Interview with Oscar winning The King’s Speech producer Gareth Unwin
Oscar winning producer of The King’s Speech, Gareth Unwin, tells Napiers News about his experiences leading up to the Academy Awards, how the film’s success has changed his life as an independent film producer, and what’s next for him and his company Bedlam Productions.
The second time I went to see The King’s Speech was the week after it won the Oscar for Best Picture and five months to the day after I’d travelled down to London to see the film for its very first UK showing at Leicester Square.
Many things had changed between those two screenings. Lead actor Colin Firth and director Tom Hooper had now been awarded with Oscars for their work, critics from around the globe had now showered the film with the upmost of praise and, most importantly, it now stood alongside a pantheon of classic films from The Wizard Of Oz to The Godfather as the Academy Award winner for Best Picture.
However, despite all these changes there was one thing that remained the same upon my second viewing of The King’s Speech: My local cinema was just as packed with people as the film’s premiere was at the London Film Festival back in October.
It goes without saying, therefore, that this previously little known story about the friendship between King George VI and his controversial speech therapist, Lionel Logue, is now one of cinema’s most successful movies of the last few years.
The film’s producer, Gareth Unwin, however, had never expected for a second that his film would see this degree of success.
“We had faith in the source material, we were impressed by how Tom Hooper had been able to develop the script and we were enthused by the cast that we’d got on board. However, the only time we realised that it could actually become more than just an okay commercial success was when we saw how audiences at Telluride and Toronto reacted to the film. That was the moment when we realised it could become something really big.”
Until the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals in September, the film was virtually unknown to the world and existed only as a name. Even in the run up to its worldwide premiere at these places, audiences had seen little more than a synopsis and photograph of what The King’s Speech had to offer.
Nevertheless, it won over its viewers to such an extent that it took the top prize at Toronto, an award that has similarly been picked up by Oscar winners No Country For Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire in the last few years.
The accomplishment, as a result, meant that awards pundits automatically began to predict a Best Picture crowning at the Oscars, way before the likes of The Social Network, The Fighter and True Grit had even been screened for viewers.
Gareth, however, who co-owns the production company Bedlam Productions, was still anxious. Even with The King’s Speech being backed as a front runner for cinema’s biggest awards ceremonies and equally being applauded by the film world’s most prolific critics, there was no guarantee that either of these things would translate to the most important thing of all for any movie producer: Success at the box office.
“The hard part was trying to manage people’s expectations. We were having all these lovely moments with the awards, but at the same time the film was starting to be released and we were worried we wouldn’t get bums on the seats.”
Thankfully, Gareth couldn’t have been more wrong because as of this week the film stands as the 138th highest grossing movie of all time – the highest grossing independent British film of all time – having swept in a whopping $384 million.
For a producer like Gareth Unwin and Bedlam Productions – who had only been behind small independent films such as Exam and The Flying Machine prior to their involvement in the drama – the financial, critical and cultural success of The King’s Speech couldn’t be more remarkable and he has already began to see a change in his work because of it.
“The Oscar win is still near history, but it certainly does help. In terms of material coming into the company, the standard of stuff that we’re getting sent has improved. Plus, it makes our jobs marginally easier when talking to distributors and trying to set things up.”
For a small company like Bedlam, the accolade is even more important considering that we now live in an era of filmmaking that often sees independent features like The King’s Speech outmatched by the high-concept, big-budget Hollywood releases.
Taking on the major studios, after all, is something that both Gareth and Bedlam Productions were very familiar with in the run up to The King’s Speech’s release, especially when it came to getting the movie’s name out into the public domain.
“A studio, if they’re spent $150 million on making the movie, won’t think anything of spending another $50 or $75 million promoting it. But for us, as small, independent producers, one of the big quests is to make sure we’re at the right festivals, getting the right exposure in the press and making sure the ads are taken out at the right times.”
Nevertheless, while his Best Picture award stands proudly on the office mantelpiece, Gareth Unwin states that this little golden statue doesn’t have the magic power of curing all the woes of being an independent film producer.
“There is a big misnomer that suddenly I’ve been granted the magic wand, but we’re still independent film producers working hard on getting that next movie set up.”
So what exactly does he have lined up following his success with The King’s Speech? Well, it seems like he will be re-uniting with David Seidler to tell the story of Lady Hester Stanhope which he describes as being an Out Of Africa like story set across the 18th century Middle East.
“It’s an original work based on the life of a female traveller at the turn of the 18th century who couldn’t find her place in society because she was a woman. So she decided she was going to make her mark on the world by travelling through the Mediterranean and on to the Middle East and during the course of her travels became embroiled in a three way love affair with these two French spies.”
He is currently working on securing a director and cast for the film.
Gareth also announced that there’s going be a project announced at Cannes that he is due to work on that will ‘a get a lot of attention’ but was unable to comment further.