Oscar-nominated director Lenny Abrahamson's recent calls on the Dáil to start funding and involving itself in the Irish film industry are one of many in Ireland's artistic community.
Last year was an unprecedented one for Ireland's film industry. Room and Brooklyn managed to make it all the way to the Academy Awards, whilst John Carney's Sing Street is already hotly tipped for next year. For those who work in the industry, this is no surprise. It's been a slow build and a slog to get there and, more than anything, government involvement has been negligible at best - save for whenever there's a photo opportunity. There's a real opportunity for the Irish government to build up on the long years of work put in by filmmakers, but it's currently being squandered by short-sighted policies or ambivalence.
Let's cut this down to brass tacks - money, basically. There's tons of it to be made. All the Dáil needs to do is get its act together and start working with people rather than letting it coast by itself.
When Peter Jackson, signed on to direct the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he specifically chose his home country of New Zealand to double as Middle-Earth. He moved the majority of his production to the country and set about using the incredible and lush landscapes and put electricians, builders, carpenters, designers, technicians and even farm-hands to work on the film. When told of this plan, the New Zealand government rowed in behind Jackson and the production.
They even appointed a cabinet-level minister - Pete Hodsgon, whose portfolio also included Energy, Science, Research and Technology - to help Jackson's production because they knew that the film would have an incredible knock-on effect on the economy. In the first instance, Lord of the Rings would employ a huge number of people - especially in rural areas - with stable, well-paid work. Many of the technicians who worked on Lord of the Rings would then have experience of working on a film set that could be used for later productions. Once production was complete, New Zealand would have a strong, well-trained workforce of technical crews who could be put to use on future films. A production budget of £300 million was spent on Lord of the Rings, almost all of that staying in New Zealand. Jackson even set up Weta Digital, a CGI studio, specifically for Lord of the Rings. It's now one of the most well-known in the entire industry. In the second instance, you have Tolkien tourism. The effect that Lord of the Rings has had on New Zealand's tourist industry is nothing short of mind-blowing. New Zealand saw a 50% increase in tourist figures since Lord of the Rings hit cinemas, accounting for an annual increase of approximately €24,000,000 in revenue for the government. It further cemented New Zealand's reputation as a tourist destination.
Think what would happen if the Irish government actually worked with Lucasfilm on Skellig Micheal, Ceann Sibeal and Malin Head. If the right subsidies were given to attract international productions, the likes of Ardmore Studios could be expanded to rival Pinewood. Titanic Studios in Belfast is currently on its way to a 20,000 square foot extension that will mean more space for bigger productions. In the Harland and Wolff shipyards where the studios are currently based, there's over 2,000 acres that can be used to build upon and expanded upon. Ireland has a huge amount of advantages for film production companies, not the least of which is native English and a huge range of highly-skilled construction workers who can be put to work on set-building and design.
It doesn't have to be just large-scale productions, of course. The work that directors such as John Carney, the aforementioned Abrahamson, Paddy Breathanach, Ciaran Foy, Conor Horgan and Dearbhla Walsh have done with minimal help from the Irish government is incredible. There's countless other directors, actors, writers, designers, artists and technicians who have recognised that their fortunes are better served by leaving Ireland and working elsewhere than staying here. With the right funding, the rightb backing and an involved, committed arts policy, the Irish film industry could flourish even further. With the right levels of funding and support that nurtured our filmmaking talent, instead of providing training so they can leave, Ireland could create a film industry to rival any other nation.
All you need to do is look at the success its had without help from the Dáil and think what could happen if there was an arts policy that actually backed the industry.