The Film Business

Interview with Tim Bevan of Working Title Films: What a film producer does

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Tim Bevan featured in FilmCraft:Producing.

In commercial terms, Working Title Films, the production company that Tim Bevan helped found and co-chairs, is the most successful UK outfit of its generation. From Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) to Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999), and Love Actually (2003), from Nanny McPhee (2005), and Bean (1997) to Atonement (2007), and Shaun of the Dead (2004), their films have made hundreds of millions of dollars. Working Title has also been instrumental in creating British stars (Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley) and in talent spotting writers and directors (Richard Curtis, Joe Wright). Bevan entered the British film industry via the world of pop promos in the 1980s. Working Title was formed in 1983. The company’s breakthrough came when he and Sarah Radclyffe (his original partner in the company) produced My Beautiful Laundrette (1985).

“To be a producer, I think you’ve got to be a fairly sophisticated jack of a lot of trades and probably king of a few. Duncan Kenworthy once described the art of producing as ‘herding a lot of cats in the same direction.’ The same direction is the most important thing. All movies are made up of a group of personalities, usually some pretty big ones. They are made up of a lot of people with different skill bases and different opinions. A good movie always comes about when you manage to get those people working together in a smooth direction.

You have to have a nose for a story and to understand the development process. I guess the next big thing is putting the right group of people together to make the film—picking the right director to match up with the right writer and then with the right line producer, heads of department and right actors. There is a chef-like quality to that. A good creative producer will have been there at the beginning of the process.

Quite often, it will have been their idea to make the film. It’s about keeping that basic vision clear in your head all the way through because there are going to be a million billion things that try to fog that vision. Holding that idea of why Atonement (2007) will make a good film and reminding people of that, all through the process, is an important factor.

Atonement (2007), adapted from Ian McEwan’s novel by the same name and directed by Joe Wright

Early on in my career, I tended to be more interested in the line production side of it—how the money got spent and all the rest of it. What I am much more interested in now is the idea of what makes a movie, what the movie is, developing it into a decent script and then putting the right ingredients together to get it turned into a film and maintaining that creative overview all the way through.

There is very little training you can have to be a good producer. Funnily enough, I do think that a legal training or a financial training is not a bad place to begin. Just on the practical side, there is an awful lot of legal work and numerate work that you just have to understand. I think that ordered thinking that comes from both of those disciplines is a pretty good thing to be able to apply to producing. Not that I had either—I hasten to add! I tumbled into the film business.

My background was being a runner at Video Arts. I had the aspiration early on to produce and I was lucky I got into it early on by producing music videos when music videos were just beginning. I skipped that whole thing of working my way up through the ranks, which I think was a blessing. I don’t think that necessarily trains you at all well to be a film producer. Being a production manager is not the same as producing at all.

Bean (1997), starring Rowan Atkinson

…Ultimately, films are a director’s medium. They have control. It is my job or Eric (Fellner’s) to create the right environment for them to do the best job they can. When a film is being made, the director is in charge. You [as producer] create the box, which is either a financial one or a creative one, and providing they [the directors] stay in there, they do their job. I don’t have the patience to direct! You have to have that myopic, intense patience to be a good director, and it’s just not what my skillset is.

Scripts are what matter. If you get the foundations right and then you get the right ingredients on top, you stand a shot…but if you get those foundations wrong, then you absolutely don’t stand a shot. It’s very, very rare—almost never—that a good film gets made from a bad screenplay. We spend time with writers. We work on the script. One of the important things we do at Working Title is that when we know we are going to make a film, we mentally start the development process again in our heads. For too many people, the endgame is the fact that you’re going to make the movie. We think that is the beginning of the race rather than the end of the race. Luckily, we’re in a place where we’ve had more success than failure in our career. Our word goes a little bit further than most and our passion will go a little bit further than most. Many of the best films that I have been involved in on paper didn’t look like a starter. But when you add the right passion and the right creative ingredients to it, then they become a viable movie…”

Excerpt from FilmCraft:Producing by Geoffrey Macnab & Sharon Swart © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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