Archive for April 27th, 2020

Only Connect

27th April 2020

On Friday, 17th April 2020, WGI Director Hugh Farley delivered a Screen Talks webinar in which he talked about how the COVID-19 crisis could and must be a catalyst of change in the film/tv sector.

Screen Talks is a series of webinars organised by Screen Skills Ireland and delivered by industry experts on a broad array of sector-related topics.


Last night, my family went out again on our doorstep to join our street and I guess the whole country, to applaud the frontline health workers who are working so bravely to keep us safe.

There has been so much community spirit on display – rosters of people delivering essential supplies to the old and vulnerable for example, and a huge desire to connect and re-connect with family and friends virtually.

All of which got me thinking about how this crisis could and must be a catalyst of change in the film/tv sector. You noticed that I didn’t say business because that implies that you can make a living from it.

For many of us in the sector, even in the best of times, full-time employment is a bit of a pipe dream. Last year’s European survey of writers’/directors’ incomes revealed two interesting facts. Firstly, the median income of writers and directors is 25K per annum and of that only 19K comes from their audio-visual work


The second fact is that as writers and directors gain more experience, the importance of a secondary source of income becomes more important not less.

That, of course, is a survey across Europe. What is the situation in Ireland.? Last week we surveyed our members of the Writers Guild and this is what we learnt: Only less than a third wholly earn their living from writing. For the other 70 per cent, a secondary source of income is vital.

Now lest you think this special pleading, let’s acknowledge that many technicians, performers, directors, and even producers are in the same boat – and that was before the coronavirus crisis.

If we’re serious about becoming an industry, we have to take a long hard look at ourselves. What is clear is that we will have to grow capacity, competence and capital and frankly a sense of artistic and commercial daring. We are competing with bigger economies, with a tradition of excellence in filmmaking and a well-developed talent development eco-system.

Let’s take a look at our next door neighbour, the UK, for example. In 2016 – before the streaming production boom really took off – Film and TV content generated £15bn. Foreign sales accounted for £4.7 bn. Its audiovisual sector is 20% larger than its nearest European rival, Germany, whose population is 20% bigger than the UK.  Since then Netflix and Amazon have booked out studio space spending £280 million in 2018. In Shepperton Studios alone, they are using all 14 soundstages.

The UK is a magnet for US film and TV capital because of its studio infrastructure, extensive talent base in front of and behind the cameras and growing number of UK production companies like Left Bank Pictures who have developed and produced highly successful intellectual property like ‘The Crown’.

So today, while everything is at a standstill and we’re scratching our heads about how we get things going again, we need to take the opportunity to re-consider how we can improve our market position to deliver great TV and Film content at higher volumes.

Yesterday, Screen Ireland launched a major series of initiatives to pump capital into our screen industries to help alleviate the hardship caused by covid-19. I think they are brave and practical measures and represent a welcome nimbleness and vision. But for me, what marks these initiatives out is that they are the product of extensive consultation with representative organizations like ourselves, and we believe that this is an essential template for the future.

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Desirée Finnegan the CEO of Screen Ireland and her colleagues have done their best to listen to industry needs and design targeted supports that deserve commendation.

So our screen industries are about to make a massive investment in development. Now the question is: develop what.?

Let’s take a look at the big picture…

Many markets have seen a drop in cinema attendances (strangely enough Eastern European audiences are bucking the trend). That in tandem with the collapse of DVD sales has meant the profitability of feature films – always precarious – got a lot riskier.  In fact, European produced films account for only one quarter of films exhibited in Europe.

Younger audiences make up the majority of revenue but they will only turn out for big-budget superhero movies which has resulted in US studios hoovering up high concept IP that centres around comic book franchises and world-building novels. Unfortunately, that is not the kind of film we make.

Getting that 35-plus audience to the cinema is harder than ever. Factor in a babysitter, transport costs, parking, tickets and popcorn and you’re looking at €70 euro for a movie. Assuming that – as we unwind the lockdown – it is possible for 100 people to sit in the same room for two hours…

Many are more than happy to see award-winning movies like ‘Roma’ and critically acclaimed movies like ‘The Irishman’, ‘Uncut Gems’ and ‘Marriage Story’ in the comfort of their own homes in 4k surround sound while the kids watch gaming play-throughs on YouTube in their bedrooms.

Which all means that we cannot take for granted there will be a platform or network of platforms on which independent cinema will be shown.

That is a problem for the Irish Film industry especially because this country makes arthouse or  niche genre films – which begs the question what happens to those movies in a post-Covid 19 crisis environment where cinema admissions may be limited per screen and art-house screens around the globe pull the shutters down.

Back in 2010’s, the Irish Film Board’s world view was essentially this. It was in the feature film business and its relationship with TV was as an ancillary market that screened the work it produced in precisely designed sequence (or recoupment corridor) after DVD and pay TV. Cinema was an art form and TV was…well….Not.

Things are very different today. The IFB became Screen Ireland and began investing a small proportion of its annual budget in developing high-value international TV projects. The value of TV and streamed content is at least five times that of feature films – those numbers are from 2018 but with entry of Disney Plus and Apple into the market you can extrapolate they are much higher now. Netflix alone has invested $4bn in production and similar numbers are spent by the big players.

So in the context of all of that the question is…What is Irish Film?

Because to punch through of all of that you have to have a brand.

Like the Danes in the 90’s with Dogma 95 or more recently South Korea with Horror movies and viscerally violent thrillers. They worked hard to build their brand and look what happened this year: multiple Oscars for ‘Parasite’.

I’m going to read this from a online film journal called Vox:

“A victory like Parasite has long been in development for South Korea. Michelle Cho, professor of East Asian studies at the University of Toronto, told me that the media and entertainment industries in South Korea have been heavily pushed to globalize in the past 20 years. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, increased investment by the government and corporations in high-tech internet infrastructure and  top-notch research and development, production, and design all contributed to building up cutting-edge entertainment products.”

They had a plan and they executed it.

Can we do that? Let’s look at what we would have to do…

  1. Build Consensus.

  2. Learn from mistakes and share them. Those who do not learn from failures in the past are destined to repeat them.

  3. Support Talent not projects.

  4. Build a talent Ecosystem.

  5. Invest in more development in development than production. And experiment constantly with how we do what we do.

  6. Sort out Public Service Broadcasting. Irish culture has value – It defines who we are – but frankly during the Covid 19 crisis, it is keeping us and are kids sane. We have relied on RTE and TG4 as independent and trusted news sources as well as entertainment. We let them go to the wall at our peril. These programmes are made by Irish women and men and they will not continue to exist without reform of publicly funded broadcasting.

For those of you who think and hope that things will go back to the ways things were pre Covid -9, it is time to think again. All’s changed, changed utterly…You can complete the next sentence yourselves.

When Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes landed his men on the Mexican coast in the 16th century, he had the ships that took them there scuttled. As his horrified men watched the ships sink forever beneath the waves, Cortez turned to them and said: ‘There is no going back now. Only forwards.”

Covid 19 is our Cortes.

We need to start talking about our collective cultural future. We can do that if we…

Only Connect.


Screen Talks Hugh Farley from Screen Talks on Vimeo.

WGI Welcomes Screen Ireland Additional Funding

27th April 2020

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, last week Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland announced a series of measures to support the screen industry at this difficult time. To directly support screenwriters, Screen Ireland committed to an enhanced investment of an additional €100K in the Screenplay and Spotlight Development Schemes. Further details about this enhanced investment are now available, allocated evenly between the two existing funds:

  1. An additional €50,000 will be allocated to the Screenplay Development Scheme (Established Talent). The current deadlines for submissions, application process and assessment criteria remain as before, but this increased investment will allow for budget flexibility in the remaining rounds for 2020.
  2. An enhanced investment of €50,000 into the 2019 Spotlight Development Scheme will facilitate an additional five awards in the current round of selections. There will now be 15 participants on the scheme instead of the original 10. All 15 writers will also be offered the opportunity to apply with new project ideas to the Screenplay Development Scheme for up to a period of 12 months after completion of the Spotlight scheme.

The Spotlight scheme is a structured development scheme aimed at discovering and developing diverse, fresh and exciting new screenwriting talent in Ireland, with guidance and mentorship from leading industry figures at the very beginning of their careers. Screenplay Development for Established Talent supports experienced writers/directors to write a live action or animated feature film from initial idea stage in the form of treatments or early script draft to a viable first draft screenplay.

WGI welcomes the additional funding. It is an important first step in reforming the development funding model.

This initiative guarantees a greater proportion of awards for screenwriters who wish to develop a first draft or a treatment before seeking a producer. Hitherto the Screenplay Development Loan had accounted for only 22% of total development funding disbursed by Screen Ireland.

We welcome the very constructive engagement with SI staff and expect to have further discussions when the suite of measures to alleviate the economic blow due to the Covid 19 crisis have bedded in.