Oscar and BAFTA-winning film producer David Parfitt is hoping to reunite with French producer Philippe Carcassonne following their successful collaboration on Florian Zeller’s Oscar-winning drama The Father.
Parfitt revealed his plans during a masterclass at the Doha Film Institute’s Qumra talent incubator event on Sunday.
“He [Carcassonne] is developing something really interesting based on an Israeli novel called Pain, which he commissioned as a French screenplay but they have decided they want to do it in England in English,” Parfitt clarified after the talk.
The 2019 novel by Zeruya Shalev revolves around a woman revisiting the double trauma of being caught up in a terror attack and abandonment by a lover when he comes back into her life a decade later.
Carcassonne’s partner, the actress and director Anne Fontaine, whose credits include Coco Before Chanel, is attached to direct the film.
“Philippe has said, “Let’s see if we can get that going’. It’s at the very early stages, we don’t have the English-language script yet,” he said.
Parfitt originally boarded The Father via theatre producer Simon Friend, who introduced him to producers Carcassonne and Jean-Louis Livi.
Friend had managed a theatre production of The Wipers Times for Parfitt and produced the West End theatre version of Zeller’s original play for The Father.
“Even though it was originally a Parisian story, they had decided to write it in English and set it in London. We helped fill in the gaps. They had already approached Anthony Hopkins and he’d made himself available and stuck with the project for a long-time but we introduced the rest of the cast,” said Parfitt in the masterclass.
Zeller was an established theatre director in France but The Father marked his first feature film. Parfitt had experience of working with first-time filmmakers from his early films with Kenneth Branagh and then later Nicholas Hytner on The Madness Of King George.
“Because he was a first-time director the big job for us was putting a really fabulous team around him,” added Parfitt, who brought in My Week With Marilyn cinematographer Ben Smithard and production designer Peter Francis among others.
Parfitt revealed his company Trademark Films is also in early development on a futuristic adaptation of Hamlet called Hamlet Prince Of Wales.
“It’s way off yet but it’s a Hamlet set in the near future in England,” he said. “I won’t say it dystopian because that always sounds so clichéd. The idea is that democracy has collapsed and the monarchy has taken over again and our Hamlet is based around that.”
“There’s nothing to announce as yet. There is no cast, no funding. We’re just developing the script,” he added. “If we start getting towards cast we will probably try to announce late summer if we’re going in the right direction.”
The producer revealed there is a director in the frame, however, teasing “it is someone with theatre connections”.
Recently completed films on Parfitt’s slate include UK director George Jaques’s Black Dog, on which he is executive producer.
The tale follows two London youngsters from different backgrounds who set off on a road trip to Northern England, discovering they have more in common than they first thought along the way.
Jamie Flatters (Avatar: The Way Of Water) co-stars and also takes a co-writing credit, with other key cast members including Keenan Munn-Francis and Nicholas Pinnock.
“George Jaques and Jamie Flatters have written this together, a bit like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck initially for themselves, although quite rightly, George decided not to be in it, and they shot it on a micro-budget. They’ve just finished it and I think it’s rather good.”
The film’s completion coincides with the recent announcement of Parfitt being appointed chair of UK’s North East Film film commission.
“It’s pure coincidence. I signed up for it ages ago. I was on it as a type of exec producer, godfather figure. I think they’ve done a really good job on it.”
Sunday’s masterclass cast a wide net over Parfitt’s career. He discussed his early collaborations with Branagh to set up the Renaissance Theatre Company and then work on features Henry V, Peter’s Friends and Much Ado About Nothing together.
The talk also touched on later high points, Oscar winner Shakespeare In Love and The Father, which won Academy Awards for best actor for Anthony Hopkins and best-adapted screenplay for Zeller and Christopher Hampton in 2021.
Responding to a question on the politics of working with big names in the film business, Parfitt said the hardest part was the development and pre-production phase ahead of filming and went on to express his frustration with the attitude of U.S. agents in this part of the process.
“The thing I have done much more in recent years is to hide behind a casting director. I was quite defensive about the casting process. In the early days, we were really taking our cast from the existing theatre group, and supplementing it with friends. It was a family arrangement,” he said.
“I now have a regular [casting agent]. I will talk to her and she will guide me on whether it’s the right time to go to a particular person. She will suss out the agents first and try to get an agent read before we get a talent read. If you get the support of the agent, it’s much better. I am talking about the London agents. I get quite grumpy with the Americans…
“I try to avoid American agents who I think are the worst. I think they are the least creative people on the planet. I try to deal with [people] in London and with Europeans who want to make films for the right reasons.”
Parfitt clarified this comment in a chat after the masterclass, explaining it stemmed from his difficulties connecting with U.S. agents to discuss potential talent attachments for productions he is getting off the ground.
Asked what he wanted from the U.S. big agents, he replied: “I want them to genuinely encourage independent film by reading our scripts and taking our calls.”
“I will phone up any big agent in the UK and say, ‘I’d you like to read it yourself. If you, the agent, like it, put it to your client. I won’t put an offer with it because there is no finance, no money, I will be using your client to raise the finance.”
Parfitt said that while UK agents would engage in this process, it was often impossible to get past the third assistant at a big L.A. talent agency without an “a money offer” attached.
“The agents in America will go, ‘What’s the offer?’ They want a money offer before they will show it. I think they could do more to support truly independent films in the UK by actually passing things on to their clients without a financial offer.”
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