1) At what point did you realise that you wanted to work in film?
That was a long time ago. My father took me to the cinema when I was very young because he didn’t want to go shopping with Mum. We would watch Elvis Presley films. My love for cinema came from that period. The excitement when the lights went out and you could see all the spectacular shots and different locations. There was a big cinema in Rotterdam that used 3 projectors. It was like IMAX, and you think, wow, this is something special. I was about 6-7 then.
Later I went to Paris and watched old films there. I got to see many of the American classics. This was in the 1970s. When I finished school I got a job at the Film International Film Festival (Rotterdam). It was like having a hobby as a job. Out of that festival I got into producing. It was something I never learnt in school.
2) Did you always want to be a producer? What drew you to it? What do you enjoy most about it?
It was never a choice really. I was producing at the film festival because someone asked me to do it. A filmmaker came to me asking if I would produce a film shot in Rotterdam that was meant to be set in Patagonia. I said Rotterdam looks nothing like Patagonia, but we decided to shoot through glass paintings and do everything we needed to do in order to make it work. So that’s how I fall into it. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Someone asked me and I said, yes. I kept saying yes to further projects.
3) What were the main obstacles you faced when getting your first feature off the ground?
The biggest enemy of independent production is the bureaucratic way in which the film industry works. You’ve got to convince people you can produce, but you’re not taken seriously as a first time producer, so it’s like Catch 22 situation. In Holland you cannot be classed as a producer until you have made two films as a producer. So how do you start!
4) What do you look for in a screenplay? Is it a particular genre, budget etc?
First of all, it’s important that you want to see the film yourself. You have Writer/Directors and then there’s the other system. This is where you try and build a team around the script; finding people who are suited for it. Both are completely different ways of working. You support the Writer/Director with his/her vision, like Peter Greenaway. There’s not many people like that. You have to support those people as you believe they’re making interesting films. You can’t give their scripts to other directors as they won’t be able to make an interesting film. It’s too unique to the Writer/Director. This is a rarity. The producer is more important the other way, as you have to bring together all the talent. Both are nice to do but completely different.
When you read the script you have to be able to visualize who could be in it, the landscape, the feeling etc. You have to believe that this is an important piece of work that needs to be made.
5) Are there any common mistakes that you see writers make over and over? This could be in regards to their script and/or in meetings?
As a writer you must write what you feel you need to write. Some people write for a market, but that market moves on and could leave you behind. Write what you want to do yourself. If it’s original it will be picked up.
6) Do you have any tips for upcoming writers?
I think it’s very weird that you have to be successful before agents pick you up. If I was a writer, I would find someone to work with: a director, producer, and go off and just make something. A lot of time you break through without an agent. Forget the agent, just go out and do it. A lot of writers who are repped aren’t actually working, so how are they any different to you. Creating a team is more interesting. The secret to success for a writer is finding people who can support your vision. Work with them to create something interesting and the rest should come.
I think I’m the longest sitting producer in the world where no agent has ever approached me!
7) Is it good to write something low budget in order to help get it made?
Yes and No. You have to write what you think works best for the script. If it’s original and exciting, someone will want to come onboard and help get it made.
8) If there was a piece of advice you could give your younger self when starting out, what would it be?
I would go to good festivals. Hang around, find talent there and talk to people. Try and find a team: other writers, directors etc. It doesn’t cost much money and is a great way to build up contacts. Find the right places to go for you and just go!
9) Do you have a film you’ve produced that stands out as being your most memorable, or what you’re most proud of?
I’ve produced 108 films so there should be many moments. If there weren’t, I would’ve have wasted a lot time. I’ve produced 12 Greenaway films. Out of those, I like The Pillow Book most of all, but also think Propero’s Book & The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover are excellent films. I did a film in a film in America called Ken Park by Larry Clark. I had a good time producing that film. In Britain I did Fish Tank, which did really well critically.
10) Is there a writer or director you would love to work with in the future?
I’m very excited by the people involved in the Sherlock TV Series. Very well written, good cast and direction. That’s a great team.