Name: Robert Watts
Role: Film Producer
Notable Works: Star Wars film series, Indiana Jones film series, Who Framed Roger Rabbit
A little bit more about Robert...
Robert Watts is a British film producer, best known for his work on the original Star Wars trilogy as well as Indiana Jones. He’s worked alongside the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg throughout his 50+ year career within the film industry!
Having worked as a production supervisor on Star Wars, Watts went on to have a long collaboration with George Lucas, serving as an associate producer on the Indiana Jones film series.
Watts has worked as a runner, location manager and producer on multiple Hollywood hits, spanning from Bond’s You Only Live Twice (1967), to Stanley’s Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), to Spielberg’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and many more.
Today, Robert shares what it was like to work on some of Hollywood’s greatest flicks and the biggest film franchises of all time!
For those who may not know, you’ve worked on some of the biggest blockbusters such as Indiana Jones and Star Wars! Can you share with us how you first became attached to these projects? Was it early on in your career or had you been working on other projects that naturally led you to these?
Once I had got my Union membership, I could work on feature films. It was Stanley Kubrick that requested to meet me in Central Park one day and I got to work on 2001 – A Space Odyssey. What a fascinating man he was. From there I worked on the Bond film You Only Live Twice and I met Gary Kurtz for the very first time. It was actually Stanley Kubrick that recommended me to George Lucas and I ended up working on the first Star Wars film with Gary Kurtz. This was the start of an amazing association with George Lucas with me doing three Star Wars films and three Indiana Jones films!
On the producing side, you started out as a production manager before becoming a highly respected, mainstream producer. What were some of the challenges you faced when it came to holding a higher level of seniority towards a production?
The challenges are the same for most films I was involved with like the pressure to deliver on time, and on budget. I loved the challenges though; it gave me a real buzz.
Going back to when you worked on Star Wars: A New Hope (respectively, the first motion picture in the Star Wars universe), did you have any instincts that the film would kickstart one of the biggest franchises of all time?! It’s an amazing achievement to have worked on the very first instalment that started it all!
Well… 20th Century Fox didn’t think they would ever see a penny of their investment back! I just focused on the job ahead at the time and I knew we could get it done. A year later when the film was released, I was in Afghanistan with no communications back home. When I got back to the UK and Pinewood, I’d still hadn’t seen the film or the news but my wife and kids had seen it and I soon realised it had become a huge phenomenon! Yes, I felt honoured to have been a part of it!
You’ve collaborated with George Lucas on both Star Wars and Indiana Jones! Were there any lessons you learnt working on these franchises in particular, that you were able to carry over to later projects?
These experiences were great of course, but I always kept my high standards and expectations of myself, whatever project or movie I was working on. I did meet and work well with Steven Spielberg which was amazing!
Whilst you co-produced Raiders of the Lost Ark, you went on to serving as a producer on its two (very successful) sequels! We know there will be many, but can you talk us through some of the things you oversaw throughout production of the Indiana Jones trilogy? Did producing get easier through each instalment or did you find the pressure was on more, further down the line to maintain the success of each sequel and to not disappoint fans? Your decision making could’ve ultimately changed the direction of the projects!
Each movie is like a jigsaw puzzle. I used to get quite nervous about the task ahead and was even sick at times but it was all worth it. Piece by piece it will all fall into place, the locations, the actors, the production design etc. I wouldn’t say it got easier but I did learn about the people I was working with and how to get the best out of them. It was a great experience.
Many of the productions you’ve worked on like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), are still major successes today! Has there been a decision you made on one of the projects within your portfolio, that when you’ve looked back on, you’ve thought about how it could’ve turned out so differently had you not made that decision? Can you share one of these decisions with us?
If I think back to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the decisions I were involved with took the film way over budget. This was nerve racking at the time and the pressure from Disney was always on but it turned out to be a highly successful film, box office included. I am very proud of that.
Do you think producing techniques have evolved over the years? Has technology impacted the ways in which producers approach projects now (i.e. hiring a director, developing a script, leading a pitch etc.), compared to… say, 20 years ago?
I would say the process is very similar but now producers have much more technology available to help achieve the end result.
Lastly, for aspiring producers out there, do you have any advice you could share in general, or more specifically when it comes to managing the workload a producer has responsibility for? We can imagine there are countless elements to oversee, way before a production even begins filming!
If you have passion for the industry then that will shine through. Never give up! Always find a way to make it happen somehow. Finally, enjoy this wonderful industry. I feel honoured to have been involved in some wonderful projects. More recently, I have been mentoring Steve Heath who surprised me with the quality of his first script. With my guidance, he’s turned a promising story (The Next Simon Cowell) into a movie that’s ready to be made. If Simon reads this then I would thoroughly recommend he comes on board with us for this film as it’s the perfect genre for him!
Hear more about Robert and Steve’s project, ‘Don’t Stop the Music’!