Jeremy Thomas • Producer
“We’re coming to a golden age for independent filmmaking”
by Annika Pham
On December 2, UK producer Jeremy Thomas will receive the European Film Achievement in World Cinema award during the European Film Awards ceremony in Warsaw. The film maverick welcomed Cineuropa in the London office of his Recorded Pictures Company to discuss his 40 years in the business of film, 30 of which were spent producing memorable films such as The Last Emperor, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and Crash.
Cineuropa: Looking back at your whole career in film, what would you say are your biggest achievements?
Jeremy Thomas: Since the 70s, I’ve been involved in 45 movies, which is a lot by today’s definition of independent movies. My biggest achievement is to continue to make challenging movies and to enjoy making them all over the world, where the stories come from, because the stories dictate where the film is made. I’ve worked perhaps on six movies that were real events in terms of success, such as Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence or The Last Emperor, but also in terms of adventures in foreign countries with friends, in terms of the physical side of it, because in the pre-digital world, you had to work away from home and change your life completely.
Take, for example, the scene in The Last Emperor, with all the people bowing in the courtyard. At that time all the costumes had to be made, the people had to be shaved, it all had to be directed and thought about whereas today you would take only 20 of those people and multiply them digitally. It makes it a totally difference experience.
Is producing easier now?
The manufacturing side of filmmaking – acting, stories, cinematography, design, costumes, etc. – all that remains. Good is good, whatever era it’s from. But what has changed is the technology. I think we’re coming to a golden age for independent filmmaking. Digital technology is revolutionizing the way our films are getting to the public and I hope it will help us operate in a more efficient way.
If you make a movie, using the European independent film model, you have to get it to the cinemas, then to all the other media and you have to have some exchange of money for those who help you. If you can cut out some of those functions, you can have more direct access to the market. Plus, on non-epic films, unit production costs are coming down. This is why I say it’s a golden age…I’m talking medium-term, but this is starting now. People are watching news on their Ipod broadcast. They could download a film on that or something equivalent and then watch it at home. It’s easier than visiting the DVD store. You can’t deny the undeniable.
Is Europe important for you in financing your movies?
I did in the past have regular distribution partners in Europe who would take on every one of my movies. But that tradition has gone. The alchemy of putting together money for a movie is very delicate. You look at the landscape of things available (co-production treaties, tax incentives, etc.), from Australia to the Caribbean. In the UK, the current tax situation is a bit in a deadlock. That’s a shame because we would be interacting better with everybody in Europe. But the UK film industry has always been with ups and downs.
What is the art of producing?
Finding a way through the cloudiness of what to make to then try to find things that people are interested in is the art of producing. The idea first and foremost does it for you, then you have to choose your key collaborators. Financing a film means you have to do something you really like and be ready to put up with a lot of rejection. Personally, I want to be successful, but I’m not market driven. I want to do things I like and hopefully I can remain in contact with the market.
What is the ratio between upcoming and established directors you’re working with?
30/70. I am working with three new UK filmmakers: Gerald McMorrow, Dawn Shadforth and Rupert Sanders, but also with Philip Noyce, who will direct Dirt Music, based on a book written by Tim Winton; Bernardo Bertolucci, who is close to finishing a new script; plus David Cronenberg, to cite just a few.
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