Haven’t quite worked out why we do it. Is it the glamour? (Not for producers surely.) Is it the sense of accomplishment as you stand in a screening of your completed film? (Or should I say sit in your wheelchair as all your limbs have finally given up on you.) Or maybe it’s that for some of us, the idea of a real job, ie a slit your wrists 9-5, baked beans on toast for tv dinner, and ironing a clean shirt for next day’s office hell just ain’t what we think of as a thrilling roller coaster life.
After 14 years training through the ranks from when I was a wee lad, I opened up Word for Windows, and made myself some business cards that I could feel proud of: “Phil Hunt – Producer”. The time had at last come when I had a project. Getting together with Stewart Sugg, the writer/director of “Fast Food”, we set a shoot date. Stewart had a quality I was attracted to – drive and dedication. To him, it was a sure thing that his screenplay must end up on screen. We both respected where we were coming from. He let me do my job – produce, no interference (except when wanting a helicopter with no budget left), and I let him do his job (gave him the helicopter). The finance was raised outside of the industry with the help of Tessa Gibbs. Although she was working in development for Granada and “Fast Food” was not the kind of movie in their remit, thankfully she decided that it was in her own.
And then a budget was born.
Whatever budget you have – you have to stick to. That is the all important lesson #1 – introductory page stuff. I drew up the initial budget and was going to stick to it and in the end we came in under. If you can do that on every film you produce, then that must be the best qualification you can give yourself. Financiers the world over will love you.
Lesson #2 I rapidly learnt on making an independent movie: “Thank you and please”. I found that those words opened doors you thought were rusted shut. Of course you have to be a personable, friendly and fun guy or gal, but just remember even when you have millions to throw at people, you’ve still got to be an honest operator if you want people to work well for you again.
But before all that, make sure the script’s right. I have never wanted to write scripts, I love playing with stories and working with writers, but not spending week after week in solitary confinement. In fact story concept and development has got to be one of the most fun parts of filmmaking. I spent years attending script writing courses, learning from books, and reading produced screenplays, then re-reading them in front of the video while making notes. So with my own personal degree in script analysis, I read “Fast Food” and thought it was a great commercial piece. Every page was a turner, and some of the lines of dialogue made me laugh out loud – a sure sign. There was life in those pages.
The script transposed itself on set. For six weeks 40 or so people congregated each morning over that inevitable greasy bacon or egg roll to have a Fast Food day. By the end of the shoot we all felt that we had just come out of the most vivid heaven and hell: we had been living the film. Emily Woof was not Emily Woof, she was the blind imprisoned beauty – Claudia. Douglas Henshall, her knight in shining armour was exactly that, and his friends, Robert, Danny, Gerry and Steve (aka Zak, Bisto, Jacko and Flea), were all just poor men – no not men, but frail boys who we all wanted to hug and tell them everything was going to be ok.
Such is the vividness of working on a film. It can be a war zone at times for a producer: working through the nights to make sure the following days go as smoothly as possible; and surviving on a drip feed of tea and nicotine which you need to keep awake through the long shooting weeks. Hard work for everyone, but the moral on “Fast Food” was high. The backing that I received at every stage is more than I ever expected. A dozen cast and crew paid their way to Cannes, and under the eye of their producer, I made sure we all worked together to make “Fast Food” one of the most talked about independent movies in Cannes.
Cannes is one of the craziest places – you can have a lot of fun. I had an amazing Fast Food time there with the incredible highs and lows. Highs doing a tv spot or managing to get a one page editorial in Moving Pictures and doing the sell to distributors on what a great movie it is (during what has got to be some of the best partying ever). Lows when you expect to have had more sales, Screen International not managing to put anything in the press because there’s no ‘hard financial news’. And you feel like your body may just give up if you have another 12 hour party session followed by two hours’ sleep and another hard day running from one end of the Croisette to the other. But the lows are kind of imperative to the whole equation of Mad Cannes.
Oh yes, one more thing, a relatively untapped market to consider: if any of you decide that filmmaking ain’t your thing but you just happen to have buckets of money, then how about helping more British films into those exhibition theatres. Join the ranks of those few but very fine UK distributors. I’ll even arrange a screening of “Fast Food” for you, but you may have to hurry!
© 1998 Phil Hunt
© 2000 New Producers Alliance Ltd.