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Lord Puttnam has swapped the silver screen for an iPad.
The Oscar-winning British film producer, whose credits include Chariots of Fire, The Killing Fields and Bugsy Malone, has a new weekly routine, teaching film-making skills via a high-speed broadband connection from his home in rural Ireland. And he clearly loves his second career.
“I get up in the morning, cross my courtyard and I am in Brisbane, talking to a group of around 30 interested masters students,” he boasts, swiping through his tablet device for the seminar notes he uses to teach postgraduate studies at universities in Australia, the UK, Ireland and Singapore.
“That is nirvana, from a lecturing point of view. I am not on a plane, I am not getting sweaty and I am not jet-lagged.”
We have met in the London headquarters of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta), of which Lord Puttnam is a member, for the launch of the latest venture for his digital teaching business, Atticus Education.
It has teamed up with the UK’s Ashridge Business School and Creative Skillset, an industry training body, to create an executive MBA specifically for the creative industries, providing the entrepreneurial skills Lord Puttnam believes the sector lacks.
“As this business gets more and more complex, with an increasing number of platforms, the job of the film-maker has widened,” Lord Puttnam says. “The same person can be making a television drama one week, a feature film the next, and then a TV commercial.
“What is missing from the equation, or has been missing . . . are the entrepreneurs that grasp the whole picture.”
The two-year EMBA programme will be delivered, like Lord Puttnam’s teaching, predominantly online, with a group study trip. The intention is to get students talking about the potential of recent advances that appear to have a future, such as virtual reality, Lord Puttnam notes.
“We want to ask students the important questions about these markets,” he says. “What will that market look like? How will it monetise itself? Who are going to be the big players, or is it going to be one of those classic situations where it’s going to be the small start-up that actually captures the market because the big players are too slow to move, or see it as a threat rather than as an opportunity, which is classically what happens?”
Lord Puttnam turns 75 this year, but only occasionally slips into the sort of technology rage expected of people of his age, cursing in frustration when the sound on a video clip from his teaching material fails. He also rails against the jargon used in conversations about digital delivery of business education.
“I have a problem with [the word] online, because somehow it conjures images of the way the Open University was delivered five years ago through video lectures,” he says.
“My teaching is absolutely interactive. I can see the students all the time. They are in studios. In two cases they are actually in quite large auditoria.
“I have got my computer, I have created my two-hour seminar with all the slides and clips and everything else I need. I know what’s coming up next, so I talk, illustrate, talk, question, Q&A, illustrate, talk, question. For two hours.”
He admits that many of his students were not even born when his most famous feature films were released.
“The faculty of the universities I work with are pretty good at kind of pumping up the volume and saying this is the man behind Chariots of Fire, blah, blah, blah, but I think those are kind of remote echoes for most of my students.
“I can see some slightly befuddled faces, especially when I take them right the way back to the beginnings. There is a tendency at film schools to think that the cinema started either with Jean-Luc Godard or Steven Spielberg.
“The truth is it started in silent cinema, and there’s very interesting reasons why it benefited from being silent, and I try and explain that.”
I ask Lord Puttnam whether he thinks that being a film-maker helps him in the classroom and whether his peers could teach anything to business school professors trying to teach virtually.
“My belief is that every single school teacher ought to see themselves as content creators, but that sometimes means using other people’s material,” he says, admitting that he plays other people’s films in his lectures.
“One of the struggles I have been having for quite a while now, is trying to make sure that teachers in classrooms don’t get intimidated by copyright legislation, which allows them to believe that they cannot do it.
“Whatever tool you can lay your hands on that makes you a better teacher, and makes a subject more vivid and memorable, you have an obligation, I think, to use it. That’s enough to get some copyright owners — smoke coming out of their ears — but I really passionately believe that.”