Tuesday, August 11, 2009

AV Sector a Key Growth Area

I remember filling out this survey last year and the results have since been published. It's good news if you work in TV and film because this area has great potential for growth - that's what we want to hear in these straightened times.

Shame then that Bord Snip are talking about canning the IFB, which provides something additional to our TV channels. The IFB, uninfluenced by the need to bring in advertising, fullfils a truly crucial cultural remit in my view. Hopefully the government will think so too.

Here's the survey...

Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board (IFB) and PWC carried out a survey in 2008 which reveals that the Irish audio visual sector is valued at over €557.3 million, employs over 6,000 individuals and represents 0.3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The survey is the first of its kind to represent such a broad range of disciplines in this sector, ranging from film and television through to animation, commercials, corporate video and online digital content. The survey identifies the people working in content production whether individually, in a company or in a broadcasting organization, the resources employed in the making of content and the total value of audio visual activity.

The results illustrate that the audio visual industry is a dynamic, highly educated and flexible sector, capable of demonstrating significant growth and value in the future. The results of this survey also played an important part in making the case to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism to introduce new improvements to the tax incentive for film and television Section 481.
Key findings in the survey show that this growing sector employs over 6,905 individuals, 85% in the independent sector and 15% in broadcasting, which equates to 5,440 full-time equivalents (FTEs). The results also testify that this sector is vibrant with strong growth activity, with over 47% of companies interviewed in the survey established in the last 5 years.

The survey indicated high levels of convergence within the sector comprising of production companies, post-production companies and service providers, many of whom demonstrate a high crossover of activities. This particular report has gone beyond a normal sample level with very significant levels of response from companies and individuals and as a result the information is very significant.

This is the first time that a survey like this has looked beyond the annual production statistics, at the companies and individuals who are responsible for producing all the content, in order to understand the dynamics and significant trends in the sector itself. Interviews with freelancers working in the industry reveal that practitioners working in this area are very well educated, with over 59% of freelancers interviewed educated to degree level or higher and only 2% have no formal qualification at all.

Findings also show that funding from the domestic broadcasters is hugely important to the sector and is an essential component of the financial underpinning of the sector as a whole.
With the completion of this survey the IFB will now be looking to facilitate a sector wide Strategic Forum to assist the sector to produce a blueprint for the future policy in this industry for the next five years.

Review of Stranger Than Fiction Doc Festival


Stranger Than Fiction had a ‘Best Of Fest’ feel to it this year with all of the international films having previously screened at major festivals and most of them having shown at probably the world’s top doc festival, Hot Docs in Toronto.

The outstanding programme opened with The Yes Men Fix The World, a doc following the stunts of the Yes Men, two giddy political activists who pose as corporate spokesmen to create bizarre situations that make us question the ethics of the corporate world. It’s fun stuff, with an edge, and does exactly what many modern documentaries seek to do: please the crowd while making them think.

The international programme proved diverse and fascinating, both in subject material and tone. There were films about a heavy-drinking 53-year-old's attempt to swim the Amazon, the oldest newspaper columnist in the world, the export of Indian Hair, Pop Idol Afghani style and the story of the worst film ever made. And much much more.

But the stand-out film for me, and the one I’m still thinking about many weeks later, was Dear Zachary: A letter To A Son About His Father. In many ways I don’t want to say a thing about it other than, ‘find a way of seeing this amazing film.’ There are so many twists and turns in this enthralling plot that it is hard to say much without giving the game away. Essentially, it’s a filmmaker making a film about his murdered best friend to give to his unborn son when he arrives to tell him what a great guy his dad was. But it’s much more than that. The audience were gobsmacked. Buy the DVD.

While there were no Irish feature-length documentaries in the festival this year, there were a number of shorts. The Liberties – a programme of 14 shorts about the Liberties area of Dublin – sold out twice, proving there’s a definite hunger for Irish content among the festival-going crowd and it was certainly popular with the audience (for podcast with directors, see Film Ireland website). The festival also showed three short documentaries from the past about Irish communities abroad

In the shorts programme, the highly entertaining and perfectly judged Forty Foot proved you don’t need a giant budget to make a beautiful and engaging film and it was the favourite with both the audience and the judges.

Overall, a festival with many great stories told in a variety of ways and all very enjoyable.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What Albert Said

Writing about The Tudors reminded me of something that Albert Maysles said. The documentary maker is not a director or controller - more an author or observer.

I checked out his website http://www.mayslesfilms.com/

On it, he talks about what it is to be a documentary maker. I hope they don't mind if I quote below. May I clearly state that this is from the website http://www.mayslesfilms.com/ dedicated to one of the greatest documentary makers of all time and if you're into documentary you should check it out.


As a documentarian I happily place my fate and faith in reality. It is my caretaker, the provider of subjects, themes, experiences—all endowed with the power of truth and the romance of discovery. And the closer I adhere to reality the more honest and authentic my tales. After all, knowledge of the real world is exactly what we need to better understand and therefore possibly to love one another. It’s my way of making the world a better place.


1. Distance oneself from a point of view.
2. Love your subjects.
3. Film events, scenes, sequences; avoid interviews, narration, a host.
4. Work with the best talent.
5. Make it experiential, film experience directly, unstaged, uncontrolled.
6.There is a connection between reality and truth. Remain faithful to both.

Some Do's and Dont's

• Hold it steady.
• Use manual zoom, not the electronic.
• Read as much of the PD 170 manual as you can.
• Read book or chapter in a photography book on how to compose shots.
• Use the steady device that’s in the camera.
• Never use a tripod (exception: filming photographs, for example).
• You’ll get a steadier picture the more wide-angle the shot. In a walking shot go very wide angle.• Hold the beginning and end of each shot. The editor will need that.• Use no lights. The available light is more authentic.
• Learn the technique but equally important keep your eye open to watch the significant moment. Orson Welles: “The cameraman’s camera should have behind its lens the eye of a poet.”
• Remember, as a documentarian you are an observer, an author but not a director, a discoverer, not a controller.
• Don’t worry that your presence with the camera will change things. Not if you’re confident you belong there and understand that in your favor is that of the two instincts, to disclose or to keep a secret, the stronger is to disclose.
• It’s not “fly-on-the-wall”. That would be mindless. You need to establish rapport even without saying so but through eye contact and empathy.

A Day on The Tudors

A Day Following The Director on The Tudors
When exec producer Morgan O’Sullivan calmly leads me on to the set of The Tudors I’m immediately struck by the scale of things. It’s more people than I’ve ever seen on a set. But then, as somebody who devotes most of his time to documentaries, I haven’t been on that many sets.

I’m told it’s not the biggest production you’ll see but I’m still impressed by the number of people around and the amount of organization that goes into making the production run like a well oiled machine.

‘Machine’ is a word I hear frequently throughout my day on The Tudors - most of this team have been through a few series of the Tudors and a feature film together and they know very well what it takes to keeping the production moving. There’s a great atmosphere on set and people are immensely friendly, going out of their way to make me feel at home.

In the driving seat of the machine on this particular day is Ciaran Donnelly, the easy-going director of George Gently, Stardust, Proof and numerous other TV dramas. As I arrive, they’re picking up a scene from the previous evening. I immediately show my naivety by asking Ciaran if there’s much of a light difference overnight. He gives me a tour a few minutes later and I realise that the lovely natural light coming from outside is all lights and the trees outside the windows are blowing in the wind due to a fan.

In my own defence, drama is entirely new to me. My background is documentary and my preference is for observational documentary. Sometimes when making a documentary the best approach is to cede control, to let the action proceed naturally and not intervene in anyway. The notion of ‘direction’ is almost counter-intuitive - sometimes it is better not to direct at all.

I recently shot a three-minute short and a massive amount of prep went into it. I couldn’t help thinking that you have to have a completely different approach to how you control things in drama. When I say this to Ciaran, he says, “control is everything.”

Before each scene, Donnelly does a rehearsal with only the actors where they quietly work through the scene and the elements that concern them, then the first team (heads of department) will watch what he has in mind before communicating that through the ranks.

The mood is relaxed but this is presumably only the case because of all of the structures that are in place. A lot of preparation has gone into this and it very much feels like a team are working through a prearranged plan. Donnelly tells me that he will prepare three or four ways that a scene might work in advance before arriving on set.

Having said that, it is clear to see the creativity and collaboration unfold as the first team rehearses the scene. In a scene that involves a fight that breaks out during a card game, little elements are added every time they work through it. In this case, the suggestions add tremendously to the scene but it must be difficult sometimes to know which suggestions to listen to and which to ignore.

Two cameras are rolling simultaneously on each scene. The purpose of this is to pick off little story beats where available and Donnelly is on the lookout for little details that add to the story.

The second camera is used first to get reaction shots from a major character in a crowded scene. In another scene it’s used as a steadicam to give another option and in a third scene it’s a wider view of the tighter main camera. Donnelly watches them all carefully and chooses the ones he likes.

The Tudors is part-funded with Canadian money and Donnelly explains to me that the footage goes to Toronto for the edit. As I understand it, by the time he gets to the edit, it’s about 60-70 percent cut. He then does a cut for story and one for character and works out the best solution.

After spending the day on The Tudors, I have a much better understanding of the work that goes into a major drama like this. So much of it is preparation but a director must also be open to the little bits of magic that happen on the day.

Thanks to all on The Tudors and the folks at SDGI for making this available. It’s definitely an experience that helps you understand TV drama better.

Abolishing the Irish Film Board

Bord Snip has suggested abolishing the Film Board. I have a vested interest, yes, but I still feel that it is possible to put forward a pretty objective argument in favour of maintaining it.

I'll write about this more in the future but some of the reasons for keeping it are:

1. I think it brings in more money than it spends - tourists, jobs, foreign productions etc

2. In the long term, I feel that some of the young filmmakers breaking through now will go on to bigger things, which will lead to a stronger industry that provides more and more jobs.

3. It's important to our identity at home and abroad. Who are we? Who do we want to be? Do we want to live in a country shorn of all culture?

4. It doesn't actually cost us that much.

5. I went to Bruges recently. It was fantastic (not a shithole at all, Colin). Never would have gone if I hadn't seen the film. Lots of the locals have noticed a big increase of tourists since the film. My point is, movies make people go to countries and more than ever we need people to come to ours.

Anyway, here's an article from this weeks Sunday Tribune by Ferdia MacAnna - a wise and massively cultured head if ever there was one:

Ferdia MacAnna - "Abolishing the Irish Film Board would be a backward step and deeply impact on an industry that needs more time to find its identity"

Recently, a funny, quite scathing short film appeared on YouTube. Entitled 'Irish Film Board Parody', the clip roundly lampoons the Irish Film Board and its policies. It accuses the IFB of making plotless, meandering films about Dublin that contain tons of dialogue.

The parody savages the board's perceived obsession with winning awards at meaningless festivals such as 'The Backslapping Festival', 'The Vaingloria Festival' and 'The Milk Festival' (all obviously imaginary).

However, as George Bernard Shaw noted, "truth is the funniest joke of all". Anyone who has been turned down for film funding or who just doesn't like recent Irish movies may find much to savour in the 2.28 minutes of vitriol, at the end of which comes the following disclaimer:
"This video has been produced by a disgruntled Film Board rejectee and therefore all his opinions valid or otherwise can safely be discounted out of hand because he's just bitter".

At the moment the Irish Film Board has much more to worry about than some talented begrudger having a tilt on YouTube. The recent Bord Snip report recommends the abolition of the board, the winding-up of its investment funds and the transfer of its funds to Enterprise Ireland. If Bord Snip has its way, then the government will save about €19m and Ireland will lose a film board.

But the IFB is fighting back. Two weeks ago, it released a strong, passionate statement quoting a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers that valued Ireland's audiovisual industry at over half a billion euro per annum and indicated that it "offers permanent employment to over 6,000 people". The statement warns of the cultural consequences for the image of Ireland abroad should we abolish our film board:
"The projection of an image of a country, its people and its way of life onto the screens of the world pays direct dividends in terms of inward investment, trade in goods and services, and tourism. Almost one in two US tourists to Ireland now state that their decision to come was triggered by seeing Ireland in the movies."

Hang on. Let's rewind. "Almost" half of North American visitors to these shores come because of the portrayal of Ireland in movies? Says who? And which movies 'triggered' the decision? US releases for Irish films such as Once or Intermission? Or Americans who loved The Quiet Man or Darby O'Gill and the Little People and come seeking an Ireland that may only have existed in Hollywood? It couldn't have been Martin McDonagh's brilliant In Bruges (2007) which was set almost entirely in Belgium and apparently boosted tourism in Bruges by up to 20%.

Why don't more people know about this statistic? This country needs all the help it can get. If Irish movies can positively influence tourism, then surely we would be foolish to mess with the present system for the sake of a measly €20m.

Last week I emailed the IFB to find out the answers to these questions. I was surprised to receive no reply. So I followed up with a phone message. Again, no reply. Perhaps the person concerned was on holiday or maybe the board does not enter into discussions about its statements.

Or perhaps, it was more personal. After all, the present board has rejected two of my movie projects, possibly on the grounds that any feature film made by myself would be likely to put tourists off ever coming to this country.

Or maybe the IFB suspects that I am responsible for the YouTube parody. I am flattered but I swear I had nothing to do with it.

The whole business made me think about Irish cinema, and why a seemingly productive industry is now under threat.

Like most Irish people, I love movies. I still regularly go to the cinema and buy or rent DVDs. And I feel guilty for rarely getting much of a thrill out of Irish movies. We have excellent directors, crews and actors. But I can't recall the last time I got excited about going to see an Irish film. Irish films, by and large, seem to be aimed at the arthouse rather than a wide audience. If there were any recent Irish flicks aimed at children for example, then they didn't register with me or my kids. Ditto with regard to comedies or romcoms. In Bruges, my favourite comedy-thriller, didn't appear to have major IFB involvement.

We have talented writers, but often our movies seem more like visualised theatre plays – lots of talking heads and dialogue and not enough visual storytelling (maybe the IFB parody is spot on, after all). Richard Curtis, writer of the smash hit Four Weddings and a Funeral, has stated that it took over 14 drafts to get the screenplay right. Screenwriting is difficult and it needs time plus a lot of faith, as well as a bigger financial investment than perhaps the IFB is financially equipped to give.

Creating movies is expensive and time-consuming. I have no doubt that the IFB is doing a sincere and worthwhile job, though its recent output seems more appreciated abroad than at home. As a IFB rejectee, I should rejoice in its present difficulties. However, I believe that abolishing the present set-up would be a backward step and deeply impact on an industry that needs more time to find its identity, as well as an audience.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bye Bye Now - We're in the Edit

The phonebox project continues. Having travelled thousands of miles covering stories all over the country, we returned to Dublin to edit the film. From the many hours of footage and over 20 interviews we were to make a 12-minute documentary. Not easy at all.

We plunged headlong into the footage (well, Andrew our editor did) and picked out the best bits before deciding on a roadtrip jigsaw kindof structure to piece our stories together. So far, not bad. We're happy with how it's coming together and we got rough cut approval from the Irish Film Board, so now it's down to tweaking it as close to perfection as possible.

It has been an amazing experience making this film - we've had an amazing response from over 100 people and we've heard some great stories. It's been a challenge and sometimes a wrench choosing the stories that we're going to include and we hope people won't be disappointed. Hopefully it will go down well.

See you in Cork in November for the premiere!

Two New Podcasts

Here's two podcasts I did recently:

Ross Whitaker talks to Niall McKay, director of narrative documentary A Song for Dad, which airs on RTÉ 1 on Tuesday 4th August at 10.20pm. The film, which premiered in February at the Dublin International Film Festival, explores Niall’s relationship with his Jazz musician father, Jim, who in the 1970s raised his two young sons on his own in Dublin.
In this Film Ireland Web Exclusive, Niall talks about making a film which follows a very personal journey from the depths of suicide and depression to the heights of new beginnings, marriage proposals, and homecomings.

Ross Whitaker talks to Areaman Production’s Shane Hogan and Tom Burke about their documentary 'The Liberties' which premiered at the Stranger than Fiction documentary festival at the IFI on Sunday 21st June 2009. 'The Liberties' is a series of 15 short films showing the history, everyday life and the sense of community in this historical area of Dublin. Shane and Tom talk about how the original idea came about, the equipment used on the shoot, the reaction of the people involved to the screening and future projects. 'The Liberties' will be screened in the IFI on Sunday 2nd August at 1pm and the makers hope to have a 52-minute version broadcast on television in the future.

Ken Wardrop's Feature Debut

Ken Wardrop - director of the award-winning short Undressing My Mother - has completed his first feature-length film. It's called His & Hers and has already received an award at the Galway Film Fleadh. I met Ken before Galway to talk about the experience of making a longer film after creating numerous shorter films...

Short is Sweet, Feature is Sweeter
Spotlight on His and Hers

When I meet Ken Wardrop to discuss his new film I find him to be refreshingly honest, unassuming, intelligent and very likeable. He is, indeed, very much like his films.

Until now, Wardrop has made a habit of creating award-winning short documentaries that combine incredibly candid interviews with sumptuous visuals. He’s best known, of course, for Undressing My Mother, the hugely successful short film in which his mother explores her feelings about her body and her relationship with her late husband.

It is not even five years since Undressing My Mother debuted at the Cork Film Festival in 2004 where it screened along with six other films by Wardrop. I remember hearing at the time that the festival had given him a special programme because he had submitted seven films of rare quality. Back then it seemed unusual but having seen most of those films in the meantime it seems more than justified.

Now, five years on, and several short films later, Wardrop is embarking on a new stage in his filmmaking career with his first feature-length film, His and Hers. For anyone that has seen the bulk of Wardrop’s work to date, the style will be recognisable - Wardrop has taken what he has done before and applied it to the longer form. Like his shorts, the film has a wonderful honesty, a sense of fun and a touch of class.

Produced by Andrew Freedman, His and Hers explores woman’s relationship with man by visiting moments from the lives of 70 female characters. Shot in the hallways, living rooms and kitchens of the Irish Midlands, the story moves sequentially from young to old to deliver a unique and touching insight into sharing life’s journey. Where previously Wardrop undressed his mother, now he’s undressing the entire midlands.

I would call it ‘a confident debut’ if I hadn’t met Wardrop to discuss the film. He’s nervous. Who wouldn’t be? It’s only normal to be anxious when you are about to enter the less forgiving world of feature filmmaking. Where a short can hide amongst a programme of peers, a feature must survive on its own. Swim or sink. It would be very surprising if this film doesn’t stay afloat.

“As a filmmaker, I want to be taking risks. But I want them to be baby risks. So the idea was to try to use my style in the feature format, which I think is a risk in itself because it could be that the short film particularly suits me. I think a short filmmaker who has had success might start to think, ‘is this what I’m good at? Why is that this particular format suits me?’”

“It’s a new chapter and we want to learn as we go. The film has already far exceeded my expectations. We’ve had a good reaction from the people that have seen it so far. It’s my first feature and a low budget project, so it’s important to learn from it.”

The film is another tribute to the Catalyst Project in that Wardrop and his producer, Andrew Freedman, had originally tried to make the project through the scheme but decided to go ahead anyway when they weren’t selected for funding.

“Catalyst brought all of the people together who probably should have been making features but hadn’t for whatever reason and maybe because they didn’t have a specific deadline. It brought all of these people together and gave them a deadline, gave them training and encouragement to just go for it. They were offering 250k and they were open-minded to whatever kind of film you wanted to make.”

“The whole process really got us thinking and, of course, I’m shy about writing drama anyway, and I came up with the idea for His and Hers. And Andrew really pushed me to do it. We were shortlisted and got great feedback and that really put the wind under our wings, so to speak. Then we didn’t get it and we were really disappointed because we thought we’d done a really good pitch. ”

After Catalyst, Wardrop and Freedman continued to talk to the Irish Film Board about possible funding and are very complimentary about the support they received from the IFB and production executive Alan Maher. In the end, they decided to go for micro budget funding and went into production with 100k to make the film.

Because of the success of Wardop’s short films, one imagines that there will be great international interest in his new feature but the director feels that the nature of the film might militate against some festivals taking it on.

“One of the things about the film is that it’s a very wordy film and that might affect it in terms of international festivals. You can’t escape the fact that there are a lot of Irish people in the film who are speaking incredibly quickly. I was thinking of subtitling the film in English but a lot of the time there would be three lines of subtitles on screen and I was thinking, ‘nobody can read that fast’.”

His and Hers is yet to have a public screening but it has already received a stamp of approval. Just days before we meet the film won the SDGI Directors Finders Series, which will provide Wardrop with the opportunity to showcase His and Hers in Los Angeles in front of an invited audience of American distributors, filmmakers, and key industry personnel, with the aim of securing a US distribution deal.

But first, it’s off to Galway, where His and Hers will premiere in July.