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Eric Fellner Talks ‘Darkest Hour’ Awards Buzz, What’s Next for Working Title

Winston Churchill movie “Darkest Hour” was one of the standout performers at the BAFTA Awards nominations Tuesday, garnering nine nominations, including for best film. Its lead actor, Gary Oldman, is widely considered the favorite for the Oscar, having picked up the Golden Globe on Sunday.

For “Darkest Hour’s” producer, London-based Working Title, there was more good news as its “Victoria & Abdul” and “Baby Driver” also landed one and two BAFTA nominations, respectively. Variety spoke to Working Title co-chair Eric Fellner about the awards buzz and where his company is headed.

“Darkest Hour” amassed nine nominations. Was that at the upper end of what you could have hoped for?

I’m English and we never expect anything….So I’m always very happy when anything good happens to any of our movies.

Some people were surprised director Joe Wright didn’t get a nod.

We’re particularly proud of the film and our relationship with Joe Wright going over the last 14 to 15 years and five or six movies. For us it’s a shame he isn’t there, but I think his name is on every single one of the nominations.

“Darkest Hour” is coming out at a moment when Britain’s relationship with Europe and the world is under the microscope and nationalism is on the rise. Has that timeliness increased the picture’s appeal?

Sometimes as filmmakers we benefit from zeitgeist, but however hard you try to create that, it is just something that happens. I look back two years to when we made the decision about this movie, and the reason we wanted to make the film was it was just a brilliant story, fantastically told, very engaging, and fascinating for people like myself who did not know an awful lot about that period of history….

Cut forward two years and I like to think we made that film, but on top of that, Brexit has happened, Trump has happened, and all sorts of events in Europe and around the rest of the world mean you suddenly have a film that also resonates in a very different way to which it was intended. I think we got lucky with the timing.

“Brexit has happened, Trump has happened, and all sorts of events in Europe and around the rest of the world mean you suddenly have a film that also resonates in a very different way to which it was intended”

What commercial impact will nine nominations have for “Darkest Hour”?

A lot of specialty movies’ release schedule is planned around the nomination period, so it’s not a surprise the [international] release of “Darkest Hour” is this Friday. It’s a high-stakes strategy because if all you have is the ability to maybe get nominations, and you plan for that and are the film that doesn’t get nominations, you lose out big time. We felt with this film we had enough in it – Gary Oldman, the name of Winston, the fact the movie works – that we were more than happy to take that risk.

The BAFTAs are now a bellwether for the Oscars. You must be excited about the prospects for “Darkest Hour.”

If it comes, fantastic. But today we’re focused on rolling “Darkest Hour” out internationally. It goes into 17 markets on Friday, and [we’re] trying to make sure we continue what we did in America, where it has done fantastic business. I know the numbers are small compared to “Jumanji” and “Star Wars,” but our budget was also tiny by comparison. We’re focused on getting the film to a big worldwide gross and get as many people to see it as possible.

Has it become harder to get the type of movies you make made, or has the advent of the streaming platforms offset some of the challenges?

I jokingly say, in our current incarnation, maybe we are the last of the dinosaurs in that we are still making those films that are the hardest to make and the hardest to persuade people to go and see in the cinema. However, change is coming, and Working Title will be changing and adapting over the next few years as the marketplace changes. But ultimately, Tim [Bevan] and I, and everyone who works at Working Title, are drawn to narrative structure, character, and story.

I think the types of content we make, the stories we tell, will remain very similar. It might just be the way in which our films get distributed, and the platforms on which you see them, and the order in which you see them on those platforms, that will change.

What’s coming up in 2018?

We’re shooting Joe Cornish’s new movie at the moment, “The Kid Who Would Be King,” and probably the highest-profile of our films for next year are another very funny Rowan Atkinson “Johnny English” movie, and Josie Rourke’s first film, starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, “Mary, Queen of Scots.”

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