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Nik Powell Talks To IFTN
24 Jun 1999 :
On 18 - 20 June 1999, the Film Institute of Ireland and MEDIA Desk Ireland gave host to the Board of the European Film Academy. The IFC paid tribute by showcasing some works produced by EFA Chairman Nik Powell which included Absolute Beginners, Little Voice, and recent Irish production, Deborah Warner's The Last September.

Powell's career spans from the early 70's when he set up Virgin Records with Richard Branson. After leaving Virgin, he went into partnership with Stephen Woolley, proprietor of the Scala Cinema, forming Palace Video, followed by Palace Pictures and then Palace Productions. Their works included acclaimed films such as The Company of Wolves, Mona Lisa, Letter to Brezhnev, Scandal,and Waterland.

Palace Productions fell, and in 1992, Powell and Woolly created Scala Productions whose works include Backbeat, Hollow Reed, and Fever Pitch. Nik is also a member of the British Screen Advisory Council.

Over the weekend, IFTN's Damon Silvester interviewed Nik Powell.

Damon Silvester: What has Scala Productions been up to lately?

Nik Powell: The Last September is finished and did Director's Fortnight and launches in September in the U.S. We're just delivering a picture called History Is Made At Night with Bill Pullman. We've finished a picture which is being released here November 18th called Fanny and Elvis with Ray Winston. And we have a picture being released in New York called The Last Yellow. We're just about to start a picture in Belfast called Thanks for the Memories with Brendon Gleason.

DS: Did I also see somewhere that you're trying to adapt a Carl Hiaason novel?

NP: That's right: Skintight. We're trying and failing. Well, we have it adapted to screenplay, but we're having trouble getting it financed. But we are, as they say in the business, that close.

DS: With box office hits such as The Crying Game under your belt, do you find getting financing for your future films easier than your early days?

NP: Obviously, I think people try my movies because the scripts are great and the action is brilliant. It's easier if you've had successful pictures, without a doubt, than if you hadn't. There's more money out in the marketplace in the 90s than there was in the 80s. On the other hand, in the 80s we had a distribution company that was a big help.

DS: What's your objective for the European Film Academy?

NP: The European Film Academy is set up to promote the interest of their members so there's a voice for the creative community that that Academy serves. The American Academy is probably most famous because they give out the Oscars. The European Film Academy is having their ceremony in Berlin on the fourth of December this year. The other work they do, in terms of doing a talking shop, they connect older film makers with younger ones through seminars, weekends in the country with a major film makers, it goes on alongside that. But at the end of the day, we're there to bring European films to the attention of as many people around the world as we can.

DS: Do you ever find the EFA vying with American films?

NP: Well, we're broadcasting America on the Sundance Channel so, it's obviously limited, but that's our core audience for the films we're promoting. I think a lot of the American voters look seriously at the winners of the European Film Awards. We as an academy honour not just the American, but just normal European cinema by having various awards for non-European films, which is usually the big American one. We also have awards for Europeans working elsewhere in the world. So we like to have that as part of our awards ceremony because we give the awards the maximum broadest appeal to television watchers throughout the world.

DS: When you set up Scala Productions, how did it differ from Palace Productions?

NP: Both myself and Stephen [Woolley] made a decision not to attempt to build another empire, a sort of all-embracing company that distributed and owned video shops and cinemas and so on, and that we would concentrate solely on the business of making feature films and find out if we could make a living on it.

DS: There was an interesting anecdote in a book about Palace Pictures called The Egos Have Landed where you saw 9 1/2 Weeks and loved it, but nobody else in the company did. How do you personally go about putting worth on a film?

NP: I think all film buyers look for several things. They look for something that appeals to them or to people of a particular part of the marketing place. They look at the actual craftsmanship of the film and how well it's delivered. You are looking for elements of the film that will enable you to bring it to the notice of the public, and you have to remember that as an independent film distributor you have less resources advertising-wise to compete with bringing your film to the notice of the public, and therefore, you look for pictures that are either so excellent that they will get noticed, or that have other things about them that people are going to write about, talk about, and so on. In 9 1/2 Weeks, it was the ice cube scene.

DS: I understand that you recently were successful in getting a lottery franchise.

NP: Well, I put together a group of producers and financier Virgin to apply for a lottery franchise which in short terms is set up to try to create some other long running film companies in the U.K. by using lottery money as seed money. So they awarded three franchises and our group was awarded one of them. Everybody says "win" but you don't win lottery franchises, you're awarded them. You win lottery tickets.

DS: Just one final question, how do you view the image of European Cinema and do you think it's changing?

NP: Well Americans think of the pictures that are coming out of Europe as arty because at the end of the day, they're low-budget compared to the American ones. That is the market for European films. It's a market for a more educated audience. But that audience is vastly more expanded because so many more people in the Western world get to have the chance for a secondary education and higher education, so that market has expanded to two or three hundred million world-wide. But, it will always have that label as "arty". But in art, as in all other areas of entertainment, you have to be entertaining. You have to give people at the end of the day, something they can take away from cinema, so they haven't wasted their five pounds.

DS 22.6.99



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