Welcome to Career Watch, a vocational checkup of top actors and directors, and those who hope to get there. In this edition we take on Working Title producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, whose latest hit is Edgar Wright’s wheel-and-disc-spinning breakout “Baby Driver” (June 28, Sony), which has tracked $64 million worldwide to date.
Bottom Line: This brainy duo with plummy British accents have been turning out a consistent slate of smart global hits since the ’80s. The London-based co-chairmen of Working Title boast the best taste in the business. They chase mainstream quality fare. That’s their gig. But even so over the years, partnering with Universal Pictures, with freedom to greenlight movies up to $35 million, their films have grossed an impressive almost $7 billion dollars worldwide.
Career Peaks: From the start, Working Title founder Tim Bevan gravitated to local stories with global potential like “My Beautiful Laundrette,” Stephen Frears’ searing 1986 16 mm portrait of Margaret Thatcher’s London, which jumped from TV movie to arthouse phenomenon at the Edinburgh Film Festival. A controversial early exploration of sex, race and class, “My Beautiful Laundrette” broke out Frears, swaggeringly sexy Daniel Day-Lewis, rookie screenwriter Hanif Kureishi (who earned an Oscar nomination) and Working Title Films.
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Over the decades, Bevan and partner Eric Fellner championed Edgar Wright and producer Nira Park through “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “The World’s End” and now their fourth movie together, “Baby Driver.” In fact Wright postponed Marvel’s “Ant Man” (it turns out, permanently) to complete “World’s End” after Fellner was diagnosed with cancer. (He’s fine now.)
Wright signed a two-picture deal with Working Title 10 years ago. “I mentioned ‘Baby Driver’ to Eric Fellner and he immediately said ‘I want to see your version of a car movie,'” Wright explained via email. “That enthusiasm never wavered in the last decade and it’s a testament to his faith in me that we made the movie that’s currently in cinemas. Both Tim and Eric have a great working ethic and make you feel empowered to achieve your ambitions. They are also two of the driest and funniest producers I’ve worked with. So even when the going gets tough — as it frequently does when trying to make original movies — they at least make the lowest points of the process still pretty entertaining.”
Working Title also supported the likes of Stephen Daldry (“Billy Elliott,” the film and musical), writer and director Richard Curtis (“Notting Hill,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “Love Actually”), Tomas Alfredson (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and upcoming “The Snowman”), Paul and Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”), the Coen brothers (“Fargo,” ‘O Brother Where Art Thou,” “A Serious Man,” “Burn Before Reading,” “Hail, Caesar!”), Paul Greengrass (“United 93,” “Green Zone”), Joe Wright (“Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement,” “Hanna,” “Anna Karenina”), Ron Howard and Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon” and “Rush”) and Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables”). They also launched global franchises “Mr. Bean” and “Johnny English,” starring Rowan Atkinson, and Emma Thompson’s “Nanny McPhee” and its sequels.
Signature Line: “May Almighty God bless you all in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spigot.” — Rowan Atkinson in “Four Weddings and A Funeral”
Assets: As the top producers with the deepest pockets in the UK, they scoop the cream of the best material and nurture young writers and directors who keep returning to the fold. Bevan and Fellner also assemble superb casts. They work repeatedly with top talent Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Cate Blanchett and more. Their more commercial movies like Baltasar Kormákur’s “Everest” go out via the Universal studio, and more refined quality fare like “Atonement” build credibility via specialty division Focus Features, which mounts their awards campaigns.
Biggest Problem: While they aim for the mass market, their tony British taste doesn’t always cross over; they often score higher numbers overseas. For example, 2016’s “Bridget Jones’s Baby” grossed $24 million domestic vs. $179 million international, and Tom Hardy gangster flick “Legend” grossed $1.8 domestic vs. $40.7 million international. And indulging their close talent relationships yields the occasional noble failure, from Stephen Daldry’s “Trash,” shot in Brazil, and Stephen Frears’ 2015 Lance Armstrong drama “The Program,” to Richard Curtis’s choppy ’60s music fest “Pirate Radio”/”The Boat that Rocked.”
Awards Attention: Over the years, Working Title is often duking it out at the Oscars, Globes and BAFTAs with ace producer Scott Rudin, who also produces the Coen brothers. Most years Bevan and Fellner have something in contention, and have won 12 Oscars. Their five Best Picture Oscar nominees include literate smart-house period movies “The Theory of Everything,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Atonement,” “Elizabeth” and “Les Miserables,” while their Oscar acting winners are “The Danish Girl” (Alicia Vikander), “Fargo” (Frances McDormand) and “Dead Man Walking” (Sean Penn). SAG and Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett (“Elizabeth”) took home both the Best Actress Golden Globe and BAFTA award.
Latest Contender: While Wright’s well-executed cinematic feat “Baby Driver” could well make the leap from action movie to tech nominee (Editing, Sound), Working Title has several upcoming period Oscar dramas likely to hit the fall festival circuit: Frears’ “Victoria & Abdul” (September 22, Focus) starring Dame Judi Dench, and Joe Wright’s “Darkest Hour,” starring Gary Oldman as Sir Winston Churchill (November 22, Focus).
Latest Misfire: Louis Leterrier might not have been the best match for their Sacha Baron Cohen comedy “The Brothers Grimsby,” which topped out at $6.8 million domestic and $21.8 international.
Current Gossip: Bevan is divorced from actress Joely Richardson, with whom he has a grown daughter; he also has two children with wife Amy Gadney. Fellner has two children by his long-time girlfriend, Laura Bailey, and three older children by his ex-wife, Gaby Dellal.
Next Step: Sofia Coppola walked away from long-in-development live-action “The Little Mermaid,” adapted by Abi Morgan from a recent stage play, with multiple writers on board, including Caroline Thompson, Kelly Marcel and Richard Curtis. Joe Wright may direct. In production is James Marsh’s “Night in Hatton Garden” starring Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Ray Winstone and Jim Broadbent. Coming in 2018: Jose Padilha’s 70s action thriller “Entebbe,” as well as Atkinson’s “Johnny English 3.”
Career Advice: Sometimes aiming for the commercial center with bigger budgets leads to tried-and-true. It can be just as risky to not take chances as to take them, as Bevan and Fellner know all too well.