1) What drew you to working in the film industry?
I like the idea of telling stories, and presenting visceral images that (hopefully) stick in people’s minds. I’m not about astonishing effects or watching stuff blow up – for me it’s all about understanding the human condition, and film gives you a unique format in which to do that.
2) How did you first get into producing, and was it something you always wanted to do?
I was originally a journalist focusing on music, and eventually also started interviewing people in film – Woody Allen, Nicolas Cage, there were quite a few. I was interested in how films (as art) came to be, and that prompted my speaking with these people not only about what they made but how they managed to get them made.
3) What were the main obstacles you faced when getting your first feature off the ground
We were telling the story by which people would know Ian Curtis so we felt a massive responsibility to getting it right – not only in content but also in having the right people involved, whether they were part of the existing establishment or not. That presented substantial difficulties.
4) What do you look for in a screenplay?
Originality is important but truth more than anything else. Even if it’s an established genre, the only reason to make anything is because it’s real.
5) Are there any common mistakes that you see writers make over and over, in regards to their script and/or in meetings?
They tend to downplay the importance of what they’ve written in order to sound makeable. They’ll talk about how cheaply it can be made and that’s not the point, or more importantly, it’s not the point for someone with whom you’d want to make something in the first place.
6) Do you have any advice for writers trying to break through into the industry?
Write something that is as good as you can make it – that’s hopefully truthful and not derivative – and believe in it. There are a thousand people out there who will tell you why a script’s not good enough to make, and usually they’ll also tell you they have the ability to fix it for you. So many people said that about Control, until we made it and Matt won his BAFTA. Some of those people mean well. A lot are focused upon how your script can benefit them.
7) Do you ever read unsolicited scripts? If so, do you have any tips on the best way a writer can approach a producer or production company in order to get their work read?
Yes, but if they feel derivative I don’t finish them. Be friendly and confident and ask if someone would be willing to read the work. If they’ve got time, chances are they will.
8) Once you’re interested in buying the rights to a script, how it does it work for the writer from there?
You option the material, agreeing on the period, the option price, then usually an extension period/price, and finally the price and participation if it gets made.
9) How do you usually work with the writer when you’re developing their script? How does this change once the film goes into production?
As with all creative work, there’s no set way. Generally there will be notes and they will be worked through and you get to a place where you’re both happy with where the script stands. In production some writers want to be very hands on, others don’t. Every writer should also expect the director to do a pass on the script and for changes to be made during shooting.
10) If there was a piece of advice you could give your younger self when starting out, what would it be?
11) How did you become involved with the Joy Division film, Control? Were there any memorable highs and lows on that project?
Orian Williams, whom I had known since I was 14, and I developed the project from an idea he had originally. We always said we wanted to make something together and, given our shared passion for music, this made sense. I had spent time with New Order as a journalist but that didn’t figure into it much until we had been working on the project for a while. The whole thing took four years, between the negotiations for Debbie’s book, figuring out the best writer, getting the script to a makeable place, selecting the director, the casting took ages (though Shaheen Baig, our casting director was brilliant – she found Sam, who was folding shirts in a factory in Leeds at the time), the money was difficult. In retrospect it’s pretty surprising it worked out at all. There were loads of highs and lows, of course. Perhaps the lowest was when we learned that the UK film credits had been discontinued for our shooting period because of budget shortfalls in the country. The high of premiering in Cannes, on the other hand, was quite high.
12) What’s your favourite thing about the film industry, and also your least!?
It’s the ability to transport immediately. Fellini was the best at that, I think. Least favorite? It seems there are people in the industry who think the way to appear to be important is to be a complete bastard. It’s never worth dealing with those people.
13) If you could have produced any film ever made, what would it be?
Une Femme est une Femme.