Assembling a passionate team can be the best defense against misfortune, as Simon Channing Williams learned when confronted with not one, but two potentially disastrous setbacks to “The Constant Gardener.”
After 2½ years of pre-production and the option on John Le Carre’s novel about to lapse, director Mike Newell suddenly bowed out to direct the fourth “Harry Potter” pic.
“We were putting up a serious amount of money for such a small company,” Channing Williams admits, “and if the movie had never happened it would have bust us, I think. We were absolutely on the line here.”
But Channing Williams and le Carre had shared “such an empathy” when they first met, and now that empathy paid off: “When Newell left, le Carre granted me an extra six months at no additional cost. God bless him, we couldn’t have had a greater champion than he.”
The signing of Fernando Mereilles led to “a feeding frenzy from the North American mini-majors to come onboard.”
But while Channing Williams was scouting Kenyan locations an even more serious blow fell when the U.K. Treasury abruptly revoked its film tax break allowance.
“Overnight and without any warning whatsoever, we lost 30% of our financing. Six weeks from filming. That was really scary.”
Channing Williams’ partner Gail Egan “told us just to keep on going,” and with the U.K. Film Board upping its offer and Scion Films providing the final 20%, Egan pieced together the money. Even in those darkest days, Channing Williams knew he could count on his team.
“Everybody was so infused by the commitment that there never was a question of anybody walking. I’m just incredibly grateful for the support,” he says, and that team spirit led to the establishment of the Constant Gardener Trust in Kenya, which has already built a school, water tanks and a clinic near the movie’s locations.
“It’s been a great example for all of us, and I hope for others as well.”