ON THE BLOG: Number 9 Films’ Stephen Woolley shares his experience of being a producer

Speaking at Shooting People’s Short Cuts event last night, the British Oscar-nominated producer behind films such as The Crying Game, Michael Collins, Made in Dagenham, Carol, Youth, Their Finest and the soon-to-be-released Colette, recalled how he broke into the industry and how he selects his projects.

Number 9 Films was created in 2003 by award-winning producing partners Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley and has established itself as one of the UK’s leading independent production companies forging relationships with a wide range of talent in the UK, across Europe and in the States. Creative Europe Slate funding has supported Number 9 Films with the development of Carol, Their Finest and On Chesil Beach, and most recently, Colette.

On being a self-confessed addict of cinema

"I was born into loving cinema...I developed a great love of fantasy cinema and a fascination for the macabre."

On falling into the business

"I didn’t have an endgame…[On the Company of Wolves] I didn’t know what I was doing. I was directing the 2nd unit without knowing it...I hadn’t gone to film school. My education was jumping straight in. I learnt from the cinema seat and from watching lots of movies. I developed a film language which was my passport in."

On developing a roster of projects

"It took 13 years to get The Limehouse Golem off the ground, but it wasn’t all I was doing."

On the films he’s drawn to producing

"When you're producing a film that first instinct has to be personal, it needs to be something you would want to watch. My gut instinct is always ‘I love this film, other people might like it’. You can’t apply a science to it, it’s a gut feeling. [At Number 9 Films] we like to take history and put a spin on it...Most things come out of thinking ‘how do I not know about this story?'"

On the role of a producer

"I love research...when I was making Their Finest I watched every British film made between 1941 and 1945. I became a walking encyclopedia. I don’t direct...the director has the relationship with the actors and the crew...but I keep the director away from things that will slow the production down."

"As a producer a lot of my life is going to meetings or pitching but I have to give time to watching films too, so that I develop the language of cinema."

On directing

"To direct you should think ‘I’m the only person that can do this’."

On the impact of Brexit on the British film industry

"It’s possible to construct a European movie by collaborating with other countries. My real concern is with the movement of talent across Europe and towards Britain. For Youth we had an Italian crew in London. We give opportunities to crews whose national industries aren’t necessarily going full pelt…Cinema is our common language."

On the ubiquity of streaming platforms

"I’m a little bit worried that technology has taken away the shared experience of going to a cinema. For filmmakers who aren’t established they can get sucked into Netflix and disappear."

On the importance of collaboration

"You can’t exist in a bubble. You’ve got to trust and embrace other people."

Number 9 Films received slate funding through Creative Europe's MEDIA sub-programme in 2015 and 2017.