The year 2020 has provided highs and lows for the Irish film industry, and 2021 is already calling into question the future of our domestic productions.
This time last year it seemed Ireland was reaching new heights in the domestic film and television industries. Ridley Scott had begun shooting his next blockbuster with Matt Damon – who was spotted ‘slumming it’ in Dalkey – and Normal People was hitting screens worldwide, with Paul Mescal engrossing audiences in O’Neill’s shorts.
Like everything else, the Irish entertainment industry came to a crashing halt in March when Covid-19 struck.
The production hiatus, which at the time of the first lockdown was indefinite, meant that up to 12,000 jobs in Ireland were put on hold and some were gone for good.
Grip assistant Michael Nardone was hit hard by this hiatus.
“Everything seemed to be going great, I was hopping from project to project, then like most people I’m sitting at home wondering what to do,” said Nardone.
Nardone has worked as a part of the crew in television series like Vikings, Dublin Murders, and Normal People. He had just begun exploring a new avenue, working with some fellow crew members on their own short film, when suddenly everything changed.
“It was all out the window really, and without the backing that the big productions have, it seemed like it might never happen.”
Nardone packed his bags for New Zealand.
“I had been thinking about going for a long time, but I always had a reason to stay [in Ireland].”
Productions had also been halted in Auckland, which gave him the time and opportunity to apply for work on bigger projects: “All the big productions were miles behind schedule, they were ramping up everything, preparing for reopening.”
He is currently working on a new series for Amazon and has a full schedule right up to 2022.
“It’s mad hearing stories from back home, it feels like the whole pandemic has come and gone here.”
One project, Paperboy, an independent feature film set in Belfast during the Troubles, was to begin filming in September.
The project had attracted stars Bridget Moynahan (I Robot) and Colm Meaney (Law Abiding Citizen, The Snapper), with Donald Petrie (Mystic Pizza) attached to direct.
Producer Kevin Murphy had spent the best part of two years trying to get the film made.
Unfortunately, the lockdown proved too strenuous an obstacle and the project has since ceased indefinitely.
“We are not doing much at the moment,” Murphy said in relation to production.
An uncertain future has proved detrimental to independent filmmaking in Ireland. Filmmaker’s reliance on procuring funding from multiple sources is unstable in a time when producers and companies are keen to watch their expenditure.
This is something that organizations like Screen Ireland and Screen Producers Ireland were aware of from the beginning.
Screen Ireland acted quickly, first in making sure professionals were still getting paid – repurposing funding to support writers, producers and directors.
Screen Ireland and The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht have implemented funding initiatives to cope with the expanding crews and assisting in the hiring of “Covid Departments” working on set.
The Covid Department monitors the sets to make sure people comply with rules like wearing masks and social distancing.
This has helped to keep bigger budget films operating in the country and it was these initiatives that allowed assistant director, Daithi Ó’Cinnéide to get back to work by late august and stay there until very recently.
“The film industry seems to follow the construction industry, if they stay open, we stay open.”
The diligence of these newly-proposed crews working in Covid departments has proven the real trick in allowing the productions to carry on while most other professions remain at home.
The introduction of these protocols has helped to keep the industry running as smoothly as possible. However, at the drop of a hat operations can be shut down.
“At the moment, I had work on another TV series coming up, 12 weeks work, but that seems to be pushed back until April, just with everything going on.”
While film crews on the other side of the world get back to full swing, the future of the Irish film industry is called into question again. It may be awhile before independent Irish films grace our screens again, but the work of the governing bodies and industry professionals may provide a light at the end of the tunnel.