Lasse Hallstrom (pictured) directs the adaptation of Paul Torday’s bestseller, now shooting in the UK and Morocco. Producer Paul Webster talks about the production’s challenges.

Synopsis: Fisheries specialist Dr. Alfred Jones finds himself mixed up in a project to bring Scottish salmon to the Yemen, getting involved with a Government spinmaster, a fisherman sheikh and the sheikh’s charming aide.
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Writer: Simon Beaufoy, adapted from Paul Torday’s book.
Producers: Paul Webster for Kudos Films
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked
Budget: £9m
Financing: UK Film Council, BBC Films, Lionsgate UK, UK tax credit
International Sales: Lionsgate International
Language: English
Locations: London, Scotland, Morocco
Status:  nine-week shoot from August

Animal activists take note about Salmon Fishing In The Yemen: the film’s production will NOT attempt to populate a desert with Scottish salmon (as was famously attempted in the novel). For filming purposes, local fish will be used in Morocco, which stands in for Yemen.

The film is shooting for six weeks in London, one week in Scotland and then two weeks in Morocco at the end of the production. “That’s the most complicated stuff,” producer Paul Webster reveals to ScreenDaily. “We’re creating a river in a river bed, it’s an extraordinary feat of engineering,” he notes. “Doing as much as possible all on location, it’s very exciting but it’s challenging. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve done in a while.” Webster pays special tribute to production designer Michael Carlin.

The production also considered Jordan to stand in for Yemen. “Jordan had too many variables, Morocco has more of that infrastructure,” Webster notes.

The project has been a personal one for Webster since he optioned the book in 2006. “I thought it was a film right away,” he says. Simon Beaufoy came on to adapt the “exceptional” script. Just before Cannes 2010, Lasse Hallstrom was confirmed to direct.  “He said, ‘I love the script, it’s the best I’ve read in 10 years, it’s subtle and funny and touching,” Webster recalls. “Bringing him on board got it greenlit and we did phenomenal international sales.”

Of Hallstrom’s working style, Webster says: “He’s very authoritative and in control, you can just see that he is a really, really experienced director.” Salmon Fishing marks the Oscar winning director’s first British film. 

The assembled cast also attracted attention: led by Ewan McGregor as the lonely fisheries expert whose soul is awakened on this unusual project. “He’s playing a man who is kind of shut down and resigned himself to life,” Webster explains. “It’s such a chunky role and he’s playing a real grownup.” Webster is also thrilled with Egyptian actor Amr Waked (Syriana) as the Sheikh, Emily Blunt as the Sheikh’s captivating assistant and Kristin Scott Thomas as a British Government PR flack. The story has been updated from the Blair years to contemporary times.

Even with his track record with the likes of Atonement, Eastern Promises and Toronto 2010 premiere Brighton Rock, Webster says financing the project was tough. “Really budgets have come down radically in the last two years, but audiences’ expectations haven’t changed. If you’re doing this film on £9m, you have to cut your cloth accordingly.” Still, he adds: “Everything we wanted in the script is still in the script.”

The drying up of the independent distribution market in the US means UK support was more crucial than ever. “This film wouldn’t have been made without the UK Film Council,” he says emphatically. Sally Caplan gave a £1.5m award from the Premiere Fund before it was shuttered. Lionsgate and BBC Films also stepped up to get the film made.

Up Next: Webster is working with David Cronenberg and writer Steven Knight on Eastern Promises 2.