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Made in Dagenham

Interview transcript - Stephen Wooley

Clip 1: Project Development

STEPHEN WOOLEY: Well I think the development as it's called, of a project is quite interesting because you bring in partners. Film is always a collaboration, often a writer or film director might like to think it's all about them or an actor certainly might think it's all about them but actually it's all about an ever-increasing group of people and that begins from the very, very beginning because you can't, as a producer – as I am on this film – you can't simply go somewhere and start making it, you have to start to bring other people into the circle. And my first person was my producing partner Elizabeth and we went to Film Four who we have – at that point – an ongoing development deal with and then we spoke about writers and they, along with the UK Film Council, co-developed the project with us with a writer that we all liked. We read lots of his writing samples, he hadn't written any feature films at that time, his name was William Ivory, Billy Ivory and Billy we brought down, he lives in Nottingham, he came down to London and we started to do what's called the research. Which is - we went to the people who put the radio documentary out and, we by paying them a little bit of money, we got their contacts and went to the real women that were around that wanted to speak to us and we started to speak to them about the stories and went a little bit deeper into the whole history of it and then began to fashion a script. So really originally it was just Billy and us and the executives at Film Four who were working on it. I've always said this is a working class Calendar Girls that was always my intention, a very broad populous piece but at the same time we had to respect the events, we couldn't go over the top and make something that was completely different from what happened. So we had a long session, a year or so balancing that in the script. Working with Billy and thinking well actually it's teetering that way now, it's going towards a documentary, we don't want to do that or I think it's a bit too fantastic now. So it was very difficult to keep that balance between what actually happened and what will engage an audience for a couple of hours in the cinema. And it's always a problem when you're dealing with real-life movies you know.

Clip 2: Finance

STEPHEN WOOLEY: The script was so well honed, we'd worked so hard on it and everybody had such great intentions for it and once we'd put Nigel on board and we'd looked for other financing, the BBC jumped. They read the script and went OK yes we want to support this. Christine Langham was amazing at the BBC and incredibly supportive and then Paramount who we'd previously worked with on How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, the Simon Pegg film and Paramount loved the script and everyone here, the executives and Chris Hedges who's head of distribution and their Australian partners loved it as well. So we immediately had the BBC and Paramount, which are two very, very strong supporting stones for the financing of the film, and then we brought on a sales company which was Hanway. And we pre-sold, that means you go to a territory like Italy, Spain, France and they pre-buy the film based upon your cast and your director and the kind of film you think it is and the final brick was after we've finished the film, raised enough finance through pre-selling to the BBC and to Paramount, the BBC investing. The UK Film Council who had developed the project with us also invested in equity in the film and after we had completed the film we had a string of American distributors very anxious to see it including Sony Pictures Classics who have got a very strong and greatly deserved reputation for distributing European films.

Well it's a chicken and egg situation because obviously with a film like this it's a period film so you're talking about using vehicles and costumes and locations of that period and, although to some of us 1968 doesn't seem that long ago, it's a very long time ago and so you can't just get your camera, go into the street and point it and say OK we'll shoot, you just get on the bus over there. The buses are wrong, the clothes are wrong, the lampposts are wrong, the road signs are wrong, you know everything has to be created so that will dictate. You know you can't simply do that without a certain amount of money so like I said, it's a chicken and egg situation, what comes first, the money or the cost and in a sense you have a feeling for how much it might cost. In the case of this I think it's something like five or six million pounds, what we made the film for. So the cost of it is mainly spent on what is called below the line which is practical things of people's clothes, finding a location that looks ‘60s, to paint out things; satellite dishes and all sorts of things that would then be incongruous so that dictates a certain amount of what a film could cost. I think you're always doing one thing or the other, you're looking at what you can raise, you're looking at what it can cost, what you can buy for the money you can raise and what's going to be difficult. You know, one has to be a little bit judicious when you come to the script because if you were to shoot, for instance a scene in West Ham Stadium, you would probably be using footage of the time rather than trying to fill a stadium with a hundred thousand or sixty thousand people because you couldn't afford it. You couldn't afford the extras; you couldn't afford the costumes so with modern technology, a lot of that can be done with very clever editing and colourisation of footage of the time.

Clip 3: Casting

STEPHEN WOOLEY: Well the casting in this case…I mean we needed a Rita for our film. She was just plucked out of the air as a Rita because it was a name that was quite popular at the time and she really wasn't a real person. As we said to the strikers, the women from Dagenham, we're not portraying you in a film, we're taking your ideas and events and everything and trying to synthesise it into different characters that will be a bit of you and a bit of you and a bit of you but wouldn't be you completely. As I said, we weren't trying to make a documentary; we were trying to bring all the events into one hour and a half, two-hour period. So we made one woman Rita, an amalgam of two or three different characters and having done that, we knew we'd need somebody that was strong but not in a sense…we didn't want to cast somebody that was stroppy, we wanted Rita to be fairly ordinary, you know someone that an audience can identify with. An ordinary mother with two kids having problems with kids at school, you know the usual things, multitasking all the time as so many women have to who have families and jobs and necessity as you know. One person's wage is often not enough in a situation like that. I mean my mum worked all of her life and I think most women in a working class situation were working, many of them in factories, despite the fact their husbands were also working and despite the fact they had kids. And so Rita was somebody who was able to multi-task uncomplainingly, felt not an obligation but almost a pleasure to feed her kids and feed her husband and keep all the domestic side of life going as well as having to hold down a job at work. So you needed somebody uncomplaining and you needed somebody with a sunny disposition and Sally Hawkins as an actor who had made a film, which Mike Leigh had directed, called Happy-Go-Lucky and Happy-Go-Lucky was really a reference to her character and Sally has the most warm, outgoing and lovable personality as a person, let alone an actor. She's just somebody that you want to protect and you want to immediately befriend and she's just a generous person and a lovely person and she can't stop that from coming out in the roles she plays. She also has a sense of innocence, as well which I think is very important. Rita was rather thrown in the maelstrom of this movie, she didn't wake up one morning and think, right I'm going to lead people to strike and we're going to get equal pay she was sort of cajoled and pushed into it and only when she realised how important it was that there was a mouthpiece for the girls, did she really embrace it. And it's an awakening in the film, it's going from an innocence and a sense of fair play to somebody that had to really take on, not just Ford but also the male-dominated unions because it wasn't easy once Ford fired, put out of work five thousand men, for the women to continue because the pressure on them from the media and from their homes and from their husbands and boyfriends and uncles and dads and granddads, the pressure was to go back, enough's enough, you've made your point, go back. So for them to withstand it the character had to be strong. We felt very strongly that Sally could incorporate all of those elements of the character of Rita as we'd written her.

Clip 4: Producer

STEPHEN WOOLEY: Well the money only happens if you're actually making the film and again, it's again like the budgeting, it's a chicken and egg situation. If you're making the film, there's urgency to closing the deals down but you can't really be making the film because you don't have the money in place so there's always a brinkmanship going on. You start to go into production, you find locations, you crew up, you choose your DP (director of photography) and your editor and you choose your designer. The DP is the director of photography so he's the person who puts the lights up, then he chooses his team, camera operators and you choose a construction guy and later he chooses his team and you work out how much of it is going to be in a studio, how much of it is going to be exterior which again is often dictated by the budget. In the case of our film strangely the location we found for the movie was in Wales, it's in fact the interior of the Dagenham factory in Merthyr Tydfil where we found an old Hoover factory that had just been closed down, literally just been closed down and it felt so wonderful in terms of the period and the look of it that we spent almost no money on art direction because it was a beautiful location for our film. So you do all those things whilst you're still negotiating the deal. I mean I get quite hands on with the deal making side of things and I've learnt from personal experience that unless you're actually making the film, people just lose…their eye goes off the ball. It's like, we have to have the money, we're shooting in two weeks or it doesn't sound the same if you say, we have to have the money because we're shooting in three months. Oh OK, we've got another week, we'll negotiate these points, we'll negotiate that point. You can't do that, you've got to keep the momentum going and part of the producer's role and again, for many people who might be watching this, they would think, what is it that a producer does, well a producer does everything and nothing to be honest but one of the things that you have to be is a catalyst, you're the catalyst that will galvanise the whole project so once you've thought, I can see the money there and I can see the money's there and I've got to commitment from over there, I'm a bit short but I think I can pull in that over there if I keep things going. So you build up a momentum and as always there's a point in that process where someone says I need my money, I need people to be paid, I need to get this and in a sense this puts the pressure on you and your other financiers to get that money. So it's a race, it's a race against time to put the whole thing together but you never have the money, rarely have the money in pre-production. What you have in pre-production is a little bit of money here, a bit of money there and then you start to form the whole deal and then by the time you're shooting, hopefully you've closed the deal. Closed the deal means everyone is satisfied, all the contracts have been agreed and signed and the bank are cash flowing you. Until you get to that point of closing the deal, you're often relying on some of the financiers, core financiers like the UK Film Council or the BBC or Film Four, to give you a little bit of cash, to keep you alive so that the film does get made. Or sometimes you have to finance yourself, on The Crying Game I was very lucky on The Crying Game because I had my own cinema, the Scala cinema in London it's a little repertory cinema, it made 3 or 4 hundred pounds a day and I would go to the box office and just borrow the box office and that's how I made the film. The first three weeks was all made from the Scala cinema receipts and of course when the deal is closed, the money is freed and you can just pay it back. But it's skin of your pants stuff sometimes. Your credit card can be maxed out very quickly and very easily on a movie but it's the world of independents. If you're producing a film for a studio it's a totally different experience. When I made Interview with a Vampire for Warner Brothers with actors like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, there was never a problem the money was there. Day one, pre-production, everything was fine, never a problem. So one has to distinguish between the role of a producer within a studio system where often the producer's name is somebody that might have thought of the book or might have developed it but isn't even around when they shoot it. Whereas in the independent world, the producer has got to be the catalyst and has most definitely got to be there when the thing is being shot.

I think I'm probably, as a producer and certainly with my producing partner Elizabeth, I'm less auteur driven. Auteur is a term that the French gave to the controller of a film, of the director, the person who in a sense has great control over the look and the performances and everything to do with the film. I certainly love great directors and we've worked with some very good ones but I tend to be subject matter driven and I tend to be story driven.

I am quite hands on in almost every aspect of the film. I mean I did the Universal Records deal and I helped choose a lot of the music in the film and I partnered with the director. It's a partnership, I think the producing and directing is a partnership and I've often worked with the same director again and so there's never any animosity to the kind of control that we have but there is certainly quite a high level of control. So sometimes I don't mind the studios being around, I don't mind them making suggestions because if they're crazy suggestions, you ignore them but if they're good suggestions, you embrace them.

It's a collaborative affair, the collaboration begins, the first time you read something you go OK, I've got to find a writer, OK I've got to find some money to pay that writer, OK I've got a new partner now. I've got to find someone to cast it. You know, you build your little family until it's a raging huge party and then it all comes down again and guess who's left holding the baby. It's you and the director and the editor and then the editor goes and then the director goes and then you're there with the studio and suddenly your family is there, you know, the distributor and you're looking at posters and you're looking at trailers and you're working out release patterns and when it will be released and what festival you're going to play in. This film is showing in Toronto in a few weeks, you know the trip to Toronto and who is coming out there and then it's going to be showing in Rome and the Rome Film Festival and the whole life begins again and all those friends you've made are all behind you now.