Hi Film Folk,
Today we bring you another In Conversation.
This time with The Girl With All The Gifts producer Camille Gatin!
What was your relationship to film growing up?
Depends on who you ask. If you ask me I always loved watching films – a lot. I’m French so I lived in France until I was 18 and watched every American film under the sun, in French. I didn’t really have a first hand knowledge of English and American films in the English language at all. But I just happened to have a dad who was mad into genre and science fiction and we had tons of Jules Verne, HG Wells and Asimov.
I remember being as young as 7 and loving watching all of the Romero films with my dad in the summer holidays. It was a big thing for us. According to my dad I told him when I was 12 that I was going to be a film producer, which is just bonkers – how would a 12 year old even know what that means? – but I always wanted to work in films for sure. I didn’t want to be an actor or a director but I didn’t know what else I wanted to do.
Did you study anywhere? How did you go about getting into the film industry and how did you support yourself?
I came over to the U.K. when I was 18 to study telecoms engineering. I did satellite telecoms and encryption at Cambridge for 4 years; I did a Masters and everything. The main reason for coming to study in England was for the English language. I didn’t want to lose the language I had learnt back at school.
The plan was to come to Uni here, learn the language and then return to France but I never went back. I got offered a job at Saatchi and Saatchi without having to try too hard and thought that it was at least one toe into some sort of audiovisual thing, but I really didn’t enjoy it. It’s not really creative and you are at the mercy of your clients.
By accident, through a friend of a friend, I realized an acquaintance of mine was Mike Leigh’s researcher. One night I told her I really wanted to work in films. A week later I was offered to be Ashley Judd’s body double on “De-Lovely”. I called my dad and told him I was quitting advertising to work on a movie set and he said “good for you”. That’s how it all got started really.
I then worked on film sets for a couple of years; I did some stand-in work then a bit of AD-ing. I got a job as a runner for a TV company, was poached by the company next door three months later, and then it all really started progressing. To make ends meet I did three crappy jobs, on top of making tea and reading 6 scripts a day that nobody else would read, whilst also working as a private tutor on the side.
I became a development assistant, head of development and production, distribution. I started being a buyer as well, so I have quite an unusual CV and have seen every aspect of filmmaking, whereas most people come from one specific area, be it production or development. Having done a bit of everything was really helpful.
I was getting tired of working for other people and realised I knew how to put projects together myself. But then the financial crisis kicked off, I lost my job and that was the kick up the backside to set up on my own, which was interesting and at the worst of times. I gave myself 7 years to make my first feature and did it in 4 with “The Girl With All The Gifts”.
And at some point you made a short, right?
The first thing I shot was a short with Tim Key and Tom Basden called “Anthony” in Lapland. It was minus 28 degrees on set, we were completely isolated. We chose Lapland because the first line of the script is “Lapland Forest – Night”. In it Father Christmas is an alcoholic who crash lands as he takes off on Christmas Eve. Everything is about the power struggle to survive between him and one elf, they are the only survivors, so it was always going to have to be filmed in a snowy landscape.
I looked at so many other places before I saw images of Lapland. The director and I got on a plane and we knew that was it. We had 23 crew living in a log cabin together, all working like dogs all day. It was the ultimate filming experience and we were left with a film that looked amazing. It was financed through the BFI who had a short scheme through a Brighton company called Lighthouse.
What did you learn from working with other producers first (Ollie Madden and others)?
I learnt how to work hard. Ollie learnt how to work the Weinstein way. Incredibly disciplined, organized and thorough. It was a great way to learn about development. It taught me a structure to follow.
I really believe you can create your luck by working hard. You do need a massive dose of luck, but you do need to work your ass off.
The Weinstein way is definitely something I’m really grateful for learning as I still use it now. It entails waking up and reading the trades every morning, first thing. Keeping in touch with everyone, meeting regularly. Reading everything. When meeting with a writer you need to have read their material. When meeting a company, researching them so that when you come in you seem interested and informed. That makes all the difference and people take you seriously because you have put in the work.
You’ve produced TV series Endeavour, which is your first credit (according to IMDB) as straight Producer. How did you end up doing that? How is the process of producing TV different to film?
Colm (McCarthy, director of The Girl With All The Gifts) had worked on Endeavour and they were looking for a new producer so he suggested they talk to me. Also they wanted a more cinematic approach, as TV has become so ambitious these days.
I’m European so I have a different outlook on things. So for episode one, I brought in Danish director Kristoffer Nyholm from The Killing, who is now doing Taboo with Tom Hardy and Endeavour was his first British gig. For episode 2, I brought in Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Capotondi, who had won a prize in Venice for the most beautiful indie romantic thriller I had seen in ages called The Double Hour. So I brought in two really known and solid British TV directors and two complete outsiders, which was the really interesting thing about this challenge.
I produced 4 episodes of Endeavour which is bonkers because it was like doing four indie films back to back. It’s the same writer and the same characters but its four times 90 minutes, and each one has a completely different tone and a different director. Russell (Lewis, creator and writer of Endeavour) wanted one to be a Hollywood noir thriller, another a Turn Of The Screw moody horror and another big war time romance. It was an amazing experience as you end up in post-production on episode 1, cutting 2, shooting 3 and prepping 4.
The writer – Russell Lewis – is a god. And working with legend Roger Allam is pretty great too, whilst Shaun Evans is unlike any actor his age.
What kind of technical knowledge does a producer require?
People management is a big part of it. You have a team of experts working for you and it’s just a case of managing that. To me it came naturally based on all the jobs I had done previously.
Tell us a bit about The Girl with all the Gifts. What drew you to the project? Was choosing to do it a case of finding a great script or you’d found the story already and wanted someone to write one for you?
I had a general meeting with Mike Carey (legendary comic book writer of Sandman, Lucifer, The Unwritten), we were talking about a Lewis Carroll project but at the end of our chat he sent me a short story – essentially the first 5 minutes of the film The Girl With All The Gifts. Colm came on board at this early stage and we storylined the film together.
With regards to casting; Mike had already written the part of Sgt. Parks for Paddy Considine so that was easy as it was something he had told us early on. It was really important to Colm that we went into this colour blind. I’m really proud of the fact we have 8 characters in the film and 4 of them are women and 4 of them are black.
The biggest challenge creatively for Colm, and logistically for me, was to find the right little girl to play Melanie and we met a lot of girls. It sounds impossibly romantic but Sennia is the last girl we met. I wasn’t there but Colm went to Nottingham because of the TV workshop and he said “there is one more girl and she is amazing”. He sent me her tape and said I had to watch it. On Monday we got her down to London to do a chemistry read with Gemma and we just knew instantly.
Glenn is awesome and it was a case of if you don’t try you don’t get, so we tried and we got. In the first draft her character was written as being 35 years old but before casting we asked that all ages were taken out of the script and said to our casting director we just wanted to see all our options. We wanted to open our minds about this.
We started thinking about it and some American names came up. We mentioned Glenn and we just didn’t expect it to happen but it was really quick. Her agent sent it to her straight away. It just so happened they had a conversation and she had said she wanted to do something different and this was different. She loved the writing and two days later she was on Skype with Colm. It’s serendipity. She liked Colm and said “Alright I’m coming to Dudley for two months”.
How did you go about financing The Girl with all the Gifts and how long was that process from getting the script to getting the money to go?
We went to the BFI for development money. The idea for the first 5 minutes was the short story and we made up everything else together and then Mike went away to write it.
Oddly what happened was that after the second draft I was producing Endeavour and Colm was away working on Sherlock and there was a bit of lull and Mike had already thought about writing a novel based on the script. So when I had finished Endeavour his agent showed me the cover to the book based on the script which has done brilliantly, and now everyone thinks it’s based on the book – but Colm and I have never read it.
We had a script that was exactly how it should be to make a film, and we didn’t want to change anything about it. Mike understood that and we have a really good shorthand. It’s a brilliant system. In fact we are working on his new novel now.
It’s a 100% U.K. project. It’s a mixture of BFI, Creative England, through the West Midlands production fund. We had pre-sold the UK Rights to Warner Brothers in the UK and then added the UK tax credit, so it’s 100% UK funded.
At what point did Colm join you and how did you end up working together?
We had been meaning to work together for seven years. When I was at a previous company, we had an option for a book called “The House of Lost Souls” and Colm really wanted to direct it. We had met quite a few times and I knew that creatively we were very in sync and I had never forgotten that. Our paths crossed again and again and so interestingly now we have a partnership together.
He really wanted to make something in derelict locations. As a kid he had always gone on a lot of urban exploring trips and that had really stayed with him. When you set up a production office you usually end up in a derelict factory where the HQ is still standing and you can plug in phones and put your team there but the factory next door is knackered so it’s always amazing to walk around those locations.
It just so happens that I met Mike Carey at that time. We were talking about completely different things and at the end of that meeting he told me he was about to send this short story to Charlaine Harris, who is the novelist behind True Blood, and he asked me if I wouldn’t mind reading it before he sent it to her. It was literally the first 5 minutes of The Girl with all Gifts. I said I was going to send that to Colm and then the three of us worked on the idea for the feature length film.
Tell us about the actual production – how long was prep, how long was shooting and editing?
8 weeks prep and 7 weeks shooting. The shoot was long as we had a young girl in every scene, so we worked everything out around that. We finished in July and delivered to Warners in March. We had quite a lot of VFX to do and we completed post in Berlin.
What were the challenges on this one? Did anything change from script stage? Any hurdles to overcome?
We had quite a lot of kids on set every day. It was really important for us to have a diverse crew. So for example half the camera department were women as it was really important for us that Sennia felt it wasn’t just big blokes on set, and it wasn’t intimidating. So on one hand we made an effort like that behind the scenes to really encourage parity.
In terms of visual veracity I hope the look is very natural as lots of work has gone into making the film look that way. We did tons of research and we prepped properly. We sent a second unit to Chernobyl to shoot an empty city that had been taken over by nature. We looked at what it would genuinely look like if humanity disappeared and buildings were taken over by nature and then incorporated a London skyline into it.
It’s interesting that quite a few people have mentioned that it looked like “The Last of Us”, which was a lovely compliment as they also clearly did their research and that’s what it would look like if we disappeared tomorrow. It just shows all the research our team did, Colm, the DP and the production designer, alongside our amazing location manager. It all came together and nothing was left to chance.
With regards to the edit you can be indulgent with the 2 hour 20min cut or be kind to the audience with the 1hour 45min cut. You can watch all the deleted scenes on the DVD and tell us if we were right. Just because you love a scene doesn’t mean it should be in the film. A good editor is a guy who won’t hesitate to say we can lose this and the audience will not be lost.
What advice would you give to somebody with no producing experience that would aid them in becoming a theatrical film producer?
Go out there and do it. It’s the only way to learn. It takes a long time. Don’t worry about making mistakes because you won’t make them again. You will pick yourself up and make other mistakes. You just have to get experience. I know some people who were sniffy about me being a body double when I started out, and then when I did three other non-film related jobs to make ends meet – but in the end I did it all to get to where I am now. I have made a movie I’m very proud of. It will be very hard and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s an endurance thing and if you feel passionate about it, you will find a way.
For example, I knew about film markets because I used to be a film buyer and a distributor – that may come across as a tangent in my career. But because I’d come to know the head of sales at Altitude, Mike Runagall, I knew exactly what films he was into. When we developed “The Girl” it was the magic team of Will Clarke, who built up Optimum from nothing and had taken chances on Son of Rambo and lots of Shane Meadows films. He was the founder and CEO of Altitude, the combination of Will and Mike was a dream team.
I went to markets for years just to watch six movies a day, you get to know what works – great directors, actors etc. – and you meet great people and talk to them about their tastes, which is useful further down the line. They are really important creative relationships.
Get to know people, listen to them and go from there. It will benefit your projects, all being on the same page. Putting the right people together who will get it and be supportive of the project.
Thank you, Camille!
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