Marie-Claire Benson Photo 2_Credit Richard Chambury-Lionsgate[1]

Source: Richard Chambury/Lionsgate

Marie-Claire Benson

Marie-Claire Benson joined Lionsgate UK in the home entertainment division in 2009, becoming executive vice president and head of the UK motion picture group in 2020.

Her release slate is comprised of around 60% of titles from the US and 40% local acquisitions. Benson’s local pick-ups have included Anatomy Of A Fall, buying it from Picturehouse “to amplify the release”, and pre-buying Rose Glass’s Love Lies Bleeding. Coming next are Penguin Lessons, starring Steve Coogan, and John Maclean’s survival thriller Tornado.

What was your first job in the industry?

I was a product manager in the home entertainment feature team at Universal Pictures, working mostly on Dreamworks Animation. I came from Mattel, where I had been working on the film licences [for] the Harry Potter and Disney films.

What is your office like?

We’re in Fitzrovia. I’ve got a fabulous view across London. We’re about to have a refurb as we’ve run out of space since the acquisition of eOne.

What do you do first when you arrive in the office each day?

On a Monday and Tuesday, I get off the train and run around Regent’s Park and then to the office. Wednesday and Thursday, I am in early and make a cup of tea and talk to anyone else who is in. We generally work from home on Friday.

How do you manage the time difference working with a Los Angeles-based team?

I have a great boss in Ron Schwartz [president of global licensing and distribution]. It’s very rare I’m on a call past half six. On a Friday afternoon, the US doesn’t call unless it’s for something very urgent and important. If someone is on calls late into the evening, I don’t expect to see them first thing in the morning.

Who helped you most when you were starting out?

At DreamWorks, Kim Overall [now at Sony Pictures Entertainment] and Allison Watkins [now at the Coolabi Group] embodied everything good about a female leader. They were true to themselves. They were nice people, kind people, who were very supportive and willing to share their time and experience.

What was your favourite film growing up?

Star Wars, the original one. My brother and I taped it off the telly and watched it on VHS. We knew every word. Because it was on [commercial channel] ITV, we knew all the jingles in the adverts too. We would re-enact it with our toys.

What’s the biggest professional mistake you’ve made?

When I have assumed people in more senior positions must know better than me. Now I’m trying to make sure people don’t concede too easily to me. The culture at Lionsgate allows us to challenge each other. I’m always saying, “Talk to me, tell me. I do not want to go down the wrong path.” One of my big learnings, particularly working in bigger studios like Universal and Paramount, was you’ve got to give your recommendation. And give it with confidence. If it’s batted back at you, or if it’s dismissed, you’ve got to be fine with that and move on.

What is your favourite festival or film event?

Cannes. It was the first festival I went to in person and, being part French, always feels like a home from home. And I like warm weather, sea views and cold rosé. Emma Berkofsky [head of acquisitions and co-productions] and Alex Gardener-Smith [head of commercial planning] do most of the screenings. I get wheeled out for sales agent meetings. Predominantly we want to acquire British stories, British filmmakers, British talent.

What excites you about the future of the business?

Seeing how audiences have got an appetite for watching more diverse content. We’ve been getting a lot more scripts through with projects that are being set in the UK, made in the UK. The new tax credit is making a difference.

What is the biggest challenge facing the business?

The challenges are around rising costs, which affect every area across production and distribution, and secondly a resistance to change, in regard to creative exploration — the past year has shown how new and unique stories can captivate a large audience but it’s risky when you’re going out with something completely different. In terms of how we distribute the content, we should embrace all the different windowing strategies, look at how different audiences are consuming media, and go with it.

Who would play you in the biopic of your life and who would direct?

Sarah Snook. She’s just won an Olivier award for The Picture Of Dorian Gray on stage in London, and I play different roles in different environments, whether at home or at work. For a director, I’m going with Rose Glass.