It's your funeral!

Published: May 08 , 2014
Author: Alan Smith

In spite of its largely unknown cast, a promiscuous leading female character, a tragic death and a miniscule budget, Four Weddings and a Funeral is still one of the most successful British films ever made.

It is now 20 years since it opened in Britain - making household names of its stars, and taking an estimated $250 million worldwide. Not bad for a budget of less than £3 million.

The project was on the back burner for years as the determined and committed production team tried desperately to raise enough money to make it work. The script went through more than 17 re-writes and dozens of actors were auditioned and rejected until exactly the right people were found to play the leading roles.

During filming, actors were collected in groups across London to save money on individual cars. Aristocrats (who owned their own morning suits) were asked to be extras for the wedding scenes and US movie star Andie MacDowell was convinced into accepting a small fee, all to ensure that the film came in on budget.

The actor Hugh Grant who ended up in many respects being made by the film, was almost a casualty before filming began. There were 2 problems with Grant. The first was that Richard Curtis, the writer, thought him too handsome to have problems with women. How right can you, in hindsight, be?

The second was that Grant’s agent insisted on a fee of £40,000 for the then largely unknown actor. He was 33 at the time and had just 1 Merchant Ivory movie, Maurice, under his belt. That was £5,000 over the budget the team had allocated.

Michael Foster, Grant’s agent, said, “£40,000 and he is yours.”

Duncan Kenworthy, the producer said, “Sorry, you just don’t understand. It’s £35,000 and if you don’t accept that then obviously we lose him.”?’

A number of lessons scream out of this for the negotiator. The first is to know your limit position. Kenworthy clearly meant it. He was clearly prepared to walk away from Grant. I wonder who was waiting in the wings.

The second is to make sure you are able to trade movement rather than simply give in. Have variables that allow the movement to be made for value in other areas. Did Grant trade the fee down to £35,000 in return for top billing on the poster, a bigger trailer, first serving at lunch. We will probably never know. Certainly a long and varied list of variables that allow value to be created and then traded for is essential for any negotiation.

And of course the third is that sometimes in negotiations you have to play the long game.

Grant was able to command a fee of £7 million for his next movie.

Wonder where he would be if he had held out for £40 K?

Alan Smith


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Muck Shift

Just when is a deal not a deal…? I heard this story from a friend of mine the other week; there are some lessons to be learned! So, my pal is a developer and is building some houses on what is essentially a square site. Two sides of the square can be accessed from the road in a neighboring housing estate and the other two are beside a field owned by another developer. There is a huge pile of muck to shift before the actual building project; this phase is known in the trade – and not unreasonably - as a "muck-shift"! As there will be 80 -100 lorries coming in and out each day for 6 weeks, it was considered more convenient to access the site over the field, so an approach was made to the developer to discuss the terms under which he would allow access. This is a standard arrangement and the deal typically is that the field would be returned to the owner in its original condition. Developer makes a bit of money, where otherwise he wouldn’t; homeowners in the adjoining estate are less inconvenienced; builder does not need to spend money cleaning the streets and getting them back to a usable state at the end of the project. Win-win.

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