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

Bill Cullen and Irish Film

Come January, the Irish Film Board will be without a CEO, so here’s a thought – put Bill Cullen in charge. Better still, why not make a reality TV show out of it, a cross between “The Apprentice” and “Project Greenlight” with a dash of “Ireland’s got Talent” (I know the latter doesn’t exist, let’s not dwell on that too long). For every month of one year, 12 filmmaking teams all come before Bill and present their film project. Every team is set the same task every episode and the first task would be “Make your Pitch” and that pitch has to be to people like Morgan O’Sullivan for instance or someone similar, who knows what it is to sell concepts to studios and TV networks in order to stay in business. At the end of each episode, a score is awarded each team and they carry that forward to the next task. Other tasks would be to have your script independently rated by a panel of 3 professional script analysts, have an independent audience rate your marketing campaign, poster, logline and two sentence synopsis, next you’ve got to shoot a 5 minute segment in a day and again the result scored. Each episode would see a team eliminated until the winning team are awarded a budget of €500k to make their film. Over the span of a year we have twelve competitions also generating a wealth a TV content and advertising revenue and ultimately 12 films that are guaranteed to attract a whole lot more audience than the current spend of €17 million is achieving right now.

Some of the above is, I will admit tongue in cheek, but the point I’m trying to make is not and that is – nothing was ever improved without competition and a clear focus on the consumer. Or put another way – meritocracy over patronage. I’ve said this in a previous post and I’ll say it again. You can’t keep doing the same thing and hope for a different outcome.

Here’s another thought. What about a reconstituted IFB. Now more than ever, the spend of tax payers money is under close scrutiny and every euro must and should be justified. Right now a budget of €17m is handed over once a year to be dispensed, as is seen fit with no obligation to make money back for the state. I know a lot of that money is given out as loans and as such is required to return. Very often it doesn’t because the obligation only stands if the film makes money. No, what I’m suggesting is a new IFB set up as a state body with a commercial remit. So over a period of 10 years, the body is required to achieve 100% cost recovery, building 10% per year. This would focus minds in the direction of the consumer and that’s no bad thing. Many high minded artistic types I know would scoff at such a suggestion and complain that their artistic integrity would be compromised. If so then go make your films with your own money.

A while back, I spent a couple of days on the set of “The Tudors” in Ardmore Studios. During a chat with Morgan O’Sullivan, he related to me how in his early days as an Irish based producer, he perceived a lack of craft and experience in Irish film practitioners. So before he took on anything else, he took a bunch of people to LA and immersed them in filmmaking in the worlds capital of film. On his return, I think his next project was “The Mannions of America” and he’s never looked back. That’s simply identifying the problem and taking action to remedy it. The opposite of hoping for a different outcome whilst…..well you know the rest.

So, why are Irish films only commanding 0.3% of domestic box office share and virtually nothing of International, with a spend of €17m per annum. Could it have something to do with the quality of scripts or lack thereof. Let me make this point and I say it in IFB’S defense, maybe the scripts that are getting funding are the best of what’s coming in the door, because being a State agency, they have to spend their budget. A particularly depressing thought for those of us who could wallpaper walls with rejection letters, but the jury is still out on that one. Eight years ago or so, the legendary Ed Pressman along with some Irish partners and John Schmidt of Miramax and October Films, announced with some fan fair in Galway the launch of “Content Film” in Ireland. On offer was a pot of money to make low budget films at, I think €1m a pop and all they were waiting for was the scripts. A few years later in conversation with one of the Irish producers I asked where’s the first Irish “Content” film. I was told none was ever going to materialise. It turns out they were inundated with scripts, not one of which was worth developing, never mind shooting. Today, Content Film International is a dynamic film sales and finance company, specialising in high quality, commercial feature films. They just quietly slipped away from our shores. Sad but true.

So what’s the answer. How about shutting down all production for a year or even two and putting Irish screenwriters through an intensive training program. Well it worked for Mr. O’Sullivan and I suspect the good Dr. Bill wouldn’t  argue with that either (once he’d fired half of them in the first place). I could just hear him now, “Yiz are all a shower of namby pambies, get off yer arse and sell your film….before you make it, den you’ll know if you should make the bloody thing at all”.

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  1. “So, why are Irish films only commanding 0.3% of domestic box office share and virtually nothing of International, with a spend of €17m per annum”

    Simple really, we don’t have a film INDUSTRY. Too small a country with too many people going in different directions (short, docs, television). Complete lack of risk taking, no visionaries, making stuff similar to Hollywood on tiny budgets. Nothing unique about our cinema to make it stand out from other countries. The people who should be making films here are the ones who left school at 15. Where are the Bill Cullens in Irish film? We’ve too many middle-class film graduates running to the Film Board trying to make another cast-off Brit flick! Too many bland and safe people making bland and safe cinema. Too much elitism here too. Only certain films get made and most are not commercial enough. For example, where is the Irish martial arts film? Surely, that would make more money than rubbish like The runway (especially on DVD)?

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