Interview: Andrew Eaton
Who’s the driving force behind the films of Michael Winterbottom? Time Out catches up with the UK’s busiest film producer, Andrew Eaton, who’s also reeling from the success of his ‘Red Riding Trilogy’ for C4
It’s not often that journalists interview producers. They’re the quiet men and women of film: big noises behind the scenes, anonymous in front of them. There are exceptions, of course: everyone’s heard of Harvey Weinstein or Jerry Bruckheimer and names such as Sam Spiegel echo through history. But, in British film, producers rarely face the glare and scrutiny of the public. Yet behind every great director, especially those who work outside of the studio system, you’re likely to find an equally fearless, singular producer. For every Ken Loach, there’s a Rebecca O’Brien. For every Shane Meadows, there’s a Mark Herbert. Are their names familiar? It’s unlikely.
One such relationship that’s worth shouting about is that between producer Andrew Eaton and director Michael Winterbottom. Together they are the great filmmaker-explorers, or filmmaker-journalists even, of British cinema. What does that mean? Well, look at the films that this duo have made over the past ten years under the banner of their company, Revolution Films, which is based in the back alleys of Clerkenwell. Look past the obvious versatility of making a film about Tony Wilson one minute (‘24 Hour Party People’) and a cross-continent road movie about two young Afghan migrants the next (‘In This World’), and you’ll find two curious, energetic filmmakers who are forever opting to drive their wagon to new places, from Soho to Italy, from India to Iran.
Where Winterbottom roams, you’ll also find Eaton, persuading financiers to part with cash, liaising with foreign collaborators, offering input on scripts or ferrying curious journalists to watch Winterbottom at work, as he did when I met up with him in Italy in 2007. He and Winterbottom were there to shoot their latest film, ‘Genova’, which opens in cinemas next week. It’s a drama about a family which relocates from America to Genoa after the death of a wife and mother. Colin Firth plays the father of two young girls and we watch as he and his daughters express their grief to the backdrop of the lusty, part claustrophobic, part freeing canvas that is the old north Italian port. The evening I was in town it was a balmy, late July night and Winterbottom was busy shooting a bar scene on the coast. The scene bore all his trademarks: an inconspicuous, minimal crew, a cameraman shooting with a digital camera on his shoulder, actors mixing with reality, knocking back the drinks. The previous year, Eaton had been with Winterbottom in Pakistan and India to make ‘A Mighty Heart’. Compared to that, this was a breeze. ‘People are joking about us taking a holiday,’ Eaton said at the time. ‘It’s hard work, but great fun too.’
When I spoke to 50-year-old Eaton on the phone last week, he was on the road again. He and Winterbottom – you could hear the director in the background – were on a recce for their latest collaboration, ‘The Killer Inside Me’, an adaptation of a Jim Thompson crime novel that Winterbottom will shoot in the US this summer with Jessica Alba and Casey Affleck. Talk turned to another of Eaton’s projects: he produced the three-part adaptation of David Peace’s ‘Red Riding’ novels which have been playing on TV these past three weeks. ‘It did very well,’ Eaton says of the first episode. ‘It got nearly 3 million viewers, everyone’s delighted about it; apparently we’ve saved Channel 4.’
The reviews for ‘Red Riding’ have seen critics drooling over the three films, each directed by a different director, whether Julian Jarrold (‘Brideshead Revisited’), James Marsh (‘Man on Wire’) or Anand Tucker (‘Hilary and Jackie’). But The Sunday Times begged to differ. ‘Oh yeah. It’s funny, I got a text message from a friend last night that said: “AA Gill is a cunt.” I went online and read his review, it’s well written, but he said this thing which I find amazing, which is that we were trying too hard to be like cinema. What the fuck does that mean? I find that so reflective of British culture. It’s a short-sighted view. No one would say that about “The Wire” or “The Sopranos”. It’s depressing.’
Eaton has a questioning, can-do approach to cinema – and television – that he shares with Winterbottom. They dare to push boundaries, whether that means telling a story through real sex in ‘Nine Songs’ or adapting an ‘unfilmable’ novel ('Tristram Shandy') with ‘A Cock and Bull Story’. They’re so prolific that inevitably their films vary in quality: some are excellent, some merely intriguing and experimental. But you can be sure that none will feel out of step with the times. They have a way of working they fiercely protect, which includes supporting a director’s vision, questioning conventions, making the most of little money and working with a close group of writers – such as Tony Grisoni ( ‘Red Riding’) and Laurence Coriat (‘Genova’).
Eaton sees ‘Red Riding’ as a vindication of their method. ‘Channel 4 was keen for us to do it in a more traditional way,’ he says. ‘But I wanted to do it more in a Revolution way with people that we knew. There were no trailers for the actors, no big circus. People were nervous, but by the end all the actors and crew were saying, “This is brilliant, we should do all our films like this.” It was like the completion of the circle for me. It’s a good way to work. It makes for better films.’
Author: Dave Calhoun
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