Producers make date with ‘Girlfriends’

Romantic comedy stars Naomie Harris

Some films take a swift, straight route into production, but others follow a long and winding road.

The latter was certainly the case for Julian Kemp‘s “My Last Five Girlfriends,” which finally shot over the past six months, after seven years being shunted from one company to another.

The $6 million romantic comedy, loosely based on Alain de Botton‘s philosophical work “Essays in Love,” stars Naomie Harris, Cecile Kassell and newcomer Brendan Patricks in an exploration of how modern urban relationships go wrong.

It’s Kemp’s second movie and his first screenplay, following his modestly received feature directing debut “House!” in 2000. He previously won an International Emmy and a Bafta for his work in children’s TV.

He and his producing partner Michael Kelk have spent most of the time since then developing and trying to set up “My Last Five Girlfriends” with a succession of financiers — first Stewart Till‘s defunct Signpost Films, then briefly Gruber Films and tax fund Foresight, and more recently Lionsgate U.K. — while taking occasional TV jobs to pay the bills. 

The script went through dozens and dozens of drafts. But it was only when they took the project back under their own control and teamed up last fall with two seasoned British industry players, David Willing and Marion Pilowsky, that they were finally able to move forward into production.

“My Last Five Girlfriends” has become the first project from Willing and Pilowsky’s new company, Willing-Pilowsky Prods. They raised the $6 million budget from private investors, including Willing himself. A former marketing exec with Pathe, Paramount and Universal, Willing last year sold his successful film promotion agency Picture Production Co. in order to embark on a new career as a producer. He still owns the leading U.K. film praisery, Premier PR.

Pilowsky has mothballed her previous production shingle Priority Pictures to join forces with Willing. A former acquisitions and production exec with Myriad Pictures, UIP and the Showtime pay-TV web, she recently served as a producer on “Sleuth” and low-budget Brit pics “Nina’s Heavenly Delights” and “The All Together.”

“We would like to put together a production fund, but our success will be decided by how good ‘My Last Five Girlfriends’ turns out to be,” Willing says. “We want to make broad commercial films for a mass audience, not smaller niche British movies.”

Having financed Kemp’s film privately, the producers own all worldwide rights, although Lionsgate retains first option on the U.K. after developing the project for two years.

Pilowsky credits the Lionsgate team for its input, and for making the turnaround so painless. “Julian had a vision he was very certain and confident about, but Lionsgate’s vision for the film was a degree off that,” she explains.

The movie is in post and will be finished this summer. Originally developed as a more expensive production, it was an unusually complex shoot for such a low-budget project. A skeleton crew scrambled to capture more than 300 scenes across 70 different locations, reflecting Kemp’s take on the frenetic pace of life and love in the big city. Half of the film was shot in central London, with Willing and Pilowsky calling in favors from everyone they knew to set up scenes in local landmarks such as the Wigmore Hall and the BT Tower.

There were also two trips to Paris and one to Spain, where Willing’s own villa served as the location for three separate holiday scenes. In Paris, he used Premier PR’s junket contacts to access hotel deals.

“The film was originally supposed to cost $15 million, and we made it for $6 million, but I don’t think it would have been any different,” Pilowsky says. “Julian has done everything exactly as written in his script; he didn’t have to make a single solitary compromise.”

Willing and Pilowsky have a handful of other projects in development, including Kemp’s next idea for a sci-fi comedy; a script written by and starring Australian character comic Shaun Micallef titled “Teacher Boy;” and an untitled comedy about the evacuation of Jews from Austria in 1939. “I want to call that one ‘Oh No, Not Another Holocaust Comedy,’ ” Willing jokes.

More Voices

  • Hollywood Safe Workplace

    Why Hollywood Needs to Lead the Way in Showing How to Create a Safer Workplace

    Some films take a swift, straight route into production, but others follow a long and winding road. The latter was certainly the case for Julian Kemp‘s “My Last Five Girlfriends,” which finally shot over the past six months, after seven years being shunted from one company to another. The $6 million romantic comedy, loosely based […]

  • Seven Seconds

    Fighting the Racial Bias at the Core of Hollywood’s Cop Shows (Guest Column)

    Some films take a swift, straight route into production, but others follow a long and winding road. The latter was certainly the case for Julian Kemp‘s “My Last Five Girlfriends,” which finally shot over the past six months, after seven years being shunted from one company to another. The $6 million romantic comedy, loosely based […]

  • Harvey Weinstein Trial

    Column: Documentarian Barry Avrich Ponders Whether Harvey Weinstein Will Be Convicted

    Some films take a swift, straight route into production, but others follow a long and winding road. The latter was certainly the case for Julian Kemp‘s “My Last Five Girlfriends,” which finally shot over the past six months, after seven years being shunted from one company to another. The $6 million romantic comedy, loosely based […]

  • Janet Mock Pose

    'Pose' Writer Janet Mock on Making History With Trans Storytelling (Guest Column)

    Some films take a swift, straight route into production, but others follow a long and winding road. The latter was certainly the case for Julian Kemp‘s “My Last Five Girlfriends,” which finally shot over the past six months, after seven years being shunted from one company to another. The $6 million romantic comedy, loosely based […]

  • Tony Awards Sightlines Column

    How to Produce the Tony Awards: 5 Unsolicited Tips

    Some films take a swift, straight route into production, but others follow a long and winding road. The latter was certainly the case for Julian Kemp‘s “My Last Five Girlfriends,” which finally shot over the past six months, after seven years being shunted from one company to another. The $6 million romantic comedy, loosely based […]

  • Under the Silver Lake

    Cannes 2018's Hidden Thrill: The Opportunity to Find New Voices

    Some films take a swift, straight route into production, but others follow a long and winding road. The latter was certainly the case for Julian Kemp‘s “My Last Five Girlfriends,” which finally shot over the past six months, after seven years being shunted from one company to another. The $6 million romantic comedy, loosely based […]

  • Kathryn Bigelow Kathryn Bigelow poses backstage

    It's Time for Action, Not Promises, to Get More Women in Filmmaking (Guest Column)

    Some films take a swift, straight route into production, but others follow a long and winding road. The latter was certainly the case for Julian Kemp‘s “My Last Five Girlfriends,” which finally shot over the past six months, after seven years being shunted from one company to another. The $6 million romantic comedy, loosely based […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content