Ex-Lovells lawyer’s epic vision
8 August 2011 | By Laura Manning
Convincing a bunch of lawyers to don Cinderella costumes is a rare talent, but former Lovells (now Hogan Lovells) lawyer Darren Heath managed it.
Indeed, jotting down dialogue for various theatrical sketches, including the aforementioned classic tale, was always more than a hobby for Heath, and ultimately pushed him to set up his own film production company.
“I guess it was something that was always there - it was always an ambition and an aspiration, but it just took a bit of drawing out. Putting on shows with Lovells is probably where it all started,” says Heath, recalling his three nights in a West End theatre with a team from Lovells and the City of London Solicitors’ Company. “That really got the ball rolling.”
Heath’s initial scripts involved caricatures of Lovells partners, “taking the Mickey” out of the likes of former managing partner Lesley MacDonagh who, in one skit, saw her doppelgänger being persuaded to “go back to Titanic”.
Almost immediately after the Titanic sketch Heath transferred from commercial property to IP, and subsequently moved to West End firm The Simkins Partnership to become a film and TV lawyer.
While at The Simkins Partnership, Heath provided contracts and financing advice on a short film called Shadowman. He was encouraged to present his first screenplay to the film’s producer Carey Born, who went on to become his business partner.
Heath’s first stint in production came when he joined the College of Law’s Legal Network Television, writing and presenting training films on a range of legal topics.
The success of both these endeavours encouraged Heath to create film production company First Born Films in 2005, which resulted in the production of his first short film, Compartment.
It also saw him develop a corporate business for making training films under the brand name JurisProductions. Through this he produced training films about financial services and private equity, interviewing experts such as MVision general counsel Claire Wilkinson. He has also recently been asked by Practical Law Company (PLC) to produce a number of podcasts for them.
“The great thing about making short films is that people are always keen to work on good projects, allowing us to hire professional actors using a casting agent,” explains Heath. “When we’re shooting the films it’s a huge operation. It’s a fantastic feeling when you’re part of this huge team and people give so much to it - giving 100 per cent. We get to work with people who are truly at the top of their game.”
Heath’s true passion is for fictional films and, despite initially focusing his efforts on creating short productions, his ambition is to get a feature-length movie off the ground.
“Getting the finance on board by finding a producer who likes the script and can raise the money to make a film is the first hurdle - it can take an awfully long time,” he says.
To date, the movies produced by First Born Films have featured at industry events worldwide, including the renowned Cannes International Film Festival.
However, Heath has not hung up his suit permanently, choosing in 2007 to join Berwin Leighton Paisner’s Lawyers on Demand. Through this programme he has worked in-house for companies such as Orange and the FT.
“It’s brilliant, with its flexibility,” says Heath. “The great thing about it for me is that you don’t become jaded with a role. When you go back to it after a couple of days of doing your other job it all seems fresh and new - you go back with a refreshed attitude.”
Heath explains that being a qualified lawyer has helped his film career, allowing him to handle the contractual side of the business.
That said, he does not believe he will ever go back to being a full-time private practice lawyer.
“The lawyering I do in-house is a completely different environment and I think it suits me better than working in a firm,” Heath concludes. “I prefer dealing day-to-day with a business and seeing a project through from beginning to end.”