02/05/2007 - The key to the success of Irish producer Martina Niland of Samson Films may be because “things happen for a reason”, but beyond serendipity lies an infectious enthusiasm for nurturing artistic talent, manoeuvring the ever-expanding Irish landscape of film financing and taking risks.
Cineuropa: When and how did you decide to become a producer?
Martina Niland: I have a degree in film and during college realised my talents were more in production than directing or writing. After college I made short films funded by the Irish Film Board (IFB) and a local broadcaster and shortly after that began working with Samson, on low budget feature films. Every project has been a step to larger projects and bigger budgets and I really enjoy producing and nurturing talent.
How did you come become involved in Once?
I’d worked with [director] John Carney before, in television, and he rang me up one day and we met for coffee. He pitched the film very well although I initially told him to come back when he had a feature – I thought it was a short given the lack of dialogue! But I think things happen for a reason. The music in Once is by [the film’s lead actor] Glen Hansard, the singer of The Frames. I’m a huge fan of theirs, for years I listened to their music and never missed a gig. And I wrote my film school thesis on the travelling community in Irish film, years before making Pavee Lacken!
How do you put together financing for your films?
Both Once and Pavee Lacken were quite low budget films, €300,000 maximum for both. Once was quite risky, with 50% music and 50% dialogue. It was funded by the micro-budget initiative from the IFB, pre-sales from broadcaster RTE as well as private investment from Samson. We set a date and went out and did it! Then Summit picked it up and now Fox Searchlight will distribute it in the US while Icon has the UK and Australia. I knew it was a nice film but I never imagined it would be taken up the way it has!
What are production conditions like in Ireland?
It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, but it’s not hugely difficult, you can get funding between the UK and Ireland. The Northern Ireland Film Commission works very well with Ireland and UK, even though things are currently iffy there with the tax regime changes. Of course, that “in-between” level of, say, €2m is quite difficult. But the IFB is morphing, they’re broadening to accommodate changes in the landscape. Technology has changed and it’s much easier now for a first-time director or producer to bite the bullet and do it.
What do you think your role as producer should be, ideally?
I don’t see myself as a paper pusher, I need to be involved in a film from the start, although you can spend so much time in financing, meetings, deals, etc. that you forget to look at the script! But a film will take up two or three years of your life so you want to make sure you’re passionate about it. So if there are problems I voice them, we argue it out, but I do let the director fight and convince me if they’re passionate. And I was very trusting on Once and Pavee Lacken because they weren’t traditional ways of making a film.
What are you currently working on?
With David Collins we have a strong slate of two of three projects, any of which could start. However, my next project will probably be A Cat’s Tale by Karl Golden (The Honeymooners [tráiler]), which should get off the ground in September or October. Unless someone comes in with a script and says “I’m shooting next week”!
What do you expect from Producers on the Move?
Producing can be a lonely experience so it’s great to share experiences, network and pool resources. I also find the idea of international co-producing very exciting, to see how countries can work together, not just in terms of actors or locations, but on the scripts themselves. In any case, I’m honoured to be a part of Producers on the Move and fly the flag for Ireland! I may even wear my tri-colour bikini...