TLG talks to Dark Knight and Clash of the Titans Executive Producer Kevin de la Noy
When you're the Executive Producer on films with budgets that routinely hover around the USD150 million mark, you expect to get a lot of messages. For the first 20 minutes I spend with Kevin de la Noy on a wet Friday afternoon in west London, he gets a phone call every 40 seconds.
Unspecified production people duck in and out of his trailer grimacing or winking unspoken messages. His Blackberry pings and chirrups constantly like a grasshopper playing a tiny drum kit. I throw questions at Kevin in between all the other flying data. Suddenly he presses a button on his phone, sits and gives me his full, undivided attention for 30 minutes on the anatomy of the blockbuster movie, how to write a production battle plan, technology versus narrative, and why barracuda shoals are a good metaphor for production management.
Kevin, how did you get to be the Executive Producer on these blockbuster films? What went right?
I realised early on that a big film is like Darwinism in action. It attracts the best people available for the time and the money. In my early career I tried to get onto these big films and just learn as much as I possibly could from the people with the most experience, talent and knowhow. In your formative years you do a film to “earn or to learn” - if you’re fortunate you get to do both at the same time. I’ve been fortunate!
When we made The Princess Bride, I had the chance to learn at the highest level, watching experts debate the choreography of sword fighting. Watching those guys putting those scenes together was the best tutorial I could have had. That has happened time and time again and I’ve simply never missed an opportunity to learn from somebody else.
When we made The Princess Bride, I had the chance to learn at the highest level, watching experts debate the choreography of sword fighting. Watching those guys putting those scenes together was the best tutorial I could have had.
Years ago I worked on [original Channel 4 drama] Traffik, which shot in Pakistan. The reason I wanted to do it was I knew that Terry Needham was on it and I wanted to learn from a guy the industry looked up to and admired for his skill on the scheduling and running of the shoot. That was an amazing learning experience. He taught me how to run floors, how to schedule properly, everything about being a First Assistant Director. There are others too. People like Nick Daubeny who is the consummate Location Manager and the late great David Tomblin on Braveheart. Both were impossibly brilliant at their jobs and I learnt a massive amount from them.
How do you approach location scouting?
For me, it is never just toilets and trucks. I was never tempted to just say park there and then shoot over here. I never felt I was doing the job properly until I understood exactly what the Director felt about the scenes and why, and what the Production Designer was looking for and exactly what the DoP needed. When I had that information I could do it properly. It is fundamental that those three people can live with the locations; otherwise I’d be letting them down. On Clash of the Titans we needed an epic space, but gritty and hellish. After endless searching the place that everyone felt right was the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia - bright yellow sulphur-filled lakes and active volcanoes. It worked because we consulted and communicated properly with everyone.
When did you realise you were good at running a shoot?
My favourite metaphor for Location and Production Managing is the shoal of barracuda I remember from a Jacques Cousteau film. These are huge fish, but still agile enough to work as one unit, turning with effortless precision when the need arises. That’s the kind of organisation the job requires - getting everyone moving in harmony. I’ll give you an example. We were doing a sequence on Blood Diamond called The Fall of Freetown to the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) Rebels, which required so much work that we had to produce a 60-page book called the battle plan. It was full of the information everyone needed and solutions to every single conceivable variation of problem. Without it, we simply wouldn’t have got through. This thoroughness lead to a director, cast and crew that was very confident in pulling off an ‘impossible’ day’s work.
My favourite metaphor for Location and Production Managing is the shoal of barracuda I remember from a Jacques Cousteau film. These are huge fish, but still agile enough to work as one unit, turning with effortless precision when the need arises. That’s the kind of organisation the job requires.
One day we started in Maputo in Mozambique at 4.30am, then drove all 300 people to the South African border where we had pre-organised our own private Customs and Border patrol lane. Once in South Africa we drove everyone to a field where two Huey choppers were waiting to ferry everyone up a mountain, where thirty goats, a shepherd and a Land Rover had been put in position three days earlier. We filmed the scenes, capturing Leonardo backlit by the sun in the early afternoon, and then choppered all the Heads of Department and actors back to the field, from where they went on a four-and-a-half-hour flight by private jet to Cape Town for dinner and an early start the next morning. This organisation, by a trusted production team that I work with a lot - Susan Towner, Karl McMillan, Michael Sharpe and Mark Somner - is the sort of organisation that makes me proud!
Any other memorable big days that required a battle plan?
Loads. The really memorable one was on Saving Private Ryan, when we went to County Wexford in Ireland to recreate the Normandy Landings. It was colossal and the only way we could do it was by using military resources. We descended on this little town for three and a half weeks, and had to take over schools and a convent to garrison 750 Territorial Army soldiers as well as main cast and crew. We needed to hire military caterers and military police because these guys were our responsibility 24-7, including the weekends, and we needed to uphold our responsibilities to the town.
Any turbulent moments?
Blood Diamond was a shoot that required some steely nerves. However you slice it, having Leonardo DiCaprio running through Maputo in Mozambique, where a Kalashnikov can be found for USD70, and making sure that staging a fire-fight will not result in actual return fire is pretty hardcore.
However you slice it, having Leonardo DiCaprio running through Maputo in Mozambique, where a Kalashnikov can be found for USD70, and making sure that staging a fire-fight will not result in actual return fire is pretty hardcore.
As an Executive Producer you must be green-lighting location decisions all the time. How do you decide where you are going to film nowadays?
The formula hasn’t really changed, but it is more complex than it was. It’s still a tradeoff between what the location can offer the Director, the script, the cost of going and the amount of rebate you can get back. But of course there are a billion other political, aesthetic and scheduling decisions that flow into that big decision.
In your view, is big filmmaking changing?
The more it changes the more it stays the same. It’s a technology-fest at the moment of course but to be honest in my job I don’t need to know all the technical details of the electronics of 3D. I need to know if that works for the Director’s vision and how that affects the ways we structure the company to make the film. Of course, I am interested in anything that can help us to make better films, but I think the industry would do well to remember that technology is only ever a tool for the story. The story prevails and always will do. It has been that way for thousands of years. We’re still telling stories about the Titans and the ancient Greeks because successful narrative is what matters. I love innovation, but I love satisfying stories more than anything.
What do you do when you’re not making blockbusters?
My children are the most important part of my life, and time with them is the sweetest of all. They are a well-travelled pair, enjoying all the different peoples, cultures, kitchens and experiences that come with international filmmaking. The bug is genetic!
Kevin de la Noy was Executive Producer on The Dark Knight and Clash of the Titans, and is now working on associated sequels.
Profile image courtesy of Getty Images Europe.