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The only Brit ever to head up a Hollywood studio, award winning producer extraordinaire Lord David Puttnam, exudes quiet authority, wit and intelligence as he delivers two keynote speeches to the film industry - one in Sydney (November 19, 2010) at the screen producers conference, and one on the Gold Coast as President of the International Jury at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (December 2, 2010). Face to face, Lord Puttnam is even more generous with pointers for Australia’s film industry, as Andrew L. Urban discovers.

In a quiet backwater of the expansive Marriott Hotel on the Gold Coast (Surfers Paradise stops at the limo-littered front entrance), Lord David Puttnam takes a seat in the armchair opposite, looking relaxed and happy. You can tell the latter because he’s wearing a warm smile, despite (and after) being harried and hunted by media keen to take a shot, shoot a clip or fire some questions.

It’s not his status as a working Lord in Britain’s Westminster that attracts the attention, it’s his stature as one of the Western world’s most articulate, intelligent and well educated carriers of filmmaking wisdom.

He jokes about his turbulent tenure as Chair and CEO of Columbia Pictures (1986 – 88); he was the first Brit to head up a Hollywood studio – and given the experience, will probably remain the only one ever to do so.

It’s been there done that in indie film production, too, and in industry lobbying in England. That’s where it’s especially apt to draw on his experiences for Australian filmmakers. What advice would he give for a national industry struggling – as is & was Britain’s – with the challenges of relying on Government financial support? 

"as simple and obvious as it is penetrating"

The first point Lord Puttnam makes is as simple and obvious as it is penetrating: speak to Governments with one voice. And that means include not only producers and distributors but exhibitors and everyone else at all connected to the business. 

The second point (although our conversation wasn’t quite so symmetrically conducted) is equally pragmatic: “Ultimately in the UK in the mid 90s we made the argument for the economic value of filmmaking, not the creative value. It’s an industry.”

Thirdly, “to have a successful film industry you have to invest in well resourced infrastructure; this includes funding film schools. It’s a great investment. Look at your own history on that. It’s a great start to establish careers of good filmmakers … even if they go offshore, they’ll come back and bring work with them.”

Crucially, as a fourth point, “you [Governments & industry alike] have to take a holistic approach, not a bit of this and a bit of that. And don’t regard the outlay as merely a cost – consider the outlay as investment.”

A specialist consultant hired by the Government to review and report on the fundamentals of supporting the Australian film industry might have spent 3 months and $500,000 delivering this sort of executive summary. 

"pass the hat and buy Lord Puttnam a decent thank you card"

Perhaps Australia’s film bodies should pass the hat and buy Lord Puttnam a decent thank you card.

Published December 3, 2010

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