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Feature
Ten Career Lessons From An Oscar-Winning Producer
Jeremy Thomas on everything from The Last Emperor to Sexy Beast

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To sit in Jeremy Thomas’s office, a minute’s stroll from Tottenham Court Road tube station, is to take a pew in a glorious chapel to all things British cinema. The producer, a veteran of films both famous (Sexy Beast, Crash) and cult (The Hit, Mad Dog Morgan), has accrued enough photos, keepsakes and memorabilia to populate a museum that Empire would happily pay to visit. On one wall is the framed Best Picture envelope Eddie Murphy sent him after The Last Emperor’s Oscar triumph; on another, a Donald Duck cell signed “to Jeremy” by Walt Disney himself. There’s a model motorbike on a shelf, testament to an extra-curricular passion, and a snap with Dennis Hopper taken in the long-faded New Mexico glare. There’s an iPad on his desk although the VHS player, still in service after 30 years, would probably find a spot in that museum too. “It’s a classic,” he counters with a deadpan grin.

Loyalty and dependability have been hallmarks of Thomas’s career. His simple requirement for making a film hasn’t changed. ‘There’s no prescription for me,’ he explains. ‘It’s all based on: “Do I like it?” I do it because I like it. People find that amazing.’ With Ben Wheatley’s High Rise underway, he’s still finding plenty to like out there. This month he’s the subject of a BFI season showcasing some of the high points from his résumé. While he modestly defines his role as “putting together the bits” on a film, his instincts and command of filmmaking’s many complexities have guided his hand across four decades. Over coffee and Digestives, he shared some of his secrets.

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1. FOLLOW YOUR HEART

Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast (2000)

“I’m a filmmaker, a film lover, historian, archivist. All those years of filmmaking, it was the same thing going on every time: ‘This could be something, I like it.’ People find this fact amazing. ‘But what about the market?’ Couldn’t give a shit. The market will be there next year. I want my films to be successful but it’s not in the hard drive in selecting what I’m doing. It’s one of the components of the process, but it’s all based on your taste. I can’t think of another way of judging what project to do. When you decide to make a film with somebody, you want to make it with that person. Support it 1000 per cent in that vision. That’s how you make a film."

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