Difference between a Harry Potter film and an auteur film
by Annika Pham
- In Los-Angeles for the promotion of My Summer of Love, Tanya Seghatchian explains Cineuropa why Pawel Pawlikowski’s film was a real challenge
Cineuropa: How did you meet Pawel Pawlikowski and become his partner in your production company Apocalypso Pictures?
Tanya Seghatchian: I was resolved to work with him after having seen some of his beautifully crafted documentaries made for the BBC. We met in the mid 90s, became friends and decided to work together. We both left the BBC but I went off to make the Harry Potter films (as co-producer of the two first films and executive producer of the third and fourth) and he did other things, until we decided to make My Summer of Love [+see also:
interview: Jean-Paul Rougier
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
interview: Tanya Seghatchian
My Summer of Love was your first production for Apocalypso. Why this film in particular?
Pawel always works on several projects at the same time, but My Summer of Love loosely based on Helen Cross’ novel had a richness of characters that really attracted him and he wanted to make the two girls the centre of the film.
We optioned the book in 2002 and started to look for the two leading actresses, preferably unknowns. Finding the two girls was key to him because he wanted to find actresses who could make ‘the perfect couple’ on the screen. The casting was a long process (eight months) but when we found Natalie Press who plays Mona, we were completely blown away by her. Then we found Emily Blunt who plays Tamsin.
How was the financing put together?
The production of the film was very unusual in the sense that we optioned Helen Cross’s book, did the casting ourselves and only then started looking for financiers. We needed flexibility during pre-production, and didn’t want financiers who would look over our shoulders during the development of the script. Pawel knew exactly what he wanted on the key scenes but needed to develop the script progressively while working with the actors. He applies his skills as documentary filmmaker to his feature films, always trying to find the truth in his art in a very poetic way.
Working with Pawel is a real challenge for a producer because he needs complete freedom and you don’t work in terms of schedule.
The BBC were the first co-financiers we approached because Pawel had already worked for them and they had been involved in his first feature film Last Resort. Then we got the support from the UK Film Council, the Film Consortium (part of the UK FC Lottery franchises), their sales arm The Works and the tax partnership Baker Street.
What other films would you like to produce for Apocalypso?
Essentially auteur-driven films. Working with Pawel was a real pleasure and letting the director express his vision, hire the cast and crew and being involved in the whole artistic process is something I’d like to do again. This is probably the other side of my personality as I’m also working on the fourth Harry Potter, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire that will be released next November. I love just being able to make different kinds of films.
All the films you’ve worked on so far are literary adaptations. What advise would you give to other producers working on similar projects ?
From my experience, the first is to understand who is the star in the film: the book property or the filmmaker. With Harry Potter, the star is the author J.K. Rowling. The director, the cast, the producer and everyone involved in a Harry Potter film are only at the service of Rowling’s imagination and the film a representation of her soul. All the director has to do is try to be as close as possible to her books.
In the case of Pawel Pawlikowski’s adaptation of Helen Cross’s novel, the most important was Pawel. He had a loose relationship with the book that was used as a springboard for his own vision, and Helen Cross was well aware of that. The book is then only source material for the director.
For both types of projects, you as a producer need different types of financial backing with a US studio or an independent production company, and I am lucky enough to be able to work with both systems.