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Interview: Wellington Films

1 September 10 interview: Alison Emm

"People say about Unmade Beds that they’ve never seen London look so good – that’s because it’s Nottingham"

A scene from Crying With Laughter by Wellington Films

Wellington Films have made a huge contribution to independent cinema in Notts, with the likes of London to Brighton – which won six festival awards and was described by The Guardian as ‘the best British film of the year’ – among their portfolio. Alastair Clark and Rachel Robey are the people behind Wellington, and they pitched their story to us…

How long have Wellington Films been up and running?
Alastair Clark: Wellington has been running for ten years now; we’re currently organising a big party down in London, and we’ll be inviting all our industry friends and we’re going to schmooze. 

Where does the name come from? 
Alastair: We used to live on Wellington Square in Lenton, and when we hired our first camera kit they asked what company name we wanted it put under. We didn’t have one. We thought for about two minutes and came up with Wellington because it made us sound a bit grander: ‘Wellington Films, Wellington Square’… it’s like we had premises.
You’re actually based in Broadway – what’s it like working there?
Alastair: Broadway has traditionally been the hub of filmmaking in Nottingham - maybe even the East Midlands - and they’ve been incredibly supportive. If you sit in the café bar for long enough, anyone you want to work with in film will walk in through the doors at some point. It’s a great place for networking.
What possessed you to start up a film company?
Alastair: I did Art History as a degree. My tutor realised I preferred the film bit rather than the art bit, so he told me about a course that ran at Intermedia, which is now Confetti. I did a one-year production course. It was a great course; pretty much everybody that’s been involved with film in Nottingham has come through their doors. It was also where I met Rach.  

So, what does a production company actually do?
Alastair: A producer is like a managing director of a company; they’re the decision-makers, the hirers and firers. When we manage to get funding, we deal with the lawyers and the ‘talent’. We always get asked this because no-one really knows – even our parents aren’t too sure. 
Rachel Roby: It’s the director or writer that comes up with the ideas for the films. The producer has to come up with the material; whether that’s a writer or director with material or optioning a book, a stage play or an article or something that’s going to be the basis of the film. We then have to find a way to turn that basic idea into a film and decide what resources are needed. We’ve got to raise the money and pull the whole thing together. We get sent hundreds of things every month; 99.9% is not viable and some of it’s just plain bad.
Have you ever turned anything down that has then been made?
Rachel: There’s been a couple that have got away; there was an Argentinean film called Lion’s Den that we wanted to work on but we just couldn’t find the money, as it was a small, foreign language arthouse film and that made it difficult to find the money in the UK. It got into the main category at Cannes last year. That’s the one I’m saddest about losing. 
How important are awards for smaller production companies then?
Rachel: Hugely important. It doesn’t necessarily bring you anything financially, but it’s nice to be recognised. But ultimately, out in the real world, there aren’t many awards apart from the BAFTAs that mean anything to anybody outside of the industry.
Alastair: We were nominated by the London Critics Circle - which is all the newspaper critics – for Best British Producers of the Year for London to Brighton. We were up against The Departed, United 93, The Last King of Scotland. It was nice to be nominated.
What’s the most fun part of your job?
Rachel: It’s nice to make a living doing something you really enjoy. Getting good reviews is fantastic actually but then getting bad reviews can be pretty miserable depending on what they say. The biggest downside is the complete lack of financial security. 
Alastair: Going to premieres of your own films. At Cannes, going to the premiere of Better Things was fantastic. We were sat opposite the cinema in a café - we weren’t in the main competition, we were in a side section – all dolled up at about 11 o’clock in the morning and there were all these people were queuing down the side of the cinema and literally around the block and we realised that they were coming to see our film. Some of them hated it, but they came!
If you had an unlimited budget, what would you splurge it on?
Rachel: I wouldn’t necessarily put more into making the film, for starters; I’d put more into the development - getting the scripts right and not rushing into production, because you could afford to spend three years getting the film just right before you have to make it.
Alastair: It’s difficult to know whether a film like The Dark Knight would be that much fun to make or not – I imagine it was hell, actually.  I love that film so much, but I think I’d rather just watch those sorts of films and make our own smaller ones.
Do you think smaller budgets can actually aid the creative side of making a film?
Alastair: More money would mean an enormous amount of pressure from the financiers. Obviously, we need to move more into that arena to sustain ourselves and grow, but there can be incredible amounts of stress that goes with being given £200 million.
Rachel: I always think of the real world and the film world as two separate things when it comes to money.  You bandy around big figures, but you can’t think what a difference that money would make to your life – you have to treat it like Monopoly money. 
So just how important is Nottingham to the British film industry?
Rachel: There’s a great heritage here: Steven Frears, Alan Sillitoe, Shane Meadows.  Jonathan Glazier went to Nottingham Trent, and Quentin Tarantino presented the UK premiere of Reservoir Dogs at the Shots in the Dark Film Festival here in Broadway too. There’s been a good procession of people
Alastair: EM Media have been very successful; at Edinburgh Film Festival last year, they had six films, which was far more than any other screen agency. So in output, Nottingham has been incredibly important in British filmmaking. We’re also good at enticing people here; Pride and Prejudice and Robin Hood shot parts locally, and The Dark Knight almost came here. The East Midlands has got such a varied physical landscape; you can film most things. EM Media had a huge locations department before the cuts, where you could contact them and ask if they had anywhere in the region that would suit. For Control, we shot in the street where Ian Curtis lived and died in Macclesfield to make sure that that was right, but outside of that we shot absolutely everything in Nottingham - it doubled incredibly for Manchester. And I’ve heard people say about Unmade Beds that they’ve never seen London look so good – that’s because it’s Nottingham!
Rachel: But it’s worrying that the film fringe in Nottingham is being jeopardised, with all the funding cuts that are coming in with the new government. 
Tell us about Crying with Laughter and how important it has been to the East Midlands film scene?
Alastair: It was the first film to be funded, developed and distributed out of the East Midlands, although we partnered with a Scottish company who funded about fifty percent of it. I'm proud to say that everyone on the cast and crew were regional as well.
Rachel: There’s a newer distribution outfit in Nottingham called BritFilms and as the vast majority are in London it was unique in that sense.  
And it won the best film in the BAFTA Scotland Awards?
Alastair: Yes, it did really well. We also placed top five in the audience awards at the 2009 Edinburgh Film Festival which isn’t bad to say there’s about 90 films shown. 
So what’s in in the pipeline?
Alastair: At the moment we are doing our first documentary feature, but we’re keeping it under wraps. All we’ll say is that it’s set in the world of high-end fashion. We’ve tapped into a sub-genre that has seen a resurgence, but it’s by accident - the director has been making the film for twelve years.
That’s not an average time to make a documentary, is it?
Alastair: No, it’s not! It’s the Chinese Democracy of documentaries…

Crying with Laughter can be downloaded on iTunes and the will be released on DVD in 2011.

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