Twitter is a fantastic thing for reporters in my opinion, as it permits the press to speak with entertainment personalities who may otherwise be difficult to reach. Case and point, I ‘met’ British production executive Roopesh Parekh and we started tweeting each other. Our common link is actor David Oakes, and since he produced his film ‘Truth or Dare’, we connected. He turned out to be very friendly.
I recently had the great opportunity to chat with him, via Skype, which is exciting because he is one of the rising stars in the British movie and television production scene. I would like to thank Roopesh for his kindness and patience with some of the technical difficulties we had during our chat (in which he showed why he’s so good at his job!).
Our chat will be published in 3 parts, due to the amount of material I have. Here is the first part.
Q. Can you give me some background on you?
“Absolutely! In a nutshell, I’ve been working as a line producer or producer in film and television for about 6 years now, full time in a paid professional capacity. Prior to that I was working for free and getting experience. I started in theater actually, when I was about 14 years old at a very well known theater, the Leicester Haymarket (theater), where shows such as Rocky Horror Picture Show have played, a good place to start shows off the ground in the West End of London. I grew up on Leicester so the theater was right there, and from the age of about 15 I’d leave school and go straight to the theater. There was a youth club there, but my main aim was to try and put on a production.
So I teamed up with a couple of other young guys just like me who wanted to put on a theater show and we spent, I’m not exaggerating, every day, for about 6 months in this theater, five or six days a week, talking to and bugging every-single-person involved with productions. I would run around the place talking to everyone from the artistic directors, to the chief executive, with whom I once got very drunk with, when I was about 16…the marketing people, the lighting designers. I just wanted someone to give me an opportunity to be able to produce my own theater show.
So after six months of doing this — I was 16 at the time — I met this writer/dramaturge named Noël Greig, who is well known for his artistic plays and artistic interpretation of plays. He’s also written a lot of novels and books and he was a dramaturge at the theater. He wanted to do a full play around Valentine’s Day and the whole weekend that followed it, about love in the 21st Century. This whole event would take over the whole theater. They were gonna have people in the foyer, so you wouldn’t know who was in the audience and who was a performer. You would have someone playing the violin or someone start talking to someone else.
There was a proper play going on in the studio and a musical play going on in the theater. It was this whole thing he’d planned out. Then something happened in the smaller studio, which was about 100 seats — I don’t remember what — but it collapsed! So someone came to me and said, basically, we have no money to put on this show now and so they had to come up with something. You have to put on a show within a week, the only requirement being that it has to be around the theme of love. And so I thought, this is an excellent idea!
I had two weeks to put on this show, put on the script, cast it, rehearse it, direct it and put it on. And of course I was only 16, but I thought, you know what? This is an amazing opportunity, I’m going to make the best out of it. this is going to be fantastic! And we pulled it off, and we did such an amazing job. It was called ‘The Innocence’ and it was all about love and conflicts in relationships. So that was my first production and we managed to get everything together and pull this amazing show off.
The artistic director of the venue at the time came down to see the show, which I was really stunned about. I wasn’t really expecting him to be there as we had an audience of only about 100 people. We had a couple of our friends and family, but we didn’t really know who the audience was. And it was through that show that I ended up doing two more productions at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre and they gave me slots to put on my own shows. Six or seven months after we put on the first show, we put on a play called Dare you Judge Me? This is a piece in which you interact with the audience, and it’s about channeling stereotypes.
We had a couple of producers attending from a place in England called Lancashire, which is in the far north of the country. They came down and approached me after a show and said, ‘we’ve got this amazing opportunity we’d like you to consider,’ which was to be part of a team of writers who are putting together a documentary type film in the north. And I was still 16 and I was, ‘yes! Sounds amazing, I’d love to do that.’ So I sort of went off, to Lancashire, to meet these producers to talk further. When I got there, after about 3 hours of having some food and drinks and talking, I realized that they weren’t a team of writers and they weren’t putting together a documentary. What they actually wanted was a writer to write a screenplay based on a story they had.
They offered me a contract and a deal and said, ‘we’ll pay you some good money [for that time)]. Would you please write this screenplay?’ I was just stunned, and so I spent six months writing this screenplay. And when I was 18 the film came out and it was made for just a little over one million pounds sterling. It was called ‘Chicken Tikka Masala’, which is the popular food dish, but the film has nothing to do with food at all. It’s a comedy of errors about two gay people who are in love with each other. One of them is Asian and the other one is white. The Asian one is having an arranged marriage because his parents don’t know he’s gay and he’s got seven days to get out of this situation and marry his boyfriend.
So it was a silly comedy of errors that the film came out in cinemas here in the UK in 2005. It was made available in the States through TLA Releasing, which is quite a mainstream supplier of gay and lesbian movies. So that was my first foray into film.
So while I was still doing that, going to school and doing my A-levels and traveling to Lancashire every few days to see how filming was going, I was missing a lot of time of school. They were quite understanding actually, which was nice. Through that process I realized what I really wanted to do was film production, not writing, and so I ended up going to University at 18 and and during those 3 years I was making a lot of short films. I met a lot of people, networked and ended up graduating.
Luckily, I say luckily, but it probably wasn’t a good thing, I never had to work as a runner, an assistant. I ended up working on features and it’s kind of not stopped since. I’ve done a variety of projects over the last 6 years, including things you’ve heard about like, ‘Truth or Dare’ (with David Oakes) or ‘Love Tomorrow’ or ‘Red Dwarf X ‘or the new thing that I’ve just done, which is ‘Inside No. 9′ (with Gemma Arterton). And there’s a couple of other smaller projects which have been delayed, and are just now coming out, like ‘The Liability’, which is the Tim Roth movie, which I made in December of 2011. That film is now finally coming out through Lionsgate in the US and through a company called Revolver in the UK. It is scheduled out at the end of January, so that’s going to be great. There’s a film called ‘Shortlisted 3D’, which is a street bands documentary, which I produced and has been picked up by Virgin Media here in the UK. That one is going to be out at the end of this month as well, so you’ll see me Tweeting and Facebooking about it as soon as that’s out.”
Video: ‘Truth or Dare’
Q. Tell me about your production company, Roopesh Parekh Productions.
“It’s not a rolling production company. People don’t work for me full time. They work for me per project, so, depending on what show I’m doing, I’ll employ 50-100 people to work for me and as soon as that show is over, they’re all gone. Because of Britain’s rules of employment I can employ a lot of people as freelancers and some people I have to employ under my payroll. So I have a production company for legal reasons. It’s not like a mini studio — it’s very much me developing stuff and when I get the financing I then employ a lot of people.”
Q. Is that how most production companies work?
“Yes, except for the top production companies. The top five always have people working at their offices in development. But the independent companies, which are people like myself, usually have one or two people developing and as soon as they get the financing they start employing people for that project.”
Q. For those who don’t know, what does a line producer do?
“A Line Producer is a British title, but it’s the equivalent to a Unit Production Manger in the US. That person is responsible for budget and the schedule, for the delivery of the show, and making sure everything is running in accordance with that schedule. They employ all the heads of departments, costume designer, make up designer, director of photography, sometimes even the director. They are responsible for crewing up the whole production and managing on a day to day basis. They’re the person ultimately responsible for what they call physical production to make the show or film and they’re also responsible for all the financing, all the budgeting, and all the cost reporting to keep track of the money being spent.
They’re in all the meetings that take place surrounding anything to do with the show or film, so they’ll sit there with the executive producers or if it’s TV with the series producers, and they’ll work out issues. For example if a script re-write is happening, and the re-write is not going to be affordable, then the line producer would say we can’t really afford this — you have to think again. And because I work both as a line producer and a producer I can make casting suggestions for who I think should be playing what role.
So I get very involved, not only on the financial side of the production, but also on the creative side as well. Sometimes I’ll make script suggestions which will help with the budget, and that I think will help the production as well. So during the shoot and in the build up to the shoot, as soon as the green light from the studio is given, the line producer is the first person that is hired. And it’s that line producer’s job to oversee everything until the film is shot and then usually a post production supervisor will be hired to handle that part of the production. But the line producer is the person on the front lines in charge of everything.”
Q. So are you expected to be there every day of the shoot?
“Yeah, while other producers might pop in once a day or once every other day, and they work in the office the rest of the time, I make sure that I’m very, very close to where they’re filming. If they’re filming on location then I go on location, so I can always go on set. With line producers you’re the first one there, and you’re the last one to leave.
Producers and directors usually come in about an hour after I get in. So I tend to be there quite early to make sure everything is running properly and ready to go for that day. And at the end of the day, if we finish shooting at 7 pm, by the time I take care of all the problems and issues it’s usually 9:30 – 10 pm and then I have to get home. So it is not uncommon for line producers to work 18-19 hour days during production.”
Video: ‘The Liability’ Official UK Trailer
Q. That is crazy! So then, if there are any problems that arise during the day, you are the one that has to solve the issue?
“Yes, pretty much. Line producers tend to be people in their 50s or 60s. Because they’ve worked in the industry for over twenty years, they know how every departments works and what their needs are. So if someone comes to me and says, the camera’s broken, I can’t help with that. I don’t know how to fix that camera, so I call the company that I contracted for the shoot and get the problem solved.
There are any number of issues that can happen. For example, the locations department in the latest project that I was involved in came up to me a week before we were starting to shoot and said, we’ve got a problem. The house that we’re filming in, right opposite that, there was a demolition taking place. It was starting on the first day we were filming, so there would be a demolition crew right behind our film crew, which is completely going to (curse) up all our sound.
This is a locations problem, but because it affects the production as a whole I had to come up with a solution. So I negotiated with the demolition company and worked something out. I have to be very organized and have with me all my budgeting, all my finance, all my contacts, so if I need to, I can get a hold of the people that I need to.
You want to take care of problems as they happen. You don’t want to leave them for the next day. A good principle to follow is, anything that comes up that day, you have to resolve that day. Otherwise you’re in trouble if you leave it to the following day. You will start getting a back log, so you have to deal with all the problems as they arise. Staying calm and being cool under pressure is what you need more than anything else.
When something happens you can’t have twenty people running around like headless chickens. You have to keep everyone focused and calm, and put things in perspective. When you’re working in bigger budget movies, you have so much money invested, that if certain problems happen you can just throw money at them and that’s it.
If you’re Universal for example, with the demolition crew they would just ask how much is it going to cost to pay them off not to work that week. 30 grand? Okay, here’s thirty thousand pounds, now (blank) off. But I don’t have that kind of money so I have to come up with clever ways to go around problems. So you’re not only trying to solve filming issues, but anything outside of that that affects the production.
Most line producers will tell you it’s quite a lonely job. Your job is to make sure the producers are happy and the director gets everything they want, that all the crew are happy, when sh__ is wrong they come to you and expect you to fix it. There is a misconception that line producers are magicians or miracle workers, because people expect them to be able to solve every single thing that comes up. You know you can’t solve everything. It’s just a case of skillful negotiations, staying calm under pressure and remembering that at the end of the day, you are making a film, or a TV show. You’re not saving lives so there’s no point on getting all upset. You just need to stay calm, stay focused and look at each problem on a case by case basis. That’s how I get through the day.”
Next up, we discuss more about Roopesh’s work and the ‘behind the scenes’ part of the business. Part 2 of Right Entertainment’s interview with Roopesh Parekh will be published next week.