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

Is brand “Irish Film” damaged and why? Part 2.

This post continues the discussion begun in the previous post and again draws on the same article by Ted Sheehy.

“The IFB’s other scheme is focused on films getting a much smaller release. Just finished in its pilot phase, this scheme involves the IFB and the Irish Film Institute combining resources to release a film in the marketplace. It allows for a film to be screened in a context that includes a Q&A with the director and screenings of their earlier work.”

“The first film through this scheme – which has the title ‘direct distribution’ – was Eamon , and it is envisaged for smaller art-house titles that struggle to find a traditional distributor but have proven themselves as either festival or critical successes,” says the IFB spokesman. “We will be publishing details of this scheme on our website shortly.”

“The producer of Eamon , Seamus Byrne, says the scheme and the IFB’s support was invaluable for the release of the film. This support is ongoing as the film makes its way around the country, with occasional screenings at conventional cinemas and through the Access Cinema film club network.”

Distribution support at this level is a very good idea. Eamon is one of the films that came from the Catalyst initiative a few years ago. What a pity this scheme has not grown and multiplied as it leveraged funding not just from IFB, but also RTE (and one other I think) and financed films at a level of €250K. And it makes sense to support these films in distribution in the art house specialist circuit.

“Paul Ward, of the IMC cinema chain, makes a similar point, saying that while there are always potential audiences for Irish films, they generally fall into the niche end of the market, which is undergoing a particularly difficult time at present. “It’s always tough. There are five or six pictures going out every week, so the competition is fierce and there are economies of scale with the size of the release.”

The cinema has evolved over the past two decades or more into something more akin to a seaside funhouse, that’s not a complaint it’s just stating fact. Today the vast majority of cinema releases are big budget, special effects driven spectacles and the target market for both Hollywood producers and the cinema chains alike is 12yrs to 25yrs. That being the case, the question has to be asked is the cinema the natural home for Irish films. Even award winning films like Lenny Abrahamson’s Garage and John Carney’s Once would find it difficult to draw an Irish audience of any significance, given the demographic of cinema goers.

“It might be argued that commercial distributors are the gatekeepers, ensuring that only those Irish films with a market, however small, will get a release. But, given that the IFB is subsidising the release of films the agency has funded, it might be argued that films may be released that distributors would not otherwise take on.”

“THERE IS ANOTHER DEBATE OVER the IFB’s policy of supporting only the films it has funded itself. If the logic behind it is the cultural necessity of assisting Irish films to reach their home audience, then should that apply to all Irish films, not just those which received production finance from the agency?”

A very good point and would I believe be hard to justify.

“Irish film-makers and producers will often successfully push to get their films into cinemas when distributors have turned them down. The box office results of this activity are hard to track, because the amounts involved are very small. There is a view in the business that likens this practice to vanity publishing, saying that it damages the market for Irish films. Others applaud the drive of the film-makers, usually people who have made their films without any official funding and whose energy and conviction get their films on to a few cinema screens without any subsidy. There is a view in the business that likens this practice to vanity publishing, saying that it damages the market for Irish films.”

If the film industry has any chance of becoming a force to be reckoned with in world cinema then it lies with people such as these. Proven beyond doubt, they possess the drive and commitment to their craft to struggle for years to see their creations on the screen. Sure, the quality of these films in terms of script and execution lack experience and knowledge of the craft, but then so do state subvented films. If “the business” wish to find reasons as to why the market for Irish films is damaged, in many cases they need look no further than their own tax payer funded productions. To lay the blame exclusively at the door of the driven and committed – now that’s glib.

I attended the “Give Me Direction” seminar last year at which the most insightful contribution was the “Don’t get Weird on Me” section in terms of what the IFB are looking for. Plainly “mainstream or commercial” is shunned in favour of “arthouse” or at minimum genre stories which seek to subvert or surprise. Subversion for the sake of subversion is no different than slavishly following commercial or mainstream imperatives. Subverting audience expectations does not equate to originality. And the only surprise an Irish audience is looking for is a good story well told, no tricks just solid craft, it really isn’t any more complex than that.

Whatever the plan is, (and that’s not easy to discern) it’s plainly not working and needs to be taken back to the drawing board, this time with the audience clearly in focus.

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  1. Having seen recent NON state-funded irish films in the cinema I would agree with the above phrase ‘vanity publishing’. The reason is that these films were terrible. Stuff like WC/8.5 hours/Situations vacant; awful movies that show nothing cinematic or original. Have we no Irish directors who can make genre stuff with their OWN style? Why are Irish movies so bland and unmemorable? Where are the horror directors with their own way of doing things instead of aping Hollywood stuff? There’s a serious identity crisis within Irish film and our product will suffer until things change, if ever.

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