Nik Powell Speaks out on Inclusivity in the Film and Television Industry
Meet Nik Powell, co-founder of Virgin in the late 1960’s and producer of more than 45 Feature films including Oscar and Bafta winning films like the Crying Game. He is currently Director of the UK National Film and Television School. While working in collaboration with The British Council, Nik Powell is also an advocate for making the film and television industries more inclusive.
Nik was recently in Singapore to talk about the challenges of making the film and tv industries properly inclusive in a world that is becoming less and less inclusive. He will specifically look at what is convergence and how it both helps and hinders inclusiveness’.
#UNCOVERED – A moment with Nik Powell in Singapore
COVERED: So Nik, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your past experiences ?
Nik: I’m 1 of 5 children and I’m quite old and I left school at 16 and joined up with my best friend, Richard Branson. We lived in the same village, and we started a magazine called ‘Student’. This then led to starting a record mail order, like Amazon, and that led in turn to starting some record shops.
Then I was drawn into film and started out in film in video shops and wanted distribute videos. However, in order to get the rights to the shows and put them on video, I had to buy the cinema rights. So I had the cinema rights and had to start a cinema distribution company. This, I did with my partner Stephen Woolley, who is one of the most successful producers in the UK now. We started out together and spent more than 10 years as partners. Our first film was called Evil Dead, which was directed by Sam Raimi, now a huge Hollywood director doing massive films like Spiderman. But then he was 19 years old.
COVERED: You’re here in Singapore today to discuss inclusiveness in the film and TV industry – how would you define “inclusiveness”?
Nik: Inclusiveness is the opposite to excluded. So you have communities of people in any population, and they constitute a certain percentage of the population. However, they don’t have the same percentage of actors and bosses et cetera. Lack of inclusion could be due to lack of education, lack of job, lack of money. So inclusiveness really means to get one’s industry to be composed roughly the same as the society in which we live in terms of the percentage of people doing different jobs.
COVERED: And I understand from your talks, you’re focusing on the aspect called convergence?
Nik: I decided that it would be good to look at diversity, inclusiveness, through the prism of convergence. Because you’ve got a society where things are converting, just in simple terms, what iPhones now do used to be 2-3 different things. So there’s a convergence in technology, and a convergence in culture, politics, social behaviour etc. That you can’t talk about one without talking about the others.
That can really help because convergence can help talk about different groups of people. For example, old people- convergence can really help acclimatising themselves to knowledge. Technology is fantastic because they can do things from ordering groceries to playing bridge with their friends. They can do everything online so they can have fuller, less lonely lives, once their families have died or moved away. So convergence is a good solution.
Learning how to help
COVERED: What are some of the ways one could help to improve inclusiveness in the film and television industry?
Nik: There are many things – not just one or two – one can do to improve inclusiveness in film and tv. Here are just a few – make inclusiveness a condition of access to public funding of films and tv. Make sure Film and tv schools like ourselves at UK National Film and Television school also teach inclusiveness and recruits a diverse student body and specifically provide scholarships to female, BAME and Disabled students; develop role models.
COVERED: When and why did you start being an advocate for inclusiveness in the film industry?
Nik: From very young I think. My heroes and heroines when I was a teenager were American blues and rhythm and blues players like John Lee hooker, Robert Johnson , Fats Domino and many others. Sports, especially, where football was also becoming diverse at least as far as players were concerned as any Arsenal fan of my generation will know! So when I came into the Film and TV business I was frankly surprised at the lack of diversity. I hope that both as a producer and as the director of the NFTS, I have shown a commitment to helping to change that.
COVERED: So whats next for Nik Powell and the film industry?
Nik: I will continue to develop the National Film and TV school as well as some cool projects to produce in 2018. For the film industry in the UK uncertainty due to Brexit. For the global film business, also uncertainty due to the political events of 2016 and those yet to come in 2017