In 20 years at Polygram, Universal and Working Title, in both London and Los Angeles, David Livingstone mastered the art of selling quirky British movies to a global audience. He drove the campaigns for everything from “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Trainspotting” to “Billy Elliot” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
So it’s only fitting that, having decided in 2012 to quit as president of worldwide marketing and distribution at Working Title Films in order to strike out on his own as a producer, Livingstone should be rewarded with the Bafta for outstanding British debut, alongside writer Stephen Beresford, for “Pride,” the true-life story of others who left their comfort zone for the greater good — gay activists who help raise money for striking miners in ’80s Britain.
A stage musical version of the movie and a biopic about Judy Garland are next for Livingstone, who admits that launching his production company, Calamity Films, was a leap of faith.
“I thought, if I’m ever going to do this, now’s the time,” Livingstone recalls. “I’d had discussions about producing at Working Title, but it had never gone anywhere. I’d been doing the marketing for so long, I’d held back. It was fear of the unknown.”
He certainly didn’t pick an easy marketing proposition for his debut. “Maybe people would have thought I’d try to make a commercial romantic comedy,” Livingstone says. “A film about gays, lesbians and the miners’ strike was a very odd choice. I certainly didn’t have the solution on how to sell this to an audience. I just thought it was a great story.”
Fortunately, Cameron McCracken, managing director of Pathe U.K., agreed. Pathe brought in Ingenious to co-fund the $13 million movie, alongside BBC Films and the British Film Institute.
Their faith was rewarded when “Pride” was selected to premiere in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, won best film at the British Independent Film Awards, and scored a Golden Globe nomination for comedy/musical, along with three Bafta nods. Within the industry, people noticed the meticulous attention to detail across all aspects of the production — the hallmarks of a producer who knows what he’s doing.
With characteristic self-deprecation, Livingstone credits the film’s success to picking the right team and letting them get on with it — from Beresford and director Matthew Warchus (who didn’t share in the Bafta rookie award, “Pride” being his second feature), to casting director Fiona Weir and line producer Jim Spencer.
The U.K. gross of $6.3 million was a good result for such a tricky sell, even if the film didn’t realize its principals’ wildest dreams of achieving the blockbuster status of “Billy Elliot” and “The Full Monty,” two other retro movies with working-class themes. (Released in the U.S. in September by CBS Films, “Pride” took in $1.4 million.) But like those two previous Thatcher-era comedies, “Pride” is now set to become an all-singing, all-dancing live show.
Livingstone, Beresford and Warchus — a Tony-winning veteran of Broadway and the West End, whose credits include “Matilda” and “God of Carnage,” and who recently took over from Kevin Spacey as artistic director of the Old Vic — are developing the stage musical. The main challenge is reducing the film’s 80 speaking parts to a more manageable number.
On the movie side, Livingstone is pushing ahead with an adaptation of Peter Quilter’s stage play “End of the Rainbow,” about the last six weeks in Garland’s performing life. The screenplay is by Barry Levinson, with Simon Curtis attached to direct.
Livingston also is developing “Mangrove 9,” about the black British civil rights movement in the 1970s; and action comedy “The Chosen,” written by Toby Davies, to be directed by Norwegian helmer Andre Ovredal (“Troll Hunter”).
While knowing how to sell a movie and how to make one are very different talents, Livingstone is able to inform the latter with the former. “Very definitely the marketing side of my brain is engaged when I’m looking for projects,” he says. “But the truth is, it’s easy to come up with concepts. The trick is to make sure they are well-enough developed to work across 90 minutes. As a producer, that means you really need to care about it, and it needs to affect you.”