Monday 17 June 2019

Screen body out to rewrite script for homegrown Irish TV dramas

'Challenge is to develop indigenous sector' after international success

At the launch of the Fis Eireann/Screen Ireland 2019 Slate of Productions Irish Film 2019 in Dublin are, Fis Eireann/Screen Ireland CEO James Hickey
At the launch of the Fis Eireann/Screen Ireland 2019 Slate of Productions Irish Film 2019 in Dublin are, Fis Eireann/Screen Ireland CEO James Hickey

Michael Cogley

Ireland's homegrown television drama industry is under pressure. On the one hand, a number of international TV shows are produced here, from Vikings to Penny Dreadful to Netflix's upcoming Nightflyers.

On the other hand, the indigenous, homegrown sector is still feeling the effects of an economic crisis that put severe strain on the country's broadcasters.

Travis Fimmel as Ragnath Lothbrok in the hit series Vikings
Travis Fimmel as Ragnath Lothbrok in the hit series Vikings

While more and more mega-budget shows and films make their way to the island of Ireland, small screen homegrown drama has found it difficult to break through.

Screen Ireland, formerly the Irish Film Board, changed its name to show that it represented more than just movies. The development agency's outgoing chief executive James Hickey said there were difficulties for Irish television drama.

"We are involved in major international TV dramas. The challenge has been to develop the indigenous TV drama sector and that's where we're now working closely with the broadcasters," he said. "It is an area, which somewhere during the bad times, lost its way. We need to renew the commitment to indigenous TV drama production."

Hickey said that the agency has been working closely with the likes of RTE and Virgin Media. He maintains that it is more important to develop a sustainable relationship with the broadcasters rather than to produce a one-off hit show like Love/Hate.

"The public service broadcasters had suffered as a result of the very significant challenges they faced, and reduced their commitment to TV drama during the last eight to 10 years. There is a willingness to reverse that," he said.

Outside of the revival of TV drama, Screen Ireland is also liaising with numerous parties to increase the level of studio space available to the country's creatives. Issues around state-aid rules mean that funding such a project is more complex.

The organisation is in conversations with the owners of existing studios in relation to expansion, but Hickey said that entirely new studio space is also being explored. He said that any investment into studio infrastructure must be made through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (Isif).

Isif is an €8.9bn government-controlled fund tasked with investing on behalf of the country on a commercial basis, as well as to support economic activity. "The best I can say is that we're working with a number of people in relation both the expansion of existing sites and potential new developments," Hickey said.

"There is a huge demand for studio space. We are trying to deal with the demand by adding to the supply. There are lots of propositions out there."

Annie Doona, the chairman of Screen Ireland, also outlined the agency's plans to introduce commitments from those claiming money. Production businesses that seek investment from Screen Ireland will also need to make commitments around dignity in the workplace as well as bullying and harassment. "It's about saying the industry has to change and I think there's a business case for that," she said.

Sunday Indo Business

Also in Business