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

Film funding in a Crazy World

Tax Payer Film FundA little while ago, the Sunday Times ran an article called “Life’s a Breeze as movies exceed EU state-aid limit”. It informed us that two films galloped past the EU imposed state-aid limit, despite EU laws limiting state-aid for films costing more than €750,000 to a maximum of 50% of budget. Those films were “Garage”, a drama centred around a rural road side garage starring Pat Shortt and had a budget of €2M and “Life’s a Breeze” also starring Pat Shortt which is in post production. “Garage” received state-aid to the tune of 86% of total budget while “Life’s a Breeze” was financed by the tax payer to the tune of 70% of budget.  This is taken from the article:

A spokeswoman for the BAI said neither film was in breach of European state-aid rules, because the 50% limit could be breached where the productions are deemed “difficult” to make. In both cases, it said the films met the criteria by having a “lack of commercial potential” and a “lack of significant audience appeal.”  The BAI said it would have been aware of who the other funders for both projects were at the application and contract award stages.

I don’t know about you, but this feels like the world flipped on it’s head. Now I know how Alice felt when she fell down the rabbit hole. So I began to wonder just how that conversation might go between applicant (producer/production company whatever) and the “state agency”. Well, I’m a script writer I thought, so let’s have a bash at it.

State Agency

So what’s your film about?

Producer

Well, it’s about a blind man who buys a dog.

State Agency

O.K. so ……what happens.

Producer

Well, the blind man falls in love with the dog.

State Agency

You mean, he grows very fond of it.

Producer

No, I mean he falls in love with it.

State Agency

I see….. and how does this… love manifest itself.

Producer

The way all love manifests itself. We’re about breaking new ground…. we embrace taboos.

State Agency

So what else happens?

Producer

The dog dies. So our man decides he wants to have the dog stuffed. But he finds he can’t afford to have it stuffed.

State Agency

OK a dilemma, that’s good. Now what does he do?

Producer

He goes to night class to learn taxidermy?

State Agency

But he’s blind, wouldn’t that present a problem?

Producer

Only to those who believe that the sight challenged are limited by their disability.

State Agency

Well, being a state agency, we certainly don’t support that view. So anyway, he goes to night class to learn taxidermy, where he meets…?

Producer

No, he doesn’t meet anyone.

State Agency

OK so what happens next.

Producer

He stuffs the dog.

Silence and awkward glances abound.

State Agency

I must point out to you that the funding you want from us would exceed the  EU limits of 50% of production finance by €300,000.

Producer

Isn’t there any way around that?

Knowing glances cross the table.

State Agency

Well, we would have to be convinced that the film is lacking in commercial potential and significant audience appeal.

Producer

You hardly think this is going to have them queuing around the block.

State Agency

Stranger things have happened.

Another awkward silence.

Producer

We’re going to shoot this film in a very challenging and unique way, never been done before, too challenging for a conventional audience.

State Agency

OK, that’s good, tell me more.

Producer

We’re leaving the lens cap on.

State Agency

You can’t do that, that’s a radio play. We don’t fund radio plays.

Producer

If you believe that, then you must also believe that blind people have no place in a cinema. Yet it’s known that blind people enjoy cinema as much as anyone.

State Agency

Of course not, as a state agency, we support inclusivity and all aspects of our diverse society. But wouldn’t it be cheaper to record it as a radio play.

Producer

I don’t have a radio play. I have a film script. We plan to carry out production just like any film, cameras, lighting, costumes, set design, the works. The big difference is, we leave the lens cap on. This is an artistic statement to the blind that we respect their disability to the extent that we will render the entire audience blind.

State Agency

So there’s absolutely nothing to be seen on the screen?

Producer

Nada. Not even credits ….well apart from producer and our company logo of course.

State Agency

Of course. We would have to insist on our people’s names and logo also appearing.

Producer

Of course.

State Agency

So quite literally, no one will see this film.

Producer

No one.

State Agency

Ok, well that definitely allows for the 50% breach. Your application will be processed, expect to hear from us in 4 weeks. Oh, what are you calling this film?

Producer

Stuff the Taxpayer ……I mean Dog, Stuff the Dog.

State Agency

Great …..lunch?

No response.

State Agency

On us?

Producer

Sure. (a quite aside to camera) Always wait for that last part. Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

I think I’ll shoot that and stick it on Youtube, should be worth a few clicks. But seriously, if anyone approaches a state funding body for production finance saying “not many people will want to see this film”, shouldn’t they be told to go back to the drawing board instead of lavishing more non-recourse funding on them. God forbid they would have to condescend to “entertain” the audience. I’ve mentioned it before, elsewhere in this blog, but when Mike Leigh was in Dublin a few years ago, he did an interview and took questions from filmmakers. This question came up and it must be said, asked with a knowing smirk. “What responsibility, if any, does a filmmaker have to entertain the audience”. A little aghast at the question and God knows Mr. Leigh does not suffer fools, he responded. “That is your first responsibility, if you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t be making films.” You ask an audience to sit through 90 or 120 minutes of your film and you don’t bother to entertain. You won’t have an audience, therefore you’re not a filmmaker. I’m paraphrasing, but that is certainly the gist of his reply to what he clearly viewed as a ridiculous question. I wonder what Mike would think of giving more money to those same films that can’t be bothered to engage their audience, because that sort of thing is beneath their intellect. The icing on the cake here of course is that your film can never fail. Actually, it can, if it becomes a film people want to see, you might just damage your chances of making the same argument in the future. If this makes sense to you then maybe I have fallen down the rabbit hole. Post a comment below.

 

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Comments

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  2. In both cases, it said the films met the criteria by having a “lack of commercial potential” and a “lack of significant audience appeal.”

    Might need to parse the above a bit. The EC provision referred to is, if memory serves, the Cinema Communication of 2001. It permits Member States, on terms they may themselves decide (principle of subsidiarity), to breach the given State Aid Rules maximum percentages where ‘difficult’ projects cannot attract market (ie commercial) funding. To my mind the ceiling set by Ireland – ie the maximum budget at which the state aid percentage is relaxed – is too low. For many years after the communication was published the ceiling here was a budget of €100,000 and there was no policy adopted by the IFB or by the Departments of Arts or Finance to give effect to the communication.

    “Lack of audience appeal” is not a factor, while an expected small audience may be. The language reads a little like spin. It could be said, for instance, to legitimately apply to many films made in minority languages across the EU where the population of speakers of the language would make it highly unlikely for a €1.5m film in that language to recoup its budget. Should films not therefore be made in that language?

    More importantly, it’s actually a fact, and I don’t know if the article got into this, that state aid rules are commonly breached here and elsewhere (think of Scandanavia where nearly every production is backed by multiple state agencies and public broadcasters) on films that would not qualify under the terms of the Communication.

    And in the workings of Section 481, the manner in which IFB, public broadcaster and/or other public funding is sometimes used as the means whereby tax break investors get their money back would raise the percentage of state (non-market) support to films that superficially appear to be meeting the 50:50 state aid rules.

    • Thanks for your comment Ted.

      The Film Board still have a facility whereby ultra low budget films can be fully funded to a limit of €100K. To my mind, one of our biggest challenges in terms of attracting an Irish audience to Irish films is the fact that we are an English speaking country. I believe the average box office going to indigenous films across Europe is something like 5%. Ireland stands at 1% for Irish films. Another obstacle unfortunately now is the brand “Irish Film”, probably due to a steady stream of lackluster productions over many years. The indigenous language card is something else that’s open to abuse. I once heard a filmmaker say that he got funding because his film was in Irish. He added, “No one’s going to see it, but I don’t care”.

      The post is really about the tyranny of political correctness and making films for an indigenous language can be part of the arsenal. The same is true for perceived unrepresented minorities and the language descends into a cosy doublespeak designed to tick PC boxes rather than reach an audience.

      In other times, spending millions of taxpayer euros on an indulgence that spawned a good film intermittently was OK. Now every nook and cranny is being scoured for savings and rightly so, because kids are going without support for special needs and hospital wards are being padlocked. I would hate to try to make the argument that this is justified.

      Irish film should be supported, but it’s really a question to what extent. You can take the Irish Mammy approach which is what funding to 80% of budget is, or perhaps it’s time we tried tough love. Put real limits on the amount of support and the instances of support and then, perhaps, producers might begin to think in terms of the audience.

  3. Fiachra says:

    You say movies that fail to entertain or find an audience are not made by filmmmakers. From the above ‘You won’t have an audience, therefore you’re not a filmmaker’. By that logic 95% of Film Board titles got made by non-filmmakers as they failed at the box office or didn’t even get a release. So, rubbish like Man About Dog got made by a real filmmaker as it did great business in Ireland. Let me guess: you’re sitting at home trying to make the Miles to go script more entertaining? Quincy Rose beat you to it last year!

    • Give me carpenters tools and I’ll make a table. That doesn’t make me a carpenter because I lack the skills to go with the tools. The same principle applies to everything, so in that sense, yes, films can get made by people who are not filmmakers. Again, it’s the Malcolm Gladwell principle at work. Films can inspire, inform, entrance, make you laugh and make you cry and many other things. In that sense a film can be said to have engaged or entertained. “Entertain” is not a dirty word. Which would you rather have, a 5 star meal prepared by a master chef or the same meal put through a blender and presented to you that way. Both contain exactly the same nutrition, but the “slop” is tasteless and looks horrible. Your choice.

      • Fiachra says:

        I’m lost now! Everyone who make a film is a filmmaker. You don’t need a diploma or an award-winning short or permission from our highly-regarded Film Board to be a filmmaker. Also, making something over and over doesn’t give you talent. Ever heard of the phrase ‘Trying to authenticate a karaoke style’? Know what that means? It can be applied to most Irish filmmakers who do what’s been done before without anything new to say and eventually they achieve a reputation. We have loads of these people: respectable teamplayers, waiting their turn for funding; wearing their tux at the IFTAs. Here’s something else: lots of people watch films made by ‘carpenters who lack the skills to go with the tools’. There are loads of crap horror and science fiction movies available on DVD made decades ago that are terrible. But they still have an audience because these films have imagination and creativity that most Irish film lack. It’s not about using the tools but the ideas that are important.

        • It looks like our difference of opinion is coming down to this. Do you accept that the more you do something, the better you will get at it. This is from Wikipedia about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers.
          “A common theme that appears throughout Outliers is the “10,000-Hour Rule”, based on a study by Anders Ericsson. Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time, using the source of The Beatles’ musical talents and Gates’ computer savvy as examples. The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell asserts that all of the time The Beatles spent performing shaped their talent, and quotes Beatles’ biographer Philip Norman as saying, “So by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, ‘they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.'” Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.”
          Anyone can make a film, but not everyone can make a film worth watching. Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears and Alan Parker all cut their teeth on low budget Channel 4 dramas and a lot of them. Ideas, inspiration and passion is something else.

          • Your last post contains a line that illustrates what’s wrong with the filmmaking setup in this country. You say ‘Anyone can make a film, but not everyone can make a film worth watching’. That’s the problem in Ireland. Sometime after the Film Board got set up it was decided that technical films were the ones worth watching. Mainly slick TV movies pretending to be expensive cinema made by people who learned their trade on short films.
            Most audiences don’t like these films. They prefer Hollywood crap like Good luck Chuck which is actually better than most Irish films as it has a ready audience, contains humour, and doesn’t take itself seriously. At the other end is the arthouse stuff that also don’t get made here too often due to the lack of talented filmmakers (and funding). When they do get made (e.g. Pavee Lackeen) they are usually one offs and stick out a mile.
            Your favourites Loach (Kes), Leigh (Bleak moments) , and Frears (Gumshoe) all began making feature films early in their careers years before Channel 4 arrived before giving up and moving into television for a decade or more. As for Parker, he’s nothing special.

            Your idea for making lots of movies resulting in talent? That is true when the director has a unique voice and the technical skills arrive later (e.g. Almodovar). But there are hundreds of old Hollywood directors who made too many movies that no-one has heard of . How many films has anyone seen by Alan Dwan? He made over 400 – I’ve seen 2! Also, some truly great directors (Bresson, Dreyer) made few films. The big problem in this country is twofold: Irish directors are not prolific and they lack talent. The system here is to make lots of shorts, TV, docs and then every few years dabble with making a feature. You can count the number of Irish directors who regularly make feature films with both hands . You can count the number of Irish directors with genuine talent with only one.

  4. Fiachra says:

    Most Irish films fail to find an audience so by your logic they must have got made by non-filmmakers?

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