×

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.

Popular on Variety

“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

More Film

  • Film Review: 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always'

    'Never Rarely Sometimes Always': Film Review

    The basic plot of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is easy enough to describe. A 17-year-old girl named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) winds up pregnant in a small Pennsylvania town. Prevented from seeking an abortion by the state’s parental consent laws, she takes off for New York City with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), where what they’d [...]

  • Kathy Valentine, Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin,

    The Go-Go's on Sundance Doc: Neither 'America's Sweethearts' Nor 'Drug-Crazed Demons'

    Some people might come to a Go-Go’s documentary wanting a purely fun, bubbly experience, based on the effervescence the group projected at its breakthrough peak in the early ’80s. Others might want a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll tell-all, if they’re aware of the tensions and bad habits that led the all-female band to [...]

  • 'The Dissident' Review: Powerful Look at

    'The Dissident': Film Review

    It’s become common, if not cliché, for a critic reviewing a documentary about a turbulent real-world event to write something like, “It exerts the power of a true-life thriller!” Well, make no mistake: “The Dissident” does. Directed by Bryan Fogel, who in 2017 made the Oscar-winning “Icarus” (about the Russian doping of Olympic athletes), the [...]

  • Cathy Yan, Chris Messina, Mary Elizabeth

    Margot Robbie, 'Birds of Prey' Co-Stars Justify the Movie’s R-Rating, Violence and Cussing

    Following the success of “Joker” last year, DC Films is continuing its gritty streak with “Birds of Prey,” a slam-bang adventure about Harley Quinn. Though DC Film’s 2016 tentpole “Suicide Squad” took a critical bashing at the time, filmgoers quickly took a liking to Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn. “Birds of Prey” gives the [...]

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) has

    Film News Roundup: 'The Irishman,' 'Marriage Story' Added to Criterion Collection

    In today’s film news roundup, four Netflix titles have been added to the Criterion Collection, Slamdance and ArcLight are partnering, Steven Grayhm is starring in and directing a paranormal drama, and The Mammoth Film Festival sets its lineup. CRITERION COLLECTION Four Netflix titles will be released on Blu-ray through the Criterion Collection — Martin Scorsese’s [...]

  • Bong Joon Ho 'Parasite' Director

    Listen: Who Will Take Home the Oscars for Best Director and Picture?

    The Oscars are just two weeks away, so it’s time to start making final predictions about who is going to win. On this week’s episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, I invited the magazine’s deputy awards and features editor (and my “Pick of the Week” co-host) Jenelle Riley onto the show [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content