Berlin: StudioCanal U.K. CEO Danny Perkins on Handling a 'Few Bumps' to 'Paddington's' Success (Q&A)
"It"s all about looking after the bear," says the film vet as Paddington and his duffel coat storm the U.K. box office.
The Lego Movie might have had the highest box office earnings in the U.K. throughout 2014, but arguably the year’s biggest shock success was another family favorite. The CGI/live-action adaptation of the marmalade-loving children’s book character Paddington burst onto the charts in November and, to the surprise of almost everyone, secured an astonishing eight-week run in the top five, outlasting the final Hobbit and claiming the overall 10th spot by the year's end ahead of The Wolf of Wall Street and Gone Girl after just a month in release. It now stands as last year's biggest British film released in the U.K., and the biggest non-U.S. studio family film of all time. Fully financed by French major StudioCanal — Paddington has proved a hit on the other side of the Atlantic as well thanks to the Weinsteins. With total earnings nearing the $200 million mark from a budget of around $50 million, the foundation of a franchise surely has been laid. Driving the film for StudioCanal was Danny Perkins, 39, its U.K. CEO.
THR caught up with the married father of two to discuss how a Peruvian bear could help shape the company’s future and plans for Shaun the Sheep.
Have Paddington’s figures been a shock?
The results have been phenomenal. By the time it’ll have finished its run, more than 5 million people in the U.K. will have watched it, which is incredible. I remember saying to everyone just as we released it that it’s all about looking after the bear. We looked after it, and the nice thing is it feels like we’re in the hands of the British public now and they’ve looked after it as well.
Did you always feel it would be a success?
It was a tricky campaign because the film was only finished two weeks before we opened and we did have a few bumps along the way. When we launched, the first image was this “creepy Paddington” thing that happened [the first still was described as looking scary and became the subject of a meme], which wasn’t much fun, and then we had the change of voice [from Colin Firth to Ben Whishaw] which was another big challenge. And then we had the furor with the BBFC [British Board of Film Classification, which gave the film an unexpected Parental Guidance rating] and them tweeting out their advice about innuendo and sexual references. So there were certain steps and it’s easy to look back now and say that it was obviously going to be this, this and this. But we always knew that the film was terrific and we had a screening here for [Paddington creator] Michael Bond and he was happy and you just think, well, we’re all right then.
Given that it was StudioCanal’s biggest investment in a film, and the first time you’ve dabbled heavily in visual effects, did you feel an element of risk?
You try to mitigate risk, so it helped working with a producer like David Heyman, who’s got such an extraordinary track record. Making the film without the lead character and having him develop along the process, that was maybe a little hairy. But I always tell producers and directors that there’s a fine line between fear and excitement. You just want to stay on the right side of it, really. The biggest challenge was probably getting it ready to the date, but we knew that if we were well placed, then we’d have a chance to run right through the holidays. And that’s how it has played out. It’s nice when you make a plan and it works.
Is the film a game changer for StudioCanal?
I think so. It’s what we always hoped, in that if it was a success, then there would be more films. We also have a good relationship with Aardman and have the Shaun the Sheep Movie coming up as well. We identified family as an area we wanted to get into, and you only have to look at what having a franchise did for Summit with Twilight or Lionsgate with The Hunger Games. If you have a known quantity, be it a sequel or a franchise across five years, you can plan a lot more.
Paddington is a known and much-loved character in the U.K., but not so much elsewhere. Was marketing the film an issue?
It’s a different challenge. It helps to have people like Hugh Bonneville and Nicole Kidman in the film, who have a following. And it helped to have David’s name as the producer of Harry Potter. But we had to introduce the idea of who Paddington was, his story and how he comes into the world. I think there are different reference points for different parts of the world, so maybe Stuart Little in the U.S. The campaign was tweaked. It was nice for StudioCanal in terms of us as sales agents that when we’re selling the film to territories where Paddington isn’t a known quantity, we have a campaign ready to go for them.
And how was it working with the Weinsteins to push the film in the U.S.?
It’s been really good. I’ve worked a lot with Harvey over the years, but not so much with Bob. Their instincts are great. Bob’s got a lot of experience on things like Spy Kids and delivering big family films to really big audiences, so he has a sense and that was invaluable. It was quite good that he asked for certain things that we wouldn’t have had a chance of getting, and that made us look much more classy.
Shaun the Sheep already is known in many parts of the world via the TV show. Has the film been easier to market internationally?
In the U.S., he’s actually known from TV ads for some kind of mattress, but weirdly the biggest territory is Germany. He’s massive there. With the release dates, we’ve been working on the two films side by side, so it’s been a steep learning curve for the whole company. But it’s actually worked really well. The two campaigns have almost fed off each other.
StudioCanal also was behind U.K. comedian Chris Morris’ satire on Islamic fundamentalists, Four Lions. Given the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, how do you feel about making such films now?
If anything, I think what’s happened recently has meant we should do more of them. I think it’s probably the most important film we’ve done.