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Gay-Rees: Driving force behind high-profile docs

10 Producers to Watch 2011: James Gay-Rees

Although he has been involved in the film business for 20 years, James Gay-Rees isn’t jaded. If anything, he finds producing, which he has been doing since 2002, invigorating.

“It’s kind of addictive,” says Gay-Rees, who took doc “Exit Through the Gift Shop” to Sundance in 2010 (it later nabbed an Oscar nom) and earlier this year brought “Senna” to the Park City fest, where it won an audience award.

Based in London, the producer started his film career at Miramax in 1991 after graduating from England’s Southampton U. with a degree in economics and accounting. (His stepfather, director Mel Smith, helmed “Tall Guys” for the studio in 1989.)

After a year in New York, Gay-Rees joined Orbit Prods. on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles as head of development, but eventually left to pursue a career in producing.

Directed by secretive street artist Banksy, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” marked Gay-Rees’ first time producing a documentary. While many critics and viewers speculated that pic was some kind of hoax, it was one of last year’s highest-grossing docus.

“It would have been so hard to engineer that,” says Gay-Rees. “It’s almost too surreal to be a hoax.”

Just a year later, the producer made another splash at Sundance with Asif Kapadia’s “Senna,” about legendary Brazilian Formula 1 racing driver Ayrton Senna.

“It’s very important with documentaries that you focus on great stories that stand out. The backdrop, for instance, Formula 1, comes second to the human drama.”

Gay-Rees is producing a narrative, “The Wedding Video,” directed by Nigel Cole (“Calendar Girls”) as well as another doc, tentatively titled “The Pappas Brothers” about Australian skateboarders who self destruct.

“I wouldn’t say that it was an accident that I got into producing, but I don’t think if you knew how hard producing was you would not necessarily go into it in the first place. It certainly doesn’t get any easier as you get films made. It’s just that once you do it, even though you know how hard it is, it gets under your skin and you keep on coming back for more. Rightly or wrongly.”

10 PRODUCERS TO WATCH 2011
Jason Michael Berman | Borderline Films | Tyler Davidson & Sophia Lin | James Gay-Rees | Lawrence Inglee |

Red Granite Pictures | Laura Rister | Jonathan Schwartz | Diarmid Scrimshaw | Kevin Walsh

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