Decked out in summer gear, our film editor Gus Edgar interviews film industry professional and UEA alumnus Adrian Wootton on his career, Netflix, and the future of the film industry…
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Adrian Wootton and I am the CEO of Film London and the British Film Commission.
And how did you get to where you are now?
I did a degree in English and American Film and Literature at UEA, then an MA in Film, and then I got to work in cinemas. I started at Cinema City in Norwich, working as Front of House Manager whilst I was doing my MA, and then I went from Norwich to be a programmer at Bradford, in Bradford Film Theatre, and what’s now the National Media Museum. Then I went from there to set up and build broadway cinema – I built a multi-screen cinema, created a film festival called Shots in the Dark, and then got employed by the BFI to work in London, where I ran the Southbank complex, including the National Film Theatre and the London Film Festival.
Was that largely curating?
It was everything – I was in charge of the whole complex, so I managed all of it, but I also selected films and programs for the London Film Festival and for the National Film Theatre. I did that, and I then got promoted inside the BFI – I was the deputy editor of the BFI for a while, and then I got asked to set up Film London in 2003, because it was felt that there needed to be an agency that supported films and filmmaking on the ground in London. Then about six years ago we were also asked to take over the British Film Commission to promote the UK as a whole for making films so I took that over and I’ve been doing that ever since.
As a student, you worked for Cinema City – but did you do anything else to set up the groundworks for your career?
While I was here, I started writing for – what was then – Phoenix, the University magazine. I started writing music reviews, then I took over doing all the film reviews too. Because Cinema City was pretty good at getting filmmakers, I also met and interviewed Alan Parker, Stephen Frears, David Puttnam, and I’m pleased to say that all three of those gentlemen have been friends of mine for my entire life. I then – during my postgraduate – started doing freelance film writing – so I wrote for the monthly film bulletin, Sight and Sound, NME.
You also mentioned in your talk about how there are more theatres now, how they’re expanding – in terms of independent, arthouse cinemas, you talked about how they’re struggling – how do you see their future?
It’s a funny thing, independent cinemas. The Picturehouse chain, the Curzon chain, and boutique cinemas are actually expanding dramatically. That area of cinema is really popular. The challenge is that it isn’t popular among people of your age – the biggest audiences for those cinemas are people of my age and older, who grew up with them and are actually going to them in large numbers – they are making those cinemas really successful. But not enough young people, and students, are going to that type of cinema. That’s the challenge they’ve got – because everyone’s watching stuff on their mobile, or watching it on their iPads. That’s the real challenge for independent cinemas – they’ve got very healthy audiences, they’re just older audiences.
Which brings us on to Netflix, and how that could change the future of the film industry. Is it rational – for young people, especially – to be worried about it, or is it just change and something to get through or embrace?
I don’t think the consumer is worried about it at all, because the consumer wants what the consumer can get, and the truth of the matter is that if you can get all this fantastic array of content on Amazon, on Netflix, or whatever it might be, and you want to pay your £9.95 subscription, then you will. Because for Netflix, unlike a movie shown in cinemas, you wait, The Crown appears, and you can binge-watch the whole thing in a weekend. So, the content model is massively disruptive because it’s giving the audience what it wants: instant gratification. It’s all there for you and it’s there now.
The challenge is for independent cinema, because short-form independent cinema as a format is challenged by long-form television. It’s challenged because unless it’s a really brilliant film, people aren’t bothered about seeing it. And ultimately I think cinema exhibition will be challenged by the platforms, but – to be honest with you? – I think we’re going to still have arthouse cinema exhibition, for older audiences, and I still think we’re going to have cinema exhibition in general, because what’s going to happen is that alternative content, and VR and AR, are going to come into cinema exhibition, and I think cinema exhibition will survive as well.
I think the threat is about narrative 90-minute/100-minute independent film content, that’s the threat. Can we keep that alive and can we sustain it? I think audiences are going to carry on growing, and I think cinema exhibition audiences are going to carry on existing – I think there’ll be less people going to the cinema than there were before, and they’ll go for an even more restricted range of product, but I do think that VR and AR will give those commercial cinemas additional life.
Are you not concerned that VR and AR could prove a fad as 3D seems to be?
Of course, it absolutely could prove to be a fad, but the realms of AR and VR are so huge that the possibilities are going to take some time to exhaust – we’re just at the beginning of that technology, so we don’t yet know what the possibilities are.
How do you see the film and TV relationship – do you see it as symbiotic?
They’re getting closer, certainly. Because with film, you can’t own as much of the IP, it’s much bigger risk – you can have a much more sustainable future with television. I see television becoming more episodic, long-form content, and becoming more and more important. You see so many production companies now that have diversified and television – long-form content – is becoming their primary business, while film is a secondary icing on the cake.
Should we end this interview with some fun questions? Favourite film of the last decade?
Oh God! If I had to choose one… Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, which I love, I think is fantastic. I was also going to ask you what your favourite Italian film was, because I know you specialise when curating in Italian film… My favourite Italian film…Visconti’s The Leopard. It’s… it’s fantastic. If you look it up on BFI DVD, it’s got an extra with me interviewing Claudia Cardinale about the film on it – it’s worth looking at, because she’s fantastic.
And, lastly – what’s the last film you’ve watched?
A Quiet Place – which was great, a really fun horror/thriller.