Sometimes it is good to step outside of the information echo chamber.
What can we learn from leaders in another profession – one which seeks to balance creative vision with tight budgets; is challenged by new formats, technology and delivery channels; has to balance multiple stakeholders; is threatened by pirated content, and is working to meet the anytime, anywhere demands of end users?
Tessa Ross is the Controller of Film and Drama for Channel 4 and recipient of the 2013 Bafta award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to British Cinema’. Her projects included Slumdog Millionaire, A Field in England, In Bruges and The Selfish Giant. She came to film via theatre and – speaking at the Olive Till Memorial Lecture* – described a ‘drift’ into her current role rather than a firm plan. She commissions films for the Channel with a ‘tiny’ budget of £15 million a year.
Her responsibility is to spend that budget wisely and to help people fulfil their creative vision. Her role requires her to combine creative mentoring, experimentation and risk taking, in depth knowledge of the industry and the people within it, team development and creative matchmaking – and financial and business acumen.
“I think you’re brilliant. What can I do to help you?”
For Ross, talent rather than the medium is her objective. The vast majority of projects brought to her will not be made and Channel 4 may not be the right home for everyone’s idea. But for those that she does work with, her focus is on helping them fulfil their creative vision. This requires tenacity and sometimes a long-term commitment (One of her recent films, Under the Skin, took 13 years to make it from script to screen).
Channel 4’s remit encourages eclectic storytelling and experimentation. The recent ‘magic mushroom/civil war’ film A Field in England was the result of an experimental masterclass in making a low budget feature film. It was released simultaneously on multiple platforms.
Ross works with – and helps to develop – creative talent and her role requires a wide-ranging skill set. Many members of the audience, the majority of them film students, expressed their interest in working with Channel 4 – and her. And who wouldn’t want a mentor like that?!
*The Olive Till Memorial Debate and Bursary are presented by Stewart Till CBE, CEO Icon Entertainment and Deputy Chair Skillset, in memory of his mother at Goldsmiths, University of London’. Previous speakers have included Danny Boyle and Tim Bevan.
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