Eleanor McSherry was at the Creative Kerry Abroad session of T.A.L.K, a set of sessions including panel discussions, in conversation and Q&A sessions.
The first of the T.A.L.K sessions was Creative Kerry Abroad, hosted by Alex Fegan (The Irish Pub), in discussion with Kerry natives Maura Kelly (Emmy-winning Producer/Purple Mountain Media) and New York producer John Flahive (Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect) London, about working abroad in film and media.
Alex: Maura what led you to New York?
Maura: Well I was born in Killarney and due to financial hardship my family emigrated to America. It was out of economic necessity that my parents took their four children to the US. New York offered opportunities that Ireland just didn’t have any more. In our neighbourhood there was not many Irish, so we had to develop a real survivor mentality. Also, how to embrace change which all happened at an early age. It helped me get to where I am today.
John: I went to London. I had attended UL to become an accountant but I was interested in film and joined the Film Society. At that time, there was no real film industry in Ireland and certainly not down in Limerick. The Film Board had just shut down and so I moved to London. I joined the BFI as an accountant, got involved in Film Sales and then became an Independent filmmaker.
Alex: Maura, what got you into media and entertainment?
Maura: I went to Manhattan with my friend and got jobs. We worked very hard. We hadn’t a clue what we were doing. I reached out to people, as I am a people person and made great contacts. I went back for my masters in New York University, working in a restaurant to fund it. And then worked as a personal assistant and worked my way up. I was lucky as the United Nations was nearby and they had great contacts in the media industry. I met those people in the restaurant, including an Indian media consultant in the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and helped him. It sparked a big interest for me in the media. I ended next on Wall Street and got some intense training there working with traders. Then I spent 15 years at PBS where I honed my skills and learned from the best filmmakers, like Ken Burns. I watched them all and realised that you needed to get the right people involved, then get out there and just make things happen.
John: Maura, as a person from Killarney and John, as someone from Annascaul, how do you help people from Kerry?
John: You need the right person, the right project then you can take it forward and help the person. You help them to pair up with the right people and make further connections.
Alex: So being from Kerry helps you, do you think? Do the Irish Diaspora help?
John: Having that local knowledge, that same connection definitely does. Having a project that can sell on an international level helps and being able to share, my knowledge, with people from Kerry is a big advantage to them. For example, a project like Pilgrim Hill, while a very Irish local story, was an easy sell as there was a market that understood it. This can help people from Kerry and helps me to be able to support the idea.
Maura: The Irish Diaspora help others to understand both places, Ireland and abroad, they bridge the gap. I’m always glad to help others abroad and am interested in them. The New York Women in Film and Television is an example of a group that help others. It is a group I am heavily involved in and is a very strong movement in the media industry. It is a very large organisation and as its director of programming I have worked to encourage co-productions with Ireland. As a TV executive, I recognise there is great television talent in Ireland and Ireland is great for TV. Animations, for example, are a huge growing industry in Ireland and companies like CBS are always looking for more animations from here. They are always looking for reels from Ireland. I have also organised events and been to events with Irish filmmakers. I am very tapped into what is going on there and also here and I share this information with the people I work with in New York. For example, I introduced the guys from Vikings to New York filmmakers and pushed how fantastic Ireland was as a location to film in.
Alex: There are currently two ways projects get to an Irish-American audience, like the 1916 stories and through Irish stories abroad. Is there a possibility that we could find another way, like an online network to reach out specifically to the Irish Diaspora audience, specifically with film?
Maura: I think in LA and New York on the ground there would be no way to centralise a network like that. The buyers and producers really come over to Ireland and find their own content. It’s a tough industry and more and more connections are being made at film festivals. The government also has trade missions that do this kind of work. So I’m not sure if we need another network on top of that. The films that are currently being made and showcased abroad really help to sell Ireland as a location for production and have gotten people partners in America. Also, people have worked with Irish Central and groups like that to help get their work out there. Each side gets something out of it.
John: There are resources already online and projects are there looking for money. There are many vehicles that they can use already available. As Maura said there are trade missions, culture Ireland doing great work but people who have good projects need to get out there and meet face to face to do the job effectively.
Alex: so its all about the project and does it necessarily have to be Irish?
John: You want to help people but it’s depends on the project. You see so much stuff at festivals that are good but will they travel, can they be universal. The Irish Diaspora is great but do you want your film to be exclusive to them only. It can limit their appeal.
Alex: How do you think things have changed in Ireland?
John: Now we have a film industry in Ireland. In the past we had made about ten features in ten years now we are making that in one year and it is fantastic. We now have experience skilled filmmakers and a great infrastructure with good investment but there needs to be more to sustain it. TV needs to be sorted to be like other countries and there needs to be better support for independent filmmakers here.
Alex: Maura do you agree?
Maura: Yes, we produce some television films but not enough for the market like other countries do. I still believe festivals are the way to go but someday television will also catch up.
Alex: Is it easier to get into the UK market with a higher percentage of Irish-oriented content then getting into the US?
John: Oh yes, it is harder to reach a specifically Irish audience in the US, where there are bigger cultural differences there. However you have a better history of Irish philanthropy from the Irish American Diaspora than from the UK. The UK has a better track record on public funding. The Diaspora there are not as well off and are more reluctant to support their own. The Irish Diaspora is more London-centric and with its proximity to Ireland there is no need to create new Irish content about the Irish when they can import it.
Alex: How can we improve that though?
John: There needs to be more money in Ireland invested into helping get our work out of Ireland. Groups like Culture Ireland can’t do enough. There needs to be more work done on the ground to encourage people here to connect with our people abroad more.
Alex: What advice would you give to young filmmakers?
Maura: Develop relationships in pre-production to build your audience. Don’t watch until your film is finished and then get distribution partners. It’s too late. Contact university libraries, Irish Centres, etc. Get productions with them going and build those relationships. Build your audience through these key contacts. Get them to screen your film abroad. Then they will, next time come to you. Do Q&As, do interviews and build your success. They will want your film because of you.
John: Do your research. Look at what everyone else is doing and learn from other’s experiences. What they have done right and what they have done wrong. For example, there are niche markets – find them and exploit them. They will probably have their own platforms and you can find great information at festivals. Always make sure you speak to the right person, do your research.
Alex: Finally, what can Kerry do to improve to get big films here?
Maura: I’m not involved in film but I will do whatever I i can to help. Star Wars has helped immensely to highlight the landscape and this kind of exposure cannot be underestimated. There has been a lot of press internationally about it and how wonderful Ireland was to film in. Anyone who films in Kerry needs to be doing press about it and shout loudly about it to the world.
John: Pilgrim Hill is another example but that was the filmmakers themselves creating the hype about how great it was to film here. There needs to be serious investment in the independent film scene, courses and local filmmakers encouraged to work here. They need to be supported all year round not just once in blue moon.
T.A.L.K Creative Kerry Abroad took place on Saturday 21st at 2pm-3pm in the Killarney Plaza Hotel as part of the Kerry Film Festival
Further information on the speakers:
John Flahive: John Flahive emigrated to London in 1987 after studying business at the University of Limerick. After some years working in accountancy and then for the British Film Institute, he now runs Wavelength Pictures, his own film distribution and production company.
John is the producer of documentary Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect
Maura Kelly is an Emmy-winning producer, development executive and principal of Purple Mountain Media, a consultancy practice in NY.
A Killarney native, her career spans leadership positions in broadcast television at PBS/ WNET (Executive Producer) where she built media franchises and helped raise over $15mm for programming – to working with global companies: The Jim Henson Co, Tile Films, Tribeca Film Institute & PBS Kids.
Maura was elected to the Board of Directors of NY Women in Film (2013-2016) and is a member of the Writers Guild of America and a contributor to the HuffPost.