ON THE BLOG: Q&A with Scarlet Films on developing The Favourite

Ceci Dempsey, who produces under the banner Scarlet Films, tells us about the company's experience developing BAFTA-nominated film The Favourite and how being awarded Creative Europe development funding kept the project alive. 

Tell us about your company/organisation (location, size of office, or anything we might be surprised to learn!)

Scarlet Films is based in London. The workforce currently consists of me, a part time assistant and a reader and lawyer and accountant! When we’re in production, I have an assistant from prep through the first part of post. Once I’m in partnership with others, the number of people on a project naturally increases.

What are your company's ambitions and how do you approach the development in order to achieve these?

Scarlet currently has a slate of film and television projects at varying stages of development and four are close to being announced. I like to ‘incubate’ my projects for a while, working closely with the writer, giving them time, before going into full-fledged development, often with other companies or producers. I find that the ‘incubation’ period helps to establish the soul of the project. Projects will mutate/evolve during the development process but hopefully the essence of the project is preserved. I am drawn almost exclusively to projects with strong female characters.

How did Creative Europe funding facilitate The Favourite's journey to cinema screens?

Initial development funding came from MEDIA and the UK Film Council/ BFI. Many drafts, revisions and polishes were done which ultimately led to Scarlet’s partnering with Element Pictures and to the attachment of director Yorgos Lanthimos. The unswerving support of the MEDIA programme and the UK Film Council/BFI in a very long development period kept the project and its profile alive. Development continued with Element and Film4.

What's something that people might not realise about the development process?

Each project has its own development trajectory. In my experience, no two development experiences are ever the same as you are dealing with multiple variables - the narrative, the writer(s), the director, the cast and the financiers. The development process requires patience and respect for the writer’s process and the director’s vision. Hopefully, all this is followed by the thrill of getting the film made! The Favourite had a protracted development process, over about 18 years. The project always generated a lot of interest but there was a time when period films were out of fashion and some financiers were concerned about the same sex relationships in the story. There were quite a few interested parties who made suggestions to the narrative (e.g. Could the script focus on the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough? Could the same sex love triangle be edited out?) that would have created an entirely different script. The essence of the film is the female triangle and the 'All About Eve’ story of betrayal and it was of the utmost importance to preserve it. Otherwise, there would be the risk of creating a generic period film.

How did your collaboration with Element Pictures begin?

Lee Magiday had been tracking the project when she was at Focus. When Lee joined Element, she initiated the development/production relationship between Scarlet and Element on The Favourite (then entitled ‘Balance of Power’). While development on the script continued, Scarlet and Element produced The Lobster with Yorgos Lanthimos.

You've produced two of Yorgos Lanthimos' films now. What is it about him as a director that you find exciting? And why do you think audiences are particularly responding to his type of filmmaking now?

His unique vision and his ability to allow a dark sense of humour and emotional intensity to co-exist in the same film. His films are genre-defying. He takes risks. He’s not afraid to challenge an audience. And, of course, Yorgos knows how to tell a great story! I also respect the fact that he doesn’t feel obliged to deconstruct his process, that he operates on a very intuitive level.

The Favourite is out now in UK cinemas. 

The MEDIA sub-programme's Development: Slate Funding scheme is currently open for applications. Find out more here

Image: The cast and crew of The Favourite at the 2018 BIFAs where it won Best British Independent Film. (Ceci Dempsey is centre). Credit: David Fisher / REX / Shutterstock.