The film island

John Gleeson John Gleeson

Ireland is open for business for major international film and TV productions.

The growth and evolution of the Irish film industry over the last quarter of a century has been little short of remarkable. In just 25 years this country has grown a vibrant film industry from almost nothing. Even more noteworthy is the international success and recognition achieved by the sector with Irish productions regularly featuring among Oscar and Golden Globe nominations as well as on the rolls of honour of the great European film festivals.

This is not only down to home-grown stars like Ruth Negga, it is the result of the combined efforts the more than 6,000 hugely talented and creative professionals who together make up Ireland’s film and audio-visual production sector.

The existence of that sector combined with some other key factors has made Ireland an ideal location for international film and TV production. Indeed, the sighting of a Star Wars Stormtrooper near Malin Head, Co Donegal last year is proof, if any were needed, that Hollywood is alive to Ireland’s attractions.

The breath-taking scenery and availability of a huge variety of landscapes for location filming is a great natural advantage for the country – even if you can’t depend on the weather as David Lean found to his frustration. But the best locations in the world will count for little if the finances don’t stack up.

And the financial component is certainly in place thanks to the incentives made available by the Irish government under Section 481 of the tax code. Section 481 is intended to act as a stimulus to the growth of film in Ireland. The scheme provides direct support to film production companies in the form of a corporation tax credit at a rate of 32 per cent of the cost of production of certain films.

The 32 per cent incentive applies to all production costs above and below the line. Above the line means all direct expenses associated with the production while below the line includes all other production expenditure including catering supplies and so on. The production company receives the incentive in the form of a cash rebate based on a notional overpayment of Corporation Tax.

Very importantly, the incentive doesn’t have any hidden strings attached. There is no requirement to make the whole or even the majority of the film in Ireland – expenditure incurred on shooting part of a film here can qualify as well. For example, Star Wars Episode 8 was a three to four week shoot and it qualified for the incentive.

In addition, there are other tax planning strategies which can be used to maximise the benefit of locating in Ireland as an increment to the incentive. For example, if a producer sets up an Irish based company and distributes the film out of Ireland they can benefit from Ireland’s very competitive 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate on profits as well as the 32 per cent incentive.

One of the issues which some of the major producers had with Ireland over the years was a concern in relation to the availability of crew and other professionals. This is clearly no longer valid and much praise should go the Irish Film Board for the marvellous work it has done over the years in nurturing Irish creative talent and artistic excellence.

That work has borne fruit in the form of a mature audio-visual sector with a top notch skills base along with world class crews and studios.

Of course, things can always be better and more studios and sound stages would be a start. That said, Northern Ireland boasts several state of the art facilities while there are a number of projects at the planning stage in the Republic which should bring a significant improvement in the near term.

A greater focus by government and other stakeholders on marketing this country’s considerable strengths to international producers, particularly in the US, would also be helpful. The benefits which productions like Vikings and Penny Dreadful have brought this country not only in economic terms but in their contribution to the skills and experiential base of the native industry is nigh on incalculable.

This quite compelling mix of talent, skills, facilities, location and incentives means that Ireland is sure to attract a growing number of large film and TV productions from Los Angeles and elsewhere. In response to this, Grant Thornton has developed a service to cater specifically for the international film and TV production industry.

Our experience within the media industry is unrivalled in the Irish marketplace having raised more than €600 million equity for productions over the years. The 15 strong team has worked on over 500 projects in the last 10 years handling some 70 per cent of all Section 481 tax applications and compliance audits for the Irish film industry in the process.

Everyone wins when a Star Wars comes to Ireland. The producers gain through a fabulous location, a world class local talent pool, and an incentive scheme acknowledged as the best in Europe. Ireland gains through the direct spending in this country plus the international exposure gained when the film or TV series is released. And the Irish industry wins in innumerable ways just by having the opportunity to work with the very best in the world.