Sean Stokes’ handed over the role of CEO of the Screen Producers Ireland (SPI) to Barbara Galavan on Tuesday, August 24th. Having come to the end of his term as CEO Stokes has taken up his new position as MD of Sports and Media Rights International Ltd. IFTN spoke to both Sean and Barbara to talk about the Stokes’ time with the producers representative group and the challenges now facing Barbara.
Barbara Galavan comes to SPI with considerable experience in the entertainment business. During the course of her career she has been a director of U2’s management company, Principle Management and a director of McGuinness/Whelan Music Publishing, the company controlling the music rights to Riverdance. She served on the Irish Government Task Force for the music industry and was vice chairman of the Irish Music Rights Organisation.
She was also awarded an ESB media award for Best Sports Broadcast for her independent production of a 90 minute documentary on Irish hurling legend DJ Carey for the RTE True Lives series and was the industry expert judge on the RTE series ‘You’re a Star’ in 2005. She tells us that this experience will all definitely stand to her in her new role: “I think my entire career to date is going to help me no end - various experiences I have had as an independent producer such as making the DJ Carey documentary will be of huge benefit for example. It’s one thing to be told what producers are doing, but it's quite another thing to have to go out there and do it yourself. My background as a negotiator, particularly for artists and would be further centred around management, both in Principal Management and as a publisher. In the past it was very much a case of fighting for artists’ rights. So it doesn’t really make a difference whether I am fighting for artists’ rights or producers’ rights, it’s one and the same thing.”
Sean and Barbara know each other well, something which proved very helpful in the last week as Barbara found her feet in SPI. “Sean has been very helpful and very gracious in terms of the hand over, he has been an enormous help.” Barbara tells us whilst Sean, in turn, voices his immense support for Barbara’s appointment saying: “I’m so glad she considered taking on the position and has taken it on. I’d like to think I left the place better than I found it and I’m sure she’ll do just the same. It’s been a very challenging three years in a number of areas and I think Barbara, who I know well, will be very good for the organisation.”
Sean is leaving the company to head up Sports and Media Rights International Ltd (SMRI), a company providing advice and solutions for sports and media rights consumers. He seems ready to leave, saying: “I had a very enjoyable term with SPI and it was always my intention to fulfil my contract but it’s certainly time for me to move on.” He already seems to be enjoying his new title which becomes clear in his response to what the new job will entail: “We’re rolling out a service to commercial premises and broadcasters around the country. It’s very much a sales role, a door-to-door business role,” he explains, finishing with the words, “it’s where I naturally belong.”
Sean began his term with SPI in 2007 just as the financial bubble was bursting. As Barbara starts with the group she is acutely aware that our continuing economic difficulties is only one of several challenges facing her: “Yes, it is a very difficult time,” she agreess, “but it is a very difficult time for every business. It’s a hugely challenging time for every business and I don’t see producers being any different. This still remains a very expensive country to do business in from a film perspective, and that makes it difficult for the film producers - and I think, ultimately, people have to start getting real about that. The TV Producers have suffered a disproportionate cut in terms of the independent producers funds available from RTE and the animators are finding it tough because the Sound & Vision Fund in the BAI is reducing the number of rounds. The direct result has been that it is increasingly difficult to get programs and movies made..”
Sean knows all too well the hardship of fronting the organisation but manages to put a positive spin on it: “It is a tough time to be taking over the reins but, that said, in a time of financial decline, more people are going to be at home watching television,” he reasons. “Figures also show that cinema numbers rise during periods of financial decline. I think we’re very much part of the knowledge economy – we’re at the centre of it and more able than any other industry to assist in getting us out of the doom and gloom and creating new companies that work. However that will require all broadcasters and the government to get involved and to make sure they create an environment that stimulates growth in the sector.”
Sean leaves the company with several success stories under his belt, he tells us some of the changes that he has been most proud of: “I think we’ve a very tight executive presence in there,” he starts. “We’ve a strong Board. Furthermore, in a very difficult period we’ve tried - and succeeded in areas – in sustaining the vibrant independent production sector. Whether that be trying to resolve union issues or negotiations with broadcasters such as RTÉ and TV3. We retained a good relationship with stakeholders and also sought to highlight the importance of independent productions. Independent productions account for 50% of primetime entertainment programming and the license fee payer definitely has an appetite for it so I think we need to give credit to independent producers who’ve struggled through difficult times – not all were able to keep afloat throughout but many did. Getting Section 481 enhanced and the fact that we were a strong presence at the lobby against the suggestion in the Colm McCarthy report to abolish the Irish Film Board were both things I’m very proud of. Also with regards to the Broadcasting Bill, even though we didn’t get everything we wanted, a number of amendments were made as a result of our lobbying.”
Another of Sean's major projects over the years has been the ongoing discussions with SIPTU as to an agreement between producers and shooting crew regarding terms and conditions, including rates of pay on feature film and television drama productions in Ireland. SPI members will come together on Friday, August 27th to consider the agreement that has already been ratified by SIPTU further to a process involving the Labour Relations Commission. Sean says of the event: "It would be very positive for this industry to have an agreement and would allow for both indigenous productions and international co-production to have clarity with regard to film and television drama production and the costs of doing business.” He continues, explaining: “Negotiations have been taking place for a considerable period of time and I genuinely believe that this agreement would be a significant step forward for the industry and will help create an environment that will stimulate feature film and television drama production growth. Our members however will make that decision on Friday.”
Sean’s final words can be seen to sum up his experience and give Barbara an idea of what’s in store: “They’ve been very good to me,” he says, “and I think with SPI you never really leave.”
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