WHY WE BECOME PRODUCERS
SUSAN GEORGE and husband Simon MacCorkindale have had their baptism of fire as film producers. Under their production banner, Amy International, named after the character Susan played in Straw Dogs, they gave themselves the immensely difficult challenge of putting on screen the love story of Abelard and Heloise, those 12th century lovers doomed to tragedy, in Stealing Heaven, The mixed reviews were the sort that makes one wonder why you had put in so much time and effort. But Susan and Simon didn’t sit back and wait for the critical outcome. They have already made their second film That Summer Of White Roses into which Susan has put herself alongside Tom Conti and Rod Steiger, a less ambitious project than Stealing Heaven.
I met Susan and Simon in London recently. First I spoke to Susan while Simon waited in another room.
Why did she want to become a movie producer? “Well for me” she began, “it’s evolution. It’s personal growth. I never believe in standing still. I’ve never waited for anything to come to me. I’ve always been a live-from-day-to-day person. It’s been my life. It’s the thing that makes me happiest. Not knowing what’s around the corner has always been part of my make up. About five years ago when we first decided to go into this, my career was going around in circles. I was being offered the same roles over and over again. I can’t bear people who whinge and whine about the lack of work, or the lack of good product. My answer is to get out and make it happen. So we decided to put the story of Abelard and Heloise on the screen. It’s never been filmed before.”
But, as she and Simon quickly discovered as producers, the headaches, as she put it, “were massive”. She added, “I had very much a furrowed brow throughout this entire operation. In fact someone came out to Yugoslavia to interview us and take pictures one day. I said to Simon I think I better put a paper bag over my head because I wasn’t looking too good.”
What of their second production, That Summer Of White Roses, also filmed in Yugoslavia. For starters it cost half as much as the six million dollars spent on Stealing Heaven.
“It’s very unlike Stealing Heaven” said Susan. “A very simple picture about a very small community in Yugoslavia during the Second World War. Tom Conti plays a lifeguard who leads a very simple life without any complications. Every day he arrives on his little beach to open it up. The fact that, as a lifeguard he’s never saved a life, is an important. Integral part of the story. Into his life comes a woman and her child. I’m a refugee who’s husband was leader of the partisans and shot, and I’m on the run. The lifeguard harbours me in his community and we have a special, but purely platonic, loving relationship. He does eventually save his first life in the picture, the life of a Nazi which becomes a moral issue. The community turns against him. It’s really about two ships who meet and pass in the night. Rod Steiger plays the lifeguard’s best friend.”
Susan enjoys wearing her producer’s hat, but adds, “If I could be doing all this without any of the financial worry then I would be a very, very happy woman. I really would. It’s terrific fun, fantastic. I really do want to live my life to its fullest with my husband, just us together.”
What about children? She has never been a mother.
“Oh, it’s part of the plan, down the line, but it will be when it will be,” she replied.
In the meantime Susan and Simon have created two ‘movie children’, Stealing Heaven and the forthcoming That Summer Of White Roses which I think will have a better critical reception than Stealing Heaven.
Simon then told me, “What we’re trying to do is to set ourselves up as being a British film production company and support the British Film Industry which needs energy and films. Rather than just making one film and then sitting and waiting, we decided we must have another product. We want to make at least one film a year.”
Simon has spent his recent career in America where he appeared in such films as Cabo Blanco, The Sword And The Sorcerer and Jaws 3, including many TV mini-series as well as the star of Manimal, and Falcon Crest for two seasons. He was attracted to producing for very much the same reasons as his wife Susan. They simply wanted more control over their work, and both were willing to take the chance and gamble. But Simon realises that running Amy International with Susan will inevitably make great demands on their time.
Clearly Simon’s eventual dream is to be a director. He had ambitions to direct before becoming an actor. “I went to drama school to learn how to act so that I’d be a better director. Then, by accident, I fell into acting,” he said.
As producers, Simon and Susan find themselves in a quite unique situation. How many other husband and wife teams, who also happen to be actors, have become movie producers?
“It is an interesting combination,” says Simon. “I think it will become even more interesting because as the company develops we will find that raising money will be easier now that we have demonstrated we can do it. I’m actually fairly pragmatic about what we’ve done as producers. Whatever anybody might say about Stealing Heaven I would say that we have put 6 1/4 million dollars on the screen. That in itself in the modern idiom is rare because I’ve actually seen more films made for vast sums of money where they don’t look like the money is there, than the other way around. So I think from a production point of view we served the picture extremely well. If people don’t like it, then that is a matter of choice.”
Time and product will tell in this demanding, indeed at times heartless industry, whether Susan George and Simon MacCorkindale, with their Amy International company which incidentally is based at Shepperton Studios, will prove to be a leading production force in this business. They have ambition, drive and their dreams.