The story of getting a film made ........again!

A Way Back!

The Guard PosterIt doesn’t seem that long ago the last time I came across a Sunday supplement asking “where has it all gone wrong for Irish film?” or in this case stating “we made fine films once” in the Sunday Times recently. While the statement has the hard core of truth about it, the article is a little short on any meaningful analysis. It is true that since the various triumphs’ of Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan in the 80’s and 90’s and beyond, no Irish filmmakers since have found it possible to pave a similarly successful path.

There can be a lot of reasons for that and the truth is probably a combination of many. Is it limited talent, lack of scale in our stories as Ted Sheehy suggests or the market place has become very competitive as Birch Hamilton of the Screen Directors Guild claims? Like I said, all of the above are factors, but to truly address the problem, for problem it is, open and honest discourse within the industry and indeed between the industry and the audience is a must. Not for the first time have I come across this statement or similar from other articles.

“The reasons are deep and manifold (for the decline of Irish film)  and getting people to talk about them is like interviewing establishment economists in the property boom: (and then the author’s projection of why that might be) they are afraid to admit there is a problem in case the whole edifice collapses.”

When has any problem ever been solved by sticking heads in sand. By and large that’s not a strategy that’s going to give results, particularly because the hard questions will be asked again and again if for no other reason than film-making is a subsidised activity and the hard pressed tax payer is footing the bill. Obfuscation and three card tricks are not going to do it for much longer.

I attended the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild AGM recently which James Hickey, the new IFB CEO attended by way of introducing himself to writers. He cited the problem of our daily language being English as a serious impediment to box office numbers. This is a problem in English speaking Canada and Australia where a distributor told him he would find it easier to sell the new Irish film “The Guard” than any locally produced films.

There are many problems for sure, but perhaps we should address those things we can do something about. Not a lot can be done about the language we speak or that our films must compete with huge productions with even bigger marketing spend. Like any small fry in any eco system, we’ve got to get smart.

And that comes down to our unique selling point, what is it an Irish film can offer an Irish and indeed worldwide audience that films from no other country can. For me that comes down to relevance. It is in this area that countless filmmakers from around the world found success and it can be done here too. That does not mean to say we can only make art films or kitchen sink dramas, on the contrary stories vested in a time and place, reflecting a snapshot of ourselves, can be told in any genre from black comedy to drama to horror and yes even thriller. (Hidden Agenda – Ken Loach).

The recent box office success of “The Guard” has proven yet again that there is an audience for Irish films. On my way into the local cinema recently I overheard one young woman say to another as she pointed to a poster of “The Guard”….”that one…..the guard, I heard it’s funny! To which the reply from her friend was, “no thanks…..I don’t like Irish films”. Irish film, like everything else in this world is a brand. It takes a long time to build up and can be damaged over time with mediocre offerings to the silver screen Gods.

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  10. Might I make a few suggestions?

    The way to stand out from other countries is to make something DIFFERENT! Unfortunately our film schools and short film schemes train most directors here to use the Hollywood model. That’s why so many Irish titles look like cheap knockoffs of American titles.

    Secondly, very, very few Irish directors have a unique ‘voice’. A world-class director makes stuff that can be identified in 30 seconds. Switch on a David Lynch or Jim Jarmusch movie and it will be immediately recognised as them. How many of our movies could be made by another Irish director and end up looking similar? A lot!

    Thirdly, the tax payer should only be funding NON-COMMERCIAL films. Stuff like black and white , arthouse, or experimental efforts. Funding rubbish like Perrier’s bounty is not on. Most Film Board titles are aimed at the mainstream or television and should be financed by private investors from those sectors.

    Fourthly, we’re not a cinematic culture. We don’t have amazing architecture, good cuisine, world class art, wide- open roads, classy women, or classical composers to inspire great cinema. Heck, we don’t even have good weather or daylight to produce spakling filmmaking. Therefore Irish movies look closer to television than cinema.

    Lastly, there’s a complete lack of risk taking in Ireland. We only do stuff that’s done elsewhere or someone here does it first. It took a long time to make a home-produced horror movie but now we’re got lots of badly-made titles.


    • Thanks for your comments Fiachra.

      I have probably touched on all the areas you mention at one time or another and to a large extent, I would have to agree with most of what you say. We should be putting a lot of thought into “how to stand out from the crowd and their are many ways to do that. No one else in the world is going to tell stories from our POV and from our unique experience of the world. I personally don’t believe this limits us to the art-house genre, but some do and some did.

      You say the tax payer should be funding non-commercial films. This could very easily segue into a cop out scenario as one of the arbiters of whether a filmmaker has done a good job or not is, do people want to see it. If an audience consistently decline to take any interest in a filmmakers work, well then, that’s saying something.

      I totally take your point on our cinematic culture and a lack of great visuals in Irish film. There’s a certain lazy approach to shooting films here, the mantra seems to be “cover the scene and move on”.

      I read a great book by the late Sidney Lumet called “Making Movies” which illustrates the thinking he put into creating the visuals for all the great and vastly differing genre films he made in his career.

      You cannot become a master craftsman by reading books and doing courses. They can help, but at the end of the day, I have often bemoaned the lack of a committed mentoring approach to up-skilling directors. Although having said that, SDGI have made great efforts in this area over the past number of years and I personally availed of two such opportunities.

      But you’ve got to make films to make better films and completely respect the craft.

      I have enjoyed your comments and look forward to replying to all soon.


      • Many great films over the years failed to find an audience initially. Look at the famous horror movies which were banned for years or unavailable? Ireland is not the place to make films for an audience as most people here have little interest in our cinema. Therefore making films just to find an audience is silly. How many FIlm Board titles made money again? Sure if the movie costs millions of € it needs to do well. But a lot of Irish films cost only a few hundred grand? So instead of trying to connect with an audience how about doing something more personal and interesting? These kind of films will stand apart from the ‘audience-friendly’ stuff and will be remembered longer than the latest box office hit. If a director has his own style and has something interesting to say he will eventually find his audience. What we need is a group of different filmmakers that the audience can recognise their type of films from their names. That’s how an ‘audience’ for Irish cinema can be developed.

        • Thanks for your comment Fiachra.

          I am intrigued by your statement “making films just to find an audience is silly”. I have to disagree. A couple of years ago, I attended a masterclass by Mike Leigh and at one point, a question came from the back of the room in a manner which implied that we already knew the answer, because we were in the presence of a filmmaker who makes very personal films in a very singular way.

          The question was, “What responsibility, if any, does the filmmaker have to an audience to entertain them”? Mr. Leigh wasn’t sure if he’d heard the question correctly and asked to hear it again. Now sure he had heard and understood the question, he was little short of shocked that the question had even been asked.

          Mike’s view was that it was the primary and paramount unction of a filmmaker to ensure that the audience are entertained. Any fool can make a film that will bore the pants off us, no matter how personal and full of it’s own importance. When you make a film, your spending a lot of someone else’s money. If you can’t do that in a way that entertains and holds the audience’s attention, then do something else, but don’t make films. (As you may know, Mr. Leigh does not pull his punches)

          So there you have it from a very experienced filmmaker who could never be accused of making mindless fluff.

          Not bothering to find an audience because the film only cost “a few hundred grand” is reckless. Make your very personal film and do it in a way that entertains people and you will probably find you are well on your way to making your next film. Over the years I have heard variations of the following. “I don’t care if nobody comes to see my film, I made the film for me and if no one else gets it, I don’t care”. That’s OK, provided you finance your film yourself.

          • Leigh’s original audience was in television and his market was huge compared with us (as Britain is much bigger). However, most filmgoers in this country would not pay to watch a Mike Leigh film. He has his own audience but it’s not a wide one. This is what I said on other posts, we need Irish directors with their own select audience . We need directors who can be marketed by their name the same way as Leigh is. What we don’t need are more cheaply-made mainstream films trying to find a wide audience but failing. By all means make films for an audience but don’t try to appeal to everyone. Otherwise, it’s just a bland, bad movie. I agree that more low-budget Irish films should be self-funded instead of running to the Film Board.
            What’s reckless is the dozens and dozens of Irish films made here over the years which were aimed at an audience and FAILED. That’s the problem. These films don’t appeal to the general public yet they don’t appeal to people who watch Mike Leigh films. That’s Irish cinema in a nutshell: either not commercial enough or not personal enough. No one cares about these films now.

  11. We might have to sacrifice a few sacred cows at the altar of the silver sceen gods. Anyone who claims The Guard is a trend is asleep has being asleep for the last 10 years while hundreds of millions was poorly invested in medicore at best and awful usually films and projects, and producers and writers and directors who have no chance of paying back their production loans to the tax payers that invested in them, and will probay get more development loans again, go figure. It is time for radical change because I for one am sick of defending this industry to my family and friends as they see their tax money waisted, again and again. Yes it ig great The Guard is finding an audience, I hope we can see some profit ploughed back into the industry for a chance, or will we? We need alot more swallows to start about going on about an Irish film summer.

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