Case Study: Gina Carter
Gina Carter, one of the UK's leading producers, on her path into production and how to raise funding.
Gina Carter has established herself as one of the UK's leading producers. Her first job was as a production assistant on period crime drama Let Him Have It in 1991. She has worked in a number of production roles - including several years as a line producer at Working Title. Since accepting a job as Head of Production at Revolution Films in the late '90s, Gina has become a dynamic producer with credits that include Bright Young Things, 24-Hour Party People and Snow Cake. While still working with Revolution Films, Gina also runs her own production company, Sprout, in partnership with Stephen Fry. They have several feature film and television projects in development with various directors attached including Marc Evans, Justin Chadwick and Luis Mandoki.
Here Gina talks about different production roles, the difficulties of raising finance and how to tell directors that they can't have that all-important helicopter shot. She also offers some advice for young producers and directors eager to make their impact on the British film industry.
First steps on the career ladder...
"I started in production as a line producer. My first job in film was at Working Title, where I was an assistant for four years after graduating with a degree in the Performing Arts. I was working in administration in the Leicester Haymarket Theatre when Working Title offered me that job. I worked as a production coordinator on a couple of things and then I was a production manager and then I line-produced for five or six years. It was a nightmare, though."
Moving into television...
"I got to know Andrew Eaton and Michael Winterbottom really well and I still remember telling them how tired I was and how exhausted I was with line-producing. I'd done so many films as a line producer that I needed a break. They offered me a job at Revolution Films, running the business and developing projects. It was during that time that I started to develop my own projects with Andrew with a view to producing them myself through Revolution Films. There wasn't any one particular moment that I said, 'I want to produce.' It was just a progression. My first feature was Heartlands, the Damien O'Donnell film that I produced with Richard Jobson.
"It wasn't difficult making the transition to producing. As a line producer you're totally obsessed with cost and the hardest thing when you start producing is not to jeopardise creativity for financial reasons. Because I was so obsessed with the costs of everything - having line-produced so many low-budget movies - I had an advantage when I started producing. I knew we could make Heartlands for £2 million, I had no problems with that, but as a producer you're always trying to force the line producer to give you everything that the director wants (and you want) for the film. So I was suddenly on the other side of the fence from the line producer! I'd spent so many years telling producers that they couldn't give directors helicopters and extra weeks shooting and suddenly I was the one who was demanding a helicopter and an extra week's shooting! So that was an interesting transition."
Favourite part of the process...
"My favourite part of the process is mixing the creative with the business. I've always been fascinated by the business side of it, the numbers as it were. Making a film for 'X' amount of money is an exciting and exhilarating experience. But at the same time, being a producer as opposed to a line producer means you have extraordinary access to the creative side of things. The creative relationship with a director is fantastic."
Working with directors...
"It's been fantastic working with people like Michael Winterbottom and Marc Evans. They're both deeply creative directors. They probably seem demanding and unreasonable to the outside world but it's that passion that makes them the brilliant geniuses they are. It's very exciting to be part of that, to watch that. They're not demanding about things like getting a big trailer. In fact you rarely see any trailers on their films! They're demanding on the creative side of things, which is what makes it exhilarating. I think because my relationship has always been very good with my directors - Damian O'Donnell, Marc Evans and Stephen Fry - it's been much easier to be involved on a creative level with them. At the same time, you try to give your director the space to get on and do what they want.
"The most important quality in these relationships is honesty. There's no point lying to a director about what they can and can't have because then there's no trust. You have to be truthful about what is and isn't possible. Most directors are budget conscious. As a line producer I learned that the best way to behave is to always give people the correct information and then they can make the choice. If someone wants a helicopter you explain that if we have a helicopter we can't have the next day's filming on the river. You have to make the cost work somewhere. So if you give that information to the director, you can say 'What's more important, the helicopter or the river?' or, 'Do you want to do both and we'll lose something else?' If you give them the information, they get to make the choice."
Tips on raising funds...
"God, I wish I had some! I'm sure all of us wish we knew the formula that would work. It's one of the most exciting things about the job, though. The thing that keeps me going is that every single film is different in the way it's financed. It's always constantly changing. It's frustrating and thrilling at the same time. You're constantly moving with the goalposts. Every day you think your financing is in place and then something changes. It's completely out of your hands and you have to move in and restructure and reshape and refinance until it works. The hardest thing about financing and producing low-budget movies is that you never really know you're financed until you're halfway through shooting. It's pretty terrifying.
"I think every producer will tell you that at some point in shooting a movie you will lose a chunk of your finance. That happened to us on Snow Cake. We got caught up in the whole double dipping issue, about two years ago. There was a shake-up in the UK tax laws and we lost a percentage of our financing. So we had to go out and find some more. It was made worse by the fact that we were battling against actors' schedules. I had Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Anne Moss on a Â£3 million budget trying to get their schedules to tie up with me and my small amount of money that was constantly disappearing. Trying to hold that together was a pretty low point in my career. But you just have to go out there and do it. In all honesty you have to try not to think too much about it, just keep moving forward and stay focused on what you're trying to do. As soon as you stop and try and work out what's happening and why it's happening, the whole thing just spirals out of your control."
Advice for budding producers...
"You have to completely believe what you're doing is right, completely believe in the project. And you have to have a solid relationship with the director. Everything else will come to it. If you believe strongly enough in something it will happen. You have to believe in it to generate belief in other people - but it has to be backed up in reality. You have to convince the financiers that you're going to deliver the film they're paying for. That's something I learned in line producing: when financiers pay for a film they're actually paying for a script that they've read. It's important that you give them the film that they're buying. There's a certain amount of trust when financiers give you the money. That's the great thing about working with directors with a track record. But trying to raise money for a film is soul destroying. You have to be a tough, relentless person to do the job. People outside the industry think it's all so glamorous. You know, I get to go to two parties a year that are glamorous, the rest of the year I'm either up to my knees in mud on a shoot or fighting financiers in Soho. It's not glamorous at all!"
Jamie Russell | Published 03 May 07