A profile of Morgan O'Sullivan
by Martin Duffy

Being an Irish film maker is like being a Tibetan scuba diver. But we make our own reality, and Morgan O'Sullivan's career in film is a perfect example of how working in film in Ireland can be an intelligent business choice. Man Ray said that the world needs more practical dreamers. Morgan is the quintessence of that combination. He is one of those few people who set out in life with a vision, and he has reached the point where the realisation of that dream is in view. He has struggled past frustrations and remains disarmingly positive and generous. He is a decent and devoted man - perhaps the key to his success - and is one of the most significant contributors to the existence of an Irish film industry. Most remarkable is the fact that the roots of his story run deep to an Ireland long ago and far away....
Morgan was a child actor in the radio repertory company. He was one of the cast on the radio serial 'The Foley Family', and worked frequently in his youth for Radio Eireann - taking the bus from his boarding school in Bray to the station's offices in the General Post Office in Henry Street. By the time he left school he had decided on a life in the entertainment industry. The problem with making such a choice in Ireland in the 1960s became clear to him in the years that followed.
His first job was with Rex Roberts Studios in Dublin, a company making documentaries and commercials. He was a trainee; "my main job was washing Rex's car," Morgan says with a smile. He went on to work for Colm O'Leary as part of the team on the Gael Linn newsreel that was shown weekly in Irish cinemas. He worked with cameraman Nick O'Neill. The newsreel was edited each Tuesday, mixed that night, and screened in cinemas from Friday. He went on to work for Peter Hunt as a sound recordist. It was a thorough grounding in film making. But the characteristic vision and focus led him to a simple conclusion.
"At that stage," he says, "I decided that there really wasn't a future in the film making business in this country."  Much as he loved the business, he could not see how it would provide him with a career and a living wage.
Morgan went back to broadcasting. He studied speech and drama, did voice training, and started work as a freelance radio presenter and interviewer with Radio Eireann. Despite being kept busy doing freelance work as both radio presenter and sound recordist, Morgan's restless spirit soon brought a new move.
In 1966, Morgan married and emigrated to Australia with his wife Liz. For the following three years he had the opportunity to live as he had dreamed - working as both a broadcaster and a film producer. "Australia was just starting in the film industry and so the various places I worked for - ABC and Channel Three and so on - allowed me to make movies." Morgan enjoyed Australia and Australians - he enjoyed the 'can do' attitude that was so in keeping with his own nature.
But Morgan was drawn back to Ireland. He returned in 1969 and settled into a career in broadcasting. He was successful, but he was still haunted by the ambitions of earlier years; "It always nagged me that we didn't have a film industry. Why did I grow up in a country where I wasn't able to practise what I really wanted to practise and everybody had to emigrate?"
Back in Ireland, he made friends who mentored his next phase: Michael O'Herlihy, Frederick Forsyth, and Michael Burke. O'Herlihy was an Irish film director, Forsyth a writer enjoying the tax shelter in Ireland, and Burke a retired US adventurer and media businessman settled here.
As Morgan's broadcasting career flourished, he found a new way of courting his first love. As a radio broadcaster, he made a series of interviews with people in the American entertainment industry. It was a shrewd move - delivering radio programmes while also providing himself with the means to go to Los Angeles and study the film business. He did a set of interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, and interviewed many US celebrities including Raymond Burr and Neil Diamond. He met Lew Wasserman, head of Universal Studios, and he absorbed knowledge about how the industry worked.
"Over a period of four years I kept going back - doing the interviews but also sitting in on script development meetings and production meetings. The great thing about the Americans is that they love you to succeed. So I was welcomed and encouraged."
 Morgan was particularly fascinated by the development process. He frequently sat in on script meetings, and learned about what he calls the US flair for  'visual dramatisation'.
"America has very few traditions, but one of them is film making," he says. "It's why I love America so much - they really have mastered all aspects of the industry from development through production into marketing."
A seminal event for Morgan was his going to Hawaii to do a television documentary about the hugely successful TV series 'Hawaii 5-O'. Michael O'Herlihy was directing the episodes. Morgan saw the impact on the island of having a series that gave it such a profile, and he wondered how Ireland might produce such a series.
Based on all this exposure to the US movie world, Morgan decided that he would make a television 'movie-of-the-week' in Ireland. He asked Frederick Forsyth to come up with a story and then went to O'Herlihy with the outline. What Morgan hoped would take a year to realise took almost four years to make, but 'Cry of the Innocents' was made and so began Morgan's career as an Irish film producer. On the film, all the crew department heads were from the 'Hawaii 5-O' series, with Irish crew understudying them.
"The only way to learn is the baptism of fire," Morgan says when speaking of that experience. But the old problem remained - how to maintain a continuity of work.
One of the friends Morgan made through his connections with 'Hawaii 5-O' was Bernie Ozeransky, who became head of production for the television production giant MTM. Bernie contacted Morgan. MTM were making a series called 'Remington Steele', starring Irishman Pierce Brosnan, and had decided to make a set of episodes in Europe while Los Angeles was hosting the Olympics. Bernie entrusted Morgan with the task of crewing and overseeing the set of episodes. The enterprise was successful, and Morgan decided to go to MTM and pitch the idea of their establishing a production base in Ireland. Morgan met MTM chief Tom Palmieri and sold him the idea that a joint venture could be set up with a UK television company. MTM went a step further and decided to buy Ardmore Studios with Morgan as its head.
"Kevin Moriarity and I worked together setting up the infrastructure," Morgan says, "and MTM invested heavily by refurbishing the Studio and building a new sound stage."
The enterprise was a victim of its own success. The UK television company TVS bought MTM, but they had their own studios in England and decided to sell off Ardmore. Morgan might have continued running the studio, but wanted to remain in film production. He moved to Los Angeles and established development deals with NBC and with HBO.
Once more, however, Morgan was drawn back to Ireland. Michael D. Higgins was Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and the Section 35 tax incentive had been introduced to stimulate film production in Ireland. Morgan saw a way of bringing American productions to Ireland.
"I knew the business well, having learned it over the years, and I had established many relationships in the US film industry." Morgan brought some television series to Ireland, but was back in Ireland little more than a year when he received a phone call from a US associate.
"Steve McEveety called me. He was working for Mel Gibson, preparing for the epic 'Braveheart', and wondered about making the project in Ireland." With typical business flair, Morgan flew to London to meet Gibson and the other producers. Morgan clinched the deal by delivering one major bonus - the Irish army. By shooting battle scenes in the Curragh using the Irish army, a huge logistical problem had been solved. Michael D Higgins fully supported Morgan, and also arranged filming access to castles around the country.
It was the start of several years of great success, with the studio frequently working to full capacity. Crews were becoming more experienced and the Irish reputation was growing. It was the fulfilment of a life's dream for Morgan.
"But something happened to us in 2000, and it was Spyglass," says Morgan. "We had become stuck in the television business with not much theatrical work. Then I met Ned Dowd, head of Spyglass Entertainment, and discovered that his grandfather came from County Kerry. Ned was keen to work in Ireland, and offered me the opportunity of pitching to have 'The Count of Monte Cristo' made here."
Morgan went back to Ned with a package that brought the film to Ireland, and this in turn led to Dowd's bringing 'Reign of Fire' to Ireland. Ned came to Ireland to produce the film - and decided to live here. He brought the Veronica Guerin project to Ireland and has another project due for production in Ireland next year. It has been a turning point for the fortunes of the Irish film industry, with the growing expertise here finally being acknowledged in the US.
"We are now getting to the stage where we have major US projects from the studios coming to us. They have seen that we can make these huge films, and they see Ireland as a great resource." Morgan is also reaching the stage where he can pitch Irish projects to the major studios and he sees that as the next vital phase in the evolution of the industry. Working now with Catherine Tiernan and James Flynn, he is developing projects with that aim in mind.
Now, however, developments have reached a frustrating plateau.
"There's a cap on the amount of money one can raise for a film under Section 481, and that's an impediment to the large movie," Morgan says. The economic benefits of bringing these major films to Ireland is clear; 'Reign of Fire' received IRœ2.7 million through Section 481. The production spent a total of IRœ35 million on Irish goods and services, of which IRœ4.3 million was paid in direct taxation and almost IRœ5 million in indirect taxation. Attracting US films is a competitive industry, with countries in Eastern Europe, as well as Germany, Canada and Australia all vying for the opportunity. "It would make absolute sense to double the cap so we can attract the big films. The Canadian film industry is worth two and a quarter billion dollars to the economy."
Morgan also sees a need to establish a comprehensive trade union agreement. It's all a matter of treating film in Ireland as having the potential to be a significant industry.
"We've had a few minor international skirmishes that have been major successes - but not on a consistent basis. We haven't the turnover and volume to make it into an industry. We need the business framework to turn it from a cottage industry to something of substance. It has happened with other industries here, like computers and food processing. Music here is an industry, we in film have a long way to go."
Morgan's focus is unapologetically on the American film industry.
"If I've learned anything over the years, it's that the American majors control the business. They have the international infrastructure and it's ridiculous to try competing with them." His aim has been to establish an industry here serving, and ultimately working within, the US studio system. "We're a branch office to America in other business fields - why not in film."
He has never tried to work the European system of co-productions with multiple partners. He considers the fragility and frustrations of that structure too discouraging.
"If we want to draw the best people to the film industry, we must create an environment they can believe in as opposed to the seat-of-the-pants European deals."
Morgan is enthusiastic about the new initiatives for making low budget digital films here. He sees it as a way of giving more young Irish people the opportunity to test, develop and demonstrate their skills. "These productions can become calling cards for our talent."
 The goal, Morgan believes, is to have a solid and viable industry working at all levels from the big scale films being shot here through to indigenous films. "If we get the scripts right and we can produce the talent, the majors will listen to us. This is an art business, but it's also a commerce business and we need to get the balance right between art and commerce."
Morgan remains passionate about the concept of a sustained and sustainable Irish film industry. Throughout his career he has developed friendships and business associations that have led to a great deal of film production in Ireland and a great deal of employment. He wishes the industry here would attract entrepreneurs, and wishes also that the government would comprehensively support the industry. Having started out needing to leave Ireland to find employment in the industry he loves, Morgan has played a key role in creating an environment in the film industry here whereby people can be reasonably hopeful of being able to make a living doing what they love to do.
"I admire creativity and I enjoy supporting talent. This is a hard business and yet it attracts wonderfully gifted people. They deserve the opportunity to succeed. If the potential to build a thriving film industry here is properly supported the benefits could be enormous. We are storytellers, we have the talent, and we have proven our potential."
Morgan is the business.