Following on from the retirement of her business partner Russ Russell, Anne-Marie Curran has re-launched Russell Curran productions as Arrow Films.
Having worked on hundreds of award-winning commercials with some of Ireland’s top directors, Anne-Marie has a great vantage point from which to view the country’s production landscape. So at the start of her new production venture, LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with her to reflect on lessons from her career and look at the context that Arrow Films sits in in 2020.
LBB> How did you become a producer?
Anne-Marie> Media was always the only industry I ever wanted to work in. I studied communications at the College of Commerce in Rathmines, which was then a breeding ground of creative talent for the advertising, film and TV industry. I had no connections to the industry but I always knew I wanted to be a producer. A combination of serious hard work and a few lucky breaks enabled me to get into the business. My best break was getting a job working as a PA to Russ Russell, one of the greats of the Irish commercials industry. He had just left Windmill Lane to set up a production company with Meiert Avis, one of his Windmill partners. Russ was incredibly generous to me, mentoring and encouraging me to work my way up through the company until eventually I became co-owner of the business with him.
LBB> What was working in production in Ireland like back then? Do you have any enduring memories?
Anne-Marie> It was so exciting – and I still find it just as exciting now. At Russell Curran I was working with some incredibly talented directors and learning something new every single day. I’m so lucky to have had great career highlights working on the production of some of Ireland’s best-loved and most memorable commercials. It’s so rewarding to see your work become part of the zeitgeist, like a little piece of modern Irish history! Two of my favourites are the two guys building the stone wall in Connemara for Johnston Mooney and O’Brien, and also the ‘I don’t know what a tracker mortgage is’ ad for the Irish Financial Regulator. It truly seems like the nation will never tire of that line! Interestingly, neither of those productions had big budgets, but what they had in common were brilliantly clever ideas that were expertly crafted and executed.
LBB> What is your best production story?
Anne-Marie> I have so many stories – the best of which have been safely confined to memory! One of the most important talents for a producer is the ability to see and solve problems before they happen but sometimes there are events that – even with the best foresight – you could never, ever predict! Like the time the film rushes from a week’s filming in Iceland were flattened by a truck on the concourse at Dublin airport. Or when we had to wait for Fidel Castro to release our star boxer from a last-minute summit so we could continue with our filming. Then there was the time our cameraman broke his leg on a tropical Fijian island and the replacement cameraman was involved in a plane crash while landing. There has been no shortage of adrenalin rush-inducing adventures along this career path!
LBB> What have been the biggest changes to working in production over the course of your career?
Anne-Marie> I’ve seen a huge amount of changes in the industry over the course of my career. Fundamental things like how methods of filming moved from film to digital and how we manage the post-production process. Another significant change has been in the levels of budget and resources available and this, I believe, is where you see the advantages of a really good producer. Experience really does count for a lot. Anyone can produce when things are going smoothly but it’s when things start to go a little off kilter that you appreciate the expertise of an experienced producer to get everything back on track and moving in the right direction again. When budgets are tight, an experienced producer will instinctively know how and where best to spend your client’s money in order to get maximum results.
LBB> How is Arrow Films suited to the landscape that Irish production finds itself in today?
Anne-Marie> The landscape of media in general has shifted hugely in the past 10 years and no less so in Ireland, driven largely by technology. Audiences and channels are changing and evolving all the time, but the essential role of commercials to sell products and services remains the same. This constant change is our new reality and so we have to always stay ahead of the game, always alert to evolving consumer behaviours and preferences and to new technologies and channels.
The quality of work produced in Ireland is recognised globally and we have always had the ability to adapt quickly to change. I think that’s one of our greatest assets – that and the incredible wealth of talent and creativity in the industry here.
The production industry in Ireland is very healthy and there’s still plenty of growth in the market, both domestically and with international brands wanting to shoot here. We have such a vast range of locations here, quite amazing for a relatively small country. Add to that the availability of talented crews and world-class production standards and you can easily see why Ireland is such an attractive place for filming.
LBB> What are your main goals for now? And why are those priorities?
Anne-Marie> Setting up my own business has been incredibly energising and I have so many ideas and plans that I want to explore. There has been a lot of change in the Irish advertising industry which means so many more opportunities have opened up for production companies here. It’s an exciting business that continues to evolve and for me, the challenge is to always stay ahead, looking not only at the Irish market but internationally, to see where the new talent is, and what trends are emerging.
LBB> Finally, for those outside of the Irish production scene, what do you think will be particularly interesting for people to watch out for in the coming months and years?
Anne-Marie> Ireland is a hotbed of production talent right now. We have such a diverse range of hugely talented directors and the work produced here is recognised as world class. We are getting a lot of international brands coming here because of the high quality of work we deliver. One of our clear advantages is the ability to deliver extraordinary results with tight budgets which is a skill we learned from being a relatively small market for so many years. We’re very good at adapting and taking a novel creative approach to suit whatever budget we have to work within.
Another good indicator for the Irish production and media industry in general is the big growth in film school and education here. Ireland continues to nurture the very best of young talent and we are creating a pipeline of talented young directors with very diverse skills. It’s inspirational to see their creativity and ideas coming through in both traditional and new media. The media and production industry in Ireland is definitely one to watch, both now and into the future.