The Newcastle producer behind Ralph Fiennes’ new film about Charles Dickens is turning his focus to fundraising for future projects, including one with Blade Runner director Ridley Scott.
The Invisible Woman, which sees Fiennes direct and star in a tangled love story featuring the Victorian author of England’s best-loved classics, came out yesterday and is set to be another success story for Stewart Mackinnon’s production company Headline Pictures, which he set up in the city centre with late business partner Mark Shivas and now has a London office.
Co-starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander and rising talent Felicity Jones who plays Dickens’ secret mistress, the film is based on a book by award-winning biographer Claire Tomalin, with a script from former Newcastle-based writer Abi Morgan, best known for The Iron Lady and TV hit The Hours.
Scotland-born Stewart, who moved to Newcastle nearly 40 years ago, said that since first reading Dickens at school “I was always looking for an opportunity to tell a story about the man himself.”
He added: “Here was a man who travelled, shining a light on the world and how people were living and wrote about hypocrisy, cruelty, love, family, politics, snobbery and class. At the peak of his power he was like a rock star. He came to Newcastle too and it was not unusual for 2,000-3,000 ordinary people to turn up to listen to him read from his books.”
He and Mr Shivas had talked of taking on Claire’s book, which details the famous author’s rarely talked-about affair with young actress Nelly Ternan, and “eventually she allowed us to do it”. Stewart, who now lives in Northumberland , adds: “This is a really privileged job but making these films is not easy.”
Despite the tough economic climate, which saw the closure of established local production firms such as Dene Films, Headline Pictures has celebrated one of the biggest recent British successes with 2012’s Quartet, which marked Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut and starred Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly as opera singers in a residential home for retired performers.
“It’s made over $60m and will make over $100m as, with digital and DVDs, films make money at different stages. Last week the BFI published figures showing films produced in Britain and Quartet was the second most successful.”
When the film made its debut at Toronto film festival, Stewart was using the opportunity to chase funds for The Invisible Woman.
In a bid to build on past success, the company has 20 more projects under development including a war story with Anna Friel being shot in Norway; a film starring Michael Douglas as Ronald Reagan, set at the time of a pivotal meeting between the former US president and Mikhail Gorbachev that brought about the end of the arms race; and a drama with acclaimed local director Ridley Scott based on another of Philip K Dick’s sci-fi stories which formed the basis of Blade Runner.
Each means a fight for funds and, due to the British industry’s record of investment losses, it’s considered risky.
“The challenge is to get private equity, investors, to consider taking a risk when there’s a history of not getting returns,” said Stewart: “But Quartet was made for just under $10m and will make $100m which is phenomenal investment.”
He remains committed to the North East: “We’ve been putting a lot of real effort for a long time into building the industry. The challenge for anyone living and working in the North East is how to raise capital to create a business and grow business where there are huge opportunities but cautious investment.”