(Correction on blog below, Naoise Barry no longer works for Pinewood.)

My experiences with the Irish Film Board (IFB) are kind of like James Comey’s experiences with President Trump — I’ve learned to take notes in the meetings, or as soon as I walk out the door, because I can expect alternative facts to follow.

Comments made by Naoise Barry on Sunday on Marian Finucane’s program require a response. For too long, the IFB in general, and Naoise in particular, have taken credit for my work and that of the US-Ireland Alliance. Because this can directly impact what the Irish Government may see, or fail to see, as the value of the US-Ireland Alliance, I am compelled to set the record straight.

For those in the US, Marian Finucane is a radio host in Ireland. On Sunday (16 July) she did a program about film tourism in Ireland (the link is at the bottom). One of her guests was Naoise Barry, formerly of the IFB, now with Pinewood Studios. This is what was said, followed by my fact-checking in italics. In Washington Post terms, Naoise rates several Pinocchios.

Marian: “Naoise Barry, the Irish producer of STAR WARS is here.” “You were credited with bringing STAR WARS here. Is that correct Naoise?”

(According to IMDB-Pro credits, Naoise Barry is not listed as a producer of STAR WARS.)

Naoise: “Marian, that’s right, yes…. in 2013 at a meeting I found myself in Santa Monica, in Los Angeles, don’t you know, meeting with a man called J.J. Abrams …. “

(Naoise didn’t “find” himself in a meeting with J.J. Abrams, he was in a meeting that I initiated and arranged. I had been trying to interest J.J. in filming in Ireland since 2010. At that time, I arranged a meeting for James Morris of the IFB with J.J. Despite J.J. and his team spending at least an hour with us, the IFB spectacularly failed to follow up on that meeting. In November 2012, nearly three years later, after James Hickey became the new CEO of the IFB, I decided to make another run at this (letting the great opportunities for Ireland outweigh my understandable reluctance about the IFB). After I asked J.J. in November 2012 if we could try another meeting, I invited Naoise and James to come with me to J.J.’s office in February 2013, just prior to the US-Ireland Alliance’s annual Oscar Wilde Awards, which J.J. has kindly allowed the Alliance hold at his production company in Santa Monica.)

Naoise: “I was actually in there to pitch him on the idea that he might make a piece of Mission Impossible 5 in Ireland. I had this idea that Tom Cruise could scale down the Cliffs of Moher.”

The only reason Naoise was pitching MISSION IMPOSSIBLE was because that was my idea, along with the idea of having Tom Cruise repel down the Cliffs. On 21 November 2012, when I informed James and Naoise of the meeting I’d arranged, I wrote: “if tom cruise can repel down the Dubai tower, can he repel down the Cliffs of Moher J”

Naoise: “He let me give my pitch and then cut me off and said ‘well actually no, we’re going to Abu Dhabi and we’re going to Iceland and we won’t be coming to Ireland’ but he said, ‘I have another movie, I can’t tell you what it is, but we’re going to be shooting it in about a year’s time and we liked the photographs that you’ve shown us here today’ at the meeting and it turned out that one of the photographs that I’d shown him in my deck on my iPad was a picture of Skellig Michael.”

J.J. did not mention Abu Dhabi or Iceland in the meeting nor did he rule out MISSION IMPOSSIBLE in the meeting. In June 2013, in writing to the then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny and current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who was Minister for Tourism at the time, I mentioned MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and Naoise was still talking about MISSION IMPOSSIBLE in an email he sent to me in September 2013. I’m not sure exactly when the locations for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION were determined, but J.J. did not say he was filming it in Abu Dhabi and Iceland. (Presumably Naoise is confusing Abu Dhabi with Dubai, which was a location in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL, where Cruise repelled down the building in Dubai – two years before our meeting.)

The iPad deck of photos of location shots provided to J.J. in advance of the meeting, and referenced in the meeting, was a deck that I conceived and pulled together from a number of sources, including, but not limited to, images from the Irish Film Board. I spent November and December of 2012 putting together a meeting-specific iPad deck for J.J. and his team. When I first asked Naoise about sourcing some photos, he wrote:Our film locations database has over 50,000 photos, representing 2500 separate locations. They library consists if photos taken by location scouts for past film and TV productions.” I found the IFB’s online presentation of location shots pretty uninspiring. There were a bunch of thumbnail images and you had to click into them individually to see them. I couldn’t imagine myself slogging through thousands of random images, much less expect J.J. and his team to do so. I wanted them to be able to flip through an iPad much the way one reads a magazine on an iPad. I spent a lot of time, and the Alliance paid our technical guy, to put it together. I had rewatched the two previous MISSION IMPOSSIBLE films Bad Robot had produced. There were some similar scenes in these films – car chases, scary vertical drops, stately venues for black tie dinners, underground and street chases, etc. I created a deck with photos thematically arranged.

J.J. was not secretive about “another movie, I can’t tell you what it is,” as Naoise suggests. J.J. was the one who brought up STAR WARS in the meeting. It had already been announced, the month before our meeting, that J.J would be the director of the upcoming STAR WARS. Incidentally, Skellig Michael was not in my original photos deck, I do not recall Skellig ever mentioned that early in the conversation. Naoise was to follow up with more photos after our conversation, specifically geared toward possible STAR WARS locations. I assume Skellig was part of later follow up.

Anyone who has spoken to me about STAR WARS would tell you that I have regularly credited the IFB and Naoise for following up (unlike in 2010) and doing what they were meant to be doing – that’s their job. But the bottom line is that there would have been nothing to follow up on except for my persistence for years and the occurrence of the annual Oscar Wilde Awards event. For some bizarre reason (and there are a few I can think of) Naoise and the IFB have regularly tried downplay my role, or eliminate it from their history altogether. I appreciate that J.J. has regularly and graciously spoke of my role, and anyone who has attended the Oscar Wilde Awards has heard this. Just as one example, this link includes a reference months prior to the decision being made to film in Ireland (if you don’t want to read the whole thing, just search for my name and read those two paragraphs)

Tourism Ireland predicted that STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS will mean billions for the Irish economy. On Marian’s show, the representative from Tourism Ireland noted that the publicity alone would have cost them €19 million euros. Hopefully, Taoiseach Varadkar and his team will see the value of the work of the US-Ireland Alliance and not be fooled by civil servants and former civil servants who would have Ministers believe it is all down to them. I’m delighted that STARS WARS has been such a huge success for Ireland and will continue to be and I appreciate the involvement of so many people in making this happen.

The Marian Finucane program referred to:




About Trina Vargo

Trina Vargo created the US-Ireland Alliance in 1998 after having served for eleven years as a Foreign Policy Advisor to Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Working directly with political leaders in Northern Ireland, the Clinton Administration, and the Irish Government, she served as a key behind-the-scenes player in the Northern Ireland peace process. She created the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program and the Oscar Wilde Awards which honor the Irish in entertainment. Views are her own.
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