Amanda Berry, 49, is chief executive of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), the UK's leading independent charity working with the film, television and video games industries. After beginning her career at a theatrical agency, she worked in television production before joining BAFTA in 1998 as head of development and events. Since becoming CEO in 2000, Berry has transformed the organisation, most notably turning the annual Orange British Academy Film Awards into a star-studded event broadcast around the world.
Business is good. We're totally self-funding and the money comes from our membership income, from our premises at 195 Piccadilly, which people can rent or use for screenings, and from the partners that we work with. We're very lucky in that we work with a number of partners year in, year out. For instance, we're in our 14th year with Orange, who sponsor the film awards. Other partners such as Audi and Lancôme and newer partners such as British Airways continue to support us.
I think we're finding that everybody's having to work a little harder now, so people still want to sponsor you but they're looking for more return on their investment. Nevertheless, we have a great relationship with our partners and our turnover is looking pretty healthy.
The story of your time at BAFTA is very much one of turnaround. What challenges did you face when you arrived?
I think I joined at a time when there was a real ambition for change. They'd had a huge overdraft for many years but could see the end of it approaching and I just came in believing that anything was possible. I thought BAFTA had an incredible brand in this amazing, iconic mask, but a lot of the time it had been about survival rather than what this mask could become.
There was a very loyal membership who had been with BAFTA through good times and bad times and continued to pay their membership and were very much part of the organisation, but there were generations coming through for whom BAFTA wasn't relevant. They didn't really understand what it was and what it did. So it was about engaging with them and making them realise BAFTA was important for the industry and they should be part of it. I really believed in the organisation and what it could be.
Some say your greatest masterstroke was to change the date of the film awards so that they became a precursor to the Oscars. How did that idea come to you?
It came out of the fact that the film and television awards used to be one ceremony in April. They'd separated them into two ceremonies in 1998, just before I joined, with the film awards kept in April and the television awards moved to May. So I asked myself why the film awards had to be in April. They were there for historical reasons, but was it the right time of year? When I looked at the awards calendar, there were the Golden Globes in January, the Oscars in March and then coming up after them were the BAFTAs. I thought that was just crazy. There was a window when the world was looking at film and we were slightly outside that window.
Presumably the major challenge was to get buy-in from the Hollywood film industry?
Yes, because if we don't get the nominees here, the ceremony's not going to be a success. In the early days I would go out to Los Angeles every September and talk to the studios about what we were trying to do and how they could help us. it was more daunting then than it is now because we were doing something quite major in moving a ceremony that some of them may not even have heard of and really wanting them to take it very seriously. But I think the fact we did spend a lot of time talking to the industry and listening to them has really helped create a very solid foundation for the awards. And also I think people admired us for doing that.
People love to work with British filmmakers and they love to film in the UK so if they can come here and support the UK industry, they will do it. Once we'd moved it, word of mouth around the ceremony was very, very good, and people were getting what we were trying to achieve. So I go out to talk to the studios much less these days because they get it now and they're absolutely on top of it.
How do you measure success when it comes to the film awards?
In 2001 the film awards were only shown in the UK. They now go out in every territory in the world, so there's an opportunity for pretty much everyone in the world to view them if they want to. With all the awards we do, it can just take one thing not to be perfect and you feel it failed. I want everything to be perfect. The day after an event I feel a little bit flat because there will be things I know weren't quite as right as they should have been and nobody else will have noticed. But then again if you have a really good year, you think, oh no, what are we going to do for next year? You want to keep improving every year, whether it's the ticket design or the way the traffic management works or making sure the clips packages are even better. There are so many elements to it. I'm always praying that it won't rain!
How do you see the state of the British film industry at present?
What's great about British film is that we produce everything from really big blockbusters to small independent films, so I think it's a healthy industry and even films that you don't think of as British have a British DNA in terms of the cast and crew. Ed Vaizey is pledging more lottery money, which has to be good news. And I think it's also worth thinking about the inward investment that comes from films being made in this country. We do have to stop and remember that we're a very small island and yet the talent we produce not only in film but also in television and video games is phenomenal.
Finally, what's your favourite film?
Everybody asks me that! I'm one of those people who gets something out of almost every film I see. If I had to choose one recent film, it would probably be Shakespeare In Love. It was such an elegant film with a sense of humour and I thought it was the sort of film that we Brits do incredibly well.
British Airways is proud airline partner to the British Academy of Film & Television Arts
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