London-based film producer George Pank has had a hand in an exceptional batch of films such as Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) and All This Mayhem (2014). He was also a co-producer for the Oscar-winning documentary Amy (2015), which portrayed the tragic life and death of singer Amy Winehouse. Pank is currently the executive producer on a film about the football legend Diego Maradona. Not too shabby if you ask us!
Well, Pank is bringing all of his hard-earned experience in the film industry to Beijing on May 21-22. He’ll be running a unique two-day masterclass focusing on turning real stories into movies. He’ll be teaching up-and-coming film enthusiasts methods in storytelling, marketing and the filmmaking process. Prior to his trip to Beijing, Pank took some time to talk with That’s Beijing about his career, his experience making Amy and his interest in China.
How did you get started in the film industry?
I started off doing a straight law degree at a university in Australia and [later went] back to study a combined degree in film, politics and law. I never really wanted to just be a lawyer. I wanted to make things and do something creative. So I came across this middle ground of being a producer.
As a producer what is your role in the films you make?
Predominantly to date I’ve worked very collaboratively with James Gay-Rees, as a kind of producing double act. Working together we’ve been able to cover all the bases, from identifying material, securing the rights, raising the finance, building the creative team (director/editor/writer) and then (very crucially) setting up the sale and distribution strategy.
What was your role in Amy in particular?
Amy was the culmination of two sides of my skill set, merging my producing brain and my legal brain into one. This was an intensely difficult movie to make in terms of how some of the individuals were portrayed, from a copyright and privacy issues point of view. It was such sensitive material that it had to be done right. And because I had specialist film law skills, as well as production skills experience from All This Mayhem, I found myself at the heart of the creative process in the edit room.
Amy was incredibly emotional to watch. What was it like having a hand in creating it?
These particular types of movies – where you are telling a real story and utilizing archive material in a highly creative way – are utterly exhilarating. In my mind they’re very special movies. They deliver emotionally in a way that is as strong, perhaps even stronger, than scripted films with actors. This excites me, to be able to truly move and entertain with the stuff of life. But along with this creative satisfaction, as a team you’re carrying a great responsibility to the person at the heart of your movie, to their family and friends. It sounds perhaps a little bit over the top – but it felt like Amy’s story mattered on a broader level. It felt like an important movie.
Can you describe some of the challenges that came with working with such a sensitive and personal story?
Well, if I’m honest, I think part of the power of the film is that at its core it is looking at parenting. For me parenting pervades the whole film. I don’t think you can explore more sensitive material than the relationship one has with their parents. It's because of this reason that I feel this was an extremely sensitive and challenging story to tell. We worked very hard to be balanced and objective. Hard part was, you just can’t please everybody.
How did you feel when Amy won for best documentary?
It was pretty surreal. It was wonderful. I know this is going to sound like a line, but for me producing is not all about winning awards or Oscars. It’s about creativity, for me personally.
Tell us a little bit about what you’re going to be doing in Beijing:
I’m over in Beijing presenting a two-day master class on the process of turning real-life stories into cinema. I’m going to ground my course in my experience on Amy and work hard to share some of my insights with filmmakers working here in Beijing.
I’m extremely interested in forging relationships with Chinese writers, directors and producers. My girlfriend is British, and she studied Chinese language and culture at Edinburgh University. I was lucky to travel to Shanghai with her last year. I was really blown away by the city and culture, so I’ve been working hard ever since to build my understanding of Chinese culture and to forge relationships within the Chinese film industry.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming filmmakers who are looking to get into the industry?
Don’t be afraid to tell stories that are personal to you. Often, we feel our own stories aren’t strong enough to command the cinema screen. You’d be surprised how simple and personal the origins of a good story can be. Just look at Amy Winehouse. She wrote about her life, almost without a filter. Yet people all over the world connect with her work. The autobiographical and personal nature of her lyrics is what, I believe, makes them so special.
[Image via Universal Music]
To learn more about the event and to purchase tickets click here.