Producer David Parfitt is talking about “two or three people” for the role of Hamlet in upcoming Shakespeare adaptation Hamlet, Prince Of Wales.
The feature film is in development, and will be produced by Parfitt’s UK firm Trademark Films.
“Everything is cast-dependent” and depends on “if we can find that key piece of talent,” Parfitt told Screen in Doha, where he is attending the Qumra incubator as a master. “The twist on our Hamlet development is it’s Hamlet set in the UK. It’s Hamlet, Prince of Wales, set in the future. Politics have collapsed, the monarchy have taken over again.”
The film is written by Tony Cronin and Jason Wulfsohn; no director is currently attached.
Parfitt also teased a six-hour drama series he has had commissioned for a streaming company, which is being written at the moment and will likely be announced in the summer. He also has “a couple of films that are bubling under that are waiting for cast.”
Earlier in the day the producer revealed he is reuniting with The Father producer Philippe Carcassonne on a new film, “hopefully over the next year or so.”
Last week Sunderland native Parfitt was named as chair of North East Screen, the agency dedicated to the development and championing of the screen sectors from the north east region of England (previously known as Northern Film and Media).
“To build an industry in the northeast – we know what’s there in terms of location and creative talent; but there’s never been an infrastructure there to hold that together,” said Parfitt.
“The thing we’re trying to do is to say ‘come back’,” said Parfitt of northeast film talent who have left the region to work elsewhere. “But you can’t ask people to come back if there’s no work.”
Among the remedies to this will be FulwellCain Studios, a joint venture between Sunderland-born production company Fulwell73 and investment firm Cain International. News of the 1.68 million sq ft development broke last month; plans are for 20 premium sound stages, with the studios bringing 8,450 film and TV jobs to the region.
“What I’ve said to [Fulwell73] is ‘get one of those sheds up as quick as you can, and let’s test the market’,” said Parfitt. He advocated for the Pallion shipyard site, which is “a five-minute walk” to the centre of Sunderland.
There are “fabulous locations on the doorstep” in the northeast, said the producer; the aim is to build a permanent home that provides access to them. “We know that Harry Potter and other big films have been up there,” he said. “But they just descend, do their stuff and head off again. What I want is the core to be there so we can really do proper stuff.”
Parfitt gave a two-hour masterclass session to the assembled industry in Doha, recalling memories from a career that started as an associate producer on 1989’s Henry V, directed by and starring his close friend Kenneth Branagh.
Parfitt discussed working with Harvey Weinstein, who is currently serving a 23-year sentence handed down by a New York court in 2020 for third-degree rape and sexual assault; and was recently convicted of rape in Los Angeles and sentenced to a further 16 years.
It was his experience on Simon Curtis’ 2011 My Week With Marilyn that dissuaded Parfitt from ever working with Weinstein again. “We know the stories about Harvey and why he’s in jail. My bad experiences with him were mainly in the cutting room,” said Parfitt. “He never knew when to stop, he thought everything was fixable in the cutting room.
“It almost finished my career as a producer, the experience on My Week With Marilyn. We were running three cutting rooms, two of which had nothing to do with us. He was shooting stuff for that film without the director or me. He was rewriting with multiple writers; it was an insane process that nearly did for me. I thought I would probably not make another film.
“It was a mad experience, he’d lost it by then.”
It was Weinstein who provided the impetus that got Shakespeare In Love out of a pre-production rut, Parfitt said. Julia Roberts had been attached to play the female lead, and had approval over who would play Shakespeare. The actress wanted Daniel Day-Lewis for the role, and wouldn’t approve other options including Colin Firth and Ralph Fiennes. With Roberts and producer Edward Zwick on pay-as-you-play deals ahead of production, $20m had already been spent on the project.
“[Weinstein] realised that no studio would produce it; he went to Universal direct, and personally guaranteed the money to them,” said Parfitt. “He made films through the Disney deal at Miramax, but he personally guaranteed that we would get [Universal’s] money back.”
Parfitt recalled “the background stuff” being the most challenging on Branagh’s 1993 Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing.
“The central shoot went incredibly smoothly. Everything was about managing the wider world. Keanu Reeves, who was fabulous as the baddie, was driving round [off set] in his own little car, until I got a message from his agent – he didn’t have a driving licence. It turned out he was on a ban at the time.” Parfitt then stopped Reeves from driving for the remainder of the shoot.
“But then we discovered him on a motorbike,” laughed the producer. “It was a long time ago; I probably wouldn’t do that now, I’d send him a driver.”
Parfitt has worked with many emerging directors, from producing Branagh’s first films in the late 1980s and early 1990s; through The Father, a directorial debut for Florian Zeller; to Black Dog on which he is executive producer - the first film from Screen UK-Ireland 2022 Star of Tomorrow George Jaques, a road movie about two teenage boys from different London backgrounds,
“You surround yourself with the absolute best people,” said Parfitt. “What we say to financiers or studios is don’t worry about it being a first-time director – we will give you the best cinematographer, best designer. It’s about teamwork – providing you surround yourself with the best, you’re protected.”
Qumra continues with a masterclass from The Father co-writer Christopher Hampton tomorrow; the event runs in-person until March 15, and online from March 19-21.