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Exclusive: Producers Damian Jones, Compton Ross, Phil Hunt talk 'Belle'

On May 2, Fox Searchlight's period drama "Belle" hit theaters. We had the opportunity to speak with the film's producers Damian Jones, Compton Ross, Phil Hunt, to name a few. When we asked the film's writer Misan Sagay her advice to screenplay writers, she said, "I suppose my advice is 'Tell your own story,' find the things that interest you, find the things that you are passionate about and tell those stories. That's my main piece of advice. Don't listen to what's been done before or any of those other things and don't listen to people that say that no one's interested in them too because if you are, there's probably going to be more than you, there's someone else out there that wants to see it, too."

Actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw attends the 'Belle' premiere at The Paris Theatre on April 28, 2014 in New York City
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We spoke with Compton Ross and Phil Hunt of Bankside Films, an international film distribution and financing company. They are executive producers of "Belle."

How did you get involved with the film?

Well the producer Damian Jones brought us the script with Amma Asante, who was directing it, so we put some late stage development money into it and then we put our own funds in it and sought some other funds and then we took international rights and made the film and sold it to Fox a few months ago.

What did you love about the story?

It's a human story and people can identify with it - a day to day love story, but at the time it had a real historical twist or element to it that made it interesting, especially since it was based on a true story.

Speak about collaborating with Amma.

Amma is a great director, her future has already started. Not just with making this amazing film, but now everyone is after her. She managed to get the most amazing performances out of the cast, absolutely divine, I would love to work with her again.

What next for you?

We have another one that's coming out later this year, called "Hector and the Search for Happiness" and that's another great cast and another great director - Simon Pegg, Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno, Christopher Plummer, Toni Collette, Rosamond Pike and it's coming out in August or September in the US, so that's quite a big movie. Peter Chelson directed it. It's Relativity Media, we announced the deal just a few days ago. We've got another film shooting in New York in a few months, its called "Freeheld" with Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, shooting in September in New York, so our company Bankside Films finances it.

We also spoke with producer Damian Jones.

What attracted you to the project?

It was a long journey. I came across the portraits, simultaneously came across Misan, the writer who had been writing about the Mansfield family. We teamed up to try and do a story about the two sisters who are portrayed in the portrait, and over time that evolved to really be story about Dido herself. Amma came on board and refined it further. I'm pleased to say that between us there is a masterful film there. It balances beautifully the period romance aspect, but has something important to say simultaneously for now and then.

Speak about working with Amma.

She's clever, I had spotted and wanted to work with her for a while now, when she made her first film, "A Way of Life," and then criminally wasn't making films. Five or so years later, I thought she was perfect fit for this material, female, black, steeped in that Jane Austen-like world. But a powerful woman and she really brought the resonance to the film to play today and have something to say about now. The balance she brought to all the complex issues and the characters, everyone was so three dimensional, it's not just goodies or baddies, she cleverly shows their point of view and they are not just racist for the sake of racist. They in their own way are trying to look after their family and wed off their son because he's penniless. What I love about working with directors of her talent is that they surprise you every step of the way, from the rushes to the music, to the subliminal messages in the movie about image and being trapped and letting that out, it was just great, she's going to go far I have no doubt.

This is also a big role for Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

We've been friends for a long time, and I've always kept her apprized of the progress of a project. She's read many different versions before we were ready to make it real. What I was so impressed with her, was that she came to the States initially to do "Hamlet" on Broadway, she was then snapped up and had a good couple of years doing very high profile television, a couple of movies. By the time we came around to casting and choosing her I just felt she had the edge over everyone else. She was swift on her feet, shows real talent under great pressure and had the technical aspect down and had the room to blossom and react to direction. I'm really impressed with her talent.

"I'm too excited it's difficult to put into words, there's a sense of fulfillment, there's a sense of culmination, and tonight is the culmination of many years of hard work for me and Damian Jones. This is a collaboration that has been truly successful in the sense of creative journey that we've been on, and I feel fulfilled," director Amma Asante said of the film finally hitting theaters.

She said it's more important than ever because, "It's timely, look at what's going on out there today, haven't we evolved? People, this was going on in the eighteenth century and it's going on today. But if you want to watch beautiful love story, if you want to watch a beautiful paternal love story, if you want to be illuminated, even more than you already are about the slave trade, learn something else about the slave trade that most of us never knew, come and see this movie."

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