Member of the Month - Rebecca Knapp
In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group. Our EDN member of the month for June / July 2013 is Rebecca Knapp, Managing Director/Producer, The Content Providers, UK.
Rebecca Knapp has been involved in film and television production for the past fifteen years, working across Europe, Africa, Canada and the USA. After graduating with an honours Law degree from Edinburgh University she produced her first short film entitled Smashing. She then went on to produce a series of shorts through her production company Synergen SMK for funders such as the UK Film Council, Film Four, the BBC, Scottish Media Group and Carlton Television. These have garnered between them three BAFTA nominations and twenty-four international film awards. Rebecca has also worked as a line producer/production manager of television drama, documentaries and independent feature films. Most notably the feature films Solid Air (2003), Frozen (2005) and Hidden Flaws (2004).
Whilst working at the production company Framework Entertainment Rebecca associate-produced Britain’s first urban black gangster movie – Rollin with the Nines, and as Head of Business and Legal Affairs/Producer she was involved in the setting up of three feature film productions, the horror films Heartstoppers and Warriors of Terra, and the action-adventure Prisoners of the Sun directed by the Oscar-winning Roger Christian.
Rebecca’s vast experience also includes running the UK film distribution companies Spark Pictures and Route One Releasing, she was integral in launching the UK based youth entertainment channel Rapture Television PLC, as well as being Director of Programming/Commercial Director for two years.
Furthermore Rebecca has participated on the prestigious Inside Pictures course for Production Executives, run by Qwerty Films/CASS Business School and ACE producers course, and she is a member of BAFTA, WFTV, Production Guild and ACE.
At the Content Providers Rebecca is currently producing the documentary DIY Sperm Donor with a slate of both fiction and documentary projects in development.
EDN has talked to Rebecca about her current project and pitching tour, where she has been to Hot Docs, Cannes Film Market, Sheffield and Sunny Side of the Doc.
EDN: Can you start by telling a bit more about your background and how you started out in the film and television business?
RK: I was always a film fan but had never really thought that I could do it as a career, so I decided to study Law (where I did Media Law and Intellectual Property for Honours). Whilst at University I joined the filmmaking student society, later being elected President, where I volunteered on as many films as possible. This culminated in me raising money for the society to buy one of the first ever digital cameras and the money to produce a low budget feature film in my final year.
After University I decided to try to make a living working in film and television, as I figured that I could always go back to law if I needed to and have never looked back. That being said I have since done more law as a producer than I ever did at University!
EDN: For how long have you been working with the Content Providers and what is your role in the company?
RK: I have been with The Content Providers for over ten years and my role is that of producer/company director – developing projects, raising finance, project managing and all the usual juggling with different hats that an independent producer does.
EDN: Judging from your CV it looks as you have mainly worked with fiction. What made you “cross over” to documentaries?
RK: It was really that my first opportunities in the industry were fiction so that was what I pursued, I have always done some documentary and factual programming. I have always had a strong interest in documentaries it was just that the right project had not come along.
EDN: How do you select which documentaries to produce? Is there a certain focus, theme or approach, which you are looking for?
RK: I think that you have to be passionate about whatever project you are doing, as you will need this to sustain your enthusiasm during the hard times.
I select projects by what I am interested in and the following questions:
Is it a strong idea?
Is there a clear narrative?
Is there an audience for the idea that matches the size of budget? And by audience I don’t just mean the end consumer but also funders.
Am I able to raise the funding?
I am eclectic in my tastes, much as I am in my viewing habits. However, what I would say is that I am interested in complex characters and narratives on subjects that would make the audience leave the cinema or the comfort of their sofa debating.
EDN: You are currently producing DIY Sperm Donor. It is a very catchy title – can you tell how you came across this project, what it is about and its current status?
RK: I met Peter Fraser the director whom I have known for a number of years and we were discussing the respective documentary projects that we were working on, and we both loved each other’s ideas. Peter had read a newspaper article about our subject Trent Arsenault and had then contacted him on Facebook, it turned out that he was in London and they met. Trent is a self-described 'donor-sexual', a 36 year-old American virgin from a religious background who donates his sperm for free over the Internet. He already has over 20 children and is currently locked in a battle with the US government Food and Drug Administration, which has ordered him to cease the manufacture of sperm in a case that has universal human rights implications.
We have been developing the documentary with a grant from the Welcome Trust and have attached the double Oscar winning producer Vikram Jayanti (When we were Kings, Born into Brothels) as our Executive Producer. So currently we are raising finance, and have had strong interest from broadcasters, distributors, sales agents and potential co-producers.
EDN: It is somewhat of a controversial subject. What are the reactions you face when presenting it?
RK: Most people cannot help but laugh at some point in the pitch and some get more carried away than others. However the pitch above is really just the tip of the iceberg to Trent’s story and once you delve into the medical, ethical and political issues that his story raises we tend to have endless questions as it provokes much debate and discussion.
EDN: At the moment you are presenting the project at various forums and markets. You have been to Hot Docs, Cannes, Sheffield and ending the month of June in La Rochelle for Sunny Side of the Doc. Can you tell more about your experiences at the different markets and the importance of taking the full tour and not just going to one event?
RK: I think that I have found that although there is some degree of crossover between the festivals and markets, there isn’t enough for you to cover everybody at one festival. Certainly for DIY Sperm Donor as our subject is American it was vital for us to have attended Hot Docs as there are so many more US broadcasters in attendance who obviously are more likely to have an interest in the project.
EDN: How many projects do you bring in your bag to pitch when attending these events?
RK: I normally have at least three projects as it is good to have a few just in case.
EDN: You have a long experience working as a producer in the UK. Can you share some insights on the current situation for documentaries in the UK in terms of finding funding?
RK: I think that documentary funding in the UK is not easy, but I don’t think it is easy anywhere. I think that you just have to keep on going and look for the new opportunities for funding and distribution, whether it be crowd funding, the Enterprise Investment Scheme (UK government scheme to encourage high net worth individuals to invest in film), new satellite channels as well as developing and maintaining relationships.
EDN: UK is often seen as very independent from the rest of Europe when it comes to co-producing. How is your experience with co-producing docs with the continent and do you have stable co-production partners?
RK: I have done some fiction co-producing in the past and yes the UK is seen as more independent, but I think that it depends on the individual producer not just the country they belong to although I know that the country’s system can play a part in this. I get the impression that the UK is perceived as having more onerous requirement for legalities, however as with all relationships I think that it is a matter of having a clear and comprehensive discussion of how it will work between the two parties and then a lot of this can be ironed out. Of course it helps that I have a strong background in law.
I have some relationships with co-producers, but I am always looking to meet new people.
EDN: Last but not least – which projects and travels lie ahead for you?
RK: I am going to Greece as my fiction feature film At the Break of Dawn has been selected by the Mediterranean Film Institute for their development project, then on to the Galway Film Fair with both my fiction and documentary slate. In the Autumn I am possibly off to do the triple whammy of Toronto Film Festival, Strategic Partners (Halifax) and No Borders (New York). I will also definitely be attending IDFA in Amsterdam in the autumn.
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