26 Jan 2015

Meet Charles Collier: the London talent agent offering a bridge between Europe and Hollywood

"Crossing the Atlantic" a discussion forum at Shooting Stars 2012 with Angharad Wood ( Tavistock / Wood), Mechthild Holter (Players), Lina Todd ( Casting Director / Moderator), Theresa Peters ( UTA) , Sheila Wenzel ( Innovative Artists)

Charles Collier is a founding partner of Tavistock Wood, the London talent agency that, since its inception in 2004, has always looked beyond UK shores for a significant chunk of its artist roster, including former Shooting Stars Daniel Brühl, Benno Furmann, Iben Hjejle, Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson, Nina Hoss, Mélanie Laurent, Riccardo Scamarcio, Alicia Vikander and Johanna Wokalek. Representing more than 40 actors from Continental Europe – drawn from Germany, France, Italy, Romania, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Ukraine, Austria, Poland and Spain – Collier and his partner Angharad Wood have long been at the vanguard of the growing internationalisation of talent agency. Collier speaks to us ahead of his annual visit to the Berlinale, where this year he will meet and give advice to the 2015 selection of Shooting Stars.

Charles, how did Tavistock Wood come to represent so many Continental European clients?

When Angharad and I set up this business over ten years ago, all of the London market faced in one direction, which is to Los Angeles, where it appeared all the money was coming from. And to a large extent that was absolutely true. But we thought the question was: where’s the talent coming from? We had always been most at home in the environment of European cinema and European filmmaking as a matter of personal taste. That was a first love for us. And so, as is best in business, you follow your instinct, you follow your passions.

Was London the right place for such an agency?

London can offer the best of both worlds: we are entirely in tune with the artistic approach and sensibility of the European way of film which is very much a community of souls, but at the same time we are very comfortable with the commercial approach of the US entertainment industry which is profit-driven.

When it comes to really developing acting talent from the ground up, London is the very best place in the world. This comes from the unique infrastructure that has developed in London for actors to develop professionally, taking seed in the drama schools and the theatre. Add to this the sheer volume of production in London and the geographical and linguistic centrality of London as the bridge between North America and Europe. But most importantly London is the sophisticated global hub at the very centre of the cultural universe, and all the best productions come here to cast and connect with the most interesting talent.
In London, the casting directors really hold the keys to the kingdom. They are hugely authoritative and influential. The US producers and studios know that it makes sense to have a UK casting director. The best US material is always being cast out of London.

How has it been collaborating with local agents? Are they ever sceptical of the need for their artists to have a London agent?

We have great relationships with local agents. The local agents know we are going to understand each other and be most sensitive to nurturing the roots of an actor’s craft, whilst knowing they can trust us to be professionally aggressive in developing an English language career.
Local agents know that London can cover all English language projects, and the results show this is fact. For example, just to consider our agency Tavistock Wood. All of our clients who come to English as their second language secured their breakout lead roles in the English language through London and with London-only representation (outside the mother country), often in US-financed projects.
And every single client that came to us with a mother agent from their home territory still has such an agent. We consider that to be vital. We don’t want them to turn their back on their home territory. It would be madness.

Yes, because with the growing international focus of Hollywood, it can be a factor – studios look for actors that can boost the audience in their home country.

It’s both a commercial help to be strong in your home market, as well as artistically. These people are good for a reason, and suddenly severing your roots can be a very damaging process.

Over the ten years or so of Tavistock Wood, has the landscape changed for your clients working internationally?

Yes. It’s much better. So much better, and that’s because, it’s a cliché this, the old nation state boundaries are washed away by mechanisms of new distribution. Audiences now expect to see dramas that have a global face, and we can make that happen now. It’s very easy to think of Netflix doing a ten-part drama, set in Germany, in the English language, with German actors. It used to be everyone made product for their own little country, looking inward. And now, the Holy Grail of drama, and the Scandinavians have been fabulously successful at this, is to think: how can we make this an international phenomenon, how can we reach the outside world? There’s much more co-production in television. The new age of television scripted drama is a marvellous thing for European actors.

When did you first became aware of Shooting Stars?

I’ve known about it since the first time I attended the Berlin Film Festival, which was the year we set up the business. It is excellent in providing profile. It puts the spotlight and attention on to you, and it’s a wonderful accolade. The brilliance of it is that it’s tied into the market, rather than just tied into what some agents and some casting directors might see. For just a brief moment, producers, sales agents, distributors, they will also be aware, that’s what makes it so different and so important. Berlin brings focus to that in a way that nowhere else could.

How do you go about choosing new clients to represent?

It’s pretty simple: we need to find people that we like and admire and respect and believe have got the professional approach to have a successful career. And we need to see the work that backs that up, and tells us what they are as an artist so we can really understand them, and what it is that’s unique about them, and what they can bring to this particular community. That’s the easy bit. The difficult bit is the luck of whether you end up together. There’s a huge amount of agents. Sadly, you can’t always get there first.

I like people to have actually worked it out, and gone: Ah! Which agency is it that has time and time again so successfully crossed to and fro between the international market, whilst also making sure that the home career stays strong, and who has got the sensitivity and the intelligence to really do that well? That said, why should any artist be so keyed into the way the business works? Often, they’re not. So then it’s a question of: do your paths cross?

Well, how do they cross?

With Eva Green, mutual friends introduced us, thinking we might get on and like each other, and they made a good judgement about that. With Daniel Bruhl, it was Daniel’s German agent who knew us, and recommended he meet with us, and it’s been a fabulous relationship for ten years. Daniel’s amazingly brilliant German agents, they are great friends. It has been and continues to be such a strong and successful relationship. And then Alicia, she’s extremely focused and intelligent and aware, and she had found out who we were and came and found us. I can remember as clear as day the first time that we met.

In Germany, France and Italy, those countries have very strong local film production where actors can thrive very happily. When signing an artist, you need to be sure that they really desire to work internationally?

Sure, absolutely. And the fact is, Hollywood doesn’t recognise European pay quotes. If you’re a big star in Italy, and you’re earning €350,000 on a little Italian comedy, don’t be surprised if a Hollywood studio turns around and offers you $70,000, and you’re basically being asked to work on an 80% discount. It’s up to you to decide: do you want an international career? It is an international market, and you thrive by having a life everywhere.

And what about taking representation in the US? When is the right time to do that?

Almost every decent US project casts in London and the UK agents cover the US in any event. An LA agent becomes necessary only if the artist intends to make LA their home base. That said, wherever an artist is based, a US agent can bring a great dynamic if they come to the team at the right time and where the volume of business requires it. But there needs to be a great body of work in Europe first. Something that really stands out. Arriving in LA empty-handed and appointing a second-rate US agent is not a good idea.

16 Jan 2015

Top Hollywood studio casting director set to join Shooting Stars

Since the creation of the International Casting Directors Network in 2004, casting directors from all around the world have been holding their annual get-together in Berlin, a key component of the Shooting Stars activity at the Berlinale. Of course, it’s a big trip from Los Angeles, and these professionals lead busy lives, so it’s a sign of the ever-increasing international nature of casting that, this year, Lora Kennedy, executive vice-president of casting at Warner Bros, will make the trip for her first time.

“A lot of my casting director friends in London have been telling me about the event,” says Kennedy. “And à propos the reason to go to Shooting Stars, we’ve had to really broaden our base of international actors, we can’t just look at American film actors. We’ve got to go to other countries, we’ve got to go to other mediums, we’ve got to go to the internet, we’ve got to go to rappers, we’ve got to go to television, we’ve got to go to music, everything. It’s all over the place now.

“I think everybody’s looking to broaden their market. Everybody’s looking to see how you can get a bigger audience, globally. The international market is what is driving all the studios.”

For Kennedy, the development is entirely felicitous, since the changing nature of the film industry globally allows her to push for a broader mix of actors at Warner Bros. “I love European actors. I love Alicia Vikander, and Elizabeth Debicki. Daniel Bruhl, we’ve loved forever, but finally he’s coming into his own. We’ve been having our eye on him for years, even before Good Bye Lenin!” (Vikander and Bruhl are former Shooting Stars.)

“We usually include all the Europeans, especially the British, right along with our American actors. We don’t really separate them out. Everybody’s kind of lapped in there: Mads Mikkelsen, and Ben Mendelsohn from Australia, Javier Bardem or Jai Courtney or whoever it is. It’s all one big happy list now.”

However, there’s no point dodging the fact that the international market for film is overwhelmingly in one particular language. “The movies are in English,” says Kennedy. “You don’t want to erase what’s natural and organic about [foreign actors], but if you can’t be understood, it’s going to be hard to translate into that next market. If Spanish were the big international language, and I were an American actor, I would learn Spanish.

“If you speak English with a very heavy accent, then you’ll be relegated to roles where the accent would then make sense. You wouldn’t be able to play a housewife from middle America on welfare trying to raise her kids. You’d have to rewrite it.”

Kennedy got into casting by chance, right after university, having been asked to drive a friend’s wife to work following a car accident. “She worked for a very big producer in television on the old MGM lot. I would drive her to work every day. One day, we stopped by her friend who was in a casting office, and they ended up asking me if I wanted to intern. Two weeks later they hired me as an assistant.

“I didn’t know that job existed. There weren’t that many people casting – not like today. There were only three networks when I started, and there was no way we were doing as many movies as we do today.”

Kennedy worked on 1980s TV shows including The A Team, and was then hired as assistant to film casting director Wally Nicita. “She had just done The Big Chill,” says Kennedy, “and I learned from her. Because she was so respected, I did my time as an assistant, then an associate, and I segued into doing my own casting at the age of 26. She really was the foundation of me learning what I had to learn.”

Kennedy has held her post at Warners since 1999, helping to oversee casting across the studio slate, as well as personally casting films for directors Ben Affleck, Zack Snyder, the Wachowskis and others. She is answerable to studio chiefs who may have their own ideas about star roles, although Warners is a studio that’s  rightly earned a reputation for being filmmaker-friendly. Actors may care to pay attention to the one area that raises a red flag for studio bosses.

Explains Kennedy, “Mostly it’s interjecting if somebody has not done well by us in terms of us commitment or attitude. That’s the one thing that drives everybody in this town now: is somebody nice and are they great to work with? My guys, they put their foot down if somebody has proven not to be a team player. I think they really like to see the overview of how the movie is going to look, and the leads, but mostly they hire filmmakers who they trust to make their best movie and defer to them.”