In Conversation with Duncan Kenworthy

Sitting in the talk session with Producer Duncan Kenworthy today and hearing him speak about his impressive body of work I suddenly realised that there is nothing he has produced that I don’t like. There’s some I haven’t seen but of the projects I have, I’ve loved every single one. I don’t think I could say that about anyone else in the UK film industry and I suddenly felt in awe of being seated a few feet away from someone who, before today, was only a legend to me.

Four Weddings and a Funeral, is probably the project that gets mentioned most of all when Duncan’s name is raised or praised. A commercial success from a low budget beginning the film is as popular today as when it was released. But for 25 years before he ever became a producer of films he worked in children’s television on such illustrious productions as ‘Sesame Street’ and working closely with people like Jim Henson (becoming VP of his company) and Anthony Minghella who’s subsequent career was founded on not only his writing ability but the bedrock of the work Jim and Duncan gave him.

‘Fraggle Rock’ for which he was co-creator and ‘The Storyteller’ were shows I loved (despite being way past child age when they aired in the UK) and that still have a huge following today, and though he says he finds ‘The Dark Crystal’ flawed and quite difficult to watch now, it’s still a film I have treasured and enjoyed for years, as indeed are ‘Four Weddings’ ‘Notting Hill’, ‘Love Actually’ and more recently ‘The Eagle’. All his features since leaving TV have a distinctly British flavour to them that is well received abroad making his endeavours some of the highest grossing UK film box office earners of all time and setting high standards for the industry to follow while also proving those standards can be achieved. Highlighting the comedy element of romantic comedies as vitally important gave an insight into why those genre of films succeeded so well, given the dialogue elements of comedy in them.

It became clear to me listening to Duncan speak of his work that Producing requires calmness and a kind of brutal honesty, that though delivered in his considered tone gave a clear indication of his backbone in making decisions that might seem very tough to individuals but ultimately serve the project. However when dealing with writers, he spoke about not treating writers as equipment but treating them with kid gloves and couching what you need to say in a way that doesn’t hurt them or their process.

Coming from a TV background where Producers have far more power than in film, Duncan is a true creative producer who takes his weight in the writer/producer/director trio and says there are three positions for a reason and that producing for a writer/director is more about helping them achieve their project in the way they want to achieve it than being a hands on producer who’s part of developing the work. In defining a producer, he spoke of the role as being a person who can connect money to talent and that if one can do that you can hire the expertise you need but may lack yourself.

Speaking about the industry in the UK at the moment, Duncan Kenworthy feels it’s doing well. It is hard to make films, as it should be, but with good material, with the right script you can get it made. As one of the people who originally set up the UK Film Counsel he felt it was short sighted to close it outright when a shake up might have fixed the problems stated as reasons to end it and felt like it’s function was still needed. He did say quite firmly that the UK tax credit was essential to having a UK film industry and that we’d be in trouble without it. Even though it’s often exploited by US studios that work flowing into the UK keeps the technical backbone of our industry relevant.

Speaking about his most recent feature, ‘The Eagle’ Duncan said that in retrospect he would have made more of the two men’s relationship from the beginning, in actuality the contention of the main characters was something that was largely created in post production to make up for the lack.

Answering questions from the delegates ended the session on an informative note from this well loved and infinitely dedicated Producer. His new work will be a remake of the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ and he feels that the story of a man who creates a person and then falls in love with her is very relevant to today. I sincerely look forward to liking it as much as I like the rest of Duncan Kenworthy’s repertoire and as much as I loved his talk today.

Leilani Holmes

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