THE INSIDER INTERVIEWS: CELINE HADDAD
The Insider Interviews series started in 2010 as a set of recorded interviews, featuring the likes of Tom Hiddleston, Gareth Unwin, who produced THE KING’S SPEECH, Ben Wheatley and Hossein Amini, the Oscar-nominated writer of DRIVE and THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY. You can watch these here.
The Insider Interviews now exist as live monthly events in central London, which is a combination of a compered interview and taking questions from audience members. If you would like to check out future speakers and join an Insider Interviews Live evening, you can see more details here.
Celine Haddad is a Senior Film Executive for Talent Development at Creative England. She is responsible for discovering and nurturing the next generation of talent. Celine helps emerging filmmakers develop their scripts, make their shorts, and progress to their first feature film.
Celine has over 20 years of experience working in the film industry in England, France and the US. She has worked for a diverse range of companies including ICM, Pathe Pictures and Passion Pictures.
This interview was hosted by producer, Pete Smyth.
What’s involved in the day-to-day of your role?
The BFI NET.WORK was set up in September 2013. It’s a number of national agencies working together to discover and support new and emerging talent. New doesn’t mean young. New means unproduced and unreleased in the UK. This ranges from kids in their garage shooting short films to those with 20 years’ experience in theatre, TV or documentary and haven’t yet made a narrative first feature.
As an Exec, there’s a dynamic between being reactive and proactive. Reactive is assessing applications, reading scripts and managing active projects which have already been awarded funding. This takes up the majority of the time but we also try to be proactive. This is going out and finding new talent, watching shorts, going to plays and trying to find people who aren’t thinking about film yet. This is to bring in more talented people into the film family.
There’s such a huge range of talent across the various arts. How do you go about searching for new talent?
I think there are many ways. I’m a nerd. I make lists… of everything. I’m genuinely interested in all arts; whether it’s watching shorts, TV, film, plays and performance arts. I’m quite methodical. For example, I make a list of all the plays that sound interesting that I want to track. My time is limited as I’m a mother and I have a husband, but I do go to the theatre quite a lot. We have a team of people based in Sheffield who are also tracking. We’ve worked together for two and a half years so we know each other’s tastes. So if I see something that isn’t for me but I know it’s for someone else, I tell them about it. It’s a mixture of tracking and intuition.
Also, through BFI NET.WORK, we meet regularly with the BFI and the partners. One of the reasons why the BFI NET.WORK was set up was to share information between the agencies. It allows us to have a wider view on what does new talent look like in the UK.
How did you get involved in film in the first place?
I’m very lucky. I have two parents who love films. My mum has very arty tastes. She used to take me to old movies or any films starring Robert Redford, preferably. I have a dad who is a very busy doctor who took me to watch ROCKY and RAMBO. For him, cinema is escapism and a way to unwind. And, then there is stuff in the middle like KRAMER VS. KRAMER. I remember seeing it with both of them and it was probably the first time I saw my dad cry.
I started going to the cinema very early. I was 11 when I went to my first film club. It’s always been part of my culture. In France if you’re a good student you go and study business or engineering, so I did that. I moved to Paris when I was 17. One of the amazing things about Paris is the sheer number of cinemas. You see classics on the big screen. You see Billy Wilder and Hitchcock on the big screen.
I essentially began studying less and less and watching movies more and more. In one year I saw 224 films at the cinema. I was quite pleased with that. Apparently when you’re a critic you see 600; not to be competitive or anything. Two hundred and twenty four was my maximum. My friends and I would skip school and queue relentlessly to see films.
I ended up breaking my parents’ hearts. All my friends were going to be lawyers and bankers and make a lot of money… but that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to work in film. So, I went to film school in L.A. I went to the University of Southern California. I had a film education in L.A. for THREE years which was the beginning really.
It must be interesting for someone who has a duel background in two of the biggest cinema cultures, French and American Film, to now work in independent British film?
Definitely. My tastes have actually evolved over the years. I went through a very arty phase. If it wasn’t black and white, three hours long, with no dialogue, I wasn’t interested. Then when I was in L.A and I really enjoyed seeing blockbusters. I remember seeing TITANIC in L.A. and enjoying opening night with packed cinemas. I didn’t like the popcorn bit. I’m still a bit of a fascist when it comes to popcorn. I think our tastes naturally change. Eventually, you discover what you’re about. That doesn’t mean you’re against other stuff. You just learn what makes you tick.
As a senior development Exec, there must be an element of taste in everything you’re looking at?
Absolutely. It would be disingenuous to say it’s a science because it’s not. For me, it’s a constant debate between my head and my heart. I respond instinctively to an idea. It’s what I call the butterfly effect. If I hear an idea and I like it, I feel it in my stomach. If you hear an idea and you like the sound of it, it’s a good sign. It means there’s something immediate in the core idea that grabs you instantly. Then you have to analysis this. What is it that makes it interesting? Can we make this film? Is it going to stand out? Generally for me, it’s a dialogue between the guts and the brain.
The way the BFI NET.WORK is set up helps this because there are different tastes around the table. If I read something and it’s not for me, I’m able to pass it on to my colleagues in Sheffield. It’s very useful to have that team around you. For example, I like genre. I like horror. So if someone reads a horror they don’t like, they know that I might like it. It’s not just people behind a desk going pass or reward.
What sort of scripts get you excited – that’s for you personally and on behalf of Creative England?
It needs to have that core idea. Something that is instantly recognisable. Is it an arthouse project? Is it aiming to entertain an audience? Knowing what you are. What’s your primary audience? That sense of voice and individuality. What makes it stand out? Why is it not like the thousands of films every year which no one is seeing because they’re just rehashing the same stuff over, and over, and over again.
I think for Creative England to come on board and for something to work you need four elements:
1) Talented people: Finding talent is not difficult. There are literally hundreds of talented people on our radar.
2) The Right Project: Very often, we pass on applications because it just doesn’t feel like the right project for that talent. Or very often the projects are simply too big to be viable first features.
3) The Right Team: Having the correct team to support the right project is crucial. If you’re a writer and you want to write a £6m period drama, you should absolutely do that. Write what you’re passionate about. But at six million, you need the right producer who has already done a six-million-pound project. I’ve failed as a producer so I can say it. It’s going to be harder with a first time producer. With an experienced producer, it becomes viable.
4) And Luck: There’s nothing I can do about that. But when the first three align you’re in a good place.
Do you get involved in putting the teams together?
If anyone has ideas about how to do that, I’m all ears. The irony of the situation is that I meet tons of writers, tons of producers and tons of directors. You would think you could pair people up easily. The issue is time…Once I’m done doing my reactive stuff and done doing my proactive stuff, I literally have no time left.
I could send someone to meet a list of 200 producers, but that’s going to take about two years. In order to send someone to the right producer, I need to know them really well, know their work really well, and in order to do that, I need to find the time. I just don’t have the time to read as many scripts as I would like.
If it’s part of an official application, then I can focus on it, but there’s very little time to do that outside. It’s something we constantly talk about at Creative England and as part of the BFI NET.WORK. I think the way to do this is first, we have to get to know the writer, director, etc. We have to get a sense of who they are? What do they want to say? What interests them? Once we’ve got to know them, it’s easy to pair people up, but this takes time.
To try to counter this, we’ve piloted an event where we invite people on our radar to see a film followed by a networking event. This is also because filmmakers don’t see enough films. I know it sounds tough but, if I’m in a meeting with a producer, a writer, and a director and we start talking about ’71, THE FALLING, HIGH-RISE and you haven’t seen them, I’m just not impressed.
You want to be in one of the most brutal creative industries there is and you’re not even doing your research? I’m a big sports fan. If Roger Federer watches matches of his opponent after winning 17 grand slams and he’s still doing it, then surely everyone should be doing it. Martin Scorsese is probably watching more than 224 films a year. If he does it, you probably have to when you’re starting out.
It feels like there’s a strange machismo in the industry. If I’m at a film festival and everyone runs around saying they don’t have time to watch any films and they’re proud of it.
I know. It drives me insane. If I’m at the Cannes Film Festival, then I will try to focus on the first and second features. I try to educate myself to see what a first feature in the UK and around the world looks like. You see THE TRIBE. You see the SON OF SAUL. You get a sense of what a successful first feature is.
There’s the ideal scenario where your first film is SON OF SAUL. It’s amazing, but you don’t need to make a film that brilliant to launch your career. It’s something we discuss a lot because people seem to be obsessed with making their first feature. For me, it’s about making a first feature that’s good enough to allow you to make a second and a third.
If you make a first feature and it’s not selected to any festivals, it’s distributed on two screens for five minutes and nobody sees it, it’s irrelevant. Your first feature probably isn’t going to make money. Most people probably wouldn’t acknowledge that publicly but it’s tough to make money on a first feature. Your main aim should be to make a good film that both industry and cinema lovers are going to get behind. Nobody is going to look at the box office of your first feature and judge you on it
It’s important to think about this because 80% of people who make a first feature won’t make a second feature. It’s worth taking the time to pick the right project, to pick the right team and to get it right. It’s worth getting your first step into the industry right.
It’s interesting how you’re saying that commercial success for the first feature isn’t necessary. Is Creative England and the BFI NET.WORK looking to make films from emerging filmmakers that are profitable or release good films?
I certainly don’t want to promote the idea that you should make a film that loses money. You should aim for a film to recoup its investment at least. That’s a realistic goal. If you can make money on top, then fantastic. THE WITCH, which is a brilliant first feature, is clearly going to be profitable.
You can look at a lot of first features that had an amazing reaction at festivals, with critics and within the industry, but didn’t actually make much of a profit. In a way, that’s ok to me anyway. The people behind those films will go on to have really good careers because once the industry recognises your talent, they’ll want to work with you on your second film.
Even if it’s an arthouse film, you should aim for it to be seen by as many people as possible. LILTING actually did really well because it had a very targeted audience and it grabbed that audience. It also cost very little and it was done by the Microwave scheme, so that’s a success. And Hong Khaou [the director and writer] is getting to do a second film so it’s a definite success.
I’ve been involved in two feature films recently. One was a commercial project called CONTAINMENT. It’s a genre film and it’s probably going to make a lot of money. The other was LADY MACBETH, which has had more of a critical success which I see as more valuable.
They’re very different beasts. For something like CONTAINMENT you don’t really need the critical acclaim because it’s meant to entertain the genre crowd. The audience just wants a good title and to have some fun. They rent it. That’s all you need.
To what extent do organisations like Creative England, the BFI, BBC Films and Film4 exist to protect British film as a cultural institution? And to what extent should they be there to create an industry?
And you’re asking a French woman? I’m always astounded by the size of broadcasters’ film budget. It’s so tiny, especially when you compare it to France. France produces films that are very dull, very long, very self-centred film that are only released in France. I know Film4 have increased their budget recently but in comparison, it’s still minute.
It’s difficult because there seems to be a view that, Creative England and/or the BFI are not into commercial genre. It’s nonsense because we are. We have a bunch of projects which certainly look commercial on paper. We’re not here to say don’t make depressing dramas that only Celine is interested in. I love depressing dramas. I could watch them all day. But we are genuinely inviting all sorts of film. We would love to have a British WITCH, or a British WHIPLASH, or a British IT FOLLOWS or a British TANGERINE.
Though I love art house film, I think the hardest thing to get right is an intelligent mainstream film. That’s the hardest thing to make. Making a film that’s entertaining, intelligent and makes you forget about your day is really, really hard. That’s why we don’t invest in too many because they’re hard to find. Those are the hardest projects to find. If I read a three-star horror film, I’m not that interested in it. I want to try to find THE BABADOOK. I want to find the few intelligent, classy, genre films for an audience and they’re just hard to find.
In the scripts you read, do you find many of them are trying to do that?
I think so. This generation coming through is different. They’re different from the ones I fell in love with when I was a kid. That was very much Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and yes Richard Curtis. These directors/writers were my first introduction to British film. This generation, mid-20s to early 50s, is very different because they’ve grown up in a different world. We see it more and more.
Some people will always be interested in pure arthouse. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some people will always in interested in what we call the shamelessly commercial. There’s nothing wrong with that. And then there are people who want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to make films that are well received by festivals and put bums on seats, and it’s very exciting.
Is that a space that you perceive to be shrinking at all or is there still space for it?
Definitely. It’s the sweet spot that everyone wants, where you make an intelligent film that finds an audience. Whether that’s an art house audience or a slightly bigger audience, it creates a strong emotional reaction that some people will see. Something which you asked me about earlier was, what is the key filmmaker who made me want to be in film? It was actually a Brit though he did spend most of his career worked in L.A. and that’s Alfred Hitchcock.
I regard his work as the pinnacle of what you can achieve as a filmmaker. You get seen and you get accolades. Though I don’t think he ever won an Oscar, did he? Outrageous. He’s in good company because Kubrick never won an Oscar. I think the list of directors who haven’t won an Oscar is just as attractive as those who have.
Ihave an idea of how to get people together. What about a Twitter-style app where people could register as writers, directors or producers?
What we’ve started doing is using a Facebook group. I know Film London have that as well. For example in IFeatures, there was a Facebook group set up where you could say: “Hey, I’m a writer. I’ve got an idea. I haven’t got a team. Get in touch.” People have been tweeting as well. I think it works really nicely with a set deadline because it creates a momentum. I totally agree it works. But if I meet an interesting director and we start tweeting, then who’s going to manage the tweets?
There’s probably something clever to do with social media to enable that. Your instincts are right. It needs to be something that we can set up and be involved without being too hands-on. It’s the time thing again. If I didn’t have so many scripts to read, then I could start the connecting tomorrow. Or you could clone me.
The BFI NET.WORK website is being launched in phases. It’s still a new thing. It’s only open to Execs at the moment. If you’re a writer or director, you can put your work on it. For a director, it’s one or two shorts. For a writer, it’s a sample. I’ll watch a lot of shorts on that website. We’ll share information between the agencies.
In time, I think there are plans to open it up so it does exactly what you’re saying. It’s in the works. It’ll take a bit of time but we’ll get there. You should definitely take a look at it. There’s a short of the month. We meet people who are picked and more if it’s a good month. It’s a really good tracking device for us.
Can you give us an example of a writer/director who has come up through your scheme?
Apparently, the thing I say the most at the office, apart from “read the guidelines,” is: “it’s not a race.” If I look at my own slate, I’ve had my first “conversions” just very recently. These are films which have received funding from the BFI and or Creative England. The problem is that these won’t be films you’ve heard about because they haven’t been made yet.
I can tell you one is a documentary by a team I didn’t know at all. They approached me with an application. I loved it. They wanted to make a pilot for a feature doc to show how it would look cinematic. Then they approached Creative England for funding and got backing. Then they approached the BFI and got backing. I’ve been told they closed finance yesterday.
Another one is a first feature by a female director who was actually in the second round on IFeatures. There were a couple of projects that didn’t make it that year, but one eventually got made called ADULT LIFESKILLS and it is premièring at Tribeca.
I started two and a half years ago. So it is working. Genuinely it’s not a race. In development sometimes you make great progress with a draft. Sometimes you go backwards or sideways. This is fine. You know you’re going to get a bad draft at some point statistically! Not everything can be perfect. It takes time to make a good film. If someone tells you, it’ll take three years, you’re probably going to say “no. I can do better”… actually, sign right now! Just say yes. That’s fine. You’ll be patient. You’ll make your film in three years.
Not everyone is Ben Wheatley. If you want to make your film outside the system at the start, and you have an amazing producer, and access to private finance to go and make it for 30k, 50k, go and make it. I’m not offended by people who want to make films outside the system, but it’s not for everyone. In the same way, a structured environment is not for everyone. Some people like structure and like having notes from people like me, and some people don’t. That’s OK.
Are people sending applications to you looking for funding or to get on your talent radar?
Applications are for funding. The BFI NET.WORK website is a loose way of finding talent, but you don’t get funding by posting on the network website. If you’re looking specifically for funding to develop a script, or making a short, or making a teaser, or making a pilot, then you make an application to the Emerging Talent Fund.
You apply with a synopsis of your film, a vision statement, some key information and your existing track record. I do not see the script or treatment at the first stage. Like taxes, nobody likes applications but you have to do them.
It’s worth making a good application otherwise I may not get to see your treatment or your script. If I were to read every script, I would have to get back to you in a year. We get back to people in three and a half months. That’s a good turnaround I think. People say, “Well what am I going to do for three months?”… If waiting three months in the film industry is a problem for you, I suggest you change industry right now.
My favourite application to this day is one where the synopsis was a paragraph and the visual statement was three lines. And somehow I supposed to fall in love with that? We need a treatment around 8 – 10 pages with a clear beginning, middle and end. If it’s a messy draft, then that’s fine. We analyse it and decide if we want to meet.
Is the application completed as a team?
When you’re established, the BFI require a producer to be on board. But obviously, it’s harder to connect with a producer when you’re just starting. You can apply if you don’t have a producer but we strongly encourage you to apply with a producer. If you’re a writer on your own, then you can apply to us.
But it’s to your advantage to do some research. Who has made a project like yours in the last five years? You’re unlikely to attract a seasoned director on your own. We don’t actually need a director at that first stage. I’m developing quite a few big films with just a producer and writer. You bank on the script being great so it attracts a more experienced director who can make it happen. If it doesn’t, it won’t get made but a completed spec script can open doors in different ways.
To manage expectations, I would say 90% of the projects I support have a producer. You need that person in your camp supporting you. The right producer. The number of projects that fail because they don’t have the right producer. A lot of writers aim for the top producers, but actually, a lot of the producers I work with are super smart, emerging producers.
Once we have that good script, then we can knock on doors and those more established producers can come on as Execs. Writers should know who the producers are in your genre. Not personally but by watching films. You educate yourself. You need to watch tons of films. You need to make your lists. Once you have that list, when the time is right we can approach them.
How can you support a director make a second feature?
You know how successful your first feature has been by the number of times the phone rings. If it doesn’t ring, it means it hasn’t quite worked. There’s nothing wrong with making an OK first feature. A film that’s on my list to see is Stanley Kubrick’s first film which I hear he hated. He disowned it. So if Stanley Kubrick can mess up, it’s good news for everybody.
What tends to happen is that they do a sideways step and work in television. They make ok television. Then they make amazing television and all the film people then say, “This director is amazing! Let’s do a second film with them.” That’s what happens. It’s a brutal industry. You could go and make an amazing documentary and people will notice. It’s possible to reinvent yourself.
To what extent do you work on foreign films which have British writer/directors?
One of our criteria is that it must qualify as a British film. The BFI website has more information about this. There’s a cultural test, and there’s co-production, etc. The film I was talking about developing is set in France. The new generation is different. They’re multi-cultural and this is reflected in their work.
I see a lot of stories which are set throughout Europe. This is why you need a good producer who can tell you if it’ll qualify. If you have a really cool idea and it’s set in Africa, it’s going to be harder for you to find finance for that film than if it were a more traditional first feature. You’re making your task slightly harder but nothing is impossible
The BFI backed two first features last year; one called DEPARTURE and the other called COUPLE IN A HOLE, both set in France. They’re mostly in English with a little bit of French. Basically, the film has to qualify as British but it doesn’t need to be a British story in Britain. If it’s not, then it’s just slightly harder which makes getting the right producer more important.
What’s happening with Animation UK?
For feature development, you go to the BFI with your script. The issue we have is with shorts. This is because I can’t do fully animated shorts. We discuss this a lot. I’m working on a short film with a brilliant director called Daisy Jacobs who made an amazing short film called THE BIGGER PICTURE. It was nominated for an Oscar and won a BAFTA award.
The project we’re doing together is mixed media. It’s a combination of animation and live action so I can support it. The hole in the system at the moment is for animated short films. I have a bit of experience working with animation and the issues are a) the length of the process and b) that it tends to cost more. It’s something we need to address though.