Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Too many movies, too little funding

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American movie-makers have scrapped plans to shoot a new $4m (£2.64m) historical drama here after Northern Ireland Screen, who promote film production here, said they had run out of money.

And the decision has also threatened plans by the same film company, A-Frame Productions, to make a second movie with a £15m budget in Northern Ireland, which was recommended to them as a prime location by the team responsible for the worldwide TV hit Game of Thrones.

The news comes only days after the First Minister and Deputy First Minister talked in Los Angeles about their hopes that more films and TV series could be filmed in Northern Ireland.

The two men were at the Hollywood launch of the third series of HBO's Game of Thrones which Mr Robinson said had "generated up to £65m direct spend in the local economy".

A-Frame Productions say they have lost $200,000 (£131,800) which they'd already spent on preparations for the film Tell the World, which focuses on the setting up of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Michigan in the 19th century.

Industry insiders said A-Frame officials were about to open up a production office here when they were told that Northern Ireland Screen had pulled the plug.

One source said: "This is a major body blow. The American film makers were planning to hire 70% of their actors and 80% of their crew here. And that is very rare. They were also planning to use locations like the Ulster American Folk Park, Tollymore Forest and the north coast.

"And then there's the loss to the local economy. It's generally accepted that for every pound which is given to a film project, a minimum of £7 flows back into the local economy and sometimes twice that figure."

Officials from California-based A-Frame have told local film companies that they've been shocked and disappointed by the NI Screen move. The local insider said: "They are taking the explanation they got from NI Screen at face value and putting it all down to bad fortune.

"But they've told me it will all weigh heavily on future decisions or recommendations to other producers about taking film work to the Northern Irish market. They had a second movie in the pipeline but they're saying it is difficult now to sell anyone on the value of NI Screen operations."

In a statement, NI Screen said they had no choice but to say no to the producers of Tell the World because they had experienced unprecedented levels of demand on their funding recently.

The statement continued: "This reflects the growing reputation of Northern Ireland as a great place to produce films and television. Unfortunately, the funding made available to Northern Ireland Screen is finite and recently a number of attractive projects have been turned away for the simple reason that our funds are committed.

"Our funding is competitive and we have to make very difficult decisions as to which projects to support and which to reject. We do not like to turn away any international project but sometimes we have no choice."

A source close to the American producers said: "My understanding is that there were no issues from NI Screen about Tell the World. The project comfortably met all the criteria. It seems to have been purely a money issue and we were the unlucky ones."

A number of local individuals and companies who had been involved in the Tell the World project are seeking meetings with Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin and Industry Minister Arlene Foster to discuss the situation.

But they know it may be too late because A-Frame Productions have already switched the location for Tell the World to Canada.

A source close to the project said: "The problem now is that the world may be told about what has happened here and we could lose not only jobs and prestige, but we could also lose future productions.

"I'm worried that the people from HBO won't be willing to recommend Northern Ireland as a location again."

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