Production Spotlight: Paul Kewley

This month, we spoke with movie producer Paul Kewley about producing feature length animation, film industry trends and the next new project in the Aardman features pipeline.

1.   How did start out in the industry and what is your role at Aardman?

My role at Aardman is as a Feature Film Producer. I produced ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’, ‘The Farmer’s Llamas’ and I’m in the middle of producing the Shaun the Sheep Movie Sequel.

I ended up in the film business completely by chance. I’d always been a keen photographer and into motorsport (and sport in general), but never really had thought what I’d end up doing. I’d considered being a doctor, but that just sounded good, it wasn’t really my passion. So at the age of 18 I had no clue where I was headed. When a careers officer visited my school I didn’t think much of it. Now this was back in the day when they had a computer that only gave about five different jobs as career choices and my weird interests didn’t really give it a chance to figure out what I should be (it suggested an engineer). But the very next day that same careers officer called me and said a video production company near my home were looking for help. They made motorsport TV and videos. So suddenly I found myself plunged into that world, travelling Europe and hanging out in pit lanes. Which as an 18 year old petrol head was nirvana.

That role gave me an insight into story telling in TV, and (eventually) I realised that I wanted to be a Film Producer – without that careers officer’s foresight I’d probably be taking temperatures and writing prescriptions. Without doubt, many patients’ lives have been saved as a result.

2. To date, what has been your biggest professional achievement?

Taking Shaun the Sheep to the big screen and working with the fantastic crew at Aardman was enormously satisfying. That was made all the better when we received Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globes nominations and just a few weeks ago we won an International Emmy. So overall it has been a great few years!

Shaun the Sheep Movie 2015 (Aardman Animations/STUDIOCANAL)

3. Name three people who inspire you:

David Heyman – Producer of Harry Potter Films, Fantastic Beasts and Gravity (to name a few). David is the British producer that I admire most in the current generation of film producers. He has managed to carve out a career making large scale family films for the international market as well as making films that he’s passionate about.

Kenny Dalglish – I’m a massive Liverpool supporter and get to as many matches as I can. King Kenny stands out for me as a player, but also as a man, the dignified way he dealt with the horrendous aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster are a testament to the man. His leadership through dark times are a constant inspiration to me.

Alex Zanardi – sorry another sports star. Zanardi lost both legs in a horrific racing accident. But he’s the most dynamic, positive person you could ever meet. He carried on racing and has gone on to win multiple Paralympic golds. The single most inspiring man I’ve ever met.

4.Tell us what a typical day at the studio is like for you?

We’re at the start of production on the Shaun the Sheep Movie sequel so we are trying to figure out the story. It sounds easy but we spend thousands of hours trying to refine ideas and making them work. So the main thrust of my day is working with Richard Starzak (director), Rich Phelan (Head of Story) and Victoria Stevens (editor) working out what Shaun is up to. It is great fun but incredibly tiring! I’m also across all the other aspects of the film and a number of projects in development, so I’m pretty busy…

5. What do you like most about working at Aardman?

The people. It sounds obvious but the people you work with are what makes life interesting and I’m lucky enough to work with a hugely talented bunch of people with lots of different skills and interests. It never gets boring!

6. What new trends do you feel have had the biggest impact on the feature film industry lately?

Film has changed drastically over the last twenty years. I started out in Los Angeles, at the time studios made at least 30 films a year and variety was key. But now studios have homogenised their output in the pursuit of tent pole movies which they believe are less risky. But in truth I think they’re creating more risk for themselves and reducing the appeal of films. Whilst this isn’t a great position for US studios (I think the trend is slowly changing) it has provided an opportunity for smaller entities to fill the position that they previously held. This has provided a great opportunity for Aardman and its partner StudioCanal.

7. What’s your desk like – messy or tidy? (send me a picture if you like!)

My desk is rather boring, rather so than a picture of that, here’s one of my favourite photos of a bunny.

8. What are your goals for the year ahead?

To get Shaun 2 into production and to make it bigger and better than the first film.

9. How do you maintain a work/life balance?

It can be tricky at times but I try to be home to read stories to my son Jack every night. I love my work but my family comes first.

10. What has been your all-time favourite project that you’ve been involved with?

I’ve worked on some amazing things but the Shaun the Sheep Movie has to be the best. I finally got to produce a feature film, something I’ve being trying to do for many years…

11. What’s your best advice for people wanting to get into the film industry today?

Be clear why you want to be in the industry. I meet a lot of people who say they want to work in film, my question is normally, why? You need to be clear what you can offer over the thousands of others who want the job. To do what I do, I think passion for storytelling is crucial. That and an understanding of the audience, in fact I’d go further and say you really need to love the films you are making, you always need to ask yourself, ‘would I pay to go and see that?’ If the answer is no, then why would anyone else?

12. Who is your favourite Aardman character and why?

Bitzer. He’s a classic comedy character. He’s the guy who is always trying to do the right thing, which is a great quality in a person but I love that he’s always one step behind Shaun.

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