Following the huge success of ‘The Guard’ and with a major television drama set to be shot in the region, filmmaking in the West is as alive as it ever was. Helping encourage filmmaking in the region, the non-profit Galway Film Centre has been helping develop film in the West of Ireland through education, training, equipment provision and information. They discuss their work with IFTN.
The West of Ireland has always played an important part in the history of Irish film and television. From Robert J. Flaherty’s ‘Man of Aran’ in 1934 and John Ford’s ‘The Quiet Man’ in 1952, through to Jim Sheridan’s ‘The Field,’ John Huston’s ‘The Dead,’ and recent IFTA-winner John Michael McDonagh’s ‘The Guard,’ the West of the country boasts a rich line of cinematic productions.
A vibrant television sector has also grown in potency since the advent of the Co Galway-based TG4 in 1996, which helped give rise to highly respected production companies such as Studio Solas, ROSG, Telegael and Eo Teilifís. This month alone, Tyrone Pictures and Eo Teilifís are shooting TV3’s €1.2m drama series ‘Deception’ (formerly known under the working title ‘Tailor’s Hill’), while John Michael McDonagh is expected to return to the region in September to begin work on his second feature film ‘Calvary’ with a cast that includes Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids), Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes) and Aidan Gillen (The Wire). Dublin may attract much of the audio-visual headlines, but the West is very much awake.
At the heart of the industry in the region since 1988 has been the Galway Film Centre, a non-profit, members based organisation dedicated to the development of film as an artistic medium. Supporting filmmakers, community and youth groups in the region through education, training, equipment provision and information, the centre is a hub for those who want to interact with other filmmakers through frequent training courses; short film schemes; high-profile guest speakers and expert masterclasses.
“The centre was set up in 1988 not long after Filmbase was established in Dublin,” says manager Declan Gibbons. “It was set up by a collection of filmmakers in the West who wanted to create a similar resource for the area. At the time there were very little resources here in terms of renting equipment and training in how to use cameras and editing equipment, so these filmmakers wanted to change that.”
Those filmmakers included renowned cinematographer Tim Fleming (Once), who is currently at work on the Jimi Hendrix biopic ‘All Is By My Side’ and director Pat Comer (Stone Cold Sober), who got the centre up and running initially through a FÁS training scheme. By 1990, the centre had gained funding through the Arts Council, with its growth coming in tandem with local production companies such as Telegael in 1989, now one of Europe’s leading animation and production houses, and the dawn of TG4.
“There’s been a huge growth in the West,” notes Gibbons enthusiastically. “It’s the second biggest part of the audio-visual sector outside of Dublin. At the centre, we would support a very broad definition of filmmakers. Many are just starting off. They may have just bought their first camera and want to learn how to use it. We also work with people who have been in the industry for years, veteran filmmakers such as Joe Comerford (Reefer and the Model) or Bob Quinn (The Bishop’s Story). Then there are lots of locally based production companies such as Abú Media, Power Pictures, Magamedia and Spire Productions, all of whom have been creating programmes for TG4, but also for RTÉ and TV3.”
The centre functions to support these and smaller production companies through the provision of rental equipment and information, while training and community access are two core elements of the centre’s business. A full-time education officer works within the centre, while they also employ a community access officer.
“We work a lot with FÁS Screen Training Ireland providing seminars, work shops and training courses for professionals working within the industry. The other core thing we do is community documentaries. Over the summer we’re going to shoot five short documentaries with the groups. We mentor the groups in the basics of making a documentary so as they can tell the stories of their own communities.”
That community documentary scheme - known as ID Films – has been running since 2000. In association with Galway City Council, Galway County Council and The Arts Council it helps to give community groups in the region a voice. To date more than 50 films have been made with this year’s participants including Bádóirí an Cladaig (The Claddagh Community Boat Club), Orion’s Belt (Kinvara based Theatre Company) and Galway Simon Community’s Empowering Women To Impact Homeless Policy Group.
Nuala Broderick, the Galway Film Centre’s community access officer, oversees the project which sees the centre give participants basic foundation training and hands-on experience in the areas of writing, directing, camera, sound and editing. The groups then tell their own stories based on the common theme of identity.
“The pieces usually end up about 15 minutes long and allows the group develop and express who they are on digital documentary,” Broderick says. “They’re quite polished and good pieces, but we’re not making them, they are made by the community group. We merely facilitate them.”
“These are stories not might not otherwise be told,” she adds. “And they are told in a way that they would never be told. When people are telling their own stories there’s an integrity that you would not get from an outside view. We screen the five documentaries every year in the Town Hall and the feedback and the feeling is really rewarding and empowering for us, as well as them.”
Rewarding is a key word associated with the centre’s training courses with Mary Deely operating as the centre’s education officer for the past three years. “The training the centre continues to offer covers all the aspects of getting people up-skilled in all the different elements of making a film such as camera, sound and writing,” she says. “Essentially there are two levels we cater for. The first is a beginners level aimed at people who are looking to get into filmmaking as a career and who are looking to get a portfolio together. You’ll also get enthusiasts who want to take up filmmaking as a hobby.
“The second level of courses is aimed at people working within the industry. They come to us from all across Ireland, not just Galway, and the type of course we would run for them might cover things like training for a new camera or a new piece of software. We run courses with FÁS Screen Training Ireland as well and you have to apply with a CV for them. They would be pretty competitive.”
As well as regular training courses covering a varied range of filmmaking topics, Deely keeps up to date with changing equipment and software in order to ensure the centre is ahead of the curve in terms of the courses they offer. She also helps to attract well-known filmmakers to the centre to pass on their words of wisdom. Recent high-profile guests include ‘Breaking Bad’ creator Vince Gilligan, British filmmaker Philip Bloom, who has worked as a cinematographer for Lucasfilm and is known for his DSLR filmmaking, and Irish director Dearbhla Walsh (The Tudors).
While training will not necessarily guarantee those hoping to break into the industry a job at the end of the line, it will benefit their chances. Deely has noticed a number of people push on in their careers. “We have noticed names of people on the IFTN newsletter,” she says, “and it does trigger a memory. You think, ‘oh yeah I remember when they were on the film foundation course a few years ago’, that kind of thing. There have been a few success stories and it is nice to see people succeed. For instance, a few years ago I was talking to a filmmaker about an idea they had for a documentary, and then two or three years later they’re making it with proper funding and that.”
While young filmmakers flock to the centre’s training courses, their ongoing Short Film Awards scheme has also proved a huge attraction to Irish filmmakers. Held each year in association with RTÉ, the scheme offers two awards of €9,500 each to submitted scripts. Notable previous winners have included director Thomas Hefferon’s ‘Switch’, Conor Fergusons’ ‘The Wednesdays,’ Brendan Muldowney’s ‘The Ten Steps’ and Steph Green’s ‘Push Hands’.
This scheme is only one aspect of the centre’s work in promoting local filmmakers. With roughly 10 per cent of the film and television industry’s workforce based in the region, the Galway Film Centre has also done its bit to help to promote the industry and encourage the continuation of outside productions from using the region and its plentiful crew resources namely through the setting up the Screenwest website, a database of experienced crew and production companies in the regions while the centre has also established the Film Galway Partnership. “Those two things are basically designed to help productions on-location in Galway,” says Gibbons. “The partnership is a group of 14 organisations including ourselves, Galway City and County Council, and the Irish Film Board. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for productions to shoot on location here in terms of getting access, information, locations, facilities and permissions. We’re here to help with that.”
As for the centre’s key successes, Gibbons points to the health of the audio-visual industry in the West. “I think the industry in the West is very healthy, and we’ve been a catalyst for that,” he says as he points to a bright future for the centre. “We’re very much a behind-the scenes support organization. We’re not in the limelight. We’re helping others to do their work and we’ll continue to support the local production companies and, in a way, their success is our success.”
For more details of the Galway Film Centre see their profile on the IFTN website or contact them through their website here.