The producer of Mike Leigh’s Cannes competition title Another Year talks to Geoffrey Macnab about her long collaboration with the British director.
Georgina Lowe’s first experience of working with Mike Leigh was, a little incongruously, on a Kleenex commercial. (The commercials company she worked for shared a building with Leigh’s production company.) She was production manager on Leigh’s 1993 feature Naked and has been part of the Leigh team ever since. Following the death of Leigh’s regular producer Simon Channing Williams in April 2009, Lowe takes the full producer credit on Leigh’s latest, the Cannes Competition entry Another Year.
The new film tells the story of a happily-married middle-aged couple who endure other people’s problems and stars Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight, Oliver Maltman and David Bradley. The film was made through Focus Features International, the UK Film Council and Film4. It is sold internationally through Focus. Momentum Pictures picked up UK rights at an early stage.
Alongside her work with Leigh, Lowe has produced several successful TV series, including Tipping The Velvet, Fingersmith and A Good Murder.
You have worked with Mike Leigh before as a co-producer and production supervisor. Was it very different being the producer?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with him since 1992, when Simon and Mike asked me to production manage Naked. I leapt at that of course. I had always admired Mike’s work since I watched Abigail’s Party on television. I had been completely hooked. Naked was my first film with him. The fact that I had worked with Mike for so many years was enormously helpful in the progression to being producer on the film. There was a lot of the same things I normally do for him but obviously there was a big hole where Simon Channing Williams used to be and therefore more responsibility but it has been a privilege and a joy to work with Mike for so long. The way he works is very familiar to me. I am used to it. [Being producer] felt like a natural development because I have spent so long working with him.
How would you describe Another Year?
I would find it very difficult to compare it to anything else. It is contemporary and set in suburban London. It’s very moving. It has incredibly funny parts in it.
For you as producer, what were the main difficulties on Another Year?
It was mainly time pressure. It takes a certain amount of time to achieve this kind of film and you had to make resources stretch to give us enough time to do it. In an ideal world, Mike could have gone on in rehearsals for a bit longer. This was a shorter shoot than Happy Go
Lucky [Leigh’s previous film] and a shorter rehearsal period. That was because of budget restrictions.
With a director as feted as Mike Leigh, isn’t it relatively easy to put the budget for his films together?
It is very tricky. Mike has always got his supporters but it is very difficult for people to know what they are going to get. It is fairly daunting from their point of view.
Which have been the most challenging of the Leigh films you’ve worked on?
They’ve all been enormous fun. Working with Mike, there is a loyal group of collaborators from Dick Pope, the cinematographer, to costume, make-up and first AD. There are a lot of people who come back again and again. It’s like a lovely company - enormously rewarding and fun. Topsy Turvy was a highlight and an enormous challenge because of the scale of it. We had five weeks in Richmond Theatre with a huge number of actors, a huge crowd, musicians, dancing and singing. It was glorious because of that as well. That remains one of my favourite films. It was great fun.
What is the mood on a Mike Leigh set?
Generally, it is incredibly conventional - very organised and normally there is a very nice atmosphere because there are a lot of people who have a long standing friendship and have been colleagues for a long time. There are a few of us who’ve grown up with the projects. We normally shoot, as far as possible, chronologically.
How involved are you in the rehearsal period? Do you sit in on them?
Absolutely not. The rehearsals are his private time with the actors. But what we get out of the rehearsals is information that is useful to us a production - types of characters, potential locations that we might be looking for.
Is there another Mike Leigh project in the pipeline?
We’re just starting to think about that now.
What did you learn from Simon Channing Williams? Were there tips he passed on to you?
Simon had been an assistant director so he had hands on set experience. He knew exactly what all the departments were doing, what was important and what they truly needed. He was marvellous at enabling the right environment for Mike to do what he does. That is what I hope I have learned from him. He was a gentleman and he was very good at believing in people and helping them in the industry. There are lots of people who’ve benefited from what Simon taught them. For example, we always try to have trainees in different departments on all the films.
Very often, they’ve come back in a professional capacity after having been a trainee. There are lots of people who’ve come through the ranks.