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Daniel Battsek – A passion for film

Daniel Battsek ’80, Director of Film4 and alumnus of Oxford Brookes, is optimistic about the future. With a successful career spanning three continents and almost three decades, and with vast experience in production, development and distribution, there are few as well placed to discuss the business of film.

Today’s students can look forward to a career in a flourishing film industry. This is not only supported by Daniel, but by statistics that show a record spend last year in UK film production and an encouraging increase in cinema ticket sales.

Meeting in his office in central London, Daniel is open, friendly and relaxed, responding thoughtfully when asked his views on the future of the industry.

“Despite all the challenges that film is facing and has faced throughout my time, it has remained extraordinarily robust. There is no doubt that there are major challenges, but even the new providers of streaming require content. So the fact is there has never been a greater demand. And for a student who is excited at the prospect of being involved in film – there is a big world out there, and the British side is a very important part.

“The UK has become an extremely popular venue for filmmakers from around the world. Studios are well equipped, the craftsmen are brilliant, the investment (because of the tax rebates) is very enticing and there are great writers, actors and directors. Even though it probably hasn’t made it any easier to get into the business – at least there is a business to get into!”

Daniel’s time at Brookes

Daniel studied social and political studies at Oxford Brookes and although he says the course was interesting, he gives the impression that it may have been chosen primarily to fit in with his other commitments at the time. “I ran a film society, worked part time at the Picture Palace, curated programmes of films and wrote film reviews. I started to do all the things that actually did turn out to be building blocks towards a career, even if at the time they seemed like hobbies.”

But, although not directly relevant to his future career, he thrived in the environment and says the experience was life changing in many ways (he also met his future wife who was doing a teacher training degree at this time). “I do remember being fascinated by a module on American politics. It was a very good grounding for understanding how congress and voting works, which is important.” This would come in useful when he was appointed President of Miramax Films in 2005 and spent the following 12 years living in New York.

Daniel has been impressed by his visits to Oxford Brookes, highlighting the facilities and the enthusiasm of the students and staff. “I met several of the professors, who I thought were just the right kind of mix of being enthusiastic, but also experienced and knowledgeable. The students have a good balance between understanding artistic endeavour and learning about filmmaking.”

‘The Business of Film’

His own work he sees as ‘the business of film’. “This is what I am more involved with, although that is not purely business either. It is a creative endeavour. We are trying to create pieces of entertainment, and a number need to be viable and successful.

“I learnt from doing the jobs I did. I’m not sure that you can teach what I do in a university degree. Production and distribution are taught and this is very important for students of film. To have an understanding of how the film business as a whole works is not essential, but it is important.”

You only have to watch the credits at the end of a film, to realise that it is very much a team effort and the risk – success or failure – can make or break a career. Daniel says he is no stranger to failure and although he appears very much in control and downplays his creative involvement, it is obvious that this is a man with a deep passion for film.

“I am very emotionally and spiritually connected to any project that I have an involvement with. When I was running distribution companies, I was more on the frontline. When a film opened, information would filter through, with faxes and phone calls, which was enough to put me into a bad mood for an entire weekend! But now you know before the film opens whether you have a hit – or a miss – meaning you reach maximum pain point early on – although, it doesn’t necessarily disappear any more quickly!”

Advice for a career in film

Asked his advice for those who are about to embark on a career in film, Daniel admits it is still a challenge finding an entry point, but once through the door, there are many paths. “You have to understand and decide what it is that you feel you are best suited to in the film business. Is it part of the creation of film in an artistic sense, or is it more on the business side?

“If it’s more on my side, you need to find out how the business works. Then, get your foot in the door of a production or distribution company making films that are distributed and interfacing with an audience. You can then decide whether you are going to be on the marketing or publicity side, or the more executive producer side – which is what I do.”

Back in London and happy at Film4

The future for film and for Battsek is bright. He says he is where he wants to be – back in London and happy doing what he is doing, at Film4.

“I was brought back here from my life in America, which I found fascinating and enjoyable. I feel that this is the right place for me now. I loved my time in New York, but I’m a Londoner and this is my home.”

Words by Wendy Jacob
Photography by Paul Tait

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