to go before the camera in the next couple of months, amongthem The Front Line, Speed Dating, 48Angels and Middletown. There is also the animated title Brendan And The SecretOf Kells.

These are joined by the newNicolas Roeg project, Puffball, which is based on the Fay Weldon novel andstarts pre-production in November for an early February shoot.

They cannot come too latefor an industry that is desperate for any hint of extra investment for thoseprojects currently stuck in pre-production limbo.

Take the case of a rumourthat spread like wildfire through the film community back on October 5: namely thatthe Irish Film Board was releasing Euros 15m in order to free up projects stuckin financing hell.

It began with a circularemail from the board to producers on October 5 - and an unusually directopening paragraph.

"The Irish film andtelevision industry," the release began, "has suffered a slump in productionlevels since 2003 as a direct result of the strengthening Euro, uncertainty oftax regimes for film and television and the stepping up of competing incentivesfor filmmaking around the world.

"As a result of thesecombined factors, there are now serious implications for the future of theIrish film and television sector including potential erosion of infrastructure,under-employment and emigration of skills from the sector."

As an initial response tothis situation, the release continued, the Board, with the approval of artsminister John O'Donoghue, was to make available up toEuros 1.5m in "additional funding to support the production of any new film andtelevision drama projects which commence production prior to the end of 2005."

Note that decimal point:that's Euros 1.5m, not Euros 15m.

But while the actual amountleft producers obviously disappointed, there was also a sense that the sourceof the money was being fudged.

Was this new money beinggiven to the Film Board on top of the budget for the year' (A budget which noone in the industry could imagine had been fully spent.) Why was the Minister'sapproval necessary' Did it imply that projects could have a higher proportionof Film Board funding than is generally allowed'

It looked, to some, likespin masking a desperate effort to get the Board's money out the door and intofilms before the end of the year - when, in effect, it would otherwise have tobe returned to the exchequer.

The considered view - from acanvas of Irish producers - is that the Euros 1.5m is intended to attractforeign producers to spend their budgets on Irish labour and facilities - thoseareas hardest hit by the production collapse.

It is, at least, a firststep. The Film Board goes on to say in its release that it is working "as amatter of urgency" on a range of recommendations to restore Ireland's competitiveness as a centre for film andtelevision production and to stimulate growth in Ireland's film sector, in consultation with government andindustry.

But it only adds to theconfusion for an industry where the CEO of the Board has yet to be replaced sixmonths after the previous office holder resigned - and which has seen theabolition, in the interim, of the posts of head of production and head ofmarketing.

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