Norwich Film Festival caught up with Damian Jones who is a BAFTA Award Winning Film Producer, whose credits include: The Lady in the Van, Dad’s Army the Movie, The Iron Lady, Kidulthood, Adulthood, and The History Boys to name but a few. We are very lucky to have Damian as one of the 2016 Norwich Film Festival judges.
Damian can you explain briefly to our readers the role of a producer & executive producer.
Traditionally the producer instigates and makes the film through to release and executive producers are involved in its financing. Nowadays both credits are often much abused.
How did you get into working as a film producer?
I started on the crew side as a production runner and quickly decided producing was what interested me. I felt I had the ability to spot talent and make things happen. It took me three/four years to take the independent producer plunge. I wanted to have a grasp first of the business side as well as the production side. In other words what it took to get a film onto a set through vital creative development on the script and how to finance and package a project.
You have an incredible eclectic background with your producing credits, what is it that attracts you to projects?
Just whatever interests me and I think might entertain other people. The good ideas attract other people and start over time to gather a momentum of their own. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work with some very clever people who took projects I was involved with to a while other inspired level.
You have had an extremely busy year with producing credits on “The Lady in the Van”, “Dad’s Army”, and the new “Absolutely Fabulous” movie. How do you manage juggling projects in close proximity to one another?
Again, by collaborating with smart people. My producing partner on Lady In The Van was Kevin Loader who did the heavy lifting. I was away with Dads Army as they were filming at the same time. Ab Fab came after and I did that with Jon Plowman who produced the original series.
You have been pivotal in bringing the iconic Dad’s Army to the big Screen. What made you want to bring this back for today’s audience? and where you faced with any challenges in bringing this particular film back?
I thought hard on could and should it be done and then how. It needed a fresh plot, new actors in a larger scale film setting and needed to go where the series hadn’t gone before. I also saw at the beginning how popular it still is thirty/forty years on and with the change in demographic of cinema going audiences wondered if there was something there we could tap into. Fundamentally, it was the timeless characters and timeless class based comedy that attracted me.
There was a lot of initial scepticism. Would we mess it up this national treasure? Over time, with a great script by Hamish McColl and with the blessing of the original creator Jimmy Perry and the Croft Family and the calibre of cast we attracted, I think people are generally giving us the benefit of the doubt and will go see it. I hope they enjoy it as something both they remember fondly as well as enjoying the new elements we’ve added to it.
The Iron Lady was a magnificent film, and won Meryl Streep an Oscar, how easy was it to get this film off the ground considering the mixed emotions surrounding the late Margaret Thatcher? Was this an easy film to sell to investors?
Again it was initially very hard. Mrs Thatcher immediately brings up so many different opinions and reactions. But I always felt that whatever your politics you couldn’t deny she had an extra ordinary life. The Grocer’s daughter to the first female Prime Minister.. We had many different scripts to try and tell the story but Abi Morgan eventually created a phenomenal script along with Phyllida Lloyd our director. I only ever had Meryl Streep in mind and once fortunately she then came on board the financing came together relatively quickly.
Also, congratulations on the success of “The Lady in the Van” this is a great comedy with heart along with it being beautifully edited, written, and directed. How long did it take this project to get off the ground? and did you contact Alan Bennett about bringing his work to the big screen?
We had all done the History Boys together and have always been looking for another project to do. I suggested it to both Alan and Nick and Maggie Smith’s agent and each of them in turn replied they’d do it if the others would. Fortunately they all did! After that the financing came together relatively quickly.
What advice/tips would you give anyone wanting to become a film producer? And how do you think people can get into this particular field?
You have to go and stay with your instincts while simultaneously listening to others and always take on board constructive creative criticism. Getting your story and script right is key. Once you have that the talent and finance will come. Remember it’s always a collaboration and always expect ninety nine rejections as you’re only looking for that one yes. Initiative is key.
How important do you feel the film festival circuit is to the next generation of short filmmakers? and do you feel there is a way we can continue to increase British talent?
Short film festivals are key. Any showcase for people to have a platform to show their work and talent. I believe whatever you do: writer, director, actor, producer you should be always be creating and improving your craft. With technology and online so accessible people with ambition should be filming and creating with like-minded collaborators.
Finally, do you have any particular advice to those short filmmakers out there wanting to make a film?
Just do it. Always be proactive. If you half your budget, shoot if for that. If you wait around it will most likely never happen. Learn from every one that you make and get better at it.
The Norwich Film Festival would like to remind its readers that Dads Army will be on general release February 5th 2016 and Absolutely Fabulous the Movie will be released on July 1st 2016.
Interview by Craig Higgins