Masterclass with Paul Webster: top tips for producers
12 February 2015
While a quick web search generates plenty of results for Paul Webster and his many accomplishments – particularly his collaborations with director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) – our recent masterclass highlighted a career of rich variety, boasting projects born both in the UK and Stateside, receiving a mixture of critical and commercial success across different genres. However, Paul defines his contribution more succinctly as working in the “art-house crossover world”. As to be expected in a conversation held for the benefit of a future generation of producers, anecdotes and subject matter frequently veered towards providing students with industry advice.
Here are five key pieces of wisdom he shared for those interested in pursuing a vocation in producing:
- Be realistic when starting out – It has taken a long time for Paul to build up to the major studio features he works on now. His upcoming release with Joe Wright, Pan, is interestingly the largest budget film he has ever worked on, demonstrating how the career of a successful producer rewards dedication and longevity. Yet there were plenty of minor pieces early on. His advice on starting out is “don’t be too ambitious, make things that are affordable, but still try and take risks”.
- Confidence in your material = Casting – Paul has worked with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars (Keira Knightly, Ben Kingsley) so it was of no surprise that attendees were interested in hearing his philosophy on casting. He advised you should “always be aware that actors will always follow the material. Even if you’ve got no money and you’re a director or producer or a writer and you’ve got this passion project, if you can get an actor that has some currency interested, then they’ll probably do your film if they have time and love your story enough”.
- Not all influences need to be film related – While Paul did speak with great passion about some of his past projects, and referred to himself as a self confessed film buff, he was quick to advise aspiring producers to seek inspiration across different mediums and platforms. He says he would “be as eclectic as possible about absorbing material: theatre, art, plays, mixed media, social media. And I would read voraciously: fiction and non-fiction. I would try and get an understanding of the world within which our stories our told, so when you come to make your film, you know there’s an audience out there for it”.
- Keep an eye on other producers – Paul suggests that those considering a career as a producer should seek inspiration from others. Paul said “I think of the established old-geezers…Jeremy Thomas is a fantastic inspiration, he is a wonderful producer. Younger producers who I admire immensely include; Ian Canning at See Saw…Graham Broadbent, and I think Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner are peerless”.
- Film school just might help too – It quickly became evident during the masterclass that the actual duties of a producer are vastly varied and it is role that certainly defies a singular definition. Which is probably why Paul deemed it necessary to stress the importance of understanding the medium in as a wide a scale as possible, saying, “I think you need to try and have intelligence and an understanding of your medium. It’s useful if you’ve been to film school – really useful – and to have a basic understanding of the mechanics of filmmaking”.
Paul Webster’s latest project, the, family friendly Pan, is scheduled for a summer release and, judging by the cast, will almost certainly become yet another milestone in his already fruitful career.