Ten years ago, on a foggy Thursday night during the much-loved Galway Film Fleadh, Element Pictures’ Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe were standing outside the Eyre Square Hotel when Guiney received an email with the first pre-booking numbers for their next title. The guard. The numbers were, thankfully, ‘through the roof’ and this marked a key turning point for Irish production, distribution and (soon) exhibition organization.
The Irish Cop Buddies comedy, starring Brendan Gleeson and written and directed by John Michael McDonagh has cost $ 7.4 million in the UK and Ireland (and nearly $ 20 million worldwide), which in fact the greatest independent Irish film at the time, a huge achievement, especially considering that Ireland was going through an economic crash. The film, which had been sold to Sony Pictures Classics in the United States after seducing at Sundance earlier that year, earned Gleeson a Golden Globes name and McDonagh a BAFTA name.
“The guard was a very important film for us because we were on the verge of bankruptcy if it hadn’t been a success, ”said Guiney. Deadline. “Not only did we have our first real commercial success as both producers and distributors – mainly distributors in this case – but it helped us to make the case to buy the Light House Cinema in Dublin and gave us an injection of ‘money and capital that got us going and that was incredibly important.
Indeed, the film marked the start of what has since seen Element produce a steady stream of critical and commercial film and television hits ranging from Oscar-winning titles such as Room and The favourite to last year’s lockdown staple Normal people.
Currently in their 20th year, Guiney and Lowe have a reputation for building one of the most talent-friendly European companies in the market. Yorgos Lanthimos, Lenny Abrahamson, Joanna Hogg, Sally Rooney and Sebastián Lelio are just a few of the directors and screenwriters who continue to work with them time and time again and Element has forged close ties with companies such as Fox Searchlight, BBC Films. and Film4.
It has offices in Dublin, London and Belfast, manages an Irish distribution segment as well as the Light House Cinema in Dublin and the Pálás Cinema in Galway. The company has almost 40 employees, some of whom – producer Emma Norton, development producer Chelsea Morgan Hoffman and production manager Paula Heffernan – have been with the company since its inception and, according to Guiney and Lowe, integral part of the success of the company. and its future.
While Anglo-Irish attire has come a long way over the past decade, both executives insist that staying true to their roots and building a business that invests in relationships with talent is key to what makes Element so durable.
“We are ultimately not motivated by commercial success,” notes Guiney. “We’re motivated by the relationships we have and the relationships we’d like to have, and that definitely gives us the latitude to explore things that matter to us.”
Lowe adds, “Making a movie is such a hard thing to do and over time you gravitate towards people with whom you have a good relationship and a good experience because it makes everything so much easier and more efficient afterwards. time.”
Guiney and Lowe first met as children in Dublin before attending the prestigious Trinity College in the Irish capital (the same Normal peoplethe main characters of attend) and frequently cross paths at parties. Guiney had started a film company with Abrahamson in college, producing short films such as 3 Joe with a young Dominic West.
“Even when he was very young, it was clear that Lenny was incredibly talented,” Guiney says.
Guiney continued to produce projects independently after college through his Temple Films banner while Lowe trained as a production accountant before working for the Irish Film Board. Soon when the two found themselves both working on Gleeson starrer Sweety Barrett’s story, they began to discuss joining forces before finally founding Element Pictures in 2001.
“The idea of teaming up and trying to be more efficient, more expansive and start a business rather than just looking for a job attracted us both,” Guiney explains.
The early years at the company, like many upstarts, were tough and, Lowe says, they were “promising” with their relationships.
“We provided a lot of production services and looked for a lot of opportunities that were really focused on generating income and supporting the business because we had no backing,” Lowe recalls. “We ended up making a few decisions that in hindsight were wrong. We produced projects that we thought the market might want and it was just through hard and expensive trial and error that we learned that at the end of the day we were much better off focusing on the talents we were dealing with. really believe.
The duo also quickly realized that they needed international ambition and scope to run the business and aimed to deliver projects in English with key European talent at the helm. Co-productions have become the key to the company’s initial strategy.
“Growing up in Ireland, you’re in such a small industry that you’re still very outward looking in a way,” Guiney explains. “I think we realized pretty early on that if we wanted a career in film and television, we had to look abroad. For us, it was always about finding people who were accessible to us and for whom we could make a difference. There’s no point in chasing down a filmmaker who is incredibly established and has an incredible infrastructure around them. “
Element has since had a keen eye to reserve this talent, which came out of college with the Abrahamsons. The company produced the director’s first feature film Adam and paul as well as its title 2015 Room,which won four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and saw actress Brie Larson win Best Actress. Abrahamson also directed half of the episodes for Normal people for Hulu and BBC Three and is expected to helm another series from Irish author Rooney, Conversations with friends.
After seeing Lanthimos’ feature film Dog tooth at Cannes in 2009, Guiney and Lowe knew the up-and-coming Greek director would be the perfect voice to direct their original black comedy Queen Anne The favourite, which they had in development with producers This Dempsey and Lee Magiday.
“He was just interested in doing something very different,” Guiney recalls. “We didn’t want to do a traditional period rendering or a heritage version. We wanted to do something more anarchic, more punk.
Before this project started, Lanthimos led Lobster and The slaughter of a sacred deer, both with Element, the former being nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay. The favourite, backed by Fox Searchlight and Film4, went on to win the Oscar for Best Actress from Olivia Colman in addition to winning nine other nominations. Element-Lantimos union to continue with upcoming title Poor things, with Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe, another collaboration with Fox Searchlight and Film4.
“The Oscars have been such a roller coaster for us,” says Lowe. “The fact that we had three different experiences at three different Oscars made us realize that we are part of this world and that we have permission to be here. It is not a fluke. It might never happen again, but there’s no reason we can’t work with filmmakers who will experience this kind of success again. “
Element achieved huge success in the television business last year with Normal people, an adaptation of Rooney’s novel of the same name about two young lovers in Ireland who weave in and out of each other’s lives. The company was already developing Rooney’s Conversations with friends with Rose Garnett on the BBC when they got the galleys for the Irish author’s next novel. There was intense competition for the rights, but ultimately Rooney thought Element and the BBC were the best house for it.
“One of the things Normal people Did this really confirm our instinct that we should approach television almost the same way we approach cinema, ”Guiney explains. “It’s creator-driven and it’s a vision. I think for us it was good to recognize that coming to television as a movie buff is actually an advantage. “
In addition to reuniting with Rooney for an upcoming TV adaptation of Conversations with friends starring BBC Three and Hulu, which again has Abrahamson at the helm, Element is in the works for Nancy Harris’ comedy drama series The dry with Britbox and ITV Studios and Shane Meadows’ first period drama The gallows post.
There is also the historical biopic of Stephen Williams Knight, with Kelvin Harrison Jr. with Fox Searchlight on the Horizon with Lelio’s Wonder, with Florence Pugh with Netflix. Upcoming releases include Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter and The Remembrance Part II, both with BBC Films and A24 and produced by Martin Scorsese and last month saw the release of Phyllida Lloyd’s Se.
As its production business continues to soar, its distribution and exhibition business has, like many others, been hit hard by the pandemic and the changing theatrical landscape. Due to Covid restrictions, its cinemas are still only allowed to operate at 25% capacity.
“There have been seismic changes in the industry and the distribution and exposure has been really tough,” Lowe notes. “There is no escaping this. But I think it’s fair to say that we’re optimistic about the future of the movie industry and that’s a global thing. To us, it feels like there will always be a demand for intelligent, adult-oriented dramas. “
Guiney is also optimistic, pointing fingers at the success of ambitious titles such as Parasite and The favourite indicating a new phase of cinema.
“I am optimistic that we are entering a phase where we will see some really ambitious auteur films that are extremely original and extremely spectacular and daring,” he says. “And we would really love to be a part of that, too. “