Steve Clark-Hall, recently honoured at the Production Guild Awards, tells Michael Rosser about his 50 years in the film and TV business

From small independent productions to blockbusters such as Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and the upcoming The Man From U.N.C.L.E, British producer Steve Clark-Hall has experienced highs and lows over a career that spans 50 years.

Marking his contribution to the industry, which also includes teaching up-and-coming talent and regularly speaking at London’s National Film and Television School, he was recognised at the first Production Guild Awards on September 27.

“It’s a little embarrassing. I just boss people around, but I’m thoroughly honoured,” Clark-Hall tells Screen as he takes a welcome break from a budget meeting.

He lives up to his humble reputation, veering between modesty when talking about successes such as Calendar Girls and entertaining with a dry wit when asked about failures (“The only thing I have ever heard that makes sense is that nobody knows anything”).

When his career in film production began in 1988 with Jim O’Brien’s war romance The Dressmaker, Clark-Hall already had more than 20 years in television under his belt.

In 1964, after being fired from a local newspaper in Portsmouth “for not being able to spell” and a small film company in London - “I get fired a lot, by the way” - he joined the BBC before moving to Scotland in 1972 to set up his own production company, Siddhartha Films. “I was a bit of a hippy in those days so named it after Indian stuff. I didn’t understand it but it sounded good,” he deadpans.

Opportunity knocks

The company managed to survive on training films and commercials until Channel 4 started up in 1982, which effectively launched the independent production sector in the UK and resulted in Clark-Hall moving back to London, where he made long-running series including magazine show Years Ahead. With his partner, Mairi Bett, they renamed the company Skyline Films, which they still run today.

Clark-Hall’s first foray into film - The Dressmaker - came through his relationship with writer-director John McGrath, with whom he worked on political activist mini-series Blood Red Roses. “That really got me going in drama, which was always the first love,” he recalls.

Following a string of features in the 1990s, including Derek Jarman’s Edward II, Margaret’s Museum starring Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman’s directorial debut The Winter Guest, Clark-Hall hit the jackpot in 2003 as a co-producer on Calendar Girls.

‘We need to be challenging old farts like me to come out with new stuff’

Steve Clark-Hall, producer

The feelgood film starring Helen Mirren, about a Women’s Institute group that raises money for a local hospital by posing for a nude calendar, made nearly $100m at the worldwide box office.

“It was a terrific cast and Nigel Cole is an incredibly talented director,” says Clark-Hall, who worked with Cole previously as line producer on Saving Grace (2000). “I’ve wanted to work with him again but we’ve never managed to pull it off. Those two films were some of the happiest experiences I’ve had working with a director.”

Lucrative links

It was while working on his next film, Man To Man, that the producer first began his fruitful relationship with Guy Ritchie.

“I was on a night shoot in Edinburgh and I got a call out of the blue asking if I wanted to do a film called Revolver with Guy Ritchie, so I said, ‘Alright!’,” he recalls.

“The way it works is that Guy and [his producing partner] Lionel Wigram are the creative motor and I’m paddling away underneath, trying to make the mechanics of it work.” The collaboration has been lucrative.

Following Revolver and RocknRolla, Clark-Hall co-produced Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr, and executive produced the sequel, which have together made more than $1bn at the global box office.

He is next producing Ritchie’s 1960s spy reboot The Man From U.N.C.L.E. “It’s great and it’s going to be huge. That’s all I can say right now,” says Clark-Hall.

“We’re just embarking on our sixth movie together, Knights Of The Roundtable: King Arthur,” he adds. “That will be challenging to make but it’ll be great, too.”

As for the future, Clark-Hall is optimistic. “Production in the UK is very good at the moment but I want us to get more people trained in the business,” he asserts. “We’ve got to keep our talent pool fresh and replenished. If we don’t, we won’t be challenging old farts like me to come out with new stuff.”

» The inaugural Warner Bros Leavesden Studios Contribution to the Industry award was chosen by an industry jury ahead of the relaunched Production Guild Awards. Clark-Hall is vice chair of The Production Guild.