Ian Lewis, Director of Sky Movies on forging a career in film

Ian Lewis at Sky Movies headquarters in Osterley

Forging a career in film, but not sure how to navigate the business end of the Movies?  Bethany Minelle met Ian Lewis, Director of Sky Movies, to talk blockbusters, LA meetings and the future of 3D...

How did you become Director of Sky Movies?

When I looked at the job pages in The Guardian the only day that interested me was Monday – Media. I ended up working in Advertising, for the Saatchi Group, in the TV Buying Department. I kept coming to Sky for meetings, giving them suggestions on what they should be doing with their channels. One day the Head of Sky 1 said to me, “Stop telling us what we should be doing and come and do it with us.”  So I did.

What was your degree in?

Nothing to do with Movies! Maths and Economics. The challenge for me is not to be analytical the whole time, and to see things in a more creative way. People who come from a creative place have to force themselves to be analytical. The best way is a combination of the two.

How much of your job is strategy and how much is passion?

You can’t do the job without passion for film. If you don’t love the product – whether its Ferraris, baked beans or Sky Movies – you can’t do a good job selling it. At the same time, it is a business so you have to ensure that the product you are creating allows you to deliver slightly more revenue than the cost of buying the content and marketing it. If not, your business will decline and disappear.
A big part of the job is negotiating contracts with Hollywood film studios.

Are meetings in LA as glamorous as they sound?

I go to LA a lot less than people think I do… Maybe three times a year. A typical day means leaving the hotel in the morning, going to a studio and locking myself in a room for negotiations until lunchtime. Then I’ll drive to another studio in the afternoon and do it all over again. You do that for four days in a row. It could happen anywhere. Obviously there are good parts to it –there are an unbelievable number of good restaurants in LA. And it’s the sort of town where you see film stars all the time. But the bulk of the work is negotiating hard-fought contracts – and the Hollywood film studios have some incredibly good sales people…

What about for filmmakers?  Is a good business head as important as a good film idea?

I think it’s harder to make films than it is to make television. Every 90 minute project you have to start from scratch. There are two important components to every project: creatively you have to have the right vision, story and understanding of how you are going to tell it; the second part is pulling the finances together to get the film made. Any film will be largely successful on the basis of both the creative idea and the ability to drive it as a business.

What advice would you give to a filmmaker just starting out?

It’s important to understand what you really want to do, and have some sense of the stepping stones you want to use to get there. Everyone would love to be a director with storytelling as good as Spielberg’s, get their first gig and make E.T. But that doesn’t happen to most people – most have to serve an apprenticeship.

A degree is helpful, but after that you need to know what side of the industry you want to go into. There are many big name directors today, who started off as special effects people or cinematographers. Ridley Scott started in advertising – making 60 second films. If you are ambitious and talented enough, these routes can lead to doing your own projects on a big scale.

Hollywood blockbusters attract big audiences, and make big bucks. But is there a place for smaller independent films?

There is always going to be a place for indie films, but actually they don’t need to be small. One of the things the film studios can do - because they have a very big infrastructure - is make a small film bigger. Now it has become more difficult for studios to make money on indie films, so they’ve reduced their slate and concentrated on what they know works – big mass-market blockbusters that drive a lot of incremental merchandising revenue. The flip side is that this has created an opportunity for other filmmakers to jump into the gap, and there were more UK releases last year than ever before – over 800 films.

3D – it’s like Marmite – some people love it, others hate it. Has it got a future?

There are films that are made in 3D that perhaps shouldn’t be; but when you see films like Avatar, Life of Pi or Gravity in 3D you think, “How could we not want to continue with this?”  They’re not good films because of 3D, but they are better experiences because of it. And a bad film’s a bad film – it doesn’t matter how many dimensions it’s in…

What kind of films would Sky snap up tomorrow?

There are virtually no family films being made in the UK, and that has a big cinema-going and watch-at-home audience for Sky Movies. Family can be a whole variety of different things – animation, adventure, mystery – and if you’ve got a good story to tell, you don’t have to have a 150 million dollar budget to make it…




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