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Tuesday 25 June 2019

Irish Film Board may open new LA office after Star Wars sites have world impact

Skellig Michael, home to one of Europe's better known but least accessible monasteries. The word 'Scellic' means a steep rock. Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan
Skellig Michael, home to one of Europe's better known but least accessible monasteries. The word 'Scellic' means a steep rock. Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan
An aerial shot of Skellig Michael, which has six beehive huts situated almost at the summit of the 230-metre-high rock. Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan
The monastic Island of Skellig Michael was founded in 588 by Saint Fionán - for 600 years the island was a centre of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. It's a main location for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the second film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

THE success of Star Wars: The Last Jedi has prompted the Irish Film Board (IFB) to consider reopening its Los Angeles office after the interest the film generated in its locations here.

The IFB hopes an LA base will help to entice more Hollywood producers to shoot blockbusters in Ireland.

The California office was shut in 2012 due to funding cuts and changing priorities.

But IFB head James Hickey insists a presence there is vital to ensure Ireland remains on international producers' radars.

"LA is a very important place," he said. "A final decision has yet to be made about an LA office.


"It's important to ensure Ireland is at the front of people's consideration when they look at where they might shoot feature films, TV dramas, feature animation or anything that would increase production activity".

Niall Gibbons, Tourism Ireland's chief executive believes 2017's record tourism revenue of over €5.78billion is partly down to the "Star Wars draw".

The publicity the film gave landscapes such as the Skelligs and Malin Head - and the tax break afforded by Section 481 - should continue to pique interest in Ireland.

"Star Wars has been a wonderful film for Ireland to benefit from," Mr Hickey added, "from the filming and employment that took place during production to the world impact and recognition".

Some people were distressed that the Skelligs, one of our most precious early Christian sites, was used merely as an exotic backdrop to a Hollywood sci-fi tale.

However, when asked if the impetus in reopening an office in Hollywood was to find the "next Star Wars", Mr Hickey replied: "Short answer? Yes."

Over the last five years, the Irish film industry has gone from strength to strength.

It currently employs more 7,000 full-time job equivalents and is valued at over half a billion euros in annual turnover.

On the international stage, Ireland's reputation for producing fine film-makers has also soared.

Previously, getting a Golden Globe or Oscar nomination was a rarity. Now, it has become almost commonplace.

In 2017, actress Ruth Negga, costume designer Consolata Boyle and Irish co-production The Lobster were all in the running for an Oscar.

It seems almost inevitable that next year, actress Saoirse Ronan, Irish animation The Breadwinner and director Martin McDonagh will all make top awards shortlists.

In addition, in order to address issues of gender inequality in Ireland's film and TV industry, the IFB has launched a number of schemes to encourage female film-makers.

It introduced a six-point gender equality plan in 2015 and has launched incentives for female writers, directors and producers to develop films.

By offering financial grants for female-driven projects, the board believes production companies will actively seek out female voices and stories.

The IFB has also worked with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), guilds and producers to explore issues of unconscious bias.

"Women have always been interested in pushing themselves forward and in getting their voices heard on the screen," said IFB chair Annie Doona. "But I think maybe the board coming forward and saying we are encouraging this gave an extra impetus."

In 2018, the IFB hopes the number of diverse voices increases. This year, the board received a budget increase of €1.5m, a 9pc hike, which brings the total to just over €14m.

However, while the IFB acknowledges that this is a substantial amount, it insists it has to return to the pre-recession funding of €20m to properly utilise the creative potential of the industry.

Does the board have any idea how long that may take?

"Good question," replied Mr Hickey and Ms Doona in unison.

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