Producer Curtis Burch talks to Elbert Wyche about financing the film, the need for more character-based films in Hollywood, surprises from the cast and his plans for the future.
Curtis Burch [pictured in the left-side image, standing to right of director Fred Schepisi] created his company, Los Angeles-based Latitude Productions, after working as a creative executive in Hollywood for 20 years for the likes of James Cameron and Larry Gordon.
The first production from Latitude is the romantic drama Words And Pictures starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche as high school teachers who hatch a plan to galvanise student interest in the form of a war between art and literature.
Burch talks to Elbert Wyche about financing the film, the need for more character-based films in Hollywood, surprises from the cast and his plans for the future. Roadside Attractions releases the film in the US on May 23. Voltage Pictures represents international rights.
How did financing come together for the film?
Two years ago I decided to leave my post as a creative executive. I took a plane to Dallas, Texas, where I’m from and met with some people. I told them that I wanted to start my own film company, which I called Latitude Productions. I was able to raise the money initially for a development fund from several private investors.
The original notion was to develop a handful of films and when the scripts were ready I’d go back to that same group of investors and they would provide the financing. Words And Pictures is the first project to come out of that development process. I attached Fred Schepisi, who is a hero of mine. I love his films. He has four or five films that I consider masterpieces. He was my first choice.
Is Words And Pictures representative of the types of movies that you would like to continue to produce, perhaps filling a void in the marketplace?
Absolutely. I worked for these producers like Larry Gordon and Jim Cameron, all of whom had deals at studios. I was frustrated by the way the creative process worked at the studio level. I was frustrated by the way that writing and writers were dealt with. That was the number one motivation for creating the company, was to create a climate for filmmakers and writers where there was a sense of trust and mutual respect.
I think, and still do, that there’s a certain kind of movie that doesn’t get made anymore. The system is really bifurcated – and this isn’t an original thought, many people have said it – between the super-commercial franchise kind of movie that the studio tends to focus on and the exclusionary or niche kind of movie that tends to get made by the independent system in the US. I feel like there’s a kind of movie that falls squarely in the middle; a movie that is a smart and character-based crowd-pleaser. I think that Words And Pictures is that.
We had a screening that Roadside put on and we had a focus group afterwards. One guy raised his hand and said, “I loved it because no one makes this kind of movie any more.” That really made my heart proud because it’s exactly what I set out to do.
We have two others that will shoot this year that come from that sensibility of trying to find the sweet spot between commercial and artistic.
Are you hoping for wide-release or aiming more for VOD or other platforms for this and future projects?
I’m a traditionalist. I’ve got investors and creative partners that want to see their movies in theatres. With Words And Pictures we’re incredibly fortunate to have Howard Cohen and Eric d’Arbeloff at Roadside Attractions releasing the movie. At a bare minimum we’re going to be on 350 screens by June 13. My hopes and expectations are that the performance will mandate further expansion from there. That’s certainly the plan: to focus on theatrical release. I think Words And Pictures will play well on home video and VOD but we want to exploit theatrical to the fullest extent.
How did you get Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen?
I had Fred Schepisi attached first and Clive Owen was the first actor that we thought of. Fred knew him socially in New York. They had dinner one night and Clive called him the next day and told him that he loved it. I think Clive is an actor that people love but rarely get to see in this kind of context. He has done a lot of action-oriented stuff of late and he’s very good at it, but to get to see him do something that has a bit of lightness and romance is something that people will embrace.
Juliette Binoche was also our first choice. Clive Owen wanted to work with her his entire career. The first time she read it, she passed. But luckily – she’s a very thoughtful person – she couldn’t quite let go of it and called us back about a week later. She said, “I read it again and I thought about it. I really think I should do it.” It took me quite a bit of time to get their schedules coordinated. That was the most time-consuming piece of the whole process. That creates a lot of stress because no director wants to sit around and wait. Fred actually made another movie while we were trying to get Clive and Juliette together.
Any surprises while shooting?
It occurred to us after she was on the film that Juliette was actually a painter. Initially, we thought we would use some of her paintings in the film. We ended up using all of them. Every painting you see her character create in the film was done by Juliette Binoche.
It was a dream set. Everyone got along and everyone was motivated to work together creatively. And it was my first movie as a producer. I’m not sure I will ever have it that good again.