"The amount of film production happening in the UK now is absolutely extraordinary" - hmv.com talks to BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry
Last week we caught up with the CEO of BAFTA, Amanda Berry, about this year's awards, her favourite BAFTA moments and who she thinks is well overdue an award win...
How long have you been involved with BAFTA?
"I joined in October 1998 as their head of development and events, but I’d obviously been aware of them before that, I’ve been in this industry all my working life so it was an organisation I knew and admired from afar. I worked as a TV producer in the 90s and in ’95 I produced one of the award ceremonies, so that was my first introduction to BAFTA."
You’ve launched a new venture called Creative London this year, can you tell us a little about how that came about and what your aims for it are?
"Well, we’ve talked about doing this for a number of years. February in London has to be one of the grimmest months of the year, it’s cold, it’s wet, it’s dark and yet during February you have London Fashion Week, you have the BRITs and you have the BAFTAs.
"So for London it’s actually this incredible time when so many of the creative industries come together and because of the way the calendar worked this year it meant that during London Fashion Week the film awards were taking place and the BRITs were a few days later. So we’ve been saying for years ‘we should do something to celebrate this’, and this year the dates aligned and it made absolute sense."
The BAFTAs are obviously very well known in terms of the awards for film & TV, but you also run awards for games now – can you tell us a bit about the idea behind your Inside Games Showcase?
"The games awards have actually been happening in various guises since 1998, believe or it or not. We were way ahead of our time. At that stage we had an event called the Interactive Entertainment Awards and it was web and online as well as games.
"We re-launched the games awards as a standalone event in the mid-2000s and we’ve been looking at ways to grow and develop the awards and the activity around them, so this year we’ve launched Inside Games for the first time. It’s about bringing together the public and games developers and give people the chance to meet developers and listen to talks with leading folks in the games industry."
What else does the organisation do, it’s not just awards is it?
"That’s right, we have offices in London, Glasgow, Cardiff, New York and Los Angeles, with over 7,000 members working in film, television and games, as well as nine awards ceremonies in all, but the backbone to all of that is that we’re an educational charity.
"We do 250 events every year, we do mentoring schemes, scholarships, we run new talent initiatives like BAFTA Breakthrough Brits, which we launched last year with Burberry. We also run an event called Brits To Watch where we take rising talent, producers and directors to showcase their work to the film industry in the States."
Have there been any notable success stories to come out of that?
"The programme in this form is still in its infancy really but if you look at this year’s film awards, Chiwetel Ejiofor who won for his performance in 12 Years A Slave was a previous Rising Star nominee at the film awards, so I suppose from that point of view you can say that we were recognising people at the start of their careers and now they’re starting to come back and win BAFTAs, which is fantastic."
How would you describe the state of British cinema right now?
"I think when you look at the amount of film production happening in the UK now it’s absolutely extraordinary, all the studios are full, bodies like Film London are having to find new studio space. We’ve got the new series of 24 filming here at the moment, I know that’s TV but it’s the same situation, all the studios were full so they had to find a space in an old factory to use as a studio space.
"If you look at Harry Potter, Leavesden is now a studio, but it wasn’t before, I think previously it was and old Rolls Royce factory where they made jet engines and things! So in terms of production, if you look back there were 30 films in 1992 that were made fully or partly in the UK, in 2012 there were 249. So basically what we’ve seen is a tremendous increase in the number of feature films being made here and you really do get the impression at the film awards that the respect for British actors and craftspeople is really quite extraordinary."
Is there anyone you think is well overdue a BAFTA win?
"Until last year I would have said George Clooney, because I thought he was well overdue a BAFTA, but then he finally won one for Argo, but he’s been the most incredible supporter of BAFTA. There was one year where he had multiple nominations and still didn’t win, but he kept attending, which was wonderful! I think another person that’s been nominated a huge amount in recent years is Amy Adams, and again, she’s been nominated four times but never won.
"Another one is Tom Hanks, he’s also been nominated for four BAFTAs as well but still hasn’t won. I just think the talent we are surrounded by all the time is just incredible. I was very pleased Sally Hawkins was nominated this year, I really wanted her to be nominated last year for Made in Dagenham, but she was finally nominated this year for Blue Jasmine, so you always hope that their time will come."
Some years are obviously tougher than others in terms of the level of competition, since you’ve been at BAFTA is there any one year that stands out?
"Well, if you look at the five nominations for Best Film this year we had 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, American Hustle, Gravity and Philomena, that’s a take-your breath-away list!
It did feel like a very tough year this year, I think just looking at the subject matter of the films, the casts, it did feel that this was a very challenging year and what I loved about it was that there were so many different types of film, so even looking back I think 2014 is probably one of the toughest."
Do you have favourite BAFTA moment?
"Well, I was always remember 2008, which was the year This is England won Best Film when everyone was expecting Atonement to win. It was Sylvester Stallone presenting it and he opened the envelope and announced This is England. Shane Meadows and Mark Herbert went up onto the stage and they were completely overwhelmed on two counts, one that they’d just won and two Sylvester Stallone was presenting it to them, and it was just one of the funniest speeches because Shane was saying ‘it’s typical, every year I’ve been nominated I’ve gone on a diet, this year I gave up and left the man boobs and here I am winning’, but you could just see how much it meant to them, they didn’t try to be cool about it. I love those moments when you just get that genuine excitement, it’s wonderful, I always remind Shane of that whenever I see him!"
So, final question: over the course of awards season we’ve been running a series of articles called ‘There Should Be An Oscar For…’ – if you were to introduce a new category for the BAFTA film awards, what would it be?
"Ah, I’ve got one! Well I did say to Eric Fellner who produced Rush this year that if we had an award for Best Sex Scene In An Aeroplane Lavatory, Rush would win it. Am I allowed I say that?!"
"Hahaha! I just thought that scene was extraordinary, but the film was fantastic!"