Friday 15 December 2017

Producing duo in their element as they look to build on a stellar last 12 months

With their films winning praise and a host of Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe reveal to Barry Hartigan why things are looking up for Ireland's film and TV industry

Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe of Element Pictures. Photo: David Conachy
Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe of Element Pictures. Photo: David Conachy

Barry Hartigan

It will be difficult for television and film producers Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe to beat the year they had in 2016. 'Room', the film directed by Lenny Abrahamson and produced by their firm Element Pictures, received four Academy Award nominations. The worldwide box office take was €34.9m on a reported budget of €12.4m.

Another of their productions, 'The Lobster', starring Colin Farrell, received huge critical acclaim.

"It was a good one as it's not every year you get four Oscar nominations and you get to go to the ceremony, so it was a great year for Element," Guiney said. "'Room' exceeded all our expectations, but the big surprise for us this year was 'The Lobster'.

"We shot that before 'Room' and it was sold to an American distributor with a release date in May, but we got a call in February to say the distributor had gone bust. We managed to sell it to another company, A24, which also released 'Room', and it got it out quickly in the US where it went on to do $10m (€9.6m).

"Now as a result of that success we are featuring again in this year's award season with Colin's performance and his Golden Globe nomination."

The Oscars nominations were a high last year, but it hasn't all been light for the Irish movie business. The industry is still recovering from the cuts imposed on the Irish Film Board's budget during the recession, but Lowe feels overall, it is in a good position.

"I think the film and TV business here is in a very healthy state. We're probably making the same amount of films that were made 10 years ago, but the impact that those films are having now, particularly internationally, is quiet remarkable," he said.

"It's very challenging as the Film Board has had its funding halved over the last eight years and it's still a tough environment to make films here. The broadcasters don't spend a lot of money on film, but what Irish producers, writers and directors are good at is working with international talent and international finance and you can see that in the amount of films that have gotten distribution abroad."

The company also makes TV dramas and has enjoyed success with garda soap 'Red Rock' which it produces for TV3. The show has sold internationally, which the pair did not initially expect.

"We were surprised at the numbers of viewers when it was transmitted in the UK and the fact it was sold to Amazon Prime in the US was also a surprise," Guiney said. "I don't know that there has been an Irish drama that has sold quite as well in a long time. The BBC has become very important to the show and while we made it primarily for an Irish audience but with very good writing at the centre of it meant that other people were happy to watch it."

On the subject of television, Guiney said that the plan by RTÉ to outsource its children's show could be positive for his sector.

"I think the fact that there could be more work happening in the independent sector is a good thing, but the important thing is that the quality of the output for young people and children is maintained. There is every reason to believe that those programmes will be well made by the independent sector. Look at our animation companies who are producing incredible, world-beating content," he said.

"What you are seeing is hopefully a transfer of resources out of RTÉ into the independent sector and as independent producer we would probably believe there is better value to be had in our sector of the business and that maybe your euro goes further, but that's a particular point of view and you could easily talk to someone in RTÉ who mightn't agree."

The pair make all of the company's key decisions together, but Lowe takes care of the financing. Commenting on the improved Section 481 tax scheme, which offers generous incentives to projects made here, he said: "It's extremely useful, there's no doubt. It's a very well designed scheme which is generous and it's therefore attractive from an overseas producer's point of view. It's kind of the lynch-pin behind a lot of the growth we've seen in the sector over the years, so from that point of view it's absolutely crucial."

He welcomed the fact that scheme has been put on a longer-term footing.

"Almost as important as having a good incentive is having a stable environment for film funding, so the important thing about 481 is it's been around in one guise or another since the mid-1980s and that sort of long-term commitment is really crucial as it allows people to plan ahead. The thing that will secure the future of all studios in Ireland either present or future is having a stable and long-term tax credit in place and that seems to be the Government's plan," he said.

The improved section 481 breaks have led to new activity in the area of studio space. Ardmore Studios in Wicklow is up for sale, while the new Troy Studios in Limerick has ambitious plans to attract big productions. There are also plans for a new studio on Dublin's Poolbeg Peninsula.

"I think Ardmore is still fit for purpose and we would be very keen to see it stay as a studio," Guiney said. "What's obvious at the moment is there's such a boom in content production internationally and one of the things that has been a limiting factor in getting productions to come to Ireland is the availability of studios. So seeing what is being attempted down in the docklands is great and I really hope that happens. It's also very much in our interest that Limerick builds as a production base.

"What we've got here is great crews, English speaking and people like to come to Ireland and we have so many positives. The thing we always feel though and one thing we have to be careful of is the fact that we don't become a giant facilities house for the world - just inviting other people to come here and make their films. That's why the dual strategy of attracting inward investment but also investing in local talent is absolutely crucial."

Looking to the future, Element has its sight set on foreign markets.

"Although we're an Irish-based company, we're making films for the international market and that's something that's very important to us. That we stay here working with Irish talent, but also that we can flex our muscles internationally and do more work abroad and that's certainly something we want to continue to do with Lenny," Guiney said.

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