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Fall in Ireland’s fortunes could mean a happy ending for Scottish movie industry

Category: Burns News
Article Date: July 11, 2004 | Publication: Sunday Herald | Author: John Phelps

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Scotland’s film industry is cashing in on a dramatic slide in the attraction of Ireland as a target for inward investment in a reversal of the situation that saw chunks of Braveheart filmed across the water a few years ago.
The plight of the Irish industry was highlighted in the Dail (Irish parliament) recently when Jimmy Deenihan of the Fine Gael Party pressed for the government to take action to boost its competitiveness.

“Surely, the fact that no feature film has been shot in Ireland in the first six months of 2004 makes its own statement,” he said.

High wage costs and the strength of the euro are cited as the main factors that have led a number of international film-makers to abandon plans to film in the republic.

Independent producer Andrew Boswell of The Mob Film Company admits he had considered Ireland as a possible site for a $10 million (£5.4m) film on Robert Burns before plumping for twin locations in Ayrshire and Edinburgh.

“The figures looked quite attractive and had to be considered when we first looked into the project some years ago,” he said. “But production costs are now expensive over there and we have all the expertise we could want in Scotland, which is the natural home for the project.”

Scottish Screen, financed by the Scottish Executive, is taking advantage of the Irish downturn through its website, which offers about 50,000 shots of Scottish landscapes and architecture and advises on crews and funding for producers trawling the world for locations.

Past coups include a joint move with the Glasgow Film Office to invest £250,000 in George Clooney’s production company as an incentive to film The Jacket in Bathgate, bringing a cash injection of £2.6m into the local economy.

At the same time Scottish Screen has been able to build up its financial muscle through the success of investments in acclaimed films such as Young Adam, Sweet Sixteen and Morvern Callar, resulting in a further £1m flowing back to its coffers this year in addition to its £3.5m National Lottery funding and £2.6m from the Scottish Executive.

Part of that cash is earmarked for the new film about Burns, starring Gerard Butler, which is due to start filming next March, and Scottish Screen is also joining forces with the BBC and ContentFilm to fund three low-budget feature films for about £3.6m.

The Fast Forward Features funding is available to teams of Scottish-based writers, producers and directors and follows the success of a similar scheme for short films under the Tartan Shorts name.

A major hope for the future, though, centres on plans by directors of ContentFilm group to use their vast experience to build up their presence in Scotland.

The group, headed by Americans Ed Pressman (producer of Wall Street and American Psycho) and financial expert John Schmidt, has already signed up worldwide sales rights for the Burns film and is now eager to initiate its own productions.

Despite its big hopes, however, the company has proved a disappointment since floating on the London Stock Exchange through a reverse take-over of Winchester Entertainment earlier this year, and the shares have slipped to new lows of around 19p, which values the whole business at only £12m.

Figures due on Wednesday could show losses of as much as £10m as a result of re- organisations and restructuring as the new board clears the decks for future expansion.

One follower said: “The group has built up its cash flow since the end of the financial year through the acquisition of an American home video and DVD business, and is now in a healthier state than those figures might indicate. I’d expect further news on the production side in the US and Scotland, although the nature of the film business means that benefits will take time to flow through.”

The company’s house brokers at Evolution Beeson Gregory predict just £100,000 profits in the current year, rising to about £2.5m in the year to March 2006. Independent producers also hoping for an early sales boost include the Ayrshire film studio Palm Tree UK, which released another Burns film, Red Rose, and the thriller Rain Dogs at Cannes, while Shona Auerbach’s weepy Dear Frankie opens at the US box office in October after being taken under the wing of the giant Miramax.


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