I first heard Rowan Woods the week she was a guest speaker on the weekly film podcast Little White Lies. Her eloquence and ease speaking about film was evident and, after exchanging a few messages, we realised we had both been film editors for the University of Manchester’s student paper The Mancunion, then called Student Direct. Her passion and dedication have resulted in an already vast knowledge of what it’s like to work behind the scenes for film and film-related events, and has taken it upon herself to work hard at creating exciting opportunities during her career. Now a freelance Curator and Panel Moderator for BAFTA, Underwire, or the EIFF just to name a few, but also a Development and Acquisitions Consultant, Woods is just getting started.
Interview by Eloïse Wright
Could you explain what your past position as Development Executive for BBC Films entailed?
I recently left the BBC to go freelance, but while I was there I worked as a Development Executive at the feature filmmaking arm of the BBC. Each year a portion of the license fee goes towards investing in British independent filmmaking (recent projects backed by BBC Films include Apostasy, Yardie, The Children Act, The Happy Prince and Lady Macbeth) and my job was to assess projects that were submitted for funding, write detailed editorial notes on scripts and films in post-production and proactively seek out new writing and directing talent. It’s a little bit like being a literary editor. I got to work with some of the best international filmmakers, which was a real privilege.
As a Programmer and Event Producer for Misc. Films, could you talk to us a bit about your role there?
Alongside my role at BBC Films I ran a programming collective called Misc. Films, which I set up with a friend of mine. We put on screenings of films at venues across London and also across the UK, including at HOME in Manchester. Together we decide which films we want to screen, secure cinema partners and negotiate terms with whoever owns the rights to that particular title. We also handle all the marketing and social media and then introduce the screenings or host Q&As on the night. We sometimes get the filmmakers along too, and have had Barry Jenkins and Jane Campion attend our screenings in the past. It’s a lot of work, but it’s something we both enjoy and we’ve gained so much valuable experience through doing it. I’m a big fan of creating your own opportunities rather than waiting for vacancies to arise.
What is the greatest professional challenge you have ever faced? How did you overcome it?
Ha, good question! If I’m being specific I’d probably say that while I was producing interviews for one of the BBC’s biggest film programmes (the Kermode & Mayo Film Review on 5 Live) we had a Steve Spielberg interview cancelled at the last minute because he was stuck in Paris due to snow. At 6pm on a Friday night I managed to track down a freelancer in Paris who was able to go to his hotel and record his end of the interview (which we then did over the phone) so that we could stitch the questions and answers together for broadcast and thus save the interview. In broader terms, I’d say one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced is a lack of confidence at the start of my career, and there are times when I wish perhaps I’d been bolder, but I’m making up for that now!
How did you get involved in film journalism?
I attended a meeting for the student paper (Student Direct, as it was called then) during Fresher’s Week and immediately started writing for the music and film sections. I did this for the whole of my first year and then was made Film Editor in my second year.
As a former film section editor for The Mancunion yourself, what are your fondest memories from that time?
I had a brilliant time working on the paper and made so many friends who are now all working across many different areas of the media – at the BBC, the Telegraph, Digital Spy etc. Some of my fondest memories are of campaigning outside the student union during student elections, and press day was always fun.
What advice would you pass on to aspiring film journalists?
Remember to turn your Dictaphone on when doing interviews! This is something I learnt the hard (and embarrassing) way as a student journalist… You should also watch as much cinema as you can, develop your twitter presence, start a blog or podcast or offer to write for online publications, be passionate, be bold and network, network, network!
What did you focus on in your Film Studies MA? Or in other words, what were your main areas of interest?
I’ve always been interested in film and gender, so this is something I focused on during my MA. For my thesis I wrote about the treatment of masculinity, heterosexuality and bromance in the Hangover movies! I also wrote about baseball movies, film noir and the work of Claire Denis.
Do you feel there are elements to working within the film industry that are overlooked by the media?
It’s not half as glamorous as it looks! And many people do it for love rather than big pay cheques.
What’s your opinion on Netflix Originals not being eligible for Academy Awards unless they have a cinema release?
I think we’re at a moment when the definitions of ‘film’ and ‘cinema’ are being disrupted in a really interesting (and potentially terrifying) way. For the moment the industry is just about managing to cling on to the idea that films are things that you see in the cinema, but I’m honestly not sure how long this traditional definition will hold. I’m a bit of a purist, so I do think that films should have a theatrical release if they want to be part of the awards conversation, and this is as much about preserving the health of the cinema industry as anything else.
What drives you?
I’m pretty ambitious so to a certain extent I guess you could say I’m driven by the desire to succeed in a fairly conventional sense – to do well, get promoted etc. But I’m also driven by a deep love of cinema and by the sense that as a programmer, or as an Executive at the BBC, I might be able to make a difference to the kinds of films that reach audiences. I’m particularly passionate about the need to support the work of female filmmakers and stories about women. I’m also lucky enough to be surrounded by a community of friends who all work in film in some form, and seeing your peers succeed can be very emboldening and drive you to take risks or seek out new opportunities for yourself.