It certainly felt like the slowest year on record. Only oneor two films went into production in Ireland between January and the last daysof August.

Everyone seems to have a different explanation - thefaltering dollar; a hiatus brought about by last year's uncertainty about thefuture of the Section 481 tax break or, conversely, the fact that therejuvenated tax break will offer producers a better deal on big projects fromJanuary of next year. Or it was competition from lower-cost productionlocations.

Then again, maybe it was the near impossibility of puttingtogether traditional co-production financing deals because soft money sourceseverywhere were imposing onerous conditions. Or it could have been theunwillingness of US distributors to offer realistic advances for US rights. Orperhaps it was a failure of nerve on the part of sales agents whose salesprojections for projects (when they could be persuaded to come up with them)were overly conservative.

Everyone in the business has a pet theory, each of which hasan element of truth to it, depending on the project. Whatever the cause, theservice sector was moribund and producers with indigenously developed projectswere having to pare budgets down and work extraordinarily hard to finance them.

And even when projects were finally firming up for an Autumnshoot there were dark rumours about the difficulty some producers were havingclosing deals and cash-flowing pre-production. "Why do we do this'"was the rhetorical cry from the heart from by one local producer withpre-production well under way and the deal still not closed.

From these often hesitant beginnings ten features will havestarted shooting in Ireland between the last week of August and the end ofNovember. By Christmas the first eight months of 2004 will have seemed like abad dream. Technicians who had hung in there after seriously consideringfollowing the industry's seeming drift towards Eastern Europe will finally havefound themselves in work at home.

With everyone busy, or getting busy, concerns about theunderlying frailty of the Irish production sector may be pushed to one side,especially when Disney's $50m project, TheBanshee, starts pre-production in December for an extensive location andstudio shoot in the Spring of next year.

However, a look at the list of films being made in Irelandthis year reveals that a remarkably small number of companies are gettingprojects financed. The success rate of Element Films/Hells KitchenInternational and Parallel Films will have to be emulated by several othercompanies if the Irish film industry is to be worthy of the name.

For full Irish production listings, click HERE