20 September 2020 The Irish Film & Television Network
2020 Vision: Octagon Films MD James Flynn talks Section 481 and what it means for future of industry
15 Jan 2015 : Sean Brosnan
Producer of ‘Vikings’, ‘The Tudors’ and ‘Penny Dreadful’ talks to IFTN about the changes to Section 481 and his hopes for the future of the industry if the country maximises the incentives.

With the government raising the film and TV production tax incentive in the country from 28% to 32%, and amending Section 481 so that non-EU talent will now count as part of the qualifying expenditure, IFTN talked to Octagon Films MD James Flynn about his hopes for the future of the Irish industry if companies maximise these incentives – now being offered until the end of 2020.

Producer of large scale productions such as ‘Vikings’, ‘The Tudors’ and ‘Penny Dreadful’ which have benefitted from Section 481 guidelines in the past, Flynn is quick to point out that the most exciting change to the incentives for him has not been the raising of the tax relief but the broadening of the qualifying expenditure which now means Hollywood actors, directors and crew can avail of the incentives.

He said:‘I think it’s the most significant change and I think it’s going to be very attractive for American productions coming to Ireland. I think we have probably missed out on a lot of feature films to the UK in the past but we have incentives that lie with anywhere in the world now. Ireland is definitely one of the go-to locations – it was previously in the top six in the world in terms of attractiveness and being considered as an option and I imagine this will definitely put us up higher. We have the English language, productions can shoot in gorgeous countryside but still be close to the city and we have two major state of the art studios.’

Another important element of the changes to Section 481 for Flynn has been the extension of the incentives until the end of 2020, an unprecedented six year commitment that can only herald a boost in the industry, according to the IFTA-winning producer.

‘I think the fact that the incentives have been confirmed for another six years is also a huge positive as it sends out a message of certainty to potential investors and producers. The commitment from the Government will make us very competitive. If you are having to renew something every three years, that’s quite a short time for film and television and could put potential investors off.’

With IFB Chief Executive James Hickey stating his hopes that the maximum cap of €50 million on a project would be raised, Flynn states that the most pressing issue concerning the Irish industry now is not a Section 481 issue – but the issue of more studio space in the country – a concern raised last year by Siún Ní Raghallaigh, Chief Executive of Ardmore Studios.’

‘It’s the next big question – the next building block for this industry. We need more studio space if we are to maximise these incentives. That is something that I hope will be looked at very closely in the near future. The UK has numerous studios, as does Hungary and other places in Eastern Europe. So a lot more space is needed in order not to miss out, and cope with the high volume of demand that is hopefully going to come our way. We need to strategically look at infrastructure – that is the most important item on the list now.’

With five films screening at Sundance this year and films like ‘Calvary’ (which Octagon produced) and ‘Frank’ garnering acclaim and strong box office figures abroad - as well as home-grown show ‘Love/Hate’ (another Octagon production) doing well internationally, the Irish film and TV industry has been hailed as being in a golden age by some Irish publications but for Flynn, there is even better days to come.

‘I think it’s going to improve again. We are in a golden age of sorts – we have punched above our weight in terms of nominations at festivals but hopefully things will get even better again. The whole thing is strategically going in the right direction, and hopefully will improve more as the economy continues to grow and we recover from the banking crisis. We have survived cuts to the Film Board budget and hopefully now it goes the other way. Out of that difficult period we have now gotten this very positive six year incentive in place. Hopefully the Film Board will start to get their budget increased again and the infrastructure will be improved to cater for the high volume of demand.’

So, with the tax incentives heading in the right direction and being extended for another six years, what would be the ideal position for the Irish industry to be in when Section 481 comes under review again in 2020, according to Flynn?

‘If we reach 2020 and we have four state of the art studios and they are all full with projects – that would be great. Parallel to that – I think it’s very important that we keep an eye on the indigenous sector. I think for a healthy film and TV industry you need two elements. You need large scale productions which adds profile, trains crews and generates an international interest in the location but equally important to that is Irish talent – Irish writers, directors and producers developing projects in-house and developing and producing their own films.’

‘I think ultimately what you want though is Irish companies developing medium sized feature films that they have developed themselves with budgets of between €5-10 million. In my experience, that is the hardest element for the industry to grasp. We need to continue to nurture the young talent and train the young creatives – the writers, directors and producers so that they are in a position to create and get out their own stuff.’

‘In 2020, I would love if we have six to ten directors that can be financed from their name alone. That would be a very good position to be in. I think we are heading in the right direction and we have a great opportunity.’

James Flynn is a panellist at the BAFTA/IFTA panel discussion “Production and Maximising Tax Incentives” at BAFTA in London on Thursday 22nd January.
The Panel is presented in association with Sargeant Disc. Other panellists include Mark Byrne (Element Pictures), John Gleeson (Grant Thornton), Frith Tiplady (Tiger Aspect), and Chaired by Isabel Davis (Head of International at the British Film Institute (BFI)).
See IFTA London for further details.

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