INTERVIEW: Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner (Producers of Love Actually, Shaun of the Dead, Fargo)

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There are producers, and then there powerhouse producing partnerships that cultivate amazing environments for filmic artists to work. Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner are firmly in the latter. In the wake of the hugely successful cinematic adaption of Les Miserables, Graffiti with Punctuation had the pleasure of talking to Messers Bevan and Fellner about the cult impact of some of their films; passion projects and what they think are the essential ingredients to a success.

What film in your whole plethora of work together just blew you away with kind of cult affect?

Tim Bevan (TB): Probably Shaun [of the Dead] actually, because we knew that it had a T.V following but we didn’t know going into it that there would be a Film following, and there was. Edgar and Simon have created a cult from that movie and into their subsequent movies.

Eric Fellner (EF):The other one that I found so surprising was The Big Lebowski. Not because it was surprising that people liked it, but the cult status of it. Like in America there are Lebowski festivals every year, I once found myself in Buenos Aires and there’s a Lebowski bar there. There are just crazy, crazy aficionados of that film.

TB: There probably is one other genre, which is the [Richard] Curtis genre. Because when we made Four Weddings and a Funeral, we didn’t have any clue that was going to create again a cult type business basically for that romantic comedy. But up to that point it would be inconceivable that a little British romantic comedy would make as much as it did all around the world. Also Love Actually which in America didn’t do that well, but where ever we go now people say, ‘every Christmas we watch that movie with our family.’ That’s like a different cult following but equally as strong – people watching that movie every year at Christmas time

It’s the biggest Liam Neeson film that doesn’t have him killing wolves. [Laughing]

You seem to work with these really strong director/writer figures and their personality colours the entire project. When you guys are producing and working together and collaborating, how do you put your stamp on it?

TB: I think if you get the material right, you get the team that they are going to work with right, the actors they are going to work with right and the price right; which is very much what we do with these people. You [the producers]have given them a box [that] they can work within and we do like working with people with a strong vision. Tom Hooper and Joe [Wright] recently are directors of great talent with strong visions and you need to create an environment in which everyone can do their best work. And it’s more fun to work with really talented people than not very talented people.

Onto Les Miserables now; when you someone with the audacity to take a classic of the live musical theatre and decide they want to try and out do it in a cinematic form, is there ever any hesitation?

EF: I think once we decided to do it we were all in. But yeah it was a bit crazy. In retrospect a lot of what happened was crazy and I think if we had realised it going in we might have thought twice about it. But we had two major things on our side. One was the creative team from the show. They were involved in every single piece of the creative of this film and that’s Cameron Macintosh our producing partner who originated the show, Claude-Michel, Herbie (Herbert Kretzmer) and Alain Boublil who created the show. So we were able to keep the DNA of what it [Les Mis] was. The other thing was Tom’s idea of doing it live, which just brought a whole new feel to the way in which we see musicals. It just isn’t fake. It’s just like watching a movie, but they just so happen to be singing that’s all.

TB:  I think going back to Cameron [was] very important because he’s been the great protector of this piece all the way through the last 25 years and he’s also a great armature of what the fans think and I think he knows in his DNA that the fans were ready for a movie.

EF: Yeah and it’s a different experience for the fan (the stage fan of Les Miserables) and I think that’s a plus because the first thing Cameron said to us when we went to talk to him was ‘I don’t just want to put the show on film, there’s no point in that because the show is going to exist for years and years to come. It has to have its own life.’ And the wonderful thing about film is that you can go anywhere, you can go right into someone, you can go miles away from them, you can create huge sequences – you can do anything.

TB:  The close up is really important because it’s an experience you don’t get in a theatre watching Les Miserables.

EF: So all of that camera work is so when you’re sitting in the theatre you have your own unique wonderful experience, but in cinema with what the camera can do and where it can go you get a completely different experience.

Another highlight from your great resume I just have to call it out is the documentary Senna. How did that project come to fruition?

EF: It was made purely from passion. Everybody that was involved in that project were passionate about the material, about Senna’s life, about formula one in that period and about the story. There was never ever a thought given to ‘Is this going to play all over the world? How much money is it going to make etc’. The only commercial nod was ‘hope we make our money back’. That was it, otherwise it was a project made purely from passion. There have been a couple of other films that Tim and I have made that are similar (where we have made them very small budget films) because we really, really believed in them. Billy Elliot was one of them, Four Weddings was one, Senna was one and it’s so gratifying when you make these tiny films that our job is so great and we believe in them and suddenly people all over the world are enjoying them.

TB: With Senna it took a long time for the magic break-through of what the films voice is; the film of him basically. When that happened you sort of thought ‘oh my god this is going to be special’ whether you like Formula 1 or not.

It’s a film that whips an audience into an emotional frenzy.

TB: I have a funny feeling that when fate is at the heart at the documentary it transcends and takes the whole thing to another level.

Onto future projects, You guys have just wrapped on Ron Howards newest film?

EF: That’s right. We actually just wrapped a few films, but Ron’s latest which is also set in the world of Formula 1 but in 1976 about an English motor racing driver called James Hunt and an Austrian Niki Lauda, and their fight in the 1976 series where Niki Lauda crashed and burnt famously and almost died and then came back to try and win the world championship. Written by Peter Morgan who wrote The Queen and Frost/Nixon – It’s a brilliant story and Ron’s a great director. We just wrapped another Richard Curtis movie About Time

TB: …it’s a small and very personal film that has this huge concept in the middle of it but it’s probably the lowest ‘tech’ time travel movie you will ever see. It’s really about our relationships, friendships and the way we lead our life, and love.

I know our readers are dying for any info about Edgar Wright’s The Worlds End. Is there any information you can give us on the project?

EF: We have let them get on with it on their own which may or may not be a good idea. [Laughs]…it’s really good…and they have worked their asses off. It’s been brilliant, there are some very funny sequences, there’s also some big action sequences, there’s a lot of fighting. Nick does a lot of fighting with bar stools, which is something to behold, Pierce Brosnan is in it and he’s fantastic. I think the fans are going to love it.

How gratifying has the audience, critical and awards season response to Les Mis been so far?

EF: I think that audiences are definitely responding to this film in a very positive way so that it does feel like the film will tick of the most important thing, which is that it will find a decent sized commercial audience around the world. It’s very easy in the award season to get dragged into things, but we do collectively think that Tom Hooper has done a magnificent job on this film and its ground breaking what he’s done for the musical and I think a lot of people that vote for the awards would probably agree with us on that. The critical thing is your make a film you love and then you hope the audience you’re making it for loves it too and that’s the meat of what Tim and I do as producers, anything beyond that is icing and wonderful and great and if we get nominated – fantastic, if it wins things – fantastic, but that’s where madness lies if you worry about things like that.

Congratulations on receiving the Producer’s Guild of America David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures.

EF: [It] is a great honour because that’s your peer group saying you’ve done your apprenticeship. We are extremely grateful to our peers for being recognized.