Duncan Kenworthy-Film is a conversation between director and audienceWritten by Eva Csölleová, Vítek Formánek
British producer Duncan Kenworthy is a producer of such box office hits as Love Actually, Notting Hill or Four weddings and one funeral. He received five BAFTA Awards, three EMMY Awards and nomination for Academy Award. This fine, pleasant, witty and modest man was a guest of FebioFest 2017.He was kind enough to devote some of his precious time- first time in Prague-talking to us.
What made you become a producer? Did you find it more exciting and rewarding than to be a director or you simply loved working with money?
When I was at university I directed plays as a student and started directing movies as an ambition. And still today people ask me” Why don´t you direct?”
I have two answers, the truth and the other one. Truth is, I like producing, I like to be charge of everything. When you are director you are not automatically in charge and producer is there after he left. Director is a puppet, everybody is a puppet to producer. The other answer is, if I produce now, I could never direct again, because when I get creatively involved in making film with director, he asks me” Do you want to do my job” and I honestly answer” No, I only want to help you to make the best film you have ever made”.
Truthfully, I think that I am bringing those creative skills to best of my producer. So this is very very close to me, because I am in a situation when I am finishing off film as producer. And I have sat with director in cutting room for last ten weeks, making decisions together and had agreement and disagreement with him. Every time we have disagreement he always asks me “How come that whenever we disagree, you always win?”
It is interesting element and film is basically made by three people, writer, director and producer. It is important that there are these three elements which must have their own strength and do their job.
I don´t come from financial background so I had to learn about money. I couldn´t make films without having co-producer who knows how much would the crew be paid etc, etc. I know about that but I don´t have interest in it. As an independent producer I have to raise money. I know what I am good at and that is making connection between money side and creative side. I have to decide what´s worth spending your money on and I think that should be as much creative decision as financial decision. You have limitless list of things you can spend your money on but I have a good vision of the film in my mind and know what is worthy and what is not important for the benefit of film.
To become a producer do you have to have some economical degree or you can be as director and learn as you walk, you know during the process?
The great thing about being producer is that you really don´t need any skills. All you have to have is the access to finance. With the finance, you can hire all those skills. You don´t know anything about contracts? You hire a lawyer and that applies to everything .If you have ability to raise the money, you don´t have to have degree in finance and law. Key thing is, you have to have a good judgement. You absolutely have to have a good focus on what makes a good movie and you have to know the audience. For me the movie is one of two things. It´s something that director and writer create, as an art object regardless of the audience. For me the movie is part of conversation. You put in the first part of the conversation, the audience is other part of it. I would like to make the movie understandable to the audience. People think it is too commercial and it diminishes their artistic integrity and I can see both sides of it. I have worked with two writers during my career- Richard Curtis and Anthony McGowan. Anthony never thought about the audience he always had in mind the object of the film he was making, Richard always thought about the audience.
It is said that a movie Four weddings and one funeral changed your career forever. Which way, everybody wanted you from now on or you could choose and refuse the work.
It was a big success and reassured people that I know what I am doing. It gave me the opportunity, it opened the doors for me. These days people are very hard- nosed, compare to those twenty years ago. Fox Searchlight, which is a division of 20th Century Fox wouldn´t pay more than 15 M for the movie and they felt, they could make that back. It´s a big budget, but from American point of view, it´s small budget. Suddenly about ten years ago it dropped from 15 M to 10 M. World has changed and just because you had one success doesn´t mean that people will throw their money again onto you. If you make one successful film, it´s good but even better if you make two successful films in a row, people will trust you. I made three hugely successful films and with my latest film, studio people said” we really like the scripts and the artistic package but it really is too expensive for us”.
So the saying that “one is as good as his movie” applies also for producer? Or you have Four weddings, Notting Hill and Love actually in your portfolio and it always opens the door.
If director has good career and he makes one bad film, I think he gets another shot. If he makes two bad films in a row, it brings the feelings that he starts going downhill. But you can revive career, it happened, specially in Hollywood.I think people are much more hard –nosed now. They don´t care who you are or what have you done, show them a screenplay, who is the audience, who is gonna star in it and what is the budget. And people will make up their own minds.
So is it a reason why there are so many sequels and remakes, while some really good, deep story finds it hard to get the budget?
As I said, the movie is the conversation with the audience. The studios are very, very, very, very focused on what audience wants. What the audience pays money for and goes to see. Generally it is very hard to interest the audience they have no connection with. The movie they saw before and liked it, the novel that sold million copies and all these things are of interest of the studio, so they are into what they call pre-sold titles. They think” if you enjoyed characters in one movie, maybe you will enjoy the same characters in another movie”. It´s just easier to market the film and marketing is very expensive. So sadly we are in situation when sequels and comic adaptations and adaptations that are already known to the audience it´s what studio goes for first and foremost.
So have you been asked to make sequel of Love actually?
Are you kidding? Of course. Richard Curtis who runs Comic Relief declined to make a sequel of Four wedding but made about 30 minutes sketches which press labelled as sequel of Love Actually.In fact it´s Love Actually fourteen years later. It´s about seven different sections and each runs about five minutes. It was Richard´s idea, just to raise money for Comic Relief.Every single actor came back apart of course deceased Alan Rickman and Emma Thomson, who was his partner, and she didn´t want to do it without him.
Talking about Alan Rickman, he was at this FebioFest two years ago and now he´s gone, isn´t it sad?
It´s a tragedy, really. You know, when you are told you are terminally sick, you have two choices, either tell that to people around you and you may get them into situation that they don´t know how to react, how to behave towards you, how to approach you. Or you can stay calm and don´t tell anybody, as if nothing happened. And Alan chose to be quiet, so he knew he is ill but didn´t tell me. I am sorry I didn´t know that, he was great friend and at least I could have gone and say good bye to him, just for myself, not for himself.
Is it truth, that Claudia Schiffer got 100 grand for her small part in the film?
I can´t really remember, but it doesn´t sound like fine we would pay her.
When you get a call for new project, what is your first question? Who is starring in it, who is the director or it is irrelevant to you?
It´s not like that, even if these are two key factors. Before you even start to think, you have to have a script. Not the proper lines but to tell the story, what is it about.
Would you go for the project which you wouldn´t be sure about commercially but you would love it artistically?
I have not done that many films in my career. Three were very successful, others reasonably successful. They are quite wide spectrum of art in them-romantic comedies, historical film, art film and only connection among them is, that I care about them. So I am only interested in doing things that I care about. So if I find a story which I care about, I try to make commercial package for it. So firstly it must have something that I care about then I have kind of responsibility to people who finance it, that audience will come and get it right.
It took you seventeen years to get historical film Eagle onto screen, why so long, weren´t you sure about that?
I was just slow. I wasn´t trying seventeen years. It took eight years before it actually got made. You know producing is very difficult job, it took me four years to get a writer I wanted. I than got director for that but wasn´t later available so I waited for him, so if you care about all these things you have to wait for right person.
You were 42 when you made your first film. Some actors over 50 can´t get a job in Hollywood so is the age that important for producer?
Actors are different thing. You know, they have to have image on screen, age affects your commerciality. Age is relevant behind camera. The thing that I was 40 when I produced my first film was a good thing. I always say to these young people who want to be overnight success when they are 20 years old, ”One thing I guarantee to you is , you will get the opportunity to do what you want to do but pray it doesn´t come too soon. If it comes too soon and you screw it up, it may not come ever again. So pray for opportunity but pray for it at the right time”
You established DNA production.Did you use it as a metaphor since it means core of human existence so your company would be core for pure film production?
I guess it was one of the reasons. But in reality it stands for Duncan aNd Andrew, cos it was me and Andrew Mac Donald who produced Trainspotting. But I think DNA is quite a nice title, isn´t it? It means source of everything.
This interview was realized at Febio Fest.