Wednesday, 13 December 2006
Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 2006: Second Stage
I am grateful to the House for facilitating us in taking this Bill at short notice. It has a simple but important objective, namely, to increase the statutory limit on the cumulative capital outlay, commitments and liabilities that the Irish Film Board may incur. As is the case with some statutory bodies that receive public funding, a limit was set by statute on such outlay when the Irish Film Board Act 1980 was enacted. This limit must be updated by the Houses of the Oireachtas every three to five years.
The Irish Film Board (Amendment) Act 2000 increased the limit from IR£30 million to IR£80 million, or approximately €101.5 million. In the absence of amending legislation, spending by the Irish Film Board, inclusive of the recently announced additional allocation, will reach this statutory limit by the end of the year. It is proposed, therefore, to increase this limit to €200 million, to allow the board to continue to operate within an appropriate statutory limit, subject to the normal annual Estimates process.
It is a positive mark of the activity of the board in recent times that it is now necessary to increase this limit again. Following the publication of the 1998 strategic review of the audiovisual industry, known as the Kilkenny report, key Government decisions were taken to assign a central place in industrial policy to the audiovisual production industry. This included a restructuring of the board itself that resulted in its staffing numbers growing from four in 2000 to its present staffing complement of 16. In the same period, the board's Exchequer current and capital funding has risen from a total of €10.16 million in 2000 to €19.4 million by the end of 2006, almost a doubling in its funding.
These past six years have seen the environment in which the board operates undergo massive and constant evolution and development, both domestically and internationally. The board has reflected and adapted to these changes. One cannot stand still in any endeavour, if it is to succeed, and the film sector is no exception. One must adapt to changing circumstances, in the type of projects being developed, the audiences to be reached, and the markets to be targeted.
The Irish Film Board, with Government support, has adopted a strategic approach to meeting these challenges. Through its varied schemes and programmes, it aims to assist projects at the earliest stage of development, right through the pre-production phase and finally to production and post-production. It has established clear polices, from bringing forward and nurturing talent, using its short film schemes, up to its most recent initiative for company development, which is aimed at moving forward with several more established companies in streamlining their funding structures. Through its funding of Screen Training Ireland, in conjunction with FÁS, the board addresses the needs of the industry at entry level. Thus, training supports can be put in place to match the requirements of the market place and render its participants relevant to the sector they wish to enter.
The short film Oscar for "Six Shooter" and the Palme d'Or for "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" at the Cannes film festival are proof these policies are working. The latter film, which is set in the time of the Civil War, went on to become the highest grossing independent Irish film at the Irish box office to date. It has taken more than €20 million worldwide, proving there is an international market for Irish stories. We can be confident there is real progress and cause for optimism for the Irish film industry.
Film is not just about talent, however. It has become an international commodity, driven by economic incentives in an ever changing environment. This, combined with the current dollar exchange rate imbalances, the domestic United States incentives and the low cost regimes in some Eastern EU states has resulted in less United States big budget projects being attracted here than was previously the case. Moreover, one cannot deny the effect of the recently approved United Kingdom scheme on the Irish position. We continue to monitor this situation.
The Government is aware of the needs of the sector and the need to react to such changes. We were pleased to improve the scope of the section 481 scheme in the Finance Act 2006 and so maintain Ireland's position as an attractive location. In an increasingly competitive international environment, the board is able to continue effectively to discharge its vital role of promoting our indigenous film industry and marketing Ireland as a location for international productions.
This activity has yielded direct results. 2006 was an exciting and productive year for the film industry, with production activity returning to high levels. As proof of this, some 38 projects were certified under the section 481 tax incentive scheme in 2006, with a total Irish spend of €115.6 million. This is an increase from 28 projects in 2005, with an Irish spend of €64 million. Included in the 2006 figures is a small number of large budget projects, chief among them being the television series, "The Tudors" and "Rough Diamond", as well as the television movie "Northanger Abbey".
Looking to 2007, the board has succeeded in attracting new projects, including the feature film "Dorothy Mills" and television film "My Boy Jack", as well as further series of "The Tudors" and "Murphy's Law". In other words, for 2006 alone, the film sector generated the equivalent expenditure of the Irish Film Board since its inception. This is a remarkable rate of return by any measure.
While Ireland can hold its own, due to our talent pool and incentives package, we cannot get complacent and must continue to search for and avail of any comparative advantage we can find. We must also be active in the marketplace. The Irish Film Board has risen to this challenge with the recent establishment of an office in Los Angeles, which it is expected will do much to raise awareness of the Irish industry in the United States. The board has also put in place a Dublin film partnership scheme, a one-stop shop for potential producers seeking to produce projects in the city. This grouping, encompassing businesses and public sector interests of the city, facilitates in overcoming the practical obstacles inherent in bringing a production to fruition.
Although 2005 and 2006 have been challenging years for production, indigenous films, supported by the Irish Film Board, have continued to perform to critical acclaim both at home and at festivals around the world. Titles such as "Adam and Paul", "The Mighty Celt", "Breakfast on Pluto", "Isolation", "Pavee Lackeen" and "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" have been well received by audiences and critics. Further affirmation in this respect are the nominations at world-renowned festivals in which Irish talent is well represented.
I appreciate Senators' co-operation in expediting the enactment of this short but vital Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.
The House is united in taking this Bill at short notice. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism has outlined the successes of the Irish film industry. We have come a long way since "Ryan's Daughter". One can read as many history textbooks as one wants, but there is nothing better than the cinematic representation of historical events. This was exemplified by "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" and "Michael Collins" which acted as great tools in teaching about our history. Will the Minister relate to the Irish Film Board that more films of such historical content are welcome? They do not just inform people about our troubled history but about the beauty of Ireland. The film industry is a good source of employment and benefits the Exchequer.
When parts of "Saving Private Ryan" were filmed in Ireland, costs were lower. With rising costs, it may be difficult to attract these types of production. The Government, through tax incentives and so forth, should encourage and attract these types of productions. Ireland has become a mecca for film producers. From talking to them, they seem satisfied with the expertise available to them.
The guarantees of the Irish Film Board were originally capped at £4.1 million. Amending legislation in 1993 put that cap at £15 million, £30 million in 1997 and £80 million in 2000. The latest amending legislation is designed to replace that figure with €200 million. It seems to be awkward legislation. The Finance Act sets spending in several areas and is presented on an annual basis. Instead of the Seanad constantly amending the original 1980 Irish Film Board Act, would it be possible to include the correct and up-to-date amount as part of the Finance Act?
What is the average cost of a film production in Ireland? What grants and tax incentives have been received by film producers? There are several historical movies I am interested in pursuing. If one could get the finance, there would be assistance from various people. I support this amending legislation.
I welcome the Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 2006 which will amend the 2000 legislation to increase the maximum of the aggregate amount of any investments, loans, grants or moneys provided by the board from £80 million to €200 million. This money will be put towards the cost of making films and providing training in all aspects of film production.
Without amending the current legislation, the Irish Film Board will reach the statutory limit by year-end, even taking into account its recently announced additional allocation. The board's work is crucial to both arts and tourism and, as such, it is important to enact the legislation to support the ongoing assistance it provides to the sector.
The Irish Film Board assists and actively encourages the making of films in the State and also works towards developing an industry for the making of films. The board promotes participation in international collaborative projects and regards, when it perceives to be appropriate, the need for film-making to be an expression of national culture.
Historically, Ireland has played host to a relatively small share of the global film market, approximately 1% of US films and on average 3.2% of UK films each year. International competition to secure film productions is fierce. We must continue to be active in the marketplace to ensure Ireland grows as a venue for major film productions. Securing the production of such films not only impacts on the arts scene but also on the economy and positively affects tourism following the release of a film. The recent success of the "Wind that Shakes the Barley" at the Palme D'Or shows we are succeeding in producing quality films. We want to repeat these types of successes through supporting the work of the Irish Film Board. I give the Bill my full support.
I welcome the legislation. As it requires us to enact legislation co-operatively at short notice, we should not get any plaudits for it. One can be proud of the Irish film industry which has grown because a movie-making infrastructure is in place. Much money is available to pursue further development in this industry. "Ryan's Daughter" was important for County Kerry's tourism industry and that has not been lost on the Minister.
We have had a host of talented people in the Irish film industry who have brought their expertise to the silver screen at home and across the world. One only needs to look at Brenda Fricker and her outstanding role in "My Left Foot" for which she won an Oscar. The Gabriel Byrnes and the Patrick Bergins have gone on to build successful international careers, based on the home expertise that developed them. We must acknowledge the role played by local drama societies and those who organise them. That offers an opportunity for people who might not necessarily develop their talent in the absence of these groups. It is good today to look back on outstandingly successful films. Consider the film "Braveheart", many of whose scenes were shot in The Curragh. Members of the FCA and people from all over the country were used as stand-ins in that film. That was an important film. There is only one instance in recent times where a film being made in Ireland was not completed. It was "Divine Rapture" and was to star the late Marlon Brando, who stayed in Ballycotton for the shoot. Unfortunately, owing to other problems the film was not finished.
We must not forget the importance of the Irish film industry in international terms and how it is viewed by the international community. We were able to take advantage of this not just in terms of culture but also with regard to tourism. Consider what "The Quiet Man" and Maureen O'Hara did for Irish tourism. The film put the country on the international stage and opened doors that might not have been opened otherwise. We can be proud of that.
The Irish film industry is also not afraid to delve into darker issues in the history of this country. Consider the work of Aidan Quinn, who has mainly made independent films, and the thought-provoking, emotive but truthful account of what happened in Irish institutions in the film "Song for a Raggy Boy". In the interest of fairness and balance we must acknowledge that and praise those involved in it. Other independent films such as "This is My Father" also reflect part of Irish culture and society and show how society has moved on from that time. We have much reason to be thankful to people who have practised in this profession.
This is good legislation. Its inspiration and objective are clear. From small acorns do big trees grow and undoubtedly this is a good opportunity to develop and promote another generation of actors and actresses who can continue to represent all that is good in this country in terms of culture and tourism. Well done to those who have already done it. We owe them a great deal. I welcome the legislation and thank the Minister for debating it with us.
I welcome the Bill. Film is one of the most important cultural mediums of the present age. Given a choice between reading the book The Da Vinci Code or watching the film, many will take the easy option of watching the film. The Minister has been a strong advocate of the film industry both in terms of tax incentives and in legislation. Experience has shown there is no point supporting the film industry by half measures. If one attempts to do so, one simply loses competitiveness. Many of our competitors have little compunction about the generosity of their incentives and if we wish to have a film industry, we must be the same.
The film industry embraces more than just Irish subjects. Since the 1940s the fields of Agincourt have been located in Ireland, as have the Normandy beaches and the plains of central Europe in the film "Barry Lyndon". Ireland can be converted into almost anywhere, possibly excepting the jungles of Peru. There is immense potential for the industry. I pay tribute to the many film successes which have done something for Ireland. John Huston's "The Dead", based on James Joyce's story, is one of the most beautiful films I have seen. One must also not forget series such as "Strumpet City" and if I wish to relax, I love to watch "The Irish RM". "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" is an excellent if somewhat sobering and thought-provoking film.
I wish the film industry good fortune. I am glad there are projects in the pipeline but we will not have a successful industry if we try to do it by half measures.
This is important legislation. We must keep the film industry going and Senator Mansergh is correct in that regard. I share some of his favourite films. "Barry Lyndon" was a superb film. It was made at Huntingdon Castle in Clonegal. The film crew put an extra wing on the castle which the owners were reluctant to demolish because it improved the castle's appearance.
The industry is a big income earner. There are many important back-up personnel for the industry in this country. Technical staff such as sound operators, cameramen, electricians, set designers, wardrobe directors——
I am glad to hear it. There was a smile on his face and I mistook that to mean he was joking. In fact, I believe an Irish make-up artist received an Oscar or a similarly important award in Los Angeles in recent years. We should be very proud of the industry.
There must be something dreadfully wrong in the air because I must agree with Senator Mansergh for a second time in the space of a few minutes. He is correct that there is strong competition. While we have a remarkable country of natural beauty, scenic availability and reasonable light for film making, many other European countries can offer the same. We need the additional seed money for projects in addition to understanding and acknowledging the talent in this country.
I have mentioned the technical personnel but we also have superb actors. Sometimes we treat them simply as objects of gossip. Gabriel Byrne, for example, is a wonderful actor. Angeline Ball is another. I have seen "Molly Bloom" until she is coming out of my ears, so to speak, and I have seen her represented by international actors of the greatest distinction but I have never seen a rendition that could hold a candle to Angeline Ball in that wonderful film, "Bloom", by Seán Walsh. He is a courageous man who had the guts and gumption to take on James Joyce's regrettable grandson and win. That is something.
We have not always fostered the film industry. I am glad the Minister has chosen to do so and to ensure sufficient money is available. I recall gallant people such as the late Liam O'Leary. Without him and his archiving skills we would have lost an enormous amount of very valuable cine reality. We would have lost entire productions. Rex Ingram, for example, was one of the crucial figures in the development of Hollywood in the 1920s. He made a film entitled "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" and at least one reel of the film went missing. Nobody in the world had it until Liam O'Leary unearthed it.
I pay tribute to a man I am honoured to know, George Morrison. The Minister launched a remarkable DVD, "Mise Éire", which George put together from archive material from the 1916 and Civil War periods. He followed it with another DVD called "Saoirse". He commissioned the music from the late Seán Ó Riada. It is a masterpiece of Irish cinema. He was paid approximately £150 for it and got no repeat fees. He was neglected as an artist for many years. He had a project to make a film about James Joyce, which was turned down by the Government of the day as an unsuitable topic.
However, I am glad to say that Mr. Morrison was honoured by the present Minister, who launched this CD. Although he is in his 80s and has suffered a stroke, Mr. Morrison made a remarkable speech and is at work on another film. I am engaged in a small way with him and it is an honour to be involved with such a great artist. I bemoan the days when people such as Mr. Liam O'Leary and Mr. Morrison were so neglected. I hope those days are gone. It is not just a question of money but of the image Ireland presents to the world. It can be an effective instrument in representing a positive version of this country, which we love.
I thank the Senators who contributed to this debate for their constructive and considered points on the Bill. I also thank them for taking it at short notice. It is an important piece of legislation and I am grateful to them for their time. I would like to respond to some of the points raised in the debate.
There has been a significant improvement in the number of incoming productions to Ireland in recent years. From 1994 to 2001 the amount approved by way of section 481 was €581.8 million. In 2002 it was €62.2 million and in 2003 €84.8 million. Then there was uncertainty as to whether section 481 relief would continue and in 2004 the amount approved decreased to €58.1 million and in 2005 to €54.8 million. Certainty has been established on section 481 and it is operational. To date this year, the total amount approved under the section is €110.5 million. It is clear that this incentive to inward production is a major attractor. In that context the British have improved their tax relief and we must monitor this carefully. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Gordon Brown, takes a personal interest in film and has been involved in improving the attracting components of British financial legislation for film.
We should not engage in a Dutch auction as there is nothing to be gained from it. In this year's Finance Act the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, increased our cap to €35 million and improved incentives as much as he could. We are unique in that we alone provide tax relief for television productions and that has resulted in a major increase in the number of television productions in the country in recent years. It is difficult to remain competitive. When Ireland first introduced section 481 it was unique and we experienced a large growth in our film industry.
It is important to recognise the role of the Irish Film Board. With limited resources and a small staff it is doing well. It contributed €500,000 to "The Wind that Shakes the Barley", which was made for €6 million. It has grossed €20 million worldwide. It is a wonderful film, even if it takes my side in the Civil War.
At Cannes a representative of Sky News asked me if I accepted that this was a British film, since the British were claiming it. I told him the British would claim it until they saw it, and would then stop claiming it.
In October 2005 we confirmed an additional €1.5 million in supplementary funding for Bord Scannán na hÉireann. Via its judicious selection of projects in which to invest, this funding delivered production activity with a combined Irish budget of €28 million in 2006. So an investment of €1.5 million yielded €28 million. I would accept that return at Fairyhouse or Leopardstown racecourses any day. The additional funding achieved an excellent leverage rate of 18:1. In 2006 an additional €2 million in supplementary funding was made available to the IFB and this is expected to generate at least €32 million worth of production activity in Ireland in early 2007. That gives an idea of the value of film production to our economy.
The Irish Film Board is the major funder of Screen Training Ireland, the organisation that provides continuing training for professionals in film, television, animation and digital media. Between 2000 and 2005, an average of 630 participants have undertaken professional training in the organisation annually. A summary of the grants which the IFB has made available is available in the IFB's annual report, which we can make available to Senator Feighan. It is impossible to specify an amount for the IFB every year because that is part of the Estimates process. All we can do is bring in enabling legislation such as this every five years or so. This enabling legislation should see us through for another five years. We are increasing the amount the IFB can disburse to €200 million and it is not anticipated that it will require further legislation for approximately five years. However as a follower of film I hope we require legislation earlier.
We have tried to assist the industry as best we can. Between 2000 and 2007, Government support for the IFB has grown by 93%, ensuring security for the sector by enabling the IFB to continue support for training, production and development and the introduction of new initiatives in keeping with the development and demands of the sector. Between 2003 and 2005 an average of 740 applications were made to the IFB annually with a success rate of 25%. I have established that we are achieving value for money and IFB production investment outlays have an average leveraging factor of approximately 1:10 as the €50.02 million worth of IFB production loans for feature films, television dramas and animation between 1993 and 2005 stimulated production with combined budgets of €482.65 million. For every €1 of IFB investment during that period, almost €10 million was generated from the industry.
I acknowledge the wonderful role the IFB plays. We are excited that we have a full-time representative in Los Angeles representing the Irish film industry and trying to attract major productions into the country. When visitors to this country are surveyed, as they frequently are by Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, film is the single biggest attractor cited. We should always remember this.
I noted that Senator McCarthy was involved in drama and that he has moved his talents to a bigger stage. I note that Senator Mansergh is a fan of "The Irish RM". I can envisage Senators Mansergh and Norris on the set of "The Irish RM".