When you were watching Meryl Streep’s Oscar –winning performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady you probably didn’t realise that its producer was a Warwick alumnus. Damian Jones (BA Politics and History 1983-86) was kind enough to take some time away from launching his latest film, Fast Girls, to talk to Warwick Connect.
Getting into the movie business was never something that Damian wanted to do. At Warwick he took a course on Film Theory as part of his Politics and History degree but that was about it. Many people want to get into the film business, how did Damien do it?
‘After graduation I was clueless about my future. I thought that a second language might be useful so I moved to Paris to learn French.’ Whilst working there as a barman Damian heard about a vacancy for a bi-lingual production assistant on a film being made. Stretching the truth slightly, he soon found himself working with Harrison Ford on the set of Roman Polanski’s 1988 thriller Frantic.
With this experience on his CV, Damian was able get his foot in the door at Working Title Films, a British production company, where he worked his way up the ladder from making tea and coffee. On his way up Damian thought about what he wanted to do next. ‘I didn’t want to act or direct which only left producing’. If you visit his Internet Movie Database listing you will see acting credits. He is credited as ‘candelabra holder’ in the 2004 film of the Phantom of the Opera. Unfortunately this was not him but it amuses him so he is happy to leave it there.
Damian’s first producing success was The Candy Show, a short film he made with a friend. The film won the 1990 BAFTA Award for Best Short Film and on the strength of this he moved to Hollywood. Over the next few years he produced films ranging from MichaelWinterbottom’s Welcome to Sarajevo which was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes to Gridlock’d which starred Tim Roth and Tupac Shakur.
After 10 years in America Damian felt his ‘British DNA’ calling him home. He felt that he related to British films more closely than those made in America. Since returning he has concentrated on making uniquely British films such as Millions, Kidulthood, Adulthood, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll and The Iron Lady.
Several years ago Damian began to wonder why no one had ever made a film about Margaret Thatcher. The idea snowballed and he and his colleagues began to think about who should play her. The only name they considered was Meryl Streep.
Damian always knew that the film was going to be divisive in the UK. Margaret Thatcher still provokes strong emotions here and it was difficult for reviewers to come in without preconceptions. The film has provoked a very different response outside the UK where it has been easier to judge it on its own terms. Around the world it has made more money than the 2006 hit The Queen and audiences react to the story rather than the person portrayed.
Meryl Streep won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the film and for Damian it was particularly satisfying to go to the award ceremony in Hollywood with a legitimate British success.
Working as an independent film producer in the UK brings its own challenges. Damian creates his own projects and finds that there is either a ‘feast or famine’ of subjects. Fortunately as a big fish in a small pond he is able to pick and choose his projects. It’s a tough business but for Damian passion is fundamental to whether a project succeeds or fails.
Damian is keen to nurture a future generation of British film-makers and has employed a number of Warwick alumni. So what’s his advice for those following in his footsteps? ‘Work hard, show initiative and get a driving licence. If you don’t have a driving licence you aren’t going anywhere!
Work hard, show initiative and get a driving licence. If you don’t have a driving licence you aren’t going anywhere!
Damian’s latest film is Fast Girls, a feel-good story about a street smart runner developing an intense rivalry with an equally ambitious wealthy young athlete.