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'i wish we had the money that we had back in 2008'

SLASHED funding, tightening budgets and increasing competition from Tinsel Town – life isn't easy for Irish filmmakers and producers.

But despite the obstacles, cuts and recession, film-making in Ireland is flourishing.

Frank, What Richard Did, Hardy Bucks, The Guard, Calvary – all these movies have or will premiere at distinguished film festivals around the world from Sundance to The Toronto International Film Festival.

According to James Hickey, head of the Irish Film Board, Irish filmmakers and actors are fighting 'the good fight' and have entered a golden age of Irish cinema.

"The wealth of Irish talent is outstanding. In terms of acting we have Jack Reynor, we have Saoirse Ronan, there are the Peter Coonans, the Tom Vaughan-Lawlors," he said.

"The contingent of Irish actors out there is exceptionally strong. They stand up both internationally and locally. They're striding the world stage.

"It's not just actors. Our directors, our animation teams, our documentaries – we're definitely in a golden age of Irish film and TV."

MONEY

James took up his post as head of the IFB two years ago.

"I wish we had the money we had in 2008," he says.

"But we have all had to accept reduction in salaries, in costs, in budgets, its part of the real world.

"I came in knowing I was going to have to really fight to maximise the best of what we had. But I've always had the glass half full approach."

And that fight seems to have paid off.

In 2013, the IFB spent €7.5m on projects for the big and small screen, compared to €10m in 2012, as a result of government cutbacks.

However, with investment from non-EU talent this resulted in the independent film, TV and animation sector contributing over €168m into the Irish economy.

"It's a good news story in an otherwise very bleak economy," James admits.

The dad of two started out his career working alongside Jim Sheridan in Project Arts Centre.

"He was the director of plays at the theatre and I was the theatre manager," he said.

"That was my first PAYE job and I feel that garnered me for the world."

After several years working at Project, James moved into the world of entertainment law.

"I've worked on everything; the mad, the bad and the sad as they would say. I worked with Jim on My Left Foot and The Field.

"I worked on Riverdance – God bless it. I've also worked on TV shows for RTE throughout the years.

"I did a lot of work in the music business in the 1980s, and that stayed with me.

MUSIC

"I am particularly keen on using Irish produced music in Irish films. The score is a vital part of any film and using Irish music grounds it here."

Despite being immersed in the world of reels and clapper boards, James says she had no desire to man a camera or write a script.

"I'm not a director and I'm not a writer. I always enjoyed being involved in the activity but in a management way," he said.

This year is shaping up to be a very exciting one for Irish film; short animation The Missing Scarf has received an Oscar nomination, Ken Loach's final feature Jimmy's Hall is in post production and Brendan Gleeson's Calvary and Frank are already creating a stir in the international market.

"We're trying to get different voices and different types of film being produced as possible," he said.

"I'm particularly excited about three Irish films coming down the track because they are so different.

"We have Calvary; Brendan Gleeson playing a good priest. Frank; a wonderful piece of creative writing about creativity – it's a magnificently wrought film.

"And then you have The Stag which is a group of five lads on a stag weekend. It' a wonderful piece of ensemble acting – fun and funny."

Ironically, the biggest struggle Irish film faces is at the Irish box office. Punters prefer to spend their hard earned cash on glossy US films than independent Irish flicks. "The challenge at the box office will always be a relentless thing," James says. "If you look at the top five films; two or three are children's animation films from Hollywood," he said.

"There's little we can do about it, short of making $150m (€110m) children's film and then spending another $150m (€110m) promoting it on the world stage."

"It is a challenge but The Guard overcame that and so did Hardy Bucks.

"What Richard Did got nearly 500,000 at the box office and when it was shown on RTE it pulled in an audience over 350,000. So Irish audiences definitely watch Irish films."

The Irish film industry suffered an €8m loss this year and it was a particular blow when it was announced that series such as BBC drama Ripper Street had been pulled.

"It's sad news," James says. "But we've faced this before; Camelot was a major TV series which started in 2010 and was axed after the first series."

"That's the hazard of the TV business; if you don't get the ratings, you don't get the ratings."

VIEWERS

Ripper Street was cancelled after viewers chose to tune into I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here Now! instead of the Victorian drama.

"At least Irish talent was being promoted," James says playfully. "Laura Whitmore was a host and Kian Egan won, so something has to be said for that."

Managing the finances of Ireland's film industry is a tough gig, but James seems content in his job.

"The best part is watching the movies," he says.

What's big at the box office for 2014: See Page 19


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