Nira Park, the founder of Big Talk Productions, shares her story about working with film-makers to get financing for movies.
What’s Big Talk?
Big Talk is one of the fastest-growing TV and film production companies in the UK.
I set it up in 1995, aged 26, brought in top team Kenton Allen and Matthew Justice in 2008, and sold to ITV in 2013. We are best-known for our comedy output, including Edgar Wright’s films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and, for TV, Rev, Friday Night Dinner and Cold Feet.
What do you do?
In a nutshell, the job is developing material with the film-makers we operate with, and then working with them to get the movie financed and up and running.
It involves setting up the production, being on set every day and working through post-production to release. I work on every stage of the movie’s journey.
I’m known for my attention to detail: when I was nominated for a Bafta for Shaun, at the awards they described me as “the producer who knows the name of all of the 1111 zombies”. I had a photo wall of zombie extras in my office, which I felt reluctant to take down after we’d wrapped.
What do you enjoy about it?
The variety: telling new stories, shooting in different locations. We shot Scott Pilgrim in Toronto, Paul was in Santa Fe, and most recently I moved my whole family out to Atlanta to shoot Baby Driver [starring Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx].
But the thing I probably enjoy the most is that I’ve worked with most of my colleagues for 20 years, we are like a family, the shorthand and familiarity we have make work a joy — and we laugh a lot!
What don’t you enjoy?
The constant travel and working across time zones. I’m in Los Angeles every three weeks, I have a 10-year-old son and my husband also works here — it’s hard and exhausting.
I tend to do a day’s work, head home, then have a conference call with LA — which they usually set for 2am as they seem to have no concept of the time difference.
What was your biggest break?
The Comic Strip Presents was my favourite TV show and I was desperate to work on it. After weeks of begging letters, I was interviewed for a “job” clearing out the props garage. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders were there when I was waiting for the interview. I was so nervous, but knew I had to get it. I landed the two-day job and stayed for six years.
It was so prolific, with a muck-in, guerrilla attitude. After six years, I was developing a Stephen Fry radio pilot, and Keith Allen and I thought we should set up on our own.
When I was a small kid, I used to dream of having an office with a spiral staircase, and I would come down in a blue silk suit to reception. When I finally set up my own company, I didn’t have the blue silk suit or a spiral staircase but it felt like I was doing what I always wanted to do.
Having started the company, I got a commission from Channel 4. I convinced my best friend, who was working as a chef, to come and join me. We rented an attic office but had no furniture — just some cushions on the floor and an old fax machine. Then the show was pulled. We huddled under a duvet that for some reason someone had brought into the office, and didn’t know what to do.
You have to pick yourself up, and a month later we got the gig producing Blur’s video for Country House. With the money we earned from that, we were able to buy some desks and chairs, and get started properly.
How do you juggle work and home?
The office is like a family — so many of us have known each other for years, we are proper friends. That said, I try to go to a remote Greek island, Patmos, as much as I can, and our whole family has wanderlust — I could travel forever. We went out to India at Christmas. I don’t get to go out to see much comedy, but my team reports back and I watch lots of TV and movies.
Any tips for those starting out in your industry?
Relationships with talent are key. Without them, you have nothing. You cannot rely on talent sticking with you benevolently, you have to work very hard so that they want to do their next project with you.
Baby Driver will be released in the UK in June.