Lord Puttnam has called on young filmmakers to pioneer the online monetization of movies – and used All the President’s Men to defend new press regulation.

Speaking to Screen at an event hosted by the University of Sunderland and The Royal Television Society, the Oscar-winning producer behind Chariots of Fire called for young and first-time filmmakers to monetize their content on the web – but warned them they may have to accept diminished audiences.

“Given the massive increases in the capacity of broadband, what we’ve got to move to quickly is the monetization of the YouTube model,” Puttnam said.

“We need to find a way that good material can find its way onto a YouTube-like service and then, as it were, cascade, earn money, earn a reputation there and then turn up who knows where – festivals, any number of places.

“I also think first-time filmmakers have got to accept they will be working with smaller and smaller audiences. I can well imagine (people) doing what I’ve done - being very happy if 400,000 people see their film.”

Puttnam argued that the digital world offers more opportunity to new directors than his generation experienced.

He said the reason that filmmakers like Alan Parker, Hugh Hudson and Ridley Scott had worked in advertising was that this was the only way they could prove themselves as competent directors.

Press regulation

The peer also passionately defended his role in the politicking that recently led to the setting up of a Royal Charter to regulate the press and saw him personally come under fire.

“Do you think you enjoy picking up a newspaper and reading you’re an arsehole?,” Puttnam commented.

“It’s not very nice because you know yourself not to be. I’ve read that I am anti-democratic and that I am trying to crush freedom of expression. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The storm around Puttnam arose when he introduced an amendment to the Defamation Bill. This amendment called for the press to be answerable for its actions to an independent body overseeing a new arbitration system.

In February, Puttnam’s amendment was passed with a huge majority in the House of Lords and with significant senior cross party support. Nonetheless, sections of the UK media have been fiercely critical of the amendment.

All the President’s Men

During his interview with Screen, Puttnam made pointed remarks about the UK press after screening a clip of All the President’s Men, the Alan J Pakula film about the Washington Post’s investigation into the Watergate scandal.

He contrasted the reporting of the Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with that of the British newspapers (whose practices have been pored over in the Leveson Report).

After playing the clip, Puttnam said: “You see the insistence of the editorial team, their staff and bosses on two sources, preferably more, and they’re pushing for someone to go on the record.

“There is a very interesting line from (Washington Post editor) Ben Bradlee when he says, ‘Did (President Nixon’s Attorney General John N.) Mitchell know he was talking to a reporter?’.

“That is a zillion miles away from the practices developed in the UK which is basically about attempting to make a story stand up irrespective of the rules of journalism – the two sources rule, the business of identifying yourself.

“Either you have an editor saying ‘Did you identify yourself’ or you have an editor saying ‘Was this hacked off the telephone? That’s OK then.’ Those are two planets that couldn’t be more dissimilar.”


Puttnam predicted that television will take on a very different role in the digital era.

TV, he said, may “have to accept the fact” that one of its key roles will be to premiere filmed content which will then be watched on other digital devices.

Asked about the prospects for new local TV stations in the UK, Puttnam (who sat on the Anglia board for many years) insisted there was still a place for local stations.

He bemoaned the way broadcasters and regulators had “allowed the argument for so called consolidation to run the way it did” in the period a decade ago of the mergers of the mergers of the local ITV franchises into ITV plc .

Speculating as to how media will change in the coming years, Puttnam struck an equivocal note.

“I think access to media is going to be easier and easier, that’s both a good thing and a dangerous thing,” he predicted.

“If it is so easy to collect information, you become that much more vulnerable to collecting misinformation…I’ve been arguing for as long as I can remember that media literacy is a really, really important subject.

“I don’t think any 12-year-old should continue in education until, as part and parcel of the curriculum, they’ve engaged with and understand what proliferation of information is - learning for example not just to look at Wikipedia.

“By all means, go to Wikipedia but then check what Wikipedia says with one or two other sources. That should be part of learning to read and write. It is as important.”