Life

Huffam produces the goods again

Mark Huffam is a big deal in the film business, having produced films including Saving Private Ryan, Prometheus, Mamma Mia! and The Counsellor. His next big release is Exodus, directed by Ridley Scott. At an event for budding film-makers in

Armagh last week, the Co Antrim producer spoke to Brian Campbell

HE HAS worked with some of the biggest names in the film business but acclaimed Northern Ireland film producer Mark Huffam says he has learned the most from two men: Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott. Huffam's first major film as a producer was Saving Private Ryan (1998, directed by Spielberg), while he is currently working on Scott's biblical epic Exodus - which will be released in the run-up to Christmas - starring Christian Bale as Moses. "We're hopefully finished filming so we just have to put it all together. Our release date is December 12. You've got to think Gladiator rather than Charlton Heston," he says, referring to Heston's turn as Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956). Huffam, who grew up outside Ballyclare in Co Antrim, was speaking to The Irish News last week at an event in Armagh's Market Place Theatre.

The producer watched a public screening of five short films made by 35 teenagers from the BFI Film Academy, a project running in the AmmA multimedia creative learning centre in Armagh, before giving some tips to the budding film-makers.

Huffam has plenty of experience, helping to produce titles including Prometheus, Mamma Mia!, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, The Hours and The Counsellor.

He also produced the first series of Game of Thrones - largely shot in Northern Ireland. "For long-form television Game of Thrones is as high-quality as you'd get anywhere in the world and it's done here. I produced season one and I was heavily involved in the original pitch to get them to come here. It really took off. It's just a great show. And it's quite saucy - there's nothing wrong with that," he laughs.

He also produced the 2011 film Your Highness. So, how is the north attracting so many films and TV shows? "Northern Ireland Screen are properly supported by the local government, who got the jump on it all. They were forward-thinking and realised the potential in the creative industries and got in there first. "They [the film and TV companies] are able to take advantage of the UK tax credit; we have good crews, a great work ethic and it's a nice place to be. "Game of Thrones has shown the sustainability of it all to the local government. Then there's the amount of income that all the projects bring in."

It was announced this week that NI Screen would be receiving a budget increase of more than 50 per cent from the government over the next four years.

Among Huffam's current projects are Prometheus 2 and family film Robot Overlords.

He explains the main roles he has as a producer and executive producer. "The big task is putting a team together and making the team work - even if they don't get on that well together. The business is entirely about relationships. "You keep track of the finances, keep the studios happy and keep the directors happy. But of course you can never keep everyone happy."

He said he was impressed by the short films presented by the students in Armagh last week. "I'm very impressed. This kind of thing is great because it gives kids an interest in film. It's a crazy business and you'll work long hours, but people can make it if they're keen enough and chase it hard enough."

If he could have worked on any film it would have been The Blues Brothers (1980). And he said he got into the film business almost by accident, working his way up the ladder after starting out in Belfast as a runner in a TV election programme.

He explains how he came to be hired by Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan. "I did a film here in Ireland called The Run of the Country with the producer Nigel Wooll. It was directed by Peter Yates, who did Bullitt (1968) "I got on well with Nigel and he asked if I wanted to work outside of Ireland and I said 'Yeah, of course'. "He did a Ridley Scott film called White Squall (1996) so I went on to that. Then one of Nigel's friends was the producer on Saving Private Ryan and he was looking for someone to work on the film - so I got a phone call saying 'Do you want to come and do a Steven Spielberg movie'?"

He was involved in the film's iconic opening sequence - the Normandy beach landing (filmed in Co Wexford) - and said the film was "an adrenaline rush from start to finish". "There are a few masters out there and Spielberg is one of the absolute masters. I think it would be hard to surpass working with him."

* FILM-MAKER: Mark Huffam and, below, his new film Exodus Picture: Alasdair McBroom

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