Sara Putt

Source: Bafta

Sara Putt

Bafta chair Sara Putt is readying for her first Bafta Film Awards ceremony, stepping up from her role as deputy chair to take over from Krishnendu Majumdar last summer. She will serve a three-year term.

“I got very lucky with the awards this year, because wow, what a range,” says Putt of this year’s nominations. “Just an amazing breadth, depth and quality.”

This year’s ceremony takes place on Sunday February 18, hosted by David Tennant, with Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer the frontrunner, boasting 13 nominations, followed by Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things, with 11 nods.

Putt’s involvement with Bafta dates back to 2002, when she was nominated for a short film she produced, Tattoo. Her commitment to the charity has seen her oversee Bafta’s learning, inclusion and talent committee and the television committee, and she  has been a Bafta trustee since 2014. 

Putt established her agency, Sara Putt Associates, in 1989, after “realising being a producer was a very hard job, and being an agent was probably slightly easier”. The agency represents UK heads of department, and has been part of The Partnership Group since 2021.

She talks to Screen about her goals for her first year of her tenure, the future of voting interventions and her take on the Berlinale date clash.

How has your first six months in the role been?

Sara Putt: I’ve been on a journey with Bafta, but being chair is very different again. I started as chair when Jane Millichip had been our new CEO for only a few months, and to be able to work with her, and chairing Bafta at a period where there’s a lot of change – it’s very exciting. Bafta has grown a great deal in the past few years, we’re quite a complicated organisation and we do many different things. To increase the impact we have as a charity, that’s something that is very dear to my heart.

Krish Majumdar made significant changes to the film voting process during his tenure, expanding jury interventions and widening Bafta membership. Now that membership has opened up, will there be a move away from jury interventions?

The review was an incredibly important piece of work, it took nine months, 40-45 lengthy in-depth interviews with various groups, as a result a whole lot of changes were made. They were important changes, and they have really shown their positive effects. It feels we now have a very robust process in place, a much more diverse membership. More of our 7,800 members are watching more films than ever, both in screenings and through Bafta View. We can see, for example, female directors coming through particularly in the films being awarded in outstanding British film in the debut category. There is still more change needed in terms of the industry. What we do at Bafta is we shine a light on what is happening, and hopefully the industry can respond and react to that as well.

After every film awards there will be a review by the film committee under Anna Higgs, she is steeped in this, she understands the detail inside out and has been passionately committed to this work for the last few years. There will be a review this year, and we will look at those processes. What I never want, and I don’t think any of us would, is to have knee-jerk reactions and go: ‘Everything is fine now, we can remove that.’

We need to see the trends, we need to see developments over a period of years. Not one or two years, but four or five years, and then to make decisions, constantly reviewing, discussing it, engaging with the industry around it. For me, these things [interventions] are still very relevant, and very much needed.

How do you feel about the annual issue of the date clash with the Berlinale?

I’m hotfooting it out [to Berlin] on the Tuesday after the film awards, I’m on a panel. Every year, there are a lot of these conversations that take place. But it certainly hasn’t impacted our attendance numbers at all.

What would you like to achieve in your first year as Bafta chair?

There are lots of things on my shopping list. The headlines are very much around engagement and impact. For me that breaks down into a few areas. The idea of community is very important to me, as both an agent and chair of Bafta. Last year was a very difficult year for people – providing a community where people feel a sense of belonging, where they can network and continue their professional development through screenings, panels, masterclasses is incredibly important.

To that end, I’ve spent a lot of time travelling the nations and regions – I went to Cardiff for the awards there, and Scotland, and a couple of weeks ago I went to visit the Liverpool Film Office and some production companies up there. I hosted a couple of events in Bristol and I’m going to Birmingham in a few weeks’ time, to discuss with other bodies how we can work together.

We’ve got a very exciting period with Bafta North America, we’ve got a new exec director in Courtney LaBarge Bell, we’ve got a new chair in Joyce Pierpoline, who I’m really looking forward to working with. So I would like to see closer ties in an increasingly internationalised industry with Bafta North America.

And for me, it will always be about craft – how do we highlight those craft skills more than we already do.

You mentioned last year being very difficult, with the strikes putting a lot of UK crew out of work. A more positive consequence of the strikes saw some below-the-line industry workers being invited to attend premieres in the place of acting talent, who were unable to owing to the strikes. Now the strikes are over, can more be done to bolster crew in this side of the industry?

There are numerous nominees in the craft awards, who will have a fantastic night and enjoy their red-carpet moment. The awards are a brilliant window in, but I think it’s also about the year-round activity. What is really exciting and I would like us to do more of is cross-sector craft panels and masterclasses. I have clients who work in film and TV, but are also starting to work in the games sector.

Is there an appetite for any new Bafta categories? There were so many strong British debuts this year, and the final list was quite documentary heavy. Is there room for a British debut documentary category, for example, as has been introduced at the British Independent Film Awards (Bifas)?

Those kinds of conversations will happen among those experts on the committee, once the awards are over. It’s really interesting the Oscars have now brought in a casting award, which is an award we brought in a few years ago. There is deep thought around it.

How do you balance your Bafta chair role, and your agency job?

I have an amazing team  at [Sara Putt Associates office] Shepperton Studios, I carve out time to be here and spend time with my clients. But it’s great having 195 [Piccadilly, Bafta’s HQ] – many of my clients are members of Bafta. Yesterday, I was doing some Bafta stuff later on in the day, and I had lunch with one of my producer clients. It’s a juggle, but for me it’s all about nurturing talent. That’s been my mantra as an agent for over 30 years. A lot of work I’ve been doing with both hats on, and is very similar.