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Rebecca O’Brien Talks Co-Production
26 Jul 2010 :
Rebecca O'Brien
As part of this year’s Galway Film Fleadh Media Antenna’s Irish contingent, fronted by Eibhlín Ní Mhunghaile, hosted a co-producers’ dinner. Rebecca O’Brien (who has produced twelve of Ken Loach’s films since ‘Hidden Agenda’ in 1990) was invited to make a key note speech after dinner; her key points are reproduced below:

“Co-production is a wonderful thing because it’s seemingly such an impossible thing to achieve. If you look at all the rules that we have to abide by, it’s just extraordinary that any films get made this way at all. However, the fact that the concoction is so elaborate means that we all become close. We’re all trying to work out what the hell to do with the rules we’ve got in our different countries to make a co-production work and because it’s so complicated and impossible we become allies. That’s how it works and actually being and becoming friends is a big part what it’s all about.

“The great thing about co-producers is that they provide a guide to the local rules wherever you’re going. They provide the support for how that country works and help solve practical problems. They tend to speak the language, which is quite useful, and they’re somebody you can party with when you go to festivals - another serious added bonus. But you shouldn’t allow a co-producer to be involved in creative decisions - not a good idea. The first Spanish co-producers that I worked with thought that they got to make half of the creative decisions in exchange for the money they brought to the project and that was really scary. That way lies the Euro-pudding.

“You find that nationalities tend to stereotype themselves. The Italians, for example, become very, very Italian when you co-produce with them. I’ve never had such a row as I have had with my Italian co-producer on a train platform in Rome, and they thought that was normal. They told me afterwards that it was how they liked to co-produce - great fun!

“But I have to apologise, because here I am, promoting co-production and yet I come from Britain which is the worst country to co-produce with currently. I’m really sorry. If we had tried to make ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ now, it would have been impossible. The entire film was shot in Ireland and we couldn’t have accessed a tax break from the UK under the current conditions because you have to spend all the money there to be able to qualify. Not that I’m against the tax credit system which is a huge improvement on the previous incumbent – it just seems to be a bit anti-co-production. And many of us grumpy, indigenous producers feel there is a slight bias towards inward investment.

“A few weeks ago, on the day of the British budget (the timing was considered unfortunate) seventy two British producers signed a letter to the DailyTelegraph saying that they wanted more of a share of the recoupment that goes towards repaying public funders who invest in film. That way they can more readily support producers who are making successful films. Anyone else in Europe would have thought that this was a reasonable thing to ask for, but no. It was not a good idea to ask for more on the day that everyone else was being asked for less. But the British film industry depends heavily on its independents for boosting the industry and for building the talent that goes into all the films that come into the country. If the support isn’t going back to them and it’s just going into films that come in from outside, which are studio films, not our international co-productions that we want to be part of, I think that's wrong. I would support any attempt to recycle recoupment.

“The best co-productions are films where the subject country takes ownership of the film. It happened with us on ‘Land of Freedom’ where we went to Spain and made a film about the Civil War and many Spanish people were genuinely appreciative of our approach. But we felt it was even more the case when we came here for ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’. What was fantastic was that people made it their own. It was just amazing to work in Ireland. Not least in that I had two fabulous co-producers in the shape of Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe, who guided me through the complicated pitfalls and difficulties of the Irish system and married it seamlessly with the British system. I even have an hour long power point presentation (which I won’t do tonight) which demonstrates how you can do a co-production with 21 financiers in the UK and Ireland – it’s quite lovely!

“The best thing about it was we came back from Cannes and we premiered the film about two weeks later in Ireland. We took the film down to a cinema complex in a large shopping mall outside Cork, (we shot the film throughout the county), and it was a terrific event. They laid a red carpet down through the shopping mall and we had two cinemas packed to the gills. It was great. On my way back to the airport the next day they did a vox pop on local radio about how the evening had gone; this woman came on the radio saying how wonderful the evening was, that I had show them all the Palme d’Or award - and at that moment the Palme d’Or belonged to Cork. It gave me the greatest pride. I was prouder still, and felt like I had real street cred, when I saw a banner in Mallow, where one of the actors lives, and it read, ‘Mallow welcomes the ’Carte D’Or’ !.

“So, to you all, happy co-producing. I hope many marriages are made and you enjoy your co-production!”

For more information about Irish co-productions and the orchestration of such partnerships click here. For further information on the MEDIA Programme please visit www.mediadeskireland.eu

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