Published on: 28 May 2020 in Directors UK
An interview with Directors UK CEO Andy Harrower
Reading time: 9 minutes and 11 seconds
We get to know the new Directors UK CEO, Andy Harrower.
Formerly Director of Licensing at PRS for music, one of the largest collecting societies in the world, Andy joined Directors UK at the beginning of May.
Andy brings with him a wealth of experience in the field of rights management, and is now ready to take up the fight for directors during this extremely unpredictable time for our industry.
We spoke to Andy about his career, his plans for Directors UK, and — of course — what he’s been watching. Read our interview with Andy Harrower below.
What made you want to apply for the job at Directors UK?
I’d heard that Andrew Chowns was retiring, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for me. I first became aware of Directors UK when Andrew took over as CEO around ten years ago, and I’ve watched it evolve from being primarily a collecting society, to a full membership organisation and campaigning body sat at the heart of the TV and film industry. The opportunity to build upon Andrew’s work as the industry goes into another decade of massive change (even before COVID-19 hit us) is very exciting.
Having spent most of my career at PRS for Music, the one thing I wanted to continue doing was fighting for creators and giving a voice to people whose contribution to our culture and the UK’s creative economy isn’t always recognised. Directors UK definitely ticks all the boxes there.
Everyone loves watching film and television, but most people have very little understanding of what the director does. And while, as viewers, we shouldn’t have to understand the craft of direction in order to enjoy, be moved or educated by a television programme or a film, I think this lack of understanding can work against directors. That’s why they need Directors UK to champion their needs.
Can you tell us a bit about your working background?
I left university in the early 1990s with a music degree and an ambition to find some success as a musician and songwriter. After a series of temp jobs (including a few days in the post-room at the British Board of Film Classification) a position came up at PRS, the collecting society for songwriters, composers and music publishers. That was a six-month contract, but I ended up staying for nearly 30 years. I stayed because I really believed in what PRS stood for, and what it does to make a difference to its members’ lives. During that time, I worked all over the company in many different roles. Most recently, as Director of Licensing, I was responsible for collecting over £250m a year for PRS’s members and for leading negotiations with the major UK broadcasters, Netflix, Amazon Prime and others.
How do you think your time at PRS might shape your approach to working at Directors UK?
Firstly, my overall approach: I like people and I’m inquisitive by nature, so I’ll be asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of listening – that’s how I’ll get to the know the business over the coming months and, most importantly, learn what our members want from Directors UK.
One thing I think I did well at PRS was building relationships and trust with the people I was negotiating against. That didn’t stop us having tough and often protracted negotiations, but it did create an incentive for getting deals done. I’ve been to the Copyright Tribunal once – it was a largely positive experience and the Tribunal found in PRS’s favour – but it’s not generally how I like to work.
From what I’ve seen in my first few weeks at Directors UK, building trust and collaborating with others in the film and TV industry – both in the UK and internationally – is going to be key to our success over the next decade. This is particularly true now as we face the huge challenge of getting film and television production up and running again. Directors UK has a critical role to play in this and I will be championing our members’ needs while working constructively with other partners in the industry. That’s not always easy, but my background in commercial negotiations for PRS has been a good foundation for this. Most of the time I’ve been able to navigate through some very tricky issues and get deals done without making significant concessions for the people I’m representing.
What are your priorities for Directors UK and its members?
Right now, our biggest priority is keeping our distributions to members going. As lockdown started, we were quick to move everyone over to homeworking so that payments to members weren’t impacted. For many members, currently out of work, this could be their only source of income, so it is critical that there is no disruption. Obviously, the current production shutdown is likely to have a knock-on impact on distributions down the line. We are looking at this so that as much as possible, we can plan ahead and allow members to do the same.
The other focus in my first few weeks has been in the cross-industry groups developing guidelines to allow television and film production to resume in a way that is safe for all involved. This is work in progress and the initial guidelines are broad and high level. In the weeks and months ahead, there’s a lot more to do to make this work at individual production level, and it is critical that directors are involved in this process.
In the longer term, I’m looking at how I can grow the royalties that Directors UK collects for members. Netflix, Amazon, YouTube as well as TV broadcasters not covered by the UK Rights Agreement – they all make use of our members’ work and we need to be putting deals in place.
Also, over the coming months, whether by Zoom or, hopefully at some point, in person, I want to speak to as many Directors UK members as I can. I want to understand what’s working for them and where we can do better, and the issues we should be focusing on where we can really make a difference.
What do you think are the main challenges facing the industry at the moment?
The UK television and film industry is something we should be proud to be a part of. The quality of the programming we produce is recognised throughout the world and the £5 billion generated in exports last year is a demonstration of this. But the pandemic has exposed an underlying fragility in the industry. We have an extremely skilled workforce, most of whom are employed on a freelance basis. The only financial security they have comes from whatever job they are currently employed on. Years of growth have largely obscured how precarious an existence this can be, but we are seeing it now with the production shutdown and the gaps in the Government’s support schemes that many freelancers are falling through. There is a real risk that we will lose many from this skilled workforce – people will be forced to find other ways of making a living – and that could be hugely damaging for the industry as it tries to get production up and running again. That’s why we have been lobbying the Treasury over the last two months to make changes to its support packages so that freelancers can get similar levels of help to full-time employees.
What do you think is the most pressing issue for directors at the moment?
What’s becoming clear to me is that a director’s life isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. I was shocked to read the Film and TV Charity’s findings that nearly 9 out of 10 people working in the industry have experienced a mental health problem at some point. It’s important that as we focus on getting production up and running again, we don’t lose sight of the issues that Directors UK has been campaigning on in recent years including: fair pay, safer working conditions, tackling bullying and harassment, addressing gender inequality and the under-representation of black, Asian and ethnic minority directors across the UK film and television industry. We need to continue to address all of these issues. They are all pressing.
What’s your proudest achievement?
Getting this job.
What’s your favourite film?
A Matter of Life and Death, directed by Powell and Pressburger.
What’s your favourite TV show?
So hard to narrow it down to one, but recent standout TV for me includes Better Call Saul, This Country and Upright. Have also enjoyed long spells of watching Coronation Street over the years, though I have less time to do so these days.
What are your hobbies/interests away from the industry?
Playing guitar, running, cinema and watching TV (it’s great to be in a job where putting that as a hobby doesn’t count against me!).
What’s it been like starting this role at this unique time?
I’m loving it. Every day is full on but it’s definitely not boring. There’s a lot to be done but I have the support of an experienced team who know what they’re doing. I was in the office for a couple of mornings just before lockdown, so I managed to meet nearly everyone at Directors UK. Otherwise, like everyone else, I’ve quickly got used to the grid of faces on my screen that constitutes meeting people these days.
Upon joining Directors UK, Andy recorded an introductory video for members. You can watch that video here.