Danny Hansford has just returned from Cannes when we meet at the offices of his production company, 4DH Films in London. He’s spent an exhausting few days in talks for his two upcoming projects, Valerio, which is based on the true story of the biggest bank robbery in UK history, and Don Don, a tale of two men with very different lives who each find out they’ve got just one year to live. En route to Hansford’s favourite local boozer, where we find seats at an outdoor table in the spring sunshine, the producer of 2009 hit British film Bronson tells me about his journey into the film business and how it almost never happened.
At the age of 21, following an aborted attempt at a career in professional golf and a few years of travelling the world, Hansford decided that film production was the career for him. After landing an unpaid role as a tea boy at the now-defunct music video production company Spidercom Films, he quickly climbed the ladder – “I blagged it,” he says – soon producing for the company’s top directors. A period working as a freelance music video producer followed before Hansford decided that the world of features beckoned. He co-wrote a screenplay, Just Left of Heaven, secured major names for the leads, then…the process stalled. Dispirited and on the verge of giving up on the movie business for good, Hansford’s attention was drawn to the remarkable story of an eccentric British prisoner who went by the name of Charles Bronson.
Bronson received great reviews, was nominated for and won a slew of awards – why do you think it all came together for that film and not Just Left of Heaven, which had such a promising start?
One thing people have got to understand in this industry is the odds of everything coming together at the right time are really really slim. You need to know when you are being deluded and need to walk away, or when everyone else is passionate and no matter what happens, if the plates keep falling on the floor, you pick them up and you’ve still got momentum.
Does having that first successful feature open a lot of doors?
It does. The kudos of winning the Sydney Film Festival, the kudos of Grand Jury Nominated at Sundance and all the awards Tom [HARDY] won…it’s huge, right? And those doors are still open to me four years on. I have received hundreds, if not a thousand scripts since Bronson – I just want to make something that can hopefully match Bronson or be better.
It’s a good question. And the answer is that I haven’t worked on any of them! The first thing is not putting ‘hi there’ in the cover email, knowing that you’ve sent it out to millions of people. That cover email is very important: make sure that your spelling’s correct. If the cover email is professional, if it’s obviously from an agent and I like the synopsis then I will bother to read the first five pages and if I like the first five pages then I will read the next five.
You took the experience route into the industry – would you recommend that over film school?
I’ve heard nothing but good things about the National Film and Television School (NFTS). But I also know that I receive hundreds of CVs from people who have all these top qualifications and they just can’t get a job. So it’s a really tough one. To get your foot in the door is tough. And the other thing is that to get into one of these companies you’ve got to have some money behind you: because you will be earning nothing and you’ll be doing that job for years. You’ll literally be a script reader, a script editor or something for like five years before you even get a chance to be involved in development.
So what advice would you give to aspiring producers?
The route I would go if you’re trying to stand out from the crowd and do something that is going to get people’s attention is always short film. Always. If you’re an actor, a producer, a director – especially these days when everything’s digital, you don’t even have to pay for film stock – you can make a film for nothing. There are short film festivals, there’s a circuit. And that really gets people’s attention. But it has to be an amazing short film.
Speaking of LA, how does the Hollywood studio system compare with the British film industry?
The difference between here and LA is that in LA they make movies; that is their industry. Whereas here, people talk about making movies and nothing gets done. It’s lots of meetings. In America, shit happens. So I would definitely say that you have more of a chance in LA but you obviously need to get a work visa you need some connections and you have to be hard as hell because they will chew you up and spit you out. It’s a nasty machine.
For young producers trying to take that next step and raise money for their first short or feature, where’s a good place to start?
There is no right or wrong answer. I have a couple of minority investors in my company that I met through a wealth management guy that fell in love with the project [Valerio]. He started bringing his City friends along and they started going, ‘this ticks all my boxes: women, Ferraris, heists, how can I get involved?’ That just happened literally over drinks and that money has now been able to carry me through the last two years of development. Think outside the box.
What’s the trick to dealing with investors?
There’s a lot of sharks in this industry, a lot of people offering full finance that really sounds appealing in the beginning and then you start teasing into it and flushing people out. So you have to be very wary. I’m lucky, I have the best film lawyer in London, Laurence Brown, who is not only my friend, but he’s my exec producer. And nothing gets past him. So having someone like that who understands contracts is very important.
As the producer, you’re having to balance the needs of all the different personalities involved in making a film – how do you maintain a steady ship in stormy seas?
You have to be Buddha – these people have egos and they’re creative and they can throw their toys out of the pram. Your job is to have control. I had lots of issues on Bronson and I had issues on my other two films and lots of fall outs. You try to keep your integrity because it is important. It’s very difficult sometimes because everyone has their own career and brand and people are constantly going up and down in their careers so getting everything together at the right time is very tough. It’s being a leader. It’s knowing when to jump in and tell someone, ‘you’re being out of order’ and save the situation and it’s knowing when to step back and let them have their rant and do nothing and knowing that in a few hours they’re going to chill out.
© Jo Caird
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