Working Title Films co-founder Tim Bevan talks Hollywood, British talent, and making movies on a shoestring. “You’ve got to have a fire in your belly,” he says.
Tim Bevan started Working Title Films in 1984 when he was just 27, and has seen the company grow into one of the most successful British film production companies ever. The company is best known for massive Brit-flicks such as Four Weddings And A Funeral and Bridget Jones’ Diary, but its portfolio is surprisingly varied, taking in sleeper hits such as Fargo, and wacky comedies such as Shaun Of The Dead.
Bevan started the company with fellow producer Sarah Radclyffe, working on music videos at the dawn of the MTV era. Music videos led to feature films via Stephen Frears. Working Title produced Frears’ first film, the no-budget Oscar-nominee My Beautiful Laundrette. Radclyffe moved on, and Bevan struck up a new partnership with Eric Fellner in 1992 when Polygram invested in the company. It’s a collaboration that has seen Working Title go from strength to strength.
How did you become a film producer?
I got a job as a runner at a TV station in New Zealand when I was travelling, and I fell in love with the whole world of film and television. And when I came back to England I thought ‘I don’t want to be a runner all my life, those guys who run the place, the producers, it looks like they have interesting jobs.’
How did you survive financially in Working Title’s early days?
It was very much a seat-of-the-pants existence. We would just get the movies into production and be able to take a production fee that would keep everyone fed. It was dangerous, but full of adrenaline too. It was exciting. It wasn’t really until I was in my 30s that I worried about taking a salary, because by then I had wives and children.
Can you imagine working without Eric Fellner?
No. I’ve always wanted to work in partnership. There’s a lot of ‘nos’ – you have to say ‘no’ a lot and you’re told ‘no’ a lot. It can be very demoralising. It’s important to have someone to share that with. We split the projects up, but we’re there for the big decisions together. I can’t imagine not working with Eric particularly and with a co-chair in general.
How would you describe the film producer’s role?
Film is such an expensive medium it is kind of our job to marry the accountants up to the mad fuckers. It takes a mad fucker to make a movie, and it also takes an accountant. It’s a constant balance, and sometimes the accountants get too much power, and things go wrong, and sometimes the mad fuckers get too much power and things go really wrong.
How did Working Title buck the trend and become one of the few successful UK film production companies?
We had extremely solid creative relationships with some extremely clever people that we’ve built up over a number of years. We’ve had luck. Between us we’ve made 50, 60, 70 movies, so we’ve got a lot of experience. It sets us ahead of everybody. It doesn’t make us any better than anybody, it just makes us more experienced.
How good is the health of the UK film industry right now?
The UK industry is only as good as the directors, writers, and producers working in it. And right now I think there’s some good young emerging talent. People will always whinge about money and this, that, and the other.
The fact is that Joe Wright who made Pride and Prejudice and Edgar Wright who made Shaun Of The Dead are very talented filmmakers who’re both making their second movie here in the UK. That’s important.
What were your first impressions of Hollywood?
Over the years I’ve never been afraid of Hollywood. A lot of British writers and producers treat it as the enemy or with a certain nervousness. We’ve always seen it as a shop where you can get everything. Money, distribution, talent. It’s great.
How is Hollywood’s approach to filmmaking different to the UK’s?
The studio system is different because when you go to Hollywood you know you’re going. With a small British film, it tends to be that there’s a finite amount of money, and everything is a compromise. With a Hollywood-backed movie, all you’ve got to ensure is that you make it the best possible film you can.
What advice would you give to budding filmmakers?
Be tenacious. When I was an independent filmmaker, I had a filing draw for each film that was empty at the beginning and it needed to have a yard full of ‘nos’ before you got the ‘yes’ at the end of it. So get out there and get the first ‘no’ because you’ve got a long way to go before you get the ‘yes’.
Can digital filmmaking really democratise the filmmaking process?
The fact is that if you want to be a director you can direct a movie. Just borrow a DV camera and an Apple Mac computer and you’ve got the wherewithal to make a film. You can shoot and cut it.
For some reason people don’t get off their arses and do that. You’ve got to have a fire in your belly for it. At any given time there are a lot of people who like the lifestyle idea of making films, and then there are the people who really have a fire in their bellies.
Why did you set up Working Title 2?
We wanted to make sure new filmmakers, writers, and producers had a home within the Working Title family. It was specifically set up to work with first-time filmmakers, and to hopefully feed the Working Title talent pool.
Too often we’d make a film with a first-time director and have a modicum of success and the last you’d see of them was the tail of a 747 headed for Los Angeles. We want to provide a home for filmmakers to make not just their first film but also their second, third, and fourth movies as well.
What’s your favourite Working Title film?
We’re lucky, we’ve made some pretty good movies over the years, but I couldn’t pick a favourite. By the time I’ve finished any of them I fucking hate them.