Fable Pictures Execs on Crowded TV Slate, Industry's "Appetite" Change for Female-Focused Projects

THR - Faye Ward and Hannah Farrell -TIFF Daily Creative Space- Photographed by Alisa Connan - H 2019
Alisa Connan

London-based team Faye Ward and Hannah Farrell also discuss their TIFF entry 'Rocks' and the British banner having a "character driven" DNA.

Thanks to Stan & Ollie, the Laurel & Hardy biopic that landed BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for its stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, followed by the country music soaked drama Wild Rose, which bowed in Toronto and remains one of the best reviewed films of 2019, British banner Fable Pictures appears to have gone 2-for-2 with its first features.

At the festival this year, the company — founded by producer Faye Ward in 2016 after a prolific spell at Ruby Film & TV — opens the Platform sidebar with its third film, Rocks, a coming-of-age, partly improvised tale about teenage London schoolgirls using a cast of newcomers ("to the point that some of them don’t even want to be actors," laughs Ward, who reunited with director Sarah Gavron following 2007’s Brick Lane and 2015’s Suffragette before launching Fable).

Now, with the film side doing nicely, Fable has its sights set on a lively lineup of TV projects, including Chocolate Wars with Wild Rose director Tom Harper (at TIFF again with awards-season hopeful The Aeronauts); Joan and Jackie, a series based on British sisters Joan and Jackie Collins; and the Depression-era period piece Saint Mazie, starring Helen Bonham Carter. All are being developed by minority investor Sony Pictures Television, which has also given Fable an office in its London HQ (another project, the LGBT drama Mr Loverman, is being developed with Channel 4).

Speaking to THR, Ward — missing TIFF this year as she prepares to give birth to twins — and Hannah Farrell, the former Working Title, Origin Pictures and Ruby exec who officially reteamed with her frequent collaborator last year as Fable’s creative partner, discuss the DNA that runs through their slate and why the industry’s changing appetite perfectly suits their tastes.

Rocks seems quite an unusual project given it has improvisation built in from the start. How did it come about?

FAYE WARD When Sarah [Gavron] and I were doing press for Suffragette, her little girl was about to turn 13, 14, and we’d been having all these long, existential conversations about what it is to be a teenage girl today. Sarah just wouldn’t let the idea go and started to decide how to make a film. She didn’t want one with the usual 110-page [script] and all its restrictions and said, "What if we pull these restrictions out, get a writer team together and infiltrate schools with the writers?" They put together this spine, which the crew had but the cast didn’t. We literally had to tell our financiers, "You’re not going to get a script, we don’t know who we’re casting, but we still need quite a lot of money."

And they were fine with that?

HANNAH FARRELL They were incredible. They said they were happy to go on this journey with us.

Is there anything else you would compare Rocks to?

WARD Mainly foreign films, like Mustang, Girlhood. We touched on The Florida Project … the energetic, truthful, soulful spirit of being a teenager without making all the dark stuff so explicit.

Stan & OllieWild Rose and Rocks appear to be very different films. Is there any particular DNA running through Fable projects?

FARRELL We feel quite strongly that we’re always character driven first and foremost. It’s about the character telling the unique journey of that person, whoever they might be. And predominantly, we always veer toward more female-centric films.

WARD Stan & Ollie is about as masculine as it gets for us.

FARRELL Each of those films in their own way represents a different form of storytelling and the way we can do it. But all have a central Fable spirit to them. We love something anarchic we can get our teeth into. And a character not always overtly nice on a page. I utterly adore Rose-Lynn in Wild Rose. She’s knotty, and there are nuances and grey areas to her. Those female characters are the ones we fall in love with. And Rocks is quite different from that, because it is none of those things. You’re behind the girls from the minute the film starts.

Given recent movements in the industry, is now a good time to be developing female-centric projects?

FARRELL I think the appetite has changed. The doors are very wide open for those sorts of projects and are allowing us to push stuff through that 10 years ago would have been really hard.

WARD The reason Wild Rose took seven years to put together was because I’m not sure people thought there was an appetite for it or for the character, Rose-Lynn, who can be quite unlikeable at times. Quite often everyone wanted to iron the edges of her.

How much has the recognition for Stan & Ollie and Wild Rose helped make a name for yourselves and showcase what Fable is about?

WARD That’s what we hoped they were going to do. The plan was to make those, and hopefully do them well, and after those films — and Rocks — all our lovely scripts that we’ve had cooking on the TV front could start to get turned over. It’s a calling card — that we can do them justice.

FARRELL We want to create a space where when we’ve made something that everyone has had a really good time on and can feel really proud of, they can come back and work again with us, like Sarah Gavron and Tom Harper have. And hopefully the films showed that out of the block.

You set up the TV side and got backing from Sony right from the start. How did that relationship come about?

WARD I was really lucky to launch the company right at a moment when a lot of people were offering deals and money. And I felt that I didn’t want to do it on my own, that I needed a team and wanted a partner. I was asked, lovely enough, to produce The Crown season one and got talking to Wayne (Garvie, Sony Pictures Television’s head of international production) at the Netflix dinner, and he asked me to come in and have a cup of tea. The book Chocolate Wars came up for renewal, and that was always something I’d wanted. I called him the next day and said, "You know we had that chat yesterday; well, have you got any money?" I pitched it to him over the phone, and after two minutes he said it sounded like a good idea. And it sort of rumbled from there.

What's going to be the first TV project out of the gate? 

WARD There are a few jostling for position, but we'd like Mr Loverman to be it. We've also got Jackie and Joan, which is moving at a bit of pace, but it's a beast. It might be one of those things that starts to happen before everything else but takes that much longer. 

Anything new on the film side bubbling under?

FARRELL There are a few, but our big push over the next two years is TV. 

Are there any films or TV shows you've seen recently you'd have loved to have been involved in? 

WARD I would have loved to have made Succession. It's just so good and such an annoyingly clever series. 

FARRELL I guess it sounds a little clichéd to say, but I think Killing Eve, because it speaks to a lot of themes we love. And also The Handmaid’s Tale and the first series of Big Little Lies. These are all things we would have gone hell for leather on.

Interview edited for length and clarity. 

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's September 6 daily issue at the Toronto Film Festival.