It Came to Connemara: Roger Corman and the Irish Film Industry
Dublin City University
(at time of presentation)
Denis Murphy is a PhD scholar at Dublin City University, researching the labour history of Irish film production. He has also lectured and led tutorials in Cultural Studies, Film and TV Finance, Media and Power, and Irish Cinema. Research interests include creative labour, Irish film and short film production, critical media industry studies, digital media technology, and the Irish film industry.
The US filmmaker Roger Corman is synonymous with low-budget, low-brow ‘B-movies’. He is also renowned for developing talent: Scorsese, Coppola and Bogdanovich are among the many graduates of the so-called “Corman Film School”, as his no-frills ‘factory’ production system, heavily reliant on young, entry-level film workers, is sometimes known.
In 1995, incentivised by State subsidies, this “Corman School” came to Ireland. A ‘greenfield’ studio was established in Connemara, far from the Dublin-Bray axis around which Ireland’s maturing film industry (and its heavily unionised workforce) revolved. In contrast to the 1950s and 1960s, when local technicians were frozen out of film work at Ardmore Studios by incoming British workers, Galway’s young filmmakers were courted by Corman. They worked long hours for low wages, however, even as the Corman oeuvre enjoyed generous subsidies under Section 481, whose stated objectives, ironically, include the provision of quality local employment.
This paper examines Corman’s seven-year sojourn in Connemara. I identify the studio’s location within the new international division of cultural labour around which globalised Hollywood production is structured. I demonstrate how efforts to capture mobile international production in the interests of local development can be abused by international producers and their local partners, evident in financial irregularities at Corman amounting to over €23 million. Finally, I present the studio operation as a classic ‘runaway’ shop, contingently located in Connemara to reduce costs, capture subsidies, and escape the reach of organised labour.