Andrea Calderwood is describing the most frightening experience she ever had in the film business. It came right at the start, when she was producing a short at the end of her trainee year with the Scottish Film Trust Training scheme.
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Although she was born in Paisley, Calderwood is adamant she's a Glasgow girl. Brought up on the city's south side, she is the only daughter of research chemists who met while working in the steelworks in Motherwell. She has two older brothers, one a quantity surveyor, the other an electrical engineer. Of course, I tell her, the third-born in any family is naturally outgoing and assertive. ''I don't know if that's true,'' she replies. Actually, in retrospect, I'm not sure that it's true either. It may be something I've just made up. Anyway, she says, she never really thought of herself as particularly bold. ''I used to think of myself as quite shy. I'm always quite surprised when people say to me they think I'm quite assertive, but I think I've always been pretty sure of my opinions.'' She puts her career choice partly down to the fact she was always late for school. Threatened with expulsion, she was forced to visit a guidance teacher. ''I think it was just cheek that I said I wanted to be a film director but he said there was this seminar about the National Film School and I should go along to it.'' She did and found herself quite starstruck. ''I can't remember who was on the panel but I thought they looked like really cool people.'' After studying English and Film at Stirling University (Mark Cousins, a former director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, was in the year below), she found herself on the usual round of job creation schemes that was the lot of graduates in the mid-eighties. It was only when she was accepted onto the Scottish Film Trust Training Scheme that the idea of a career in the media began to look like a reality. Soon she set up her own independent film company and hired Robert Carlyle for one of her first shorts, Marooned. She attracted five financiers for that one. She then went two better for a Gaelic film she produced, directed by Douglas MacKinnon. Both films had BBC Scotland money in the mix, ''which is partly why I think I ended up doing the job at BBC Scotland because Colin Cameron (then head of BBC Scotland) had spotted me as a bit of a hustler.'' When the job as head of drama came up she didn't seriously expect to get it. Truth is, she didn't even want it. ''What I wanted was for them to commission my company. And because I didn't want the job and I absolutely didn't think I would get it I had absolutely no fear in the interview.'' She wasn't the only one who was shocked when she got the job. On the day she was appointed, dramatist Peter MacDougall, the doyen of West Coast hard men of Scottish television drama, came out with his infamous quote that the job should never have gone to a ''wee lassie''. ''This quote has haunted both of us,'' says Calderwood now, though you suspect it has hurt MacDougall more than her. ''And I know what happens. They phoned Peter in the pub and he said what he said. And I spoke to Peter not long after that and he very generously invited me round to dinner at his house and Billy Connolly and Brian Cox were there.'' The kind of names in her contacts book that would come in useful over the next couple of years. At least MacDougall didn't accuse her of sleeping her way to the top. Others did, it seems. She remembers talking to a sound recordist she had worked with before who had just come back from making a documentary in Greece with an English crew who asked him if she got the job because she slept with Colin Cameron. ''It's an industry that loves gossip. People love to believe a bit of dirt.'' She says she never seriously considered rejecting the job. ''I think I had the confidence of ignorance. It happened so fast and I felt that I could not not do it, and really what I was hungry to do, what I wanted to get out of it, was the opportunity to do a lot of work.'' Which she did, commissioning 22 hours of drama a year for four and a half years. A move to London, though, was increasingly inevitable. ''I was commuting once or twice a week to London because the money's in London, a lot of the talent is in London and all the decisions are made there. I just permanently felt I had half a life in Glasgow and half a life in London.'' The success of Mrs Brown opened doors in the film industry and she took up a job with Pathe, where she bankrolled Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labour Lost among others, before setting up Slate two years ago. ''I wanted to work with people whose work I admired and the talent I liked rather than the people who suited the organisation I was working for at the time.'' The fact that Slate's principal backer, Film Four, has disappeared up its own projector doesn't faze her. She's confident there will be backers for her other projects, which include films based on the life of Scottish boxer Benny Lynch and comic geniuses Laurel and Hardy. Frankly I'm not sure anything could faze her. As she prepares to go to get her picture taken she applies some lipstick, something of a psychological defence she tells me, though it's hard to believe she needs any defending, given her quiet self-confidence. ''I very much go with my gut instinct as a producer,'' she says. Is it ever wrong, I ask. ''I think I've made my mistakes when I've gone against my gut instinct, when I've thought everyone wants romantic comedies I better try and make a romantic comedy.'' Audiences can see through British film- makers trying to be formulaic, she says, because the results always look so low-rent. ''The Americans have this machine. They're not embarrassed about bringing in teams of writers. They don't have any romanticism that what they're doing is art. It's just an industrial process. I think here we have a television industry, we don't have a film industry. Each film that gets made is a labour of love. It takes sheer will power to get a film made in Britain. You feel if you took your eye off the ball for a minute then it wouldn't happen.'' As if the Fergie of the film world would ever do such a thing. n
Once Upon a Time in the Midlands is released on Friday