Danielle Goff talks with Saint Maud and Apostasy producer Andrea Cornwell about the current state of film and TV commissioning, and how market imperatives can impact the casting process

UK producer Andrea Cornwell has skilfully balanced an indie feature film career, in which her credits include acclaimed debuts such as Rose Glass’s Saint Maud and Daniel Kokotajlo’s Apostasy, with working in the documentary space (Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth) and across big-budget TV series (Apple TV+’s The Essex Serpent).

Her current slate, through outfit Lobo Films, includes Glass’s follow-up, the Kristen Stewart-led queer romance thriller Love Lies Bleeding, produced alongside A24; an adaptation of Max Porter’s novel Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and produced with SunnyMarch; and another TV series for Apple that is going into script stage. “I don’t want to do anything where I’m not the audience,” says Cornwell of her producing ethos. “It has to be something you absolutely will be paying your own money to see.”

London-based Danielle Goff (see page 20) is a graduate of the UK’s National Film and Television School producing MA course. Her work to-date includes Bafta- and Bifa-nominated short Night Of The Living Dread, a series of short films on the DBK Studios Unearthed Narratives slate for the UK’s Sky Studios, and short Personal Best, which is the directing debut of How To Have Sex star Lara Peake. Goff is developing a slate of feature and TV projects through her Lunar Pictures banner, including Nosa Eke’s King Of The Court, a body horror period drama about a Black queer leader, plus Edem Wornoo’s Nova, a sci-fi set in a council flat.

Danielle Goff: What made you want to become a producer and what was your route in?

Andrea Cornwell: My origin story was a bit haphazard. I was not in a family or background that had film or TV or media experience, but my dad was a huge fan of the arts and theatre. I was getting involved in student theatre, and I fell into it. There was a chance meeting — an actor’s partner was crewing up for a low-budget British gangster film called Hard Men. I loved it — the world of collaboration appealed. I came up through physical production — a co-ordinator, line producer, doing TV and shorts.

Danielle, you’re working physically in production at the moment, which I think is such a good thing to do. So many producers only work in development, and are terrified of the floor. Was it a conscious thing for you to also work in physical production?

Goff: I did a film, theatre and TV joint honours degree [at London’s Brunel University], so being on the floor was very much a part of that. Physical production is a love of mine — you push yourself and are problem solving in the moment.

Goff: What is your approach to collaboration? I’m looking at working with other producers, or perhaps bringing in someone for support.

Cornwell: Everything I do is collaborative. I often work with other producers on an ad-hoc basis. My own office is small — it’s me and a development person, and an assistant occasionally. In this country, you have to make a choice — some producers decide they want to empire build and set up a big company, but the trade-off is that you often find you’re not able to spend as much time in the trenches. At the moment I’m still enjoying the hands-on producing part. I’m on set every day. Do you know where you’d like you and your company to be in five, 10 years?

Goff: In five years, I would like to have a couple of TV shows and features that have already been released. I am very sure of that. But I never want to leave my writers and directors — I love to be boots on the ground.

Cornwell: Do you get much feedback from the industry when you’re planning what projects to take onto a slate?

Goff: There are things that commissioners say they want, but then someone sends them something that’s not what they say they want, and it gets a bit of traction.

Cornwell: I feel for new producers particularly, there is an awful lot of [pressure] to be creative and find projects — but I wonder whether more market guidance is something that is lacking. Until you’ve made a film, you don’t tend to have any conversations with sales agents. In my early stages, I spent an awful lot of time trying to get a couple of projects away, but I don’t know if they would ever have broken out of the festival circuit or the UK. It feels like now there’s such a contraction of audience for British films in the cinema, compared to when I started. It’s more important than ever that we make work which has international appeal.

Danielle Goff_online_Credit Peter Searle-Screen International

Source: Peter Searle / Screen International

Danielle Goff

Goff: Sometimes, for commissioners and funders, there’s a resistance to a debut writer working with a debut producer, which cuts the producer out of the progression stage. How was that for you?

Cornwell: When I was starting, there were a couple of films that didn’t end up happening, and looking back on them I wanted to produce them all by myself because I felt there was no reason why I shouldn’t. Perhaps if I had partnered up and got other people on board, the films could have happened.

Goff: I’m passionate about finding talent that I grow with, from shorts to first features and onwards. How was moving from Saint Maud to Love Lies Bleeding?

Cornwell: Mid-budget films are very tricky. There aren’t many people making commercial work out of the UK in the film space. Sometimes you catch a wave and it happens — for Love Lies Bleeding, we already had a relationship with A24, who had distributed Saint Maud. We were developing [Love Lives Bleeding] with Film4, showed A24 and they came in with an offer, and that was that. No‑one else saw it. Sometimes it’s bafflingly straightforward, other times it feels like you’re running around knocking on every door you can find.

Goff: During Covid, the only thing that could be done for a minute was development, and then there was a massive boom with production. Now, I’m hearing of people being told by TV commissioners that their next slot is in 2025.

Cornwell: I think it’s an exciting time [for film]. A few years back, everybody was setting up television divisions, but now it’s quite hard to get TV series commissioned. It seems to be swinging back again to either shorter-run TV or back to films.

I have heard repeatedly from crew and talents now that TV is great, and you get paid a lot of money, but it’s buying 12 months or longer of your life. People like being able to do films, which are creatively refreshing, and sometimes have more interesting work with more risk-taking involved.

I’m curious, for your feature projects coming up, are you looking to cast stars in them?

Goff: Being particular is important. We’ve gone to a Black queer female actor for King Of The Court, because it makes sense to cast it authentically and she can bring so much of her own experience to the role. There aren’t that many queer Black female actors working in our industry.

Cornwell: Authenticity in casting is such a big subject at the moment. In Love Lies Bleeding, it was something we were very conscious of getting right, and hopefully we have. Casting is always a slightly frustrating part of the process.

When casting any project, it’s worth testing out before you go too far down a path independently to get a sense of the level of the cast that your project and budget will require. It can be surprising to find out that people you think are brilliant are simply not going to [work] if you’ve got a project that requires some pre-sales or international partnership. Casting, unfortunately, can be the be-all-and-end-all of some projects.

Goff: It’s tough. I spoke with a French sales agency in Berlin. We had a very open discussion about my projects, and I mentioned one project, which is a sci-fi film. It’s quite an intimate film, it’s pretty much just the main character and his dad. One of the first questions was, “Is it just the two Black male characters? Because if you have two Black characters on a film poster, it won’t sell in some territories.” I find it shocking and frustrating that we are still having these conversations.

Cornwell: That sort of situation is about a fundamental rewrite on the authenticity of a film project. If you’ve gone out to make a film about two Black leads, then that’s what it needs to be, and there are plenty of exciting and high-profile Black actors. I don’t think anyone should ever fundamentally change the values of what you do.

We’ve got the same thing on Love Lies Bleeding — because it’s a gay love story, it won’t play in certain places, which is a great shame and part of a bigger conversation about the state of the world. It’s something that’s known and factored in, and you carry on.