Darrel James, general manager of Off the Fence on dating and coproduction

When Stewart asked me to write about international coproduction a phrase I have used before came to mind: ‘Coproduction is a bit like sex: everybody thinks everybody else is at it whilst in reality there is far less of it going on than we all think but when it does happen it is often between the strangest of people!’

I have been involved in international coproduction since the mid 1980s. As a callow youth working for Channel 4 in Wales to a seasoned, slightly more mature man working for Off The Fence in the Noughties.

Like dates and relationships coproductions happen in the most curious ways. I was standing in Martinez bar at some unearthly hour in the distant past when a colleague accidentally tipped the drink of a fellow reveller. Having made contact and wiped ourselves down, we ended up coproducing a half decent film together.

I hope I have learned a thing or two a along the way: alcohol influenced coproductions agreed at Cannes; deals written on napkins; disappearing directors; producers whose nervous breakdowns rivaled my own; stratospheric overspends; underwhelming rough cuts… been there, done that.

When I started in the industry we Brits were pretty insular as typified by the fabled British newspaper headline: "Fog in Channel – Continent isolated". Things may have changed but remember the rules of engagement:

It has to be consensual. Your partners have to like what you’re doing and vice versa.

  • Conception. This is your baby so be sure that everyone involved shares a common vision for the production. Corny I know but see my last paragraph. I have seen a number of productions come unstuck because there was no clear and prior agreement as to the exact content, tone and style.
  • Communication. Get on a plane or pick up the bloody telephone! Email is a very crude form of communication and the nuance and feelings behind words can be misconstrued. Be open and honest and keep in regular touch with the channel executives. Sometimes you are from Mars and your coproducer is from Venus.
  • Commitment. If you find someone you like and click with stick with them.

I have failed on some occasions to pay heed to the four C’s. The result? Another C – catastrophe.

Coproducing can be an emotional rollercoaster but my experience has been very positive. I’ve seen places I would never otherwise have visited, laughed a lot and met some great people.

Many years ago I set up a coproduction between a UK and a European broadcaster (libel laws prohibit me from naming them). The film was a bleak alcohol-sodden tale of a dysfunctional family in crisis. Fast forward one year, and I am walking aimlessly around the Palais des Festival when I come across the European broadcaster’s sales catalogue which describes the film as a ‘light hearted typical Ealingesque comedy’. Did anyone read the script or watch the film?

Of course, if all else fails keep on smiling and pour yourself another stiff one.

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