Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Film funds shortage sends wrong signal

At almost the same time as Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers were in Hollywood promoting the province as a good place to shoot films, an American movie company was being told there was no money left in the pot here to support their $4m (£2.6m) movie which has now changed location to Canada.

The company must also be having second thoughts about coming here to shoot its second, more ambitious £15m film.

The creative industries are seen as a potential growth area for Northern Ireland. Not only do films and television series give a good impression of the place, but they also contribute a lot to the local economy. It is reckoned that for every £1 invested in supporting a project, the return is at least sevenfold. Perhaps the biggest publicity boost for the province's film-making potential has been the television fantasy series, Game of Thrones, which has also generated some £65m direct spend into the economy.

The series makers, HBO, are influential in the film and television world, but it may be reluctant now to recommend that others follow in its footsteps. The problem is that NI Screen, which provides funding support to film-makers, has run out of money given the level of demand in recent times. That raises the question if its budget is sufficient to meet the growth in the creative industries. While it is accepted that government funding is restricted and that even deserving cases cannot be guaranteed support, the amount of cash needed to keep NI Screen's coffers topped up is relatively small. Certainly smaller than the £25m overspend on seven iconic building projects – ironically five of them in the arts – which has just been revealed.

Government-funded capital projects seem almost habitually to be prone to overspend and delays in completion.

Surely it should be possible to have tighter controls on budgets and completion dates. Instead money, which could be used to boost the economy, is being wasted and the province's reputation as a film-friendly location is being tarnished.

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