[FILM: Interview] Jeremy Thomas
In September 2008, the world watched in horror as the sub-prime mortage bubble exploded, and the bottom fell out of the UK and American markets. It ushered in a new, global era of austerity that inevitably had knock-on effects through different aspects of our daily and not-so-daily lives. As British producer Jeremy Thomas says, one of the first things to go in times of austerity is funding for the arts. In September 2008 he was still trying to secure funding for David Cronenberg’s latest project – a film about Freud, Jung, and the woman who came between them and helped shape modern psychological theory.
Thomas describes the process of getting that film funded as excruciating. Even with a track record of almost four decades as an independent producer, including working with notorious directors like Terry Gilliam and on lavish productions like Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, the experience stands out. “If we didn’t get it made as a Canadian/German co-pro – which happened in a natural way because it was set in Vienna so we could shoot some of the locations in Europe and the interiors in Cologne (Germany) and then do all the post work in Canada – we would never have made [A Dangerous Method].”
Even so, when the film started shooting in June 2010, Thomas still hadn’t fulfilled the budget. Greenlighting a film before you lock down the money is generally not done (“It was a terrifying experience,” says the producer) but it’s becoming a necessity in the age of austerity. “I’m doing it now – with the Jim Jarmusch film shooting right now… I know where the money is [and] I know it’s there, but if I wait until I’ve closed the [deal] I won’t make the film because the actors are no longer available.”
Thomas is known for his persistence and patience; if he’s passionate about a film or its director, he’ll make it happen. When he first met Cronenberg, at Toronto Film Festival in 1980, the director said he wanted to adapt Naked Lunch for screen; Thomas immediately optioned the book from William S. Burroughs, but it took ten years for the film to be realised. His forthcoming film, Kon Tiki (based on Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl’s famous expedition diary) has been in the pipeline since 1996.
Thomas and Cronenberg started working on A Dangerous Method in early 2003, when the director urged his erstwhile producer to check out Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure, at London’s National Theatre. In the subsequent months, it emerged that the play had in fact started life as a movie – a script Hampton wrote for Twentieth Century Fox, based on John Kerr’s book ‘A Most Dangerous Method’, and specifically as a vehicle for Julia Roberts (“If you can imagine!” snorts Thomas). The script had languished in their vaults for almost 20 years, until Hampton resurrected the material for stage – but getting the film rights turned into a complex set of negotiations between Thomas and Fox and the playwright and the author. The producer prevailed.
Thomas averages between two and three films a year, but says that the kind of film he makes is a dying breed. “It’s all to do with economics, I suppose; the films I make are not as popular now, financially, as they were, because the film business is dominated by fewer films with bigger budgets. The studios make a very few very high budget films for between one hundred and two hundred million. So I’m working in an economy of about a tenth of that.”
A Dangerous Method was even more of a coup, when you consider that, as Thomas tells it, period dramas and intellectual films are anathema to most distributors these days (“If you promote [those kind of films] to distributors, as a producer, they groan at you”).
“I talk about the cinema of Nicolas Roeg, Nagisa Oshima or Cronenberg – people that I’ve worked with a lot – and Bertolucci; they’re cinema that was at one time ‘mainstream arthouse’, let’s say, which gave it the proper commercial release. Today, that audience has all but disappeared – and those that want it, it’s so readily available through the internet. People have a flat-screen at home.”
What: A Dangerous Method – Dir. David Cronenberg
When: Out now on DVD (Transmission)