Mia Bays is Creative Executive on Microwave, the Film London/BBC micro budget features initiative, and an Oscar-winning film Producer and Marketing Consultant with over 16 years experience at the commercial end of the UK and European film business, in distribution, marketing and sales, and latterly financing and production.
Mia Bays photographed at the Midnight Sun Film Festival
Mia's first film, Martin McDonagh's Six Shooter, won the Academy Award in 2006 for Best Live Action Short, BIFA for Best Short, was nominated for BAFTA for best short in 2005 and collected eight other international awards. Her first feature, Scott Walker – 30 Century Man was named by Time Out London as one of the' Best Music Films Ever Made'.
She was previously Head of Marketing and Distribution for UK Lottery Film franchise The Film Consortium, where she oversaw the UK releases of films such as 24 Hour Party People and Hideous Kinky.
What’s your connection to the British Council?
I’ve worked with the film department as a distributor, sales agent and filmmaker for some years, as recipient of their help and support.
Your current project/s?
For Film London Microwave (for which I’m the Creative Producer), it’s Ill Manors which is premiering in Toronto, our first film at the festival, and we also have Strawberry Fields on release and doing festivals also, and Borrowed Time. For me personally, I’m currently in the midst of filming a documentary feature about The Backstreet Boys, and next year will produce (with Charles Steel) GBH, directed by Pete Travis (DREDD) from a script by Jay Basu. Both are a world away from microbudgets – I like to live on either pole, so to speak! Microbudgets or bigger budgets – that’s my ideal workspace.
What/who originally turned you onto film?
My mum took me to the cinema religiously since I was old enough to walk, every week we’d see something – I have strong memories of seeing Fame, Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Star Wars - and them having a huge impact. I didn’t ever think it was a career for me growing up. I didn’t know anyone who worked in film – I think I probably imagined they were made in a dream factory. Then when I was 19 and in between my A Levels and University, I decided to look for a job for a year. I answered the one ad in The Guardian that was film related, for a PA to an MD of a film distribution company – I didn’t even know what that was, but it just said film and I thought I’d go for it. And against the odds I got it.
What has been your career high so far?
Winning an Oscar for the first film I produced was definitely one of them, and at the same time being connected strongly to Tsotsi, which the same year won Best Foreign Language – that was incredible. And then my first feature film, Scott Walker 30 Century Man, making a mark and getting me a BAFTA nomination for Best Debut. That was great in terms of peer recognition but not when I was happiest as it was also quite stressful – ‘success has many fathers and failure has none’ is the key point I learnt in this process! In terms of personal happiness, I have loved being a key part of the success of films such as Shifty, One Mile Away, Tsotsi, and 24 Hour Party People.
What was your first job in the film industry?
It was as PA to the M.D (Romaine Hart) of Mainline Pictures, one of the top indie arthouse distributors and cinema owners at the time (early 1990s). They owned what is now the Everyman Haverstock Hill and The Green in Islington, and I got to work on films with John Sayles, Alain Resnais and Ang Lee, and that was it for me – I got bitten by the cinema bug. I was only supposed to get a job for a year before going to University but I loved it so much I didn’t go to University and I stuck with film ever since. 21 years this year. And the rest, as they say, is history.
If I knew then what I know now…
I didn’t get into production until I’d been in film (in distribution, marketing and sales) for 13 years, so I had quite a lot of experience in a key part of the field before I became a filmmaker. If I could talk to my younger self, I’m not sure I’d advise myself to do anything different actually, because I’ve learnt as much from mistakes (sometimes my own, sometimes others) as I have from when things have gone to plan. I’d tell that younger self to keep taking risks and to hold her nerve. What I’d say to anyone starting now is exactly that – take risks, push yourself creatively, watch films, be alert, pay attention to what audiences are and aren’t watching, and LEARN YOUR CRAFT. That’s very important. It’s a business and a craft.
What is your favourite British film? Why?
A Matter of Life and Death is one I love. I just love Powell and Pressburger. I think it does everything a great film should – it’s artistically brave, it’s poignant, it’s about big themes (you don’t get bigger than life or death, let’s face it) and it’s so compelling to watch. Plus it stands the test of time – it’s as wonderful to watch now as it must have been at the time of making.
If you could have directed/been involved with any film ever made, which one would it be? Why?
I’d have loved to have been around in the 40s and 50s in Hollywood - to have worked on a Billy Wilder film – like The Apartment for instance. To sit at the master's knee so to speak and watch him and his team work. That film is so powerful and never ceases to engage me no matter how many times I watch it, and that’s something I aspire to, making a film that achieves this. Also Visconti - The Leopard or 1900 - I’d like to have been Burt Lancaster’s wardrobe mistress on these.
What’s the first film you remember seeing? What was so memorable about it?
Grease is the first film I remember seeing at the cinema. I’m sure I watched films on TV before this, but I have such a clear memory of this film, it being so dynamic and grown up and ‘wow’. I think that was the first time I was struck by how powerful the medium was. Plus I remember being little, I was 6, and some girls in the row in front got up and danced at one of the numbers, and they blocked our view, and I remember my mum getting enervated about it, and telling them to sit down. I think I was very proud of her in that moment. I didn’t want to miss a frame of it.
What’s your favourite line or scene from a film? Why?
I love Bogart and Bacall in To Have and Have Not – the ‘you know how to whistle don’t you Steve?’ scene. It was her first film and I’m sure you can see them falling in love on screen for real and that’s a very powerful sight, these two screen icons to be…. And it’s a a terrific movie, with everyone at the height of their powers (it’s Hawks, and based on a Hemingway novel).
Favourite screen kiss? Why?
From Here to Eternity - Burt L and Deborah Kerr. Awesome. So sexily cinematic and beautifully played.
Who’s your favourite screen hero and/or villain? Why?
Villains are more interesting. I love The Prowler by Joseph Losey, the villain is so layered and interesting, and it just keeps twisting and turning. I saw it at the BFI a couple of years ago when they had a Losey season and it blew me away. He’s played by Van Heflin.
Who would play you in the film about your life? Why?
Deborah Kerr is someone I love, she had a lot more range than you’d think. She’d make me seem much classier and posher than I am, but that’ s cinematic license….