Magazine article Screen International

Stars of Tomorrow One-to-One: Len Rowles Meets Iain Smith

Magazine article Screen International

Stars of Tomorrow One-to-One: Len Rowles Meets Iain Smith

Article excerpt

Veteran producer Iain Smith has moved between the UK and Hollywood with consummate ease over his career. He tells Star of Tomorrow and aspiring producer Len Rowles the secrets of his success.

Len Rowles: What advice do you have for emerging UK producers, who would also like to do business in Hollywood?

Iain Smith: Los Angeles is still the power centre of the movie business. You have to work out a relationship with it; ignoring it or despising it is self-harming. It's also not as unfriendly as people imagine. In fact, if you're young, they could be really interested in you because you could be the next big thing.

The problem with Hollywood is that it's a very serious business and there is a lot of money at stake. The risk-to-reward ratio is far greater than it's ever been because the marketplace has become so diversified, and how we deliver content to the paying public is changing every year. And that's what producers are all about: a producer is about getting something that the public wants. There's a lot of constant investigation about what they're doing, how they're doing it.

At the moment the big sci-fitype/superhero movies are considered to be dollar-for-dollar safer. By definition it's a big high-roller game, so you're talking about movies that are $150m and up. That's serious money, making it that little bit more difficult for younger people coming up to break in. Somehow or another you've got to find the experience where you can make mistakes and learn, and they won't let you do that on a picture that's costing so much money. That's a difficulty you'll have.

LR: You've seen the industry change so much. What would you say is the major challenge for producers these days?

IS: Technology is perpetually changing. You need to be looking at what technology does to the other part of the equation, which is ancient - storytelling. Understanding what people want, why they become entranced when you tell a story. Usually it's because they identify and care about a character. Producing is a fascinating mix of art and money and culture and commerce.

Some producers see themselves as film-makers; I don't. I see myself as an enabler of talent, who can do things I never could. I see myself a bit like a samurai, there to protect the prince or princess and to make sure that they are able to safely make the journey and achieve the objectives.

I'm very system oriented; I can be good with people and I can be tough with people. I like crews to feel safe but not to take that for granted. If you make people feel like they're not going to be blamed, or they're not going to be fired, all of a sudden they feel much safer and they give you that extra percent. And that makes a difference. If they feel safe, they'll give you 100%. If they don't feel safe, they'll give 95%. So the 95% is the bit you pay for, that difference between 95 and 100 is the bit they give you as friends.

That's what makes the difference between a mediocre film and a good one. Take something like Mad Max: Fury Road, which was a pretty hefty bit of film-making. We had 1,500 people on that because we were shooting live action, real vehicles - 140-odd.

When you make a film, it's a bit like a village - everybody knows each other. You have to find a systematic way of creating a sense of community, a sense of the village. Those kinds of things fascinate me - how do you pull that offand also be unseen in doing that? Producing is the one job that disappears, the kind of producing I do anyway. If you've paid for it, you're entitled to walk down the red carpet, but my view is we do the work we do and then like the stitches in a wound we fade away. For me, one of the most important things is to come out at the end of making a film with a director who is still your friend, but it doesn't always happen.

LR: There are so many elements involved in creating that environment - did you get better at managing all of those things so that you would all come out as friends? …

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