The veteran producer talks about the new Skillset Craft and Technical Academy, his new role with inward investment, and thoughts on the UKFC handover to the BFI.
Veteran producer Iain Smith has had a busy week, seeing the official launch of Skillset-backed Craft and Technical Academy, and today being named head of the advisory board for Film London’s British Film Commission.
Smith, a Glasgow-born graduate of the London Film School (where he is now a patron), has worked on films ranging from Chariots of Fire and Local Hero to Cold Mountain and The A-Team. He also currently serves as chair of the Skillset Film Skills Council and chair of the UK Film Industry Training Board, is on the advisory board of the Edinburgh Skillset Screen and Media Academy, and is a director of the Children’s Film and Television Foundation.
Why does the UK industry need this new Technical and Crafts Academy? Are these areas you think have been historically overlooked?
They have a bit. We’ve allowed the traditional way of getting into that side of the business to prevail – which is using personal contacts. If you know someone, they know someone, and if you have the right attitude and are excited to be working, usually that was some kind of way of getting in the door. Training was always very much handed down. There is a tradition – which should continue – which is that professionals look after newcomers. There’s never really been a proper craft and technical academy. Usually the film academies are for the writers, directors, producers – of course sometimes craft and technical comes into that.
This is all driven by industry demand. The industry perceives that we’re now in a much more technologically challenging world, as soon as you’ve conquered a technology it’s out of date. We needed something more formalised to keep at the forefront of technology.
This is not simply a classroom academy whereby newbies come in and talk. A very important part of it is career development. It is truly mindboggling when you see how quickly something like 3D has changed, but it’s also about looking at the other areas that are affected by that – editing, or makeup and hair and wardrobe. Everything is affected by the way films are made.
As the handover of most duties from the UKFC to the BFI looms on Friday, how are you feeling about that?
The thing here is not to look back and turn into a pillar of salt. Look forward and up. Everyone is extremely well intentioned at both the BFI and Film London and are anxious to carry out and improve the functions of the Film Council. It’s going to be difficult because of budgets, resources could be an issue. But everyone is doing very well at the moment.
Why is working on inward investment at Film London important for you?
If we lose our market share of film production, then we threaten everything. We need talent in this country and talent needs facilities and skills, it seems self evident to me that they should benefit from inward investment. In a way it’s helping to sustain the indigenous industry.
Does the British Film Commission need to have a dedicated British Film Commissioner going forward, or will that structure change?
It’s good to have a visible personality. We’re all human beings, even in Hollywood (laughs), and they like to know if I phone him or her, I can get to the prime minister, or whatever it is they need. The general idea that we promote Britain is out of date now. Most people in the business know what Britain does and how we work, and what castles they can shoot in and so forth. What we need to do now is that more sophisticated process of winning productions that might otherwise go to Eastern European or Canada. On the inward investment side, I think a measure of success is films that have nothing to do with Britain coming here, then you’ve succeeded. We’re competing with so many incentives. So we have to be more agile.
You resigned last year from the board of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, was that because of changes afoot there?
I resigned from Edinburgh not in a hissy fit, I was just doing too much. I didn’t want to be a half-wit, half-time chairman… I had also resigned from the Creative Scotland joint board. I think [the festival] is going to do well this year. I think it has to be a festival of discovery, and of new talent. And also interacting with technology is important. The old paradigm [of filmmaking] didn’t really work for Scotland but the digital paradigm can work. I wanted much more of an industry forum than we managed to achieve [in his years with EIFF], much more of a debating chamber. Young talent, industry and technology, you could join them all up.
You’ve just executive produced Happy New Year, a film by a first-time filmmaker, how did you get involved?
They [Michael Cuomo and K. Lorrel Manning] approached me. They were two guys who wanted to get a break. And I’ve been guiding them over the years. They’ve made a film and it seemed to go down quite well at SXSW. I do try and help people. The reason for that is because for me it was such a struggle getting into the industry and so many people were just not helpful. I could never understand that.
With all these other activities on your plate, do you still plan to be a working producer with Hollywood-level films?
I’d never say never. The A-Team type films are a studio gang thing, your individual producership is part of a club. It’s just different. I like making films in really difficult places where nobody wants to come.