Jonathan Cavendish has a full development slate at Little Bird and a high-profile collaboration with Working Title. Matt Mueller reports.
Jonathan Cavendish is in a position most independent producers would envy. In addition to running his own successful production company, Little Bird, with partner James Mitchell, he has served as producer-for-hire on some of Working Title's most illustrious projects.
Aware of his track record for piloting the development process and for talent hand-holding on titles like Croupier and Gangster No. 1, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner sought him out to shepherd Bridget Jones's Diary and its 2004 sequel from pre to post-production, before asking him back last year to oversee their $55m production of Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
Cavendish boarded The Golden Age after Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and director Shekhar Kapur had all agreed to return for the sequel to their 1998 collaboration, and fine-tuned the script with screenwriter William Nicholson and Working Title executive Debra Hayward before being on set “every minute of every day” during the 14-week shoot. Collaborating on a Working Title project, says Cavendish, “is an organic, effortless process. It's about the idea: whoever comes up with the best idea, that idea goes. There isn't any ego involved.”
Cavendish read history at Oxford University before launching a career in advertising. He was part of the marketing team behind Channel 4's launch in 1982, where he first met Little Bird founder James Mitchell. Since joining in 1983, Cavendish has been responsible for acclaimed titles such as In My Father's Den and Croupier and the not-so-acclaimed Trauma and Churchill: The Hollywood Years, as well as numerous TV projects.
With offices in London, Dublin and South Africa, Cavendish calls Little Bird “an international indie”, and one with a future that he is very excited about. With backing from Little Bird's alliance with Jeremy Thomas' Recorded Picture Company under the UK Film Council's Super Slate deals, he has spent the last two years building up a development portfolio of 15 features “that are ready to go out into the marketplace from early next year”.
Cavendish has also just signed for a joint venture with a US production outfit run by brothers Mark and Adam Kassen, who have an existing investor fund base to tap into.
Their first production, Bernard And Doris starring Susan Sarandon, has been sold to HBO Films. The Kassen's investment fund, combined with the Film Council slate funding, has transformed Little Bird into a potent company that can partially fund its own projects. “Which is a very important development for the UK indie sector,” Cavendish notes.
Assembling a slate of high-concept comedies, low-cost genre movies through its Ministry Of Fear label, and films targeted to win awards, Cavendish hopes to get several projects into production in the next 18 months. They include a co-production with Channel 4 written by and starring Perrier-award-winning comedian Will Adamsdale; a narrative version of the Oxford University boxing documentary Blue Blood; and Republic Of Trees, the spooky debut of award-winning short film-maker Alicia Duffy. In earlier stages are ambitious projects which Little Bird will seek studio partners for, including a true-life script from Golden Age writer Nicholson and a version of Macbeth that Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger are attached to, which Iain Softley will direct.
On the Working Title front, Bevan and Fellner have asked him to oversee a pair of upcoming projects - the Joan Root biopic to star Julia Roberts and romantic comedy Lost For Words, which Susanne Bier will direct - both due to shoot in 2008. “The Working Title connection has opened up a lot of doors,” admits Cavendish. “I've been able to develop creative relationships with the people I've worked with, and beyond. The difficulty of being an independent producer based in the UK is that it is still a very cottage industry and you have to get out of that and be seen in the international marketplace to be a producer with a certain profile.”