Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Why it's a golden era for Northern Ireland film-makers

The creative industries here are enjoying something of a resurgence and a venture capital firm specialising in the arts is poised to invest in new talent.

The Fall - Picture Shows: DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) and Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan)
Avatar

With the success of productions like BBC serial killer drama The Fall, filmed in and set in Belfast, and HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones, much of which is shot and produced in Northern Ireland, the creative industries sector is currently a major talking point.

While these islands have always been known for producing talent in music, theatre and art, the creative industries also embrace computer game development, advertising and design as well as TV and film production.

And with Northern Ireland cited as a new hub for the sector thanks to low operating costs and its proximity to London, there are plenty of opportunities for further growth.

Now Ingenious Ventures, the venture capital (VC) division of investment group Ingenious, is offering Northern Ireland's creative genuises a share of a £2.25m investment bonanza, having already invested in Canutus & Redbridge Productions, which helped make The Fall.

Starring Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan (pictured on the front cover), the gripping series is already pencilled in for a second season. Ingenious Ventures' director Patrick Bradley vows that they don't want to turn creatives into accounts but emphasises that companies and individuals in the sector do need business knowledge to thrive.

Its seed investment programme aims to make 15 separate investments of £150,000 into media and creative industries across the UK by September. And successful firms could be in line for more funding of up to £1m from Ingenious Ventures' Enterprise Investment Scheme as early as January next year.

Belfast was the first on the list of cities that the Ingenious team has visited as part of a UK-wide roadshow, and Mr Bradley said that there were more applications for funding from Northern Ireland than from any other location on the tour.

The company interviewed around six firms at the offices of Northern Ireland Screen in Belfast.

As well as those specialising in film, television and music, the team has been meeting firms from the consumer tech, e-commerce, gaming, fashion, design, audio-visual content and publishing worlds.

Mr Bradley said that he was impressed by the level of talent on offer and said that there is no reason why Northern Ireland can't compete with world leaders in many different parts of the sector.

"In this sector, you can make a relatively low investment and get a good return," he said. "The UK has always had a reputation for having a lot of creative people and the time is right to try and develop a competitive edge. There are already tax breaks and incentives on offer and support organisations like Northern Ireland Screen.

"But the money has to go to the right place -- Northern Ireland Screen deals with taxpayers' money and people want to see the benefits.

"In terms of film and television, to bring crews to Northern Ireland, to pay salaries, to run productions, is going to be a lot cheaper to do in Northern Ireland than in London or LA.

"But we have to remember that in this sector, talent is mobile and the English language is not the be-all and end-all. Look at the success of the Pop Idol format all across the world. Pop Idol is not like ship-building, it's an idea, a license that has been sold.

"It doesn't involve huge amounts of infrastructure or buildings to invest in, we don't have to build a factory, it can be tailored to any country or culture and it's turned out to be a global smash hit."

Cultural phenomena can cross borders and continents, he said. "We see the popularity of the Scandinavian crime series on television and in music, we look at things like the Gangnam Style song from South Korea and this sector crosses all sorts of barriers. There is no monopoly.

"What we would like to do is to create a hub. Clusters are already forming around the UK and put these regions on the map -- like in Manchester and Wales where there are big BBC bases and indeed Belfast, where more and more companies are coming to film.

"When there are big headline-grabbing productions or developments, companies will gravitate towards them and the supply chain can also benefit.

"As well as the big productions, there is a lot of entrepreneurial activity. Everyone who comes out of university now wants to be an entrepreneur and these people need just as much support."

Parent group Ingenious has invested over £8bn in creative products and businesses -- from box office hits such as Avatar and Life of Pi to Simon Fuller's 19 Entertainment and Cream, the global dance music operator.

Ingenious also funded London-based Whizz Kid Entertainment, which last year produced a 90-minute prime-time event broadcast across the UK to commemorate the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912.

Mr Bradley, who comes from a legal background, added that regional programming from the BBC, which has devolved a lot of television programming to the regions, has also been a huge boost for the television sector.

He said that looking at music, while the major record labels are suffering as a result of piracy and a decline in album sales, small independent artists are thriving.

"People are buying singles as opposed to albums and smaller artists are just going ahead and putting their own material out independently," he said.

"All it needs is for a good tune to catch on -- just as Gangnam Style went viral."

Mr Bradley said that in order for the creative industries to thrive, companies and individuals need to display business knowledge alongside creative talent.

"We're not trying to turn creative people into accountants," he said.

"We need good business cases, we need good business brains, there is no point in having an amazing idea and then not being able to sell it or make it profitable. Having said that, we are a very hands-off team in terms of input -- there are five of us involved in the venture capital side and we give guidance on making profits and returns as opposed to getting involved with the content side of things. But we do need people with business skills in order to make ideas work."

Creative industries sector worth £329m and employs 21,000 people

In the latest Creative Industries Economic Estimates, Northern Ireland, Experimental Statistics from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), it emerged that in 2011, the estimated number of business units in the creative industries sector was 1,375, representing 2% of all business units in Northern Ireland. All the figures are the latest available. There was no change in the total number of creative businesses between 2010 and 2011 in either absolute or in relative terms.

Almost a third (31%) of all creative industries in Northern Ireland in 2011 were in the architecture sector. Design accounted for 17% of businesses in 2011, while advertising and music and visual and performing arts accounted for 15% and 14% respectively. In terms of contribution to the economy, Gross Value Added for the creative industries was £329m in 2009, while the number of people employed was estimated at 21,000

From property to dance music...some of ingenious venture's projects

Digital Theatre:

An online business bringing West End theatre productions to a global audience via the web, mobile and connected televisions.

Property Network:

A property search platform for users on Facebook which generates leads for the UK estate agent market.

Casabu:

An online members only club offering heavily discounted deals to parents for a wide range of branded products.

19 Management Limited:

The company behind Pop Idol and American Idol, founded by Simon Fuller. It was sold to CKX.

Lionhead Studios Limited:

An independent computer games developer based in Guildford, whose titles included Fable for Xbox. It was sold to Microsoft.

Cream Holdings Limited:

Live events company based around the Cream electronic music brand. Cream owns and operates the hugely successful Creamfields UK festival, as well as licensed shows overseas and club nights in the UK and Ibiza. Sold to Live Nation.

DRG Limited:

Independent TV rights distribution business. The company acquires rights to finished programmes and formats and sells these to international broadcasters. DRG's titles include Doc Martin, The Inbetweeners, Singing Bee, Kingdom, Sea Patrol and Criminal Justice.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk