Inside Pictures is well known for the exceptional calibre of its speakers, who work at the highest levels of the film industry in the UK, Europe and the US. It is these speakers who are at the heart of the programme, giving their time, knowledge and experience to the participants. Over the course of the year we will be publishing interviews with a selection of speakers, who will share insights on their work and their perspective of the Inside Pictures programme.
Our first Speaker Spotlight is with Mark Woolley, Finance and Commercial Director at Ecosse Films.
Mark qualified as a Chartered Accountant at Price Waterhouse in London, before moving across to Polygram Music, and then Channel 4 International. In 2002 he was appointed Finance Director at Qwerty Films where he worked on the financing of over $110m worth of film production spend. Films produced during this time included Kinsey, I Heart Huckabees, Alien Autopsy, Severance and The Duchess.
In 2007 Mark moved across to Ecosse Films as Finance & Commercial Director. In his eight years at Ecosse, he has worked on the financing of nine film projects including Nowhere Boy, Wuthering Heights, Diana and the company’s 2015 release A Royal Night Out, as well as Ecosse TV productions including; Mistresses, Fleming, Great Fire, and the upcoming BBC2 drama Life In Squares.
Mark is a long-time supporter of Inside Pictures. Not only does he share his knowledge with participants as a speaker, he is also a touchstone of the Inside Pictures project work, working with the participants to develop finance plans for their film projects.
Why do you choose to offer your time to support participants on the Inside Pictures programme?
I have been lucky enough to be involved on Inside Pictures almost from the outset and it has been most satisfying to see it develop into one of the most respected film programmes in the industry. It is a credit to everyone involved over the years but in particular to the hard work of Jill Tandy and Michael Kuhn and now Julia Short. The programme offers its participants access to high-level industry executives across the whole spectrum of the film industry from production through to distribution. They gain an insight into the bigger picture as well as extending their own area of expertise. The networking opportunities of the programme are also second to none.
I feel it is important to share the knowledge I have gained in my career and hope it may prove useful to the participants, and I know other Inside Pictures speakers feel the same. It is also, of course, a pleasure to meet each year’s intake and to feel I can learn from them too!
How do you think the programme benefits the wider industry?
I believe that once a participant completes the programme, the development in their breadth of knowledge and the contacts they have forged ensures they are well positioned to fast track their career and, in turn, benefit the entire industry. Particularly at this time, when film is facing challenges from all directions, it is essential that the new class of executives have an all-encompassing knowledge of the business they operate in.
You see participants at the beginning and end of the programme. How do you see them change in terms of their confidence and ability with the financial side of their work?
Some participants come from a business background and so are already familiar with financing while others, such as producers, are less familiar. The programme is structured such that all participants, irrespective of their area of expertise, are able to benefit from the financial elements. For me personally, the most rewarding part is helping those participants who are skilled creatively realise that the financial side of the business is not actually a huge mystery, after all! Increasing their understanding of this aspect of the filmmaking process is a great addition to their skill set and once the participants realise this, their newly acquired confidence in tackling deal making, for instance, is clearly apparent.
What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing those working in your sector in the industry?
Independent filmmaking, whether in the UK or not, has always been a challenge. As we have seen over recent years, the creative talent generated out of the UK is incredible and this leads to intense competition for financing. Those competing need to approach the market with the best package available in order to get noticed. At Ecosse we constantly strive to ensure our scripts are the best they can be. An excellent script has to be the foundation on which to build the rest of the required film elements. But even if you believe you have an irresistible offering for an investor, the challenge at that point is to negotiate the best deal possible. As an independent producer the aim has to be to retain as many rights in your film as possible and to do this you need all the knowledge and skills you can acquire. I believe the Inside Pictures programme can provide the grounding to help navigate this deal making process more effectively.
You have worked on some wonderful, iconic productions over the course of your career. What have been the highlights for you?
Every day I count myself lucky to be able to work in this industry as a ‘non-creative’! I have also been extremely fortunate to work with immensely talented people throughout my career in the film business. A few moments that have stood out for me include meeting Laura Linney when we were filming Kinsey for Qwerty. I had followed her career from the outset and thoroughly admired her work, so to meet her in person was a personal thrill, and thankfully she was as lovely as I hoped she would be! As a junior exec on I Heart Huckabees at Qwerty I also had the privilege to be on set chatting to David O’Russell, Dustin Hoffman and Jude Law. I have certainly dined out on that story…
At Ecosse we have worked with a multitude of excellent filmmakers including Andrea Arnold, Sam Taylor-Johnson and Oliver Hirschbiegel. The process of pulling everything together to actually reach the day filming starts can be so tortuous that when you see the end product, that is a highlight in itself.