“A real piece of cinema”
by Naman Ramachandran
- Interview with two producers who brought their vast experience to the fore in helping artist-turned director Steve McQueen bring his unique vision to the screen
Producers Robin Gutch (Death of a President [+see also:
film profile], A Complete History Of My Sexual Failures, Donkey Punch [+see also:
film profile]) and Laura Hastings-Smith (Perfect, Three Rules Of Infidelity, The Lives Of The Saints) brought their vast experience to the fore in helping artist-turned director Steve McQueen bring his unique vision to the screen.
Cineuropa: How did the project come to you?
Robin Gutch: The project started really when Jan Younghusband, who’s the commissioning editor for arts for Channel 4, got talking to Steve when he won the Turner and asked him to come back to her with ideas for a narrative film either for television or for cinema. I got involved in the conversations and there came a point where Steve said he wanted to make a film about Bobby Sands. Then we got Film 4 and Peter Carlton involved at an early stage as well. Steve and I then did an initial research trip to Northern Ireland and we brought on a co-writer Enda Walsh to write the screenplay, as an Irish writer would bring a better cultural mix.
How easy or difficult was it to raise the £2 million budget?
Laura Hastings-Smith: We were incredibly lucky that there are financiers like Film 4 and Channel 4 who have a cultural remit. They were excited in the film as a cinematic project. They were on board from the start and extremely supportive. That gave the project a strong base of approval and backing. And going to the Northern and Southern Irish funders, we were going to shoot the film in Northern Ireland, most of our crew and almost all of our cast were from Northern Ireland, the other two Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham being from the South. I don’t want to say it was easy, but I think the strength of the project stood out and I think the people and a lot of the people involved in the film said that it reminded them why they got involved in cinema in the first place.
Robin Gutch : The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland was a crucial link. Getting money from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland was culturally important. It meant we could have production spend in Northern Ireland without having to match it in the South.
Was there one moment during the production where you thought this is why I make movies?
Laura Hastings-Smith: I think one had that feeling all the way through. The cast and crew were hugely excited by supportive of the process from start to finish. There was a feeling that something possibly exceptional was happening and if we all kept our eyes on the ball and worked our hardest every day until it was finished, maybe this was a real piece of cinema.
Robin Gutch: There are two key moments that stand out in my memory. The first was reading the first polished draft that Enda had written with Steve. I thought this was one of the most exceptional pieces of writing that I’d read not just the last few years, but ever read. The second one was seeing the second day of rushes, there was this shot of the prison officer with the snow coming down, having a cigarette. In that shot everything about the film seemed to come together in terms of aesthetics. That’s where you are seeing an artist behind the camera.