TVFilmRights.com welcomes Clare Wise, Executive Vice President of International Production at Universal Pictures International, for an exclusive interview in our continuing series, “Talking TV/Film Rights”.
Ms. Wise manages and oversees the production and creative team, and all the productions and production relationships in Brazil, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, South Korea, China and Rest-Of-World for Universal Pictures International (UPI). She, along with UPI, co-produced with The Weinstein Company the Oscar nominated Quentin Tarantino film, “Inglorious Bastards”.
Executive Vice President
Universal Pictures International
Her international production strategy at Universal Pictures International is to produce several local language films in each of foreign territory, either through key relationships e.g. O2 in Brazil, or Cattleya in Italy, and through individual filmmaker relationships. In 2008 UPI and Wise produced “A DERIVA” (ADRIFT) with O2 by Heitor Dahlia, which was in Un Certain Regard in Cannes 2009. UPI and Wise also co-produced “THIRST” by Park Chan-Wook with CJ Entertainment in Korea (in competition in Cannes 2009), as well as co-producing SIN NOMBRE (Sundance Winner 2009), which are only a few in an array of critically acclaimed films in other foreign territories.
Prior to joining Universal, Clare was Head of International at the UK Film Council, the Government’s strategic agency for film and promulgated film co-production treaties with India, China, South Africa, Jamaica and Morocco, as well as managing the multi-lateral European film co-production treaty and the UK’s 7 bi-lateral treaties. She also ran UK film export policy negotiating bi-lateral export arrangements with South Korea and India. Prior to that she was an independent producer and worked for PolyGram Filmed Entertainment’s Specific Films (“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of The Desert”). She has served for 3 years on BAFTA’s Carl Foreman jury, and sits of the board of Whistling Woods India’s premier film school and the International Board of FICCI Frames in Delhi.
She brings to us an understanding of the global movie-making market from conception to production, and the process of producing for a major Studio. We, along with the Producers, Writers, Publishers and Agents at TVFilmRights.com thank her for sharing her time and experiences with us.
Thank you for joining us, Clare. I know our readers and other industry members will enjoy your insights on film making.
Clare Wise: You are welcome.
TVFR: You oversee production, and strategize co-productions of foreign projects for Universal Pictures International (UPI). Can you provide a little more detail of your process? Specifically, from your point of engagement on a project. Are you involved in the development process early on, or more in bringing the vision to fruition at the production stage?
CW: We ‘cut our cloth’ according to the needs of the project and the producer. Some films are just acquired for a single territory- typically we try to acquire all distribution rights (theatrical, home entertainment, Video On Demand and TV). However, in some territories like France, the producer will have pre-sold TV rights as part of the financing of the film, so it won’t be available. We can board projects at any stage. For example, at a very early development stage (we have several projects that we are developing with producers from pitches) and/or early script stage, or per-production and sometimes after the film is completed as an acquisition. We do single territory productions, or multi-territory, or all of international. We co-produce in all these ways. For example, INGLOURIOUS BASTARDS was a co-production with The Weinstein Company and Band Apart, with UPI distributing the film internationally and TWC distributing in the US. L’ARNACOEUR, the French smash hit, is a co-production with Quad and we only have distribution in France. On the up-and-coming Spanish thriller JULIA’S EYES, produced by Guillermo Del Toro, we are a co-producer and will be distributing the film in Spain, Latin America and France. We work in 9 languages in 11 different territories, so at any one time we have films in various stages of production.
TVFR: Can you share with us your journey into the industry?
CW: I started out making educational and corporate videos for the building industry. I made films on bricks and roof tiles and stained glass. It gave me a great grounding in production as each film needed a script, a budget, a production/post – production schedule. I then moved into music videos which made my friends laugh, as I am known to be musically challenged. Then the company I worked for struck a deal with PolyGram to make comedy feature films and our first film was THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT. Apart from working on productions and in development I worked for 7 years at the UKFC running International strategy for them. During which time I promulgated co-production treaties and set up export and international support schemes. I have been running International Production for UPI since February 2008.
TVFR: If we can touch on adaptations… We all know there’s often a struggle between the Creative and the Studio when interpreting a novel for film. As a studio executive involved in the actual production and delivery of that interpretation, can you share with us how it is dealing with Directors and keeping them focused on the agreed vision? Or is it an issue?
CW: Since we are only ever a minority or equal partner in the co-productions, we respect the visions of the filmmakers and creators. I would never presume to force our views on a filmmaker. Having said that, we would like to be able to work collaboratively in the development and production process to help the filmmakers make a commercially successful film. We do like to consult in casting as this has a huge bearing on how a film will perform internationally.
With regard to novels specifically, we mostly get involved when there is already a filmmaker (producer or director) on board. We like to hear their ‘take’ – which means their interpretation and vision for the adaptation. Books tend to have complex and multi-stranded storylines and in depth characters that it is important to understand from the out set what a writer / filmmaker will focus on, often resulting in a more interpretative than adaptive approach to the story.
I watch dailies of the films where we are a co-producer and discuss them with the filmmakers. I watch every cut of the films we produce/acquire and comment on the cuts – sometimes working along side the director and editor in the edit suite. However there is a reason why we choose the films we do and that is for the talent. In the last two and half years I have worked with Quentin Tarantino, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, on Ricky Gervais’s directorial debut, with Guillermo Del Toro, Ferando Mereilles and Timur Bekmambetov – without doubt some of the greatest filmmakers in the world.
TVFR: Our marketplace deals in tv/film rights of various properties such as; life-story rights, book subsidiary rights, true stories, screenplays based on true stories, as well as original concepts and formats. In film production, is there any specific genre or property type that you prefer to produce, and why?
CW: No not really – Types and genre of films work differently in different markets – for example comedian driven physical comedies work well in Italy, genre films (horror/Thriller) work well in Spain but not so well in Italy. French audiences are drawn to films because of the director / auteur. For example, Clint Eastwood’s and Ken Loach’s films are very popular in France. Book adaptations do well in Germany. Books do not sell very well in Mexico or Brazil so adaptations do less well in those markets. In some markets local films dominate the Box Office. For example, in India less than 5% of the box office is for non-Indian films (inc Hollywood produced films) – in France typically French films make up more than 40% of the box office and in South Korea the Korean films are often more than 50% of the box office – hence our strategic objective to make local language films in local markets.
TVFR: What single element of producing a film (not including on-screen talent) is the most critical influence on the end product?
CW: Good question – if I had the answer I would be rich! Film production is like cooking an elaborate meal following a complex recipe. sometimes all the ingredients work and other times they don’t. For an audience, cast is the most important element in some markets (eg USA and UK) and on the whole in France and Spain and in China, directors are more important than cast.
The most important tip I can give about production would be to make sure that the budget and schedule is realistic and that includes the post production and delivery schedule.
TVFR: As a movie-fan, what genres are your personal favorites to watch.
CW: I love film. I am particularly fond of Bollywood films, action-adventure films, romantic comedies, thrillers, musicals (old Hollywood classics as well as more modern interpretations), comedies, animation, sci-fi and foreign language. Pretty much the only genre I find difficult is horror as I am a poor sleeper and my dreams are easily influenced by images I have seen, so I avoid horror films. It took me almost 12 years to watch THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS as I kept having to watch little bits and leave it for months before going back and finishing the sequence.
TVFR: Can you tell us anything about “Sanctum”, the new James Cameron produced film with Universal? Do you have a release date yet?
CW: I have seen about 10 minutes of 3-D footage and it looks amazing. It has reaffirmed my fear of caves and cave diving. The camera work and setting is claustrophobic and the 3-D enhances it atmospherically. I am not sure we have settled on the release date yet.
TVFR: In production, how has the advent of new 3-d and animation generating technologies changed film making and impacted your process in delivering a film for the studio?
CW: 3-D is obviously not new but the new cameras and techniques pioneered by Cameron and the digital VFX houses have made a huge difference to filmmaking. Films can be post-produced now to become 3-D (famously, this was done on CLASH OF THE TITANS and ALICE) or can be shot 3-D as was our up and coming release STEP UP 3-D. The audiences are willing (for the moment) to pay extra for 3-D. As more 3-D screens become available through either government support schemes such as those operating in France, UK and China or as more exhibitors upgrade to 3-D it will become easier for distributors to release 3-D films. Currently demand for screens outstrips supply. Animation is well suited to 3_D and we have had great success with CORALINE last year and our new release DESPICABLE ME from Chris Meledandri (the man behind Ice Age and Horton Hears a Who).
TVFR: You must have a good sense of the state of the industry in the UK versus other foreign territories. Is there another country whose film making is thriving more in profit and productivity?
CW: The news came through this week that the government here in the UK is closing the UKFC – the strategic body for film which both distributes lottery money for production, development and distribution and also shapes film policy with the UK government. It would be unthinkable for the same thing to happen in France – a country where film is highly regarded both as an intrinsic part of film culture as well as a profitable industry.
TVFR: What part of your profession do you enjoy the most?
CW: I enjoy most aspects of my work. It is a privilege to work with filmmakers and to help craft their vision.
TVFR: What’s the greatest challenge in your profession?
CW: Piracy is the number one challenge, especially with the new platforms/windows; escalating costs are another challenge; and overall there are more entertainment choices for the consumer who seems to have less time to consume.
TVFR: Do you feel you’re better at dealing with Writers and Directors, or other Producers when it comes to tough decisions being handed down. Who do you prefer to problem solve with?
CW: I nearly always have the tough conversations with producers first but sometimes the directors are also producers…
TVFR: Do you feel studios today endorse the independent spirit and voice of artists more than previously?
CW: I can’t speak for the other Studios, but certainly what we are doing is working with independents in all the local territories. And since we don’t fully finance and produce ourselves, I think our model does encourage artists/auteurs to work with us. Our main caveat is that the films we get involved with should aim to be commercial. We recently co-produced the directorial debut of an artist in France called Joann Sfar who made a beautiful film about Serge Gainsbourg – which incidentally releases in the UK this week through Optimum.
TVFR: If speaking with independent Producers and Writers, what advice would you give them in dealing with the process at a major studio like Universal Pictures?
CW: Like most Studios we have to be careful about receiving unsolicited scripts. We accept scripts from agents but not writers directly unless we have a pre-existing relationship with them.
TVFR: Is Hollywood today as closed as it is always been perceived, or has it grown to be a truly collaborative industry that’s open to groundbreaking concepts and new talent?
CW: You would have to ask around – certainly of the 16 films we are doing this year the majority are from first time feature film directors.
TVFR: That’s inspiring. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with us. We wish you continued success in your career, and with your new projects!
Thank you for having me.
Read Other TV/Film Exec Interviews In Our “Talking TV/Film Rights” Library