January 02, 2008

Working Title: History of a Production Company

Working Title: History of a Production Company

(For a larger case study of a production company please see Channel Four / Film Four)

Fellner and Bevan of Working Title

Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner co-chairpersons of Working Title Productions

Introduction

The Co-chairpersons of Working Title  are  Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner. It has been an extraordinary British cinematic success story as the following comment notes:

They have been listed as the most powerful figures in the British industry and in 2002 Premiere magazine put them at 41st in the world-wide movie power list.( BBC News story (2004

Without well positioned and highly effective producers film makers would have an even more difficult time. Firstly this article will look briefly at the role of the film producer, it will then look in more detail at Working Title as a case study of a success story. Without good producers in the last few years British Film culture would have been much poorer.  Good producers are essential for the success of any national cinema especially given the outside pressures from the big guns. Film making is a high risk business and good producers know how / learn how to reduce risk. 

However according the the Daily Telegraph NBC Universal already holds a majority stake in Working Title Films, and has been looking to create a European TV studio in London. 

Working Title Red

Origins

Extract from Guardian interview

Bevan had founded Working Title in 1984 with Sarah Radclyffe, and in 1992 went looking for a corporate backer. Polygram was the one, and Fellner came on board, Radclyffe having left. According to Bevan: "Before that we had been independent producers, but it was very hand to mouth. We would develop a script, that would take about 5% of our time; we'd find a director, that'd take about 5% of the time and then we'd spend 90% of the time trying to juggle together deals from different sources to finance those films. The films were suffering because there was no real structure and, speaking for myself, my company was always virtually bankrupt."

What the film producer does

A film producer creates the conditions for making movies. The producer initiates, coordinates, supervises and controls matters such as fundraising, hiring key personnel, and arranging for distributors. The producer is involved throughout all phases of the filmmaking process from development to completion of a project. (Wikipedia entry 2nd Jan 2008)

Here is the blurb marketing a training course for potential producers:

The producer is at the sharp end of the film business. They are required to

keep all options open, develop networks of potential funding and talent,
identify outlets and new markets for their productions, keep a range of
projects live, ready for pitching
. This Film School will provide an
invaluable insight into the working practices and strategies, of the lives
of a variety of producers. They will range from those working exclusively in
shorts, in the UK, through to feature films and working in a global market.
It will provide essential information and tips for up and coming producers,
how to pitch a project, where to seek funding, how to maintain networks of
contacts. Everything you wanted to know about the producers’ job description and the detail of producing film will be revealed in this film School.
(My emphasis, Encounters Short Film Festival )

Films Produced by Working Title

Working Title's breakthrough hit was 1994's Four Weddings and a Funeral, a romantic comedy which made the term British blockbuster seem less of an oxymoron.

Successes 

Films which have been critically and financially successful include both British and American films:  

British films

Atonement 1

Atonement has been a great success for Working Title functioning as a film in the "heritage genre"

Four Weddings and a Funeral
Bean
Notting Hill
Bridget Jones's Diary
Elizabeth
and American films
Dead Man Walking
Fargo
The Man Who Wasn't There
O Brother Where Art Thou?
Failures  
But there are plenty of risks as this comment on Captain Corelli's Mandolin shows:
Flops include Captain Corelli's Mandolin. It was their most expensive film and, ironically, the one that seemed most likely to succeed.

This is even more ironic given that the prices in Kefalonia have risen as the tourist trade increased dramatically after the film's release.

How Working Title chooses the films to support 

How does Working Title choose which films to make? Fellner says projects get championed by individuals in the development department and these 'percolate' their way up to the top. Bevan and Fellner then both take the decision on what to greenlight (Skillset)

Recent Films Produced Include

More recently WT co-produced the successful Hot Fuzz comedy released in July 2007. See also Hot Fuzz)

Elizabeth the Golden Age : Shekar Kapur

Targeting Audience: The Secret of Their success?

The Working Title philosophy has always been to make films for an audience - by that I mean play in a multiplex. We totally believe in this because we know it is the only hope we have of sustaining the UK film industry. (Lucy Guard & Natasha Wharton)

Working Title 2 / WT 2: Making the Small Budget Feature

As Working Title became more bound up with larger productions it became more awkward to deal with smaller ones so WT2 was established to deal with low budget titles.  

Despite its famous name, the structure at Working Title is pretty lean. It employs just 42 full time staff, split between the main Working Title production arm and its low-budget offshoot WT2, run by Natascha Wharton, which since 1999 has produced films like Billy Elliot and Ali G Indahouse. (My emphasis, from Skillset )

WT2 has had a good success rate and clearly the whole organisation is run very effectively.

Other films it has produced are the less than well received Calcium Kid starring Orlando Bloom

Extract from a Channel 4 Film Feature

Lucy Guard, Head of Development for Dragon Pictures and Natscha Wharton (left) who co-runs WT2 share with us their secret to developing talent..

How did WT2 come about?
When I was at Working Title we set up a New Writers Scheme to develop new talent. Normally we do not accept unsolicited material (scripts that do not come from an agent or producer) but for the scheme we had to relax a bit and open the doors. The problem was that at Working Title, smaller films would inevitably get less attention than the bigger budget projects so we decided to set up WT2 to give proper attention to those smaller films. Quite a few of the writers we were developing on the Scheme we are now working with us at WT2 while others have set up their projects with other companies, which is great.

Available films produced by Working Title /WT2 include:

elizabeth_dvd_cover_special_edition.jpg Four Weddings and funeral DVD Cover Bridget Jones Bean DVD Cover

WT2 Films available include:

Inside I Billy Eliott Ali G Indahouse

Filmography 

Webliography 

Guardian Interview with Fellner and Bevan

BBC News story (2004)

Film File Europe recording Working Title / WT2 films 

Skillset Film entry on Working Title & WT2 

BBC on Inside I'm Dancing a WT2 title (This is technically an Irish film) 

BBC Review on Inside I'm Dancing

Working Title plans TV Shows:By Juliette Garside. Daily Telegraph Jan 2008

Film Four Productions Interview with Tim Bevan

Screenonline Working Title entry + links to individuals concerned

Independent Film Producer Rebecca O'Brien. Who works with Ken Loach 

(For a larger case study of a production company please see Channel Four / Film Four)


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