Talking her first producing credit, the post #MeToo world, and what needs to change to allow women to move into the top jobs within film
Emily Precious studied history at Oxford, which is a world away from where she has ended up today, with her first producing credit alongside fellow producer Lizzie Brown, on an independent feature film, Carmilla, which is being considered for a showing at the Cannes International Film Festival.
She is witty, intelligent and self-aware enough to know that having attended Oxford University puts her in the top 1%, but she is also the kind of woman who uses her position to challenge the status quo in an industry where men still hold the majority of top jobs and very little investment is made in young film-makers.
This inspiring woman has a lot to say and you can be sure that it’s only a matter of time before people stop and listen.
We talk to Emily about Carmilla, how the British Film industry is shifting in the post #MeToo world, the flawed system of funding for independent films and what needs to change to allow women to move into the top creative roles within film – namely, a solution to the lack of support for women wanting to have children.
How did you get your start in film?
I studied history at Oxford, which obviously has nothing to do with the film and TV industries, but there is a really good drama scene. You are required to set up a production company in order to produce your show, so I had my own company for theatre. It’s actually scarily grown up when I look back at it — being liable for health and safety, paying theatres and raising money.
I started producing in my first year and by my final year I had taken two theatre productions to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I wanted to take the shows down to London afterwards, but needed to find a way to pay the rent. I ended up getting an internship at a talent agency that turned into a full-time job. I was there for two years looking after all sorts of talent like Bear Grylls, Trinny and Susannah, Clive Owen and Rupert Everett.
While I was at that agency I had started to move into making short films. That coincided with my bosses going their separate ways so I applied for a job at Ealing Studios and got taken on as a producers assistant. I was there during a really interesting time as I was able to see films in post-production, being financed and also being shot so I got to observe the full process.
What advice would you give to women looking to move into the entertainment industry in a similar capacity?
I always say to anyone asking for advice that starting in a talent agency is incredible groundwork because you read scripts for film, TV and theatre. You are talking to producers and casting directors who have connections in all of those worlds. So it’s a place where you can sit back and look at the entertainment industry as a whole and that gives you a chance to build your own taste.
Also in a very practical way, when I’m doing a deal now with an actor’s agent, I know exactly what they’re going to fight for and how to have that conversation because I spent two years being on the other end of that phone call.
Producing is the only thing I can imagine myself doing. You get to see films right through from inception to their release in the cinema and beyond. It’s also the only job where you can be creative, logistical, administrative, legal, financial and business minded whilst having the freedom to work with people across the whole spectrum of the films’ life.
What were your biggest challenges making your way in production?
One of the difficulties that I face regularly is that I am a young and quite self-assured woman, who is blonde and bubbly, and sometimes I’m not taken particularly seriously, even when I know that I’ve got something to say or am coming from a position of knowledge.
You can so easily pinpoint the moment when the penny drops and someone’s thinking ‘oh this girl does really know what she’s talking about’. I always have the confidence that if you don’t immediately respect me, you’ll get there in the end, but it’s a problem that women face, particularly young women.
The other challenge is that it’s really hard to make independent films. It’s a difficult climate out there; the nature of the industry is changing and we are pushed to be more ambitious for smaller budgets. That is an exciting challenge, but there is a lot of pressure.
There are also a lot of people out there who aren’t going about it in the right way. They’re just giving you a number and saying, ‘can you make this film for £2million?’ and of course I can if it has a single location, a small number of actors and no visual FX requirements, but can I make a film with explosions and car chases safely for £2million? Absolutely not.
You recently stepped up to produce your first film, Carmilla. Can you tell me a bit about the film and your first experience producing?
It’s been amazing. The gothic novel of the same title was the inspiration. It’s about a girl, Lara who lives in isolation with her governess and her father. There is a carriage crash and another girl is brought into the house, the two strike up a fast and passionate friendship and eventually romance. The governess then becomes convinced that this girl is the devil and the story takes quite a dark turn. It’s all about repressed sexuality.
We had one sole investor for the film who has been a dream to work with. When asked what he’s looking to get out of this, his answer is that he wants to make a great film. There is no ego involved, and that’s quite rare in the film industry, so I’ve been in the incredibly fortunate position where I’ve been handed a wonderful script with a fantastic director and the money is already there. That almost never happens.
For anyone wanting to make a short film themselves, what advice do you have on how to approach funding?
It’s just so hard; it’s actually criminally hard in the UK. Our film industry is one of the best in the world, yet we don’t support young filmmakers through what is the formative part of their career.
The most accessible way of being able to make your own short film or feature film is to crowd fund, but it breaks your heart having to ask your mates for a ‘tenner’ to make your short film.
What I would say is that people who work in the industry are incredibly supportive and will, more often than not, give up their time to support projects as a lot of them have been in that position before.
What do you think needs to change to support aspiring filmmakers?
There needs to be subsidised funding for short films. The government has a duty to support the development of talent in what is one of our biggest export industries. It just doesn’t make sense that they don’t. Cinemas don’t really have any incentive to play short films either, but it would be great if independent cinemas showed a short before a film like they used to.
There has been a gravitational shift in the last decade in relation to the amount of strong female roles on-screen, but there is still a long way to go. Do you feel that same shift is happening for women behind the scenes?
There is an awareness around the lack of representation of women in key creative and technical roles in film, but we are a long way from that being the same as women being able to fill them.
It’s really hard to go out and be a producer, writer or director in any circumstances, so starting young women on that journey and empowering them will take time, but I do wonder whether some of the problem is working in an industry where everyone is freelance and there is no support structure for maternity leave. You can’t disappear for 9 or 12 months, people will stop calling you.
If you’re unable to take a job, someone else will, and that team might then stay together — and so it goes on. By being out of the game you do inevitably miss out on opportunities. We work in an industry where nurseries aren’t open nearly as many hours as you shoot for, so it’s really hard to be a mother in film.
Also, even if you do work for a production company on a full-time basis, film companies in the UK do tend to be really small outfits. When you’ve got such small margins and films are getting increasingly more expensive to make, it can be crippling to a company of that size to send someone on a year’s maternity and also cover the costs of a replacement.
I don’t know what the solution to that is, but a good start would be for the bigger studios to invest in a crèche for parents working on films shot at that studio so there are at least options for mothers to return to work. If there was a crèche at Pinewood, I can tell you it would be over-subscribed.
This year, Rachael Morrison became the first female cinematographer to be nominated for an Oscar. What is the feeling about this in the industry?
It blows my mind that she is the first cinematographer to be nominated for an Oscar, but at the same time it’s completely believable. I mean, in my entire career I have never worked with a female cinematographer.
We do still see a lot of films shot from the point of view of the Male Gaze. Do you think that having more female producers, writers, directors and cinematographer’s is changing this?
Absolutely. Women being underrepresented in writing, directing and producing has absolutely had an impact on the types of stories that are being told and how they’re understood. As storytellers, we have a responsibility to be exploring everything, the entire spectrum of humanity and we need to make sure we are properly representing everyone in that process.
2018 will be 100 years since the first women won the right to vote in the UK. How do you see gender equality 100 years on?
I went to see The Post the other day and that made me feel like, my god, women have come a long way. It was set in 1971 and you got this sense that she (Katharine Graham played by Meryl Streep) did not feel like she had a right to be in that room and at that table. It has never occurred to me that I couldn’t do something because I’m a woman. I do know that I have a right to be in that room and to have a voice in that discussion and that means that actually we have come a long way.
I will say though that I still regularly encounter everyday sexism. I was in an edit once surrounded by men, looking at a sex scene and I said ‘I think there’s too much boob’ and one of the producers said to me ‘well, what do you want? More dick?’ I knew in that moment without a shadow of a doubt, that my opinion was being discredited because I was a woman. Had a man said there was too much boob, it would have been received as creative feedback in keeping with the rest of the film, but because I was a woman saying that about another woman, I was being oversensitive. That has to change.
Greatest piece of advice you've ever received?
Work hard and be nice to people!
What does the word feminine mean to you?
I’m a woman and I’m not afraid of that. Femininity means being a woman and seeing things as a women and I’m neither defined nor restricted by that. It should be something that is both empowering yet completely irrelevant at the same time.
If you were to nominate one woman who has inspired you either inside or outside of your industry that we should interview, whom would you nominate?
Lizzie Brown – Film Producer
Clare Hardwick – Media Lawyer