THE INSIDER INTERVIEWS: REBECCA O’BRIEN

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.

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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.

Rebecca O’Brien has been an independent film producer for thirty years. She has produced the majority of Ken Loach’s recent films, helping him to become one of Europe’s most prolific filmmakers. Rebecca’s credits include LAND AND FREEDOM, LOOKING FOR ERIC, THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY and I, DANIEL BLAKE, for which she is BAFTA-nominated.

This Q & A was compered by producer, Sarah Brocklehurst.

 

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN...

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you start in the industry?

In the beginning… I was always a big film fan as a kid. I used to love going to the movies. I would get so excited I would wet my pants (I mean when I was little. Not now.) It was a big, big thing to go see a musical. Every year we would go to see a really big film in the big ODEON in Edinburgh, and it was so exciting.

Then I was in London boarding school for a couple of years doing my A-Levels. I was alone a lot of the weekends because many of the girls would go home. There were a plethora of wonderful cinemas around my school. I used to watch movies all the time by myself.

I begged Lynda Myles, who was running the Edinburgh Film Festival if I could come and work for her during my holidays. After three attempts, she relented. It was a fantastic festival at the time. I met a lot of people, who I still know now, who were young journalists and filmmakers. I really loved it so much. I worked on the film programme. I did publicity and press. I got the film bug.

After I had left University, I worked in the theatre for a couple of years. I originally thought I was going to be a journalist. I had no idea I could have a film career. It wasn’t on the cards. People weren’t trained to be producers or directors in those days. This was a long time ago. Then I realised I didn’t actually like writing that much. I didn’t like the idea of being alone writing. It didn’t appeal to me.

So, I ended up working in the theatre at Riverside Studios for a couple of years, which was a fantastic arts complex. It was an amazing place to be. They started a cinema there, which I began to run. But, I felt uncomfortable – I didn’t like being stuck in the theatre at night, every night, and I wanted to get out.

I chucked everything into doing a one-week film production course. It was run by this tiny, entrepreneurial company. Someone had written 20 lessons on how to make films. That was my epiphany. I got my hands on all the equipment. I learnt how to load a camera. I learnt very basic stuff. I made the most appalling thing, but I was quite good at organising.

There’s an organising gene in my family which I luckily inherited. I had made all these contacts while working at Riverside Studios, so they asked me to stay. We made some appalling short films. I won’t even go into what they were. I was producing these films while teaching production. But because I had the organisational gene, it was all common sense.

Then some people I had met in Edinburgh, filmmakers I had become friends with, had heard I was getting into production and asked me if I would come and work with them as a location manager on their film. I did, and that was an extraordinary baptism of fire. Today you would need teams of people to do this, and it was just me trying to muddle through.

We had a different location every day, so it was completely crazy, but it was a small film. It wasn’t a great film, but it was a film, and I was working on it. After that, I did my true apprenticeship which was for Film4. Channel 4 was just starting at that time. This was the early 80s.

I got a job through working Riverside contacts working on a multicultural magazine programme at Channel 4. It was like an antidote to Blue Peter. We filmed all over the country with real kids. We just did some mad things. Working on a magazine programme is like working on seven or eight little films every week. We made 30 of these programs, and I ended up producing the last batch.

It was a fantastic apprenticeship because I was involved in every bit of the making of it and I did it for two years. After that, I freelanced as a production manager or location manager. Working on early Film4 films, I managed to get a union ticket, and I was invited to work on an all women crew on a film called SACRED HEARTS. It was brilliant fun, completely bonkers. I was actually the location manager, but officially the production manager because I was the only one who had a union ticket.

 

Rebecca O'Brien

 

 

Through the 80s I worked my way up the ladder. I worked on MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE as the location manager. Locations were certainly true to my heart. I did a degree in geography of all things.

I honestly did anything anyone would chuck at me. The production experience was really valuable. I ended up producing because I was working for Working Title for a bit. I was asked to produce a screenplay by Peter Wollen called FRIENDSHIP’S DEATH. This was one of Tilda Swinton’s first films which was 100% financed by the BFI Production Board. I didn’t have to raise the money, I just had to spend it.

It was a really small, low-budget film. We shot it in two weeks when at Twickenham, when the studio was really quiet. Then, because I had shot and produced a film, my friends at Working Title asked me to produce a TV series for them. That meant I spent six months filming in Ireland. It was a bit mad but great fun.

When I got back, Working Title said they were doing a project with Ken Loach, it was set in Ireland, and I was now their Irish expert. The film was based on a book called Fools of Fortune by William Trevor. Ken was trying to turn it into THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY. About four weeks away from shooting we all got sacked because the writers didn’t agree with what we were doing. I had been a huge Ken fan, and he had made only a couple of films during the 80s, so I was delighted when he said he had another script.

He’d had a bad time in the 80s, and so it took three years to get that film funded. It was a very controversial film. It was set during the troubles in the north of Ireland. It was a highly political film. We kept on nearly getting the funding but getting knocked back. I think people were really scared of the story.

 

Can you tell us about the development process?

Hidden Agenda was written by Jim Allen. Ken had worked with him on the script. I wasn’t really involved in the development process. I was more-or-less given a finished script. I also wasn’t qualified to find the money either, so we sort of put a pin in a map of Soho and luckily found a producer called Eric Fellner. He agreed it would be a good idea to do the film but even with his experience we kept getting turned down.

Then suddenly after going through all these hurdles trying to get it financed, a young Irish woman who had been doing research for us in Belfast went to a drinks party in Dublin where she met a film financier. His name was John Daly. He ran a notoriously tricky company called Hemdale. On the one hand, they did political thrillers. On the other hand, they did some rather racy pictures. I suggested Eric phone them up, and they ended up paying for the film 100%. It was pure serendipity. It’s about following up leads.

Eric had to re-mortgage his house to keep a promise that he wouldn’t overspend but he got it all sorted out. And they made the film, which was amazing because other people didn’t dare make it.

 

For those who haven’t seen it, remind us why it was so contentious…

There were three very contentious issues in the film. It was very loosely based on the John Stalker shoot-to-kill affair. He was a leading policeman in Britain who was sent to investigate the British Army’s shoot-to-kill policy which there was, but he was prevented from every avenue. That was the centre of the story. Also, we were looking at black propaganda by the British secret service, and there was another layer to it.

It was all manipulation from high up in the British government, so it was very controversial, and it was during the troubles, but somehow we managed to make it. Our completion guarantors wouldn’t allow us to film in Belfast until we had filmed the bulk of the film here, but Ken shoots in sequence, and we had to kill somebody off early in the film. We said we needed to do screen tests and rehearsals in Belfast. So, we shot for about a week and ran two production schedules. Then when we came back to London, we were weirdly ahead of schedule by the time we went back to Belfast to shoot stuff.

So, it was an extraordinary experience, very scary and but got it made. It was exciting to make… except for one thing that happened when we were back in Belfast. On the penultimate night, we had been shooting on the main road from Dublin to Belfast. That evening I was summoned to the foyer.

I thought it was a joke by the first assistant director and the location manager. They said a senior policeman from the RUC wanted to speak to me and Ken. We were sort of hustled into a back room. These guys were stinking of alcohol. They began to lay into us claiming that the film was wrong. Afterwards, I was shaking like a leaf, but they just wanted to make the point that they knew better than us and that we were ‘on notice.’ I was so pleased the following day was our last, but there was a helicopter above us the entire day. It was terrifying.

 

I guess it shows how resourceful, committed and brave you have to be to finance films which are, for various reasons, controversial or disruptive to the institutional status quo.

I think it was the challenge. It was the gauntlet thrown down. I was a huge fan of Ken’s. I saw CATHY COME HOME when I was ten. Then I saw KES, and then I saw DAYS OF HOPE which was a TV series Ken did in the mid-70s, which was absolutely beautiful.  I never imagined that I would work with him, but I was so thrilled that I could. That’s why I had to do everything I could to make this thing happen.

We were lucky enough to get it into the Cannes Film Festival. Then we had to go back because we won the jury prize, which was amazing. It was very weird because I had no idea what Cannes was. I was quite a virgin in terms of film producing. I was at my first press conference with Ken, and there were three members of the British press who began to deride us, claiming all things in the film were wrong. But over the years every issue that we tackled within the story was proved to be right. It was great because we won a prize and it sort of put Ken back on the map again.

After that, I then got out of sync with Ken because I became a mother, but we vowed to work together again because we’d had so much fun. He asked me if I would get involved in a film about the Spanish civil war which would become LAND AND FREEDOM. I worked on the development of that and a few other projects, but I was always kept in touch with Ken.

The problem was the film was a bit of an epic. It involved filming in Barcelona during the May Days in 1936 when revolution was in the air. It was complex – very untenable. We weren’t sure how we were going to make it, but we got there. The story of LAND AND FREEDOM is about how the left, which was the opposition to Franco, imploded.

Basically, in Spain, there was a democratically elected socialist government, which Franco overthrew. That was the beginning of what became the Spanish civil war. The socialist left fought back but eventually imploded in on itself because it split into many different factions: people argued amongst themselves about how the revolution should take place. LAND AND FREEDOM is about that tragedy of the left.

We created this international coalition and took it away from Barcelona and into the countryside. We found this medieval village where we could shoot, but it was miles from anywhere. It was three hours’ drive to the nearest city, and we were out in the countryside fighting the Spanish civil war again for six weeks. It was incredibly passionate, and it’s a wonderful film, but it was hard work.

It was the first co-production I had done. We brought together money from Spain, Germany and the UK. We could barely scrape it all together, but we managed in the end. It was really complicated. It was an international co-production and an international film. It was an extraordinary experience doing it. I thought I’d never need to make another film in my life. If I were to die then, I’d have died a happy woman.

Rebecca O'Brien

 

FILM FINANCING

Have the challenges involved with financing Ken’s films changed over the years? Did that film become a model for financing films in the future?

Yes, it did. I discovered that all our best territories were European. Ken didn’t seem to have much of an audience here in Britain, but he did in Europe, especially in France. They loved Ken. They still love his early films. So, it made much more sense to finance with a combination of monies from those different places.

The public funding bodies in the UK were always very supportive of us and would fund us a bit. Then I met a German producer who showed me the art of raising money in German regions by hiring people from that region and money would follow. He introduced us to similar companies to our own. That’s the key to co-productions. It’s finding people like yourselves you would be happy to have supper with… and party with. I then co-produced with those same companies for the next 20 years.

 

It sounds like over the course of many, many films you’ve developed relationships with distribution partners. Has that way of working given you the creative freedom to tell the stories you wanted to tell?

Absolutely. Also, if you have a co-production, it gives you more guarantees that you’ll get distribution in that territory. We would also bring in pre-sales. We would also pre-sell to France and Italy. All together that’s how I began to make this patchwork quilt of funding. Once I had cracked it, I used that model to get on and do the rest. By the time we got to THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY in the mid-2000s…

 

How many financiers?

It was 21 across five different countries. It was all sorts of sources. It was an Irish, British, Italian, German, Spanish co-production. We pre-sold to other territories as well, which we used a sales company for. It was all very complicated. I’ve got an incredibly complex PowerPoint presentation just for people to laugh at. It was absurd and a scramble because the other problem with doing finance like this is that you’re trying to close the funding just as you’re trying to go into production. This is when you’re supposed to be working on the prep with the director. I remember having to get all 13 lawyers in the same room and bashing their heads together saying, “If we don’t close it now there won’t be a film. Do you still want to support it?” You have to kick a film into production.

 

MAKING AN IMPACT

How big a turning point was THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY?

Winning the Palme d’Or with that was something else. What happens to a film when it leaves the cinema and gets into the popular conversation is something else. It’s like your child growing up and leaving home. You think to yourself… was I responsible partly for that?

What happened with THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY was that we opened the film a week after winning at Cannes. We decided to open it in Cork because that’s where we made the film. There wasn’t really a cinema big enough so we went to an out-of-town shopping mall and they put a red carpet all the way through. It was on in two cinemas simultaneously.

When I introduced it, I brought the Palme d’Or with me and showed it to the audience. The next day I was listening to the radio while on my way back to the airport. This woman was explaining how wonderful it had been to be at the premiere of this film… and “they showed us the Palme d’Or.”

It became their film. Everyone who was involved with making the costumes and giving us locations up and down Cork came to see it because it was their film. It was hugely successful in Ireland. It made £2.5 million at the box office, which is huge for Ireland because it has a small population. It sat in cinemas all summer long. It became part of the national conversation.

It’s strange because we were greeted by some horrendous stories in the right-wing press. Telegraph journalist Simon Heffer said: “You don’t have to read Mein Kampf to know what a louse Hitler was, so you don’t need to see the film to know how bad Ken Loach is.” We were shocked because it was a history film. It’s not contemporary, but it’s powerful stuff. It was funny because The Sun had two different headlines. The Sun in Ireland was welcoming us with open arms, while The Sun in England was talking about this disgraceful man.

 

That reaction is astounding. As you were saying, you’re in a similar position now. You’re having to rebut comments from people like Iain Duncan Smith, regarding I, DANIEL BLAKE?

It’s exactly the same thing again. Who’d have thought that Damian Green, Work and Pensions Minister, would set up a question in the House of Commons to which the answer was “Yes I haven’t seen I, DANIEL BLAKE but I’ve seen lots of trailers. I don’t need to see the film to know how outrageously unfair it is to people working in job centres.”

Well… we only made one trailer, and it’s not unfair to anyone. If he saw the film, he would see that. We helped Jeremy Corbyn out a little by making a trailer and he repaid us by bringing up the film in Prime Minister’s Questions, saying it tells the truth about the welfare system in this country. We’ve been used in a couple of Labour campaigns, the film has been mentioned six or seven times in Parliament, and it’s become part of the national conversation.

Rebecca O'Brien

 

So let’s go back to the beginning of I, DANIEL BLAKE. Did it all start with Ken coming out of retirement?

Well, he was never in retirement… He said to me when we were making JIMMY’S HALL, “I don’t know if I can face another one”. I said, “Ken. You’ve got to face this because we’re six weeks away from shooting and we’ve already hired half the people. You can’t opt out now.” So, we got through it.

Then I think after the premiere he said to Alex, the distributor for Entertainment One, “Perhaps that was a little soft. We’ll have to do something a bit tougher than that.” That was the genesis of doing something tougher because he didn’t want JIMMY’S HALL to be the last film. It was a lovely film but maybe not hard-hitting enough.

Ken and Paul Laverty communicate by text a lot – football scores, gossip and sharing articles. They came across a lot of stuff about Job Centres and about people being shoved out of London to go and live in other communities. They decided to go on a journey together. This was in the autumn of 2014. They went to Nuneaton, Stoke-on-Trent, Nottingham, Glasgow, they visited food banks, they met people who had worked in Job Centres, whistle-blowers and did a lot of research.

That’s the basis of all the films that we do. Six months of solid research: meetings, talking, reading, etc. Usually, Paul would do this by himself, but Ken went along with him this time. Paul likes to write notes, and plan characters. What he delivers to Ken and me about halfway through that process is an aide-memoire of character studies, people, what might be happening to them and plot possibilities. Then Paul goes into a sort of purdah for six weeks and literally writes it.

The second draft was ready about May 2015. I was shooting another film because I didn’t think we were going to do a film with Ken and Paul that year. I took the job so I could keep the team at Sixteen [Films] in work. Paul sent me the script and told me not to bother reading it because I was busy. I read it overnight and thought, “We have to make this immediately. It’s so current. We have to make this straight away.” So, we did. I found the money for it, and we shot it in the Autumn. (Although it was probably a bit more complicated than that).

 

 

My 2015 was mad because I made three films. I decided to make this documentary about Ken. I wanted to do a digital project to explore Ken’s archive, because that’s another story. However, I couldn’t get the money for a digital project, so I had to make a documentary. I found another director and we were planning to film in the summer.

When I realised we were going to make I, DANIEL BLAKE, it was perfect because then the director could film us filming. But it was a real conundrum for me making a film about us making a film and trying to produce both at the same time… It’s quite weird. I actually closed the money for both films on the same day.

Film4 didn’t want to fund it because they felt they were already covering benefit issues with a TV series called Benefits Britain. It’s a little far from I, DANIEL BLAKE. It made me absolutely cross. BBC and BFI stepped into the breach because they were already funding the documentary and I asked if they would consider funding a feature film too… they both said yes. They funded about the same amount for the documentary and the film.

I went to our French partners who I’ve been working with ever since we made LOOKING FOR ERIC. They helped me get it all together. The hell that had been the financing of THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY was much alleviated since finding French partners. They made it possible. A script in May was shot in October.

We had to do all the casting, all the location finding quickly. But I, DANIEL BLAKE is a really, simple film. It’s a two-hander. It was just finding the two main characters which were crucial. And the locations but then I always had the idea that Newcastle would be a good place to do it. We green lit on Newcastle very early on. We got it together and shot for six weeks, from October to November, and then got it ready in time for Cannes.

 

You’ve spoken about how important the research is, and your team’s research seems to have a particular authenticity and truth to it – do you feel that continues to permeate through the production? 

Absolutely. It’s essential. Everything that happens in our films is based on true stories and anecdotal information we’ve received along the way. In fact, with I, DANIEL BLAKE we heard a lot worse stories and we didn’t put them in the film because we didn’t think people would believe them. This is often the case with the contemporary films which we’ve done.

We sent Hayley Squires, who plays Katie Morgan in the film, to meet some of the women who had lived in bed and breakfast accommodation while waiting for a house transfer, so she learnt what it was like. So, the research for the writing, feeds into the research for the production; feeds into the research for the actors, which feeds into the research for the production design, so that every place is authentic. It’s all part of a piece.

Even when we filmed, we tried to keep the crew down to the bare minimum so that it feels as uninhibited as possible, which is as close to reality. That’s what filming does. You live the story. And the actors don’t have the script. They don’t know what’s going to happen. We feed it to them a bit at a time.

 

There are powerful moments in the film which have got big reactions from audiences – like the scene in the food bank.  Tell us about that…

Hayley knew about that scene, and we gave it to her a few days before. Actually, she chose to starve herself for a couple of days so that she’s genuinely hungry and weak when she does that scene. We didn’t tell Dave Johns what was going to happen. He is just a witness to it. He has to react to it. I think we used the first take.

There’s nothing quite like the immediacy of a genuine reaction. It needs a lot of careful preparation. It needs the crew to be completely on our side and completely understanding of the vulnerabilities of everybody at that moment.

In the end, I did get to do my digital project, and in it you can see the making of I, DANIEL BLAKE, which is interspersed with us talking about other parts of the process. It’s called How to Make a Ken Loach Film. You can find it online and interact with it. It’s www.howtomakeakenloachfilm.com/en. I urge you to look at that if you’re interested in the process. It has Paul talking about the writing process, Kahleen Crawford talking about casting, Robbie Ryan talking about camera work, Jonathan Morris talking about the editing process all the way through.

Rebecca O'Brien

 

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

I’m an actor and a director. I’m curious about actors not being given the script in advance. Can you talk a little more about how that works?

It’s a difficult thing to achieve in the modern world. You have to be quite a determined director to not let the actors or agents see the script. You have to meet them and get their trust. They have to understand that you won’t do them a disservice. You have to explain that you’re going on a journey with them. Usually, after a few days, every actor is happy with it.

At first, they might try to sneak into the assistant director’s office and find the script until they discover it’s under strict lock and key. Everyone including the whole crew are playing the game so that nobody will reveal it. It’s like you won’t know what’s going to happen to you tomorrow, it’s like you’re living it from day-to-day and you react to things as they happen.

We usually give them a few pages at a time. We sometimes cut out a bit if there’s a surprise, so some actors have bits that other actors do not have. It’s great for surprises. It’s great for the crew too because you don’t have issues with continuity or weather.

If a scene doesn’t work, which it has done in the past, you can rewrite it and try again the next day. That happens. We can re-shoot something and try to get a different reaction. It doesn’t happen very often, but it leaves it open as a possibility. It’s changed the ending of a few films because the actor has had a different reaction than that was in the script. That happened in Bread and Roses, and in Land and Freedom.

 

As a writer doing research, would you go out and use actual people or would they be more of a basis for your work?

The latter. He’s not writing a biography of anyone. He’s taking an anecdote and recycling it in a different way, which is what most writing is. The food writer and activist Jack Monroe genuinely thought it was her story because her story was so similar to that. We met her briefly but we never got her whole story, and it’s just the case that the story is common. People are starving in some places. Women don’t eat so their child can eat.

One of the things I didn’t realise about I, DANIEL BLAKE until we started showing it to people was quite how common it was for people to be sanctioned. I thought it was affecting something like one in 20. It’s much more like 19 in 20. A sanction is such a vicious thing because then and there, you don’t get your money for the next four weeks.

It’s not like a parking ticket you get time to pay. Your money is stopped straight away, and it can be because of something as silly as filling in a box wrong. It’s awful. What happened is that they know someone who is Daniel Blake, Katie or it’s them, and the sanctioning is so humiliating that people are embarrassed to talk about it. The film gave people a voice. It showed them that you’re not the only person suffering this humiliation.

So, people have taken it and used it as a banner, which is very exciting. Every day since the film has come out there’s been this new wonderful thing. Last weekend there was an anti-austerity demonstration in Paris, and they were all holding signs saying Moi, Daniel Blake.

A woman has started this twitter campaign called A Bag for Katie asking donors to put together a bag of sanitary products to give to women at food banks. The Trussell Trust, which are the main food bank providers in the country, have had a huge upsurge in donations since the film. There have been some amazing speeches. Mhairi Black, the SNP MP, has delivered a fantastic speech in Parliament like the one in I, DANIEL BLAKE. People on social media have particularly taken to it.

Entertainment One realised very early on when the reaction to the trailer was such that they were desperate to share it and noticed that it wasn’t like a film campaign, it was like a political campaign. It’s fantastic to see it becoming part of the conversation.

 

What do you hope the film can achieve?

I hope that it will continue to annoy the government. When they’re defensive like Damian Green has been or when the right-wing critics get so hounded out of town by saying it’s a “povo safari”. It’s great because everyone rallied to the film’s defence in the face of such punishment.

The critic Danny Leigh on Film 2016 was asked, “What’s your favourite film of the week” and he replied, “I, DANIEL BLAKE and it’s still available in cinemas”. You could see him building up the courage to say that. It’s cultural ownership. It goes out of the cinema, and it belongs to the people.

One of the key parts of the campaign was that we didn’t open it at the London Film Festival. We had the premier it in Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool. We did Q & A’s in the Scotland and the North of England because they have more in common with the story. Wherever we did a Q & A the cinemas always did well.

 

Was I, DANIEL BLAKE always the title?

It just happened. Partly because Entertainment One did a really good campaign and used the speech at the end to create a really good impact. The end was very powerful. They did a lot of little videos with celebrities saying it. Corbyn got involved and some actors we had worked with before. It belongs to the people.

 

Did young people watch the film?

Yes, which is what is extraordinary. Especially in Europe. I was at a Q & A in Poland on Saturday. There was a cinema as big as NFT1, and there wasn’t a soul over 40 in there. A lot of young people in their 20s and teens. The other thing is Momentum, the Labour campaign group, a lot of them are young. They took it to heart. They have been crucial to the social media campaign.

 

Can you talk about looking east for your funding and why you think your film goes down better in France and Italy than in America?

We haven’t opened in America yet. I would be quite amazed if it does business there, but we haven’t had bad reactions there. I find looking across the channel for funding to be far more sympathetic. I find we have much more in common in terms of how they fund films in Europe than how they do it in America. Cultural exchange is a lot easier. I’ve made films in the US, and I hate the American system. I find it a lot more human funding it with the Europeans.

I discovered early on, you go where the audience is, and because of our relationship with Cannes, our strongest audience is in France. This film has been seen by almost 900,000 people in France in six weeks. That’s huge. Nearly a million. That’s our faithful audience, and it makes sense to get our faithful audience to pay for the film. We have a good audience in Italy and Spain. It’s taken many years to build them, but they are there.

The other nice thing is that it’s easier to meet those people. You meet them at film festivals. It’s easier to build relationships because they come to London quite a lot. And annoying for them but great for me, everyone speaks English. I’m very active in European co-productions, and I’m always pushing for it because I see it as a wonderful alternative. Culturally we have so much in common.

There’s also an understanding of how to make a low-budget film. Europeans don’t need a huge budget. It fits in much better in Europe because America wants guarantees for everything. They want you to sell your soul. They want to know who’s in it.

 

Is it hugely bureaucratic and complicated?

Far less than to make an American film. The British model themselves on the American system so it is a bit bureaucratic, but that’s because everyone wants to have American paperwork. Actually, if I were French and making a film in France, it would be much easier. People trust you much more.

There’s a whole wonderful network of co-productions going on in Europe going on all the time. We’re really on the sidelines. We do very few in this country. If we did more, we would find it a lot easier because you would be part of something. The stupid thing about funding here is that we don’t have a reciprocal arrangement where we can give back. The tax credit funding is all predicated on spending money in the UK. So, you’ve got to spend it here. While a lot of the tax breaks in Europe don’t have that requirement. Some studios give you grants for being there, but what we don’t have here is a co-production fund. There’s a tiny fund, but they want the big names only. There’s nothing for up and coming interesting projects. I feel embarrassed that I can’t co-produce reciprocally.

 

Could you talk a little more about the research project for I, DANIEL BLAKE? How many did you speak to?

I didn’t do it. I was all Paul and Ken. Paul is very good at putting people at ease. He’s unbelievably chatty. He will go to meet people. He won’t let them come to him. He will always go to them. He will talk to everybody. Often it will start out with a journalist who has done articles. Finding out where they have researched. Seeking out academics as well. We often find the actors that way too. It’s good, old-fashioned, research.

 

What would you say is your average budget?

Depending on the film, somewhere between £2.5 – 5 million. I’m funding it on Ken and not the actors. We also like working at that level because we’re in control of everything. On bigger budgets, it’s harder to control. I’ve done bigger budget films, but not with Ken. I like this level. I know what I’m doing, I hope.

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