29 May 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Screen Producers Ireland CEO Susan Kirby discusses Production during COVID
05 Feb 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Screen Producers Ireland CEO Susan Kirby.
We spoke with Screen Producers Ireland CEO Susan Kirby to get an update on the status of production in Ireland at present, the implications of COVID on film sets, the need for industry-focused PUP, the need for more support from insurance brokers, the future potential of SVOD markets, and settling into the new role at SPI.

Kirby took up her role at the beginning of January 2021, replacing previous CEO Elaine Geraghty who was appointed Chief Executive of Ardmore Studios and Troy Studios late last year. With over 20 years of experience in the creative industries at senior management level, Kirby most recently worked as CEO of the national St. Patrick’s Day Festival and previously as Director of Communications & Marketing at The Gaiety Theatre. 

Susan has built a high-level network focused on the promotion of Ireland and its creative industries nationally and worldwide. Susan is a graduate of Trinity College and DIT with a BSc in Marketing & International Business.   

You took on the position of CEO during quite uncertain times. How have you settled in and what have your first few weeks entailed? “I would like to think I have hit the ground running, as was my intention, meeting the SPI team, key stakeholders and immersing myself in sectoral events. Everyone has been very generous with their time and stakeholders and partners are keen to continue to work with me to build on the positive relationship they have with SPI. 

“It is a strange time to start a new job in the midst of a pandemic, but I take comfort in the fact that everything is strange these days, so it is all relative and I find people, despite its disadvantages, are more available over zoom, so it has meant I have met a lot of members and stakeholders in a short space of time.”

What attracted you to the role at SPI and what ideas do you intend to implement during your time at the organisation? 

“It is a very exciting and broad brief, which is at a time of unprecedented change in the sector, I want to be part of that and support SPI members to deliver a world-class AV creative sector. My entire creative industries career has been focused on the best of Irish competing on a global stage, SPI members are creative entrepreneurs who produce the globally celebrated film, animation, and TV, which is a very exciting prospect for me to champion.”

“First on the to-do list is finalising the 2021 – 2024 SPI Strategy, managing SPI engagement with the Future of Media Commission to influence the development of the sector in the medium to long term, and as part of that, I am keen to meet directly with members and hear their challenges and ideas for the sector.  To summarise my tenure is focused on making SPI the recognised, trusted voice for the sector.”

Update on status of production in Ireland

What can you tell us about the number of productions filming in Ireland during, and how have they been affected? Support for keeping the industry operational from key stakeholders, contingent on the necessary stringent controls being in place, has been exceptional. We don’t have data as yet on this except to say that the fact productions are filming is a positive outcome of COVID19 health and safety guidelines being adhered to and it is incumbent on the sector to maintain these levels of compliance.”

How has Independent filmmaking been affected and have they been able to film during and in-between lockdowns? Some filming did take place across TV, film, and shorts, but it was sporadic and wholly dependent on the availability of cast and crew. We understand that funders were very understanding, on the whole, of this situation, which again demonstrates the agility of the sector.”

How have TV productions been impacted? “The biggest impact has been the increased necessary costs to film under the COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. Funders have been able to cover these costs in some circumstances but it is an issue that needs to be addressed as we look to the medium to long-term. The increased funding to Screen Ireland, TG4, and the Sound & Vision Fund has to be welcomed and will ensure that more original Irish content is made but we need to ensure that this funding level remains at this level post COVID19.”

What is being done to nurture low-budget productions during COVID and is it advised for them to still film? “It is advised only to film if the production can fully adhere to the COVID19 health and safety guidelines and if the filming is wholly necessary as an essential service. Screen Ireland recently announced their Focus Shorts awards, which is very welcome but I think we need to do more to support our emerging filmmakers through more dedicated funds and broadcast opportunities.”

What key safeguards need to be put /kept in place to protect and preserve the industry? “First and foremost it’s key that clear guidance in terms of how to manage risk and provide a safe shooting environment remain available and that productions are able to access the support to help them to implement the necessary Covid-19 protocols. The industry has demonstrated that it is able to return to production safely, and huge work has been done by productions at all budget levels to keep those working on production and the wider community safe. This standard needs to be maintained, and the necessary support in terms of expertise, time, and finance need to continue to be made available to ensure that this standard continues to be maintained.”

How can productions better equip and prepare themselves for filming under COVID-regulations? “Filming during Covid-19 comes with significant responsibility for production. Our guidance to members has been consistent, the best thing they can do to prepare for filming under Covid-19 is conducting a detailed risk assessment and develop production-specific protocols on the basis of those risk assessments. This needs to be coupled with clear and simple communication to all those working on production around protocols, expectations, and the development of clear communication channels to allow those working on productions to seek clarification, raise concerns and ensure everyone is working to the same understanding.”

At an Oireachtas committee meeting before Christmas, SPI board member Stuart Switzer spoke about Insurance companies putting “roadblocks” to prevent productions from accessing funding. Can you expand on this and tell me what is being done about this? 

“Our sector is no different than others where producers had to deal with insurance companies who were trying to delay payments or not make the payments due to contractual clauses. This is still an ongoing issue and many companies are still in discussions with insurers, as many other industries are too. 

“We were very glad to see the creation of the Screen Ireland Production Continuation Fund. This was set up to assist production companies in covering the costs incurred by way of a cessation (shut-down and restart) in production arising out of an incident of COVID-19, which is not covered by other insurances.  We understand that the fund will operate until 31st December 2021 and will then be reviewed.”

Pandemic Unemployment Payment

What do you make of the current lack of focused support for cast and crews put out of work by productions closing down, and is there an alternative avenue other than returning to PUP?

“We have raised the issues of the challenge of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment for those working in the industry, and we understand that there is due to be further consideration of the payment in the context of the creative sectors. While we welcome the Pandemic Unemployment Payment; the speed with which it was implemented and the support it has provided, there are issues specific to the creative industries with the way it is structured. 

“SPI would like to see a support structure put in place for those working in the industry that takes into account the project based nature of the industry including re-adjusting the calculation of how much self-employed individuals can earn and remain on the PUP, and streamlining the process of enrolling and un-enrolling from the payment and providing support for those who could have expected to take up work, but due to Covid-19 and production delays have been unable to do so. We would welcome the opportunity, along with our colleagues in the Unions and Guilds to discuss what adjustments could be made to the PUP to better suit the nature of work in the industry.

Looking to the future

What is SPI’s position on the possibilities and opportunities associated with the SVOD boom and attracting major streaming platforms to choose Ireland as a Filming destination? 

“SPI wants Ireland, and our production sector, to benefit to the fullest extent from the content boom that is currently taking place. We have the studios, cast and crew – along with financial incentives – to be a destination for international content to be filmed. We can already see this with Foundations in Limerick for Apple TV and Valhalla in Ardmore for Netflix. 

“Critically though, it is not only about attracting productions here, it also about ensuring that the streamers contribute back into the creation of original Irish content. That is why SPI is lobbying the Government to introduce the content levy provision of the AVMS Directive, which would enable a levy to be placed on the Irish revenues of SVODs, which would then be spent directly on Irish content.”

How do you feel Brexit impacts on this and on attracting international projects in general? 

“Although Brexit is something that has been discussed for years before it became a reality this past January, the impact on the creative screen sector is still being assessed. In order to fully understand the impact, SPI, through our European representative body, CEPI, asked the EU Commission to do an impact analysis of Brexit on the sector, which has not at this point been done. So, I believe over the coming months the actual impacts of Brexit will become more apparent and they will contain challenges but also potential opportunities for our sector. No matter what the challenges are, SPI will be there to represent the interests of our members and the wider sector.”

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