A labour of love
by Annika Pham
- Ken Loach’s long time production partner Rebecca O’Brien has built a wide network of European financial partners on which she can count, year after year
Rebecca O’Brien’s first collaboration with Ken Loach was on his 1990 film Hidden Agenda, winner of a Jury Prize in Cannes. Their partnership continued on Land and Freedom
film profile], both set up the production company Sixteen Films with scriptwriter Paul Laverty as Associate Director. In between Rebecca produced the hugely successful Bean for Working Title as well as Princesa by Brazilian director Henrique Goldman. She tells Cineuropa how it felt to win a Palme d’or for The Wind That Shakes the Barley [+see also:
interview: Ken Loach
interview: Rebecca O’Brien
film profile], the biggest and perhaps toughest film produced for Ken Loach.
You’ve worked 16 years with Ken Loach. Winning a Palme d’or must have been a very rewarding experience for both of you...
Rebecca O’Brien: Yes, from everybody’s point of view. It’s wonderful not just for him and I, but for all the people who have worked a long time with Ken. It’s even more special to have won for the Wind..., one of the biggest films we’ve made in terms of scale and one of the toughest one. For a period film, we had a tight budget to work with (€6,5m) but had to manage with it if we were to keep control over it. So once we started shooting, we couldn’t stop and we had to build on the momentum.
You said that 21 different financiers were involved in the film. I won’t ask you to cite them all, but which ones in particular were crucial for the making of the film?
It’s hard to say because every single financier was important and we couldn’t have done it without all of them. But perhaps getting the national funds behind the film -the Irish Film Board and the UK Film Council-was crucial in making it happen. Also my executive-producers were exceptional: Ulrich Felsberg who was at Road Movies before, Nigel Thomas who put the tax breaks together, Paul Trijbits at the UK Film Council and Andrew Lowe from Element Films in Ireland. We also had our usual European distributors on board: BIM from Italy, Diaphana from France, Cinéart from Belgium, Tornasol Films from Spain, Filmcoopi from Switzerland who pre-bought our recent films and supported us again.
The pre-production stage must have been quite long on such a complicated historical film...
Paul Laverty –the scriptwriter- spent a lot of time getting the script to perfection, and pre-production did take a lot of time as well: 9 months in total for location and casting. So I was financing the film as it was happening... a real labour of love! Cillian Murphy came on board during the financing and was an added bonus at the end. He was absolutely the right person for the part and happened to be from Cork.
What major difficulties did you encounter during shooting?
Apart from financial restraints, we decided to shoot the film in Ireland, around Cork, in an area that has been ravaged by modernity so we had to rebuild many places for the sets. Also, Ken likes to shoot in sequence, but the locations for The Wind... were spread over a wide geographical area, so we had to do a lot of travelling around and it was very tiring for everyone.
How has the film been received in the UK?
The press reaction has been horrendous in the UK. The right wing press in particular was vitriolic, and it got far worse after we won the Palme d’or. It’s obviously a historical period that the British continue to grind on. The Brits have a real problem with their imperialist past, but have to learn from history. The film is not only about an important period in Ireland’s history. It’s also a story about our own past. The Irish on the contrary were very happy with the film and appreciated the fact that it was a true account of historical events.
Ken Loach is more popular in continental Europe than in the UK. How do you feel about that?
The problem is that we share a language with the US so it makes it harder for smaller UK films to do well at home. We are being fed with US movies, told what to see, so the audience has become very lazy intellectually, whereas in continental Europe, there is a real film culture and film diversity. Yes, Ken’s films do better in the rest of Europe, in Italy for instance, but in the case of The Wind..., we hope it will do well in Ireland as well. So far, the Irish have taken ownership of the film in much the same way that the Spanish took ownership of Land and Freedom.
What is your next project with Ken?
Our next film will be a modern story set in the UK, scripted again by Paul Laverty. Shooting will start in the autumn. Channel Four is already on board the project which will have a smaller budget of around £2,5m. Our usual European distribution partners BIM in Italy, Diaphana in France, Cineart in Belgium (to cite just a few) have already agreed to support us, as well as Pathe in the UK. It’s a great group of relationships to have.