Published on: 28 April 2020 in Directors UK
Andrew Chowns Retires: Friends from across the industry celebrate 10 years of successful leadership
Reading time: 21 minutes and 50 seconds
Throughout his time at Directors UK, Andrew Chowns has worked with leading figures from across the industry to improve conditions for directors, both in the UK and beyond.
As he steps down following a decade as CEO, we hear from those who were there at the very beginning of Directors UK, from our current Board, from directors working across genres, and from the heads of leading creators’ rights organisations that Andrew has worked tirelessly alongside.
Scroll down to read a collection of tributes from friends across the industry.
Paul Greengrass, former President of Directors UK
Andrew has been one of the key architects of Directors UK — his knowledge of the industry, his tenacity in fighting for directors’ rights, and his ability to build a professional organisation have enabled him to bequeath us all the organisation we have today.
It was not always so. Fifteen years ago, directors were poorly represented, fragmented and lacking a professional voice.
Thanks to Charles Sturridge and an energetic new generation of directors, changes were made and a new Board emerged eager to chart a new course.
Undoubtedly the most important of their early decisions was the appointment of Andrew. His patience, his good humour and his indefatigable optimism were crucial assets in the fight. Slowly but surely, he has helped us build an organisation of which we can all be proud.
Bravo Andrew — and enjoy your well-deserved retirement!
Beryl Richards, former Chair of Directors UK
I have many fond memories of working with Andrew during my time as Chair of Directors UK. Andrew was always a wise counsel, more patient than I am in confronting difficult challenges, and a great leader of the talented office team who made our policies and campaigns happen. I think our different strengths worked very well together and we got a lot done in a relatively short period.
One particularly strong memory is when we collaborated on the campaign for better representation for women directors. We discovered through data mining of residuals figures supplied by the broadcasters that the situation was far worse than even we suspected. We first went to discuss this with the broadcasters and indies. It was Andrew’s idea to present them with the figures broken down in great detail and directly relevant to their organisation and output. They could not dispute their source, and quite often they turned white when they realised a problem most had not even noticed. I think we both quite enjoyed their discomfort at the time. It certainly made them extremely aware of the issue in a very real and focussed way. Whilst there is still significant change to be made, that was the start of that change.
Charles Sturridge, former Chair of Directors UK
Dear Andrew, this is not exactly the way I imagined marking your departure from Directors UK after a decade of innovation and leadership, and as parties go there are a few missing ingredients... However it has been a remarkable decade of transformation, which has shown us the power of directors working together with the resources that you were able to put at our disposal.
The lesson we learned many times over was the value of research backed up by passionate creative arguments, the importance of surveys in understanding the challenges directors faced, and the power of campaigns on climate awareness, gender equality and racial diversity that have begun to have an impact on our workplace. Now more than ever, we will need a powerful voice to speak for our industry, and you have given us the experience, the funding and the confidence to face the challenges ahead. Working with you for all those years has been a privilege and a pleasure. Thank you.
Piers Haggard OBE, founder and Chair of the Directors’ and Producers’ Rights Society and former Board member of Directors UK
When I first met Andrew Chowns, he was on the employers’ side, an opponent, albeit a very nice one. It was in 2001, in the wake of the 1999-2000 directors’ rights strike, and Andrew was high up in PACT, the TV employers’ organisation.
In addition to demanding royalties, we had also complained forcefully, and in great detail, about a range of contractual and creative rights: late scripts, prep time, shooting schedules, editing rights, choice of crew, credits, and so on. Sheer fury at these issues through the 1990s had in fact been far more instrumental in bringing 750 directors out on strike than mere cash!
We hadn’t yet worked out our own directors’ TV contract but we had plenty we wanted to say about the terrible contracts we were being forced to sign. Since PACT had one that was used by all the independents, or so they claimed, I decided to start with them. The chap I had to negotiate with was Andrew Chowns.
I was astonished and delighted by how reasonable Andrew seemed: always willing to listen to the director’s point of view, but clear when defending his own side. We met on and off over many months and ended up with something not too bad. We announced it proudly and even the employers seemed to be taking it seriously.
Unfortunately, no one, not even Andrew, had told us that very few independents actually used the standard PMA contract, and the PMA had absolutely no power to police it! So it soon became clear that any concessions I had won were meaningless! It was a sobering lesson. Most of the issues are still problematic today, 20 years later.
However, when we were looking for a new CEO in September 2010, Andrew’s name came up. Charles Sturridge asked me what I thought of him. I was able to say without reserve that Andrew was a nice man and a good negotiator, and so he has proved, guiding Directors UK into the big league with a clear eye and a cool head. Thank you for everything, Andrew. Negotiating with me obviously taught you something!
Susanna White, Vice-Chair of Directors UK
The arrival of Andrew was a hugely important moment in the evolution of Directors UK. I remember the feeling that his appointment signalled a massive leap forwards in the aspirations of the organisation; having someone like him want to take on the job meant a huge amount to all of us on the Board. It signalled that we wanted the world to see us in a new way – as game changers who were up there with the best organisations, not only in the country but on the worldwide stage. We were very lucky to get him.
Not only does Andrew have immense intelligence but he brings with it wisdom, brilliant negotiating skills, diplomacy, modesty and warmth. He is a consummate professional, always serving the needs of the organisation and constantly raising the bar in terms of goals, knowing how to exercise financial prudence but push things just enough that we could achieve the maximum amount.
He has huge personal skills, knowing how to read those we were in negotiation with and predict their likely next moves, as well as managing the lively egos of all the directors on the board with consummate tact. As well as rightly putting the interests of the membership and the Board to the fore, Andrew has always been impressive in how he cares for and looks after the staff, and being very progressive in terms of exploring flexible working methods to ensure equal opportunities in staffing, to ensure that we attracted and kept a very high calibre of personnel.
On a personal level, I have really enjoyed all my time with Andrew. Before I met him, I never saw myself as particularly political or someone who wanted to sit on a Board, but Andrew’s gentle powers of persuasion made me see that effective lobbying and campaigning could result in genuine change in the industry if enough of us got behind it. The results of the incredibly powerful campaigns under Andrew’s stewardship speak for themselves.
Darcia Martin, former Board member of Directors UK
Andrew has taken Directors UK in an exciting direction over the years. He has fantastic ambition for all its members. He has always been supportive of campaigns to improve diversity and ensured it has remained on every agenda — and this hasn’t always been easy as there are constant challenges for directors in the workplace.
James Taylor, Administrator of VIVA La PD
The first time I met Andrew was in a little café around the corner from the Directors UK office for a breakfast meeting. It was one of those days where the rain is relentless and seems to permeate through every fibre of your being. If the weather outside was depressing, perhaps the subject of our meeting matched. At Viva La PD, we’d conducted a survey of our members because we were worried about stories of regular safety breaches on shoots. I’ll never forget Andrew’s reaction; he couldn’t believe the things he was reading. As directors at the so-called coalface, it’s easy to become accustomed to things that should seem abnormal, but don’t. Andrew gave us the perspective we needed, and crucially an outside voice, away from the realities of being on location every day.
I also have to remember that at the time we were just a Facebook group with a couple of hundred PDs in it. Many others in Andrew’s situation could easily have dismissed us, but he took us seriously from the start. Since that first meeting three years ago, Andrew and Directors UK has supported our group whenever we’ve needed it. He even offered up a reception evening at Directors UK HQ!
So to Andrew I say, on behalf of the 1,200 PDs (and counting!) in our group, thanks for your support and also your action. You’ve been there when we’ve needed you, as recently as last week, offering advice on which bigwigs to contact with our report on freelancers affected by the Covid-19 shutdown. All the best with your retirement, and may the sun carry on shining, unlike that day when we first met.
Anna Thomson, Vice-Chair of Directors UK
Andrew is a true leader. I admire his wisdom, tenacity, thoughtfulness, and integrity. Thanks to his leadership, Directors UK has become a key player in the film and television industry. He will be missed by all of us. But his new post, as Chair of the Trustees of the Directors Charitable Foundation, is really exciting. With Andrew at the helm the charity will grow, attaining its goal to make a difference to those facing hardship in the directing sector.
Roger Michell, former Chair of the Directors UK Film and International Committee
I don’t think Directors UK even had a website when Andrew arrived; it was quite chaotic, a collection of voices, not always singing to the same song sheet. A gleam in the eye, which he turned into a vibrant, responsive and comprehensive organisation. Andrew’s gentle manner belies a steely determination. He’s put us on the map. Thank you!
Barbara Hayes, Deputy CEO of ALCS
Andrew and I have been on a long and winding mission to advocate for an unwaivable right to remuneration for audiovisual authors. During this campaign he taught me an awful lot about the poor bargaining position of directors, with some mindboggling examples. Together with the same poor bargaining power of authors, it allowed us to paint a grim picture about the situation for creators to Members of the European Parliament, and get them to acknowledge that something positive needed to be implemented in law to help directors and authors.
We spent some intense days in Strasbourg seeing a number of MEPs, one after the other, where we honed our arguments and we got progressively more creative as the day went on. It made for enjoyable discussions with people we were trying to influence, and some of those we are working with to this day as they’ve moved over from Europe to the UK Parliament.
We didn’t get all the ingredients we wanted for the unwaivable right to remuneration, but we did get a good principle for appropriate and proportionate remuneration in EU law, which we worked for in partnership with our colleagues at the Society of Audiovisual Authors in Brussels. However, Brexit might give us another hurdle to jump over to get something good into UK law. Andrew will have already thought of the answer to this (!) but I’m sure he’ll be keeping an eye on what’s happening while sipping a lovely glass of wine somewhere in France and smiling knowingly!
It’s been a blast Andrew, thank you. Enjoy the retirement.
Cécile Despringre, Executive Director of the SAA
Dear Andrew — I was quite surprised when I learned that you were retiring. I am the kind of person who thinks that people stay as they were when we first met them and does not realise that we all get older as time flies. Your warm disposition and positive tone probably did not help to portray you as someone close to retirement.
You were not at the very beginning of the SAA in 2009/2010, when your predecessor Suzan Dormer played a significant role as the first Chair of the board for a few months and also helped draft the first white paper, but you still arrived very early in the life of the organisation. You have always been supportive of the SAA and an active participant in its activities, bringing Directors UK experience and your skills as a facilitator to the table.
In your role as chair of the SAA working group on the implementation of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, what I appreciated the most is your capacity to make people feel at ease. I do not know if you made a special effort for the non-English natives around the table or if this is your very nature, but your calm and positive temper was really conducive of more participation and better exchanges, even when using video conference at the last meeting!
Today I feel like I am losing a great team player of the SAA. I feel a bit sad, but lucky at the same time that I worked with you. I am sure you will enjoy Dordogne very much!
Iain Softley, former Chair of the Directors UK Film Committee
When those of us on the board of Directors UK set out to search for a new CEO 10 years ago, we set the bar very high. We wanted somebody who could take Directors UK forward to the next stage. More than a collection organisation, our ambitions were for a campaigning group which would provide, amongst other things: membership facilities, networks, events, and become a key and respected presence in the British film industry. Andrew came very highly regarded and soon became the runaway first choice for the role. But none of us could have realised how much Andrew would contribute to the extraordinary growth of Directors UK, and how far he exceeded our ambitious expectations.
As Chair of the Directors UK Film Committee, I worked closely with Andrew on a number of campaigns, in particular the campaign for the Creative Rights Minimum Terms for Feature Film. In the process, I witnessed first-hand Andrew’s passion for supporting the preeminent role of the director and how effective he was in pursuing that goal.
Andrew led the charge, navigating with determination and patience the numerous different stages. After many months of extensive consultations and re-drafting, the Creative Rights Minimum Terms were launched at a news conference with all the major stakeholders in the British film industry declaring their unequivocal support. This, along with the 50:50 women directors’ campaign, were significant milestones for the rights and working experience of British directors.
As far as the “Creative Rights” are concerned, I doubt we would have achieved our goal without somebody of Andrew’s analytical and tactical skill and relentless patience and powers of persuasion. All directors will miss him and owe him a huge debt of thanks. On a personal level, Andrew was always a pleasure to spend time with and I have fond memories of the laughs we had along the way. I join with all our colleagues in wishing you the very best Andrew for your future adventures.
Delyth Thomas, former Vice-Chair of Directors UK
I first realised quite how much Directors UK was evolving when I was chair of the Distribution Committee. Andrew and I went to Buenos Aires to give a presentation to Writers and Directors Worldwide — what an eyeopener. Hair dye, nose jobs and intricate politics notwithstanding, it was when I realised that Directors UK was punching way above its weight on a global stage.
In the airport on the way back, Andrew casually suggested we start a women’s group. I’m in, I said. I spent a day on IMDb pulling together some figures, then at our inaugural meeting asked if we could mine our own data. We’d need to tweak the database, he said casually. Here we are with several authoritative, ground-breaking reports later. It set a standard for TV analysis. Directors UK is now a ‘go to’ for policy makers, politicians, academics, and global organisations. Nice one.
Then there’s Andrew’s sideways/squirly thinking – I’m a big fan of that... Approaching a negotiation with the broadcasters, trepidation on my part when I was a very new Vice-Chair, I watched Andrew in the negotiating room with huge respect. Despite a cracking piece of work from Directors UK, we were rebuffed and left downhearted. Andrew grinned and said – ‘they didn't say no’. He was right, they didn't. We got a better deal.
And I know Directors UK will continue to do better. Andrew leaves a thriving organisation that is well respected in the industry and beyond, a wonderfully talented staff who are a delight to work with, and directors who think ‘thanks’ every time the brown envelope lands on the doorstep.
Thanks Andrew, it’s been a blast. Enjoy the jazz!
Tom Roberts, former Vice-Chair of Directors UK
It’s incredibly difficult to sum up my admiration for Andrew or to thank him for his enormous contribution to improving the lot of directors. The profession owes him a great deal. Andrew took over at a critical time. We were a much smaller organisation, intent on changing the downward spiral of working conditions and status that had gripped us all. Andrew arrived and immediately drove us forward — combining savvy with sensitivity, toughness with astuteness, and a clear vision of the organisation’s future with the skills to take us there. Serving on the Board soon became a pleasure. Success brought more success. I am proud to call him a friend.
Nic Guttridge, Chair of the Directors UK Factual Committee
My first contact with Andrew was as a self-shooting factual director, concerned that diminishing budgets and schedules, together with increasing broadcaster expectations, were creating an environment that was placing filmmakers under potentially dangerous pressure. That was nine years ago. Andrew listened and I found myself feeling instantly supported.
In the intervening years, as I’ve become more deeply involved with the organisation, I have had the pleasure of watching Andrew in action as he works tirelessly to support individual directors and the directing community as a whole. His energy is inspiring. His sense of justice clear. His approach always calm, confident, constructive – but, if needs be, he’s not afraid to take on the fight. The campaigns he’s championed have held a mirror up to many of our industry’s shortcomings, and his suggested solutions have always been rooted in pragmatism and common sense. That many of these shortcomings still pervade is shameful. Together we have battled to change the landscape of the factual genre, to improve working conditions and minimise the risks to safety that first brought me to his office almost a decade ago. It has been a frustrating battle and – with broadcasters and production companies failing to respond with the energy we had hoped for – there is still so much to do. But not once has Andrew doubted the path we must follow or the importance of the cause.
His influence will be greatly missed, but his legacy is a strong organisation with fire in its belly, kindness in its heart, and a continued determination to be the place where directors can be both heard and supported. And I thank him sincerely for that.
Pauline Durand-Vialle, CEO of the Federation of European Film Directors
I met Andrew for the first time right after I started my job at FERA, the Federation of European Film and TV Directors. We had our first chat in a sunny meeting room in Brussels, and he struck me as an attentive listener with a sharp focus and a touch of playfulness – quite a unique combination, which proved incredibly enriching to my French mindset as I got used to listening better. The “apartés” from all the advocacy and policy work at our FERA gatherings across Europe were definitely part of it – wild discussions about movie classics and obscure B-movies while drinking lovely wine somewhere in Zurich, improbable role-play panels to explain to a room full of directors from all over Europe how this new European Directive on copyright we fought tooth and nail for could be negotiated and adopted in national law… In a few years, I learnt a lot from these moments – strategy, structure, how to always try to push things a little bit further. How, sometimes, fighting a bit ugly for the rights of our members can be tremendous fun. Even if the world feels a bit more grim today, I now know that this is the kind of collaboration that lifts us all up – and happily, that’s something you never forget.
Karen Kelly, former Vice-Chair of Directors UK
Andrew Chowns, king of the measured response, you will be sorely missed. Personally, I have enjoyed and learnt so much from you and cannot thank you enough for all the support you have given me over the five years I have known you. You have been an exemplary role model and wonderful CEO of Directors UK.
Dan Zeff, Chair of the Directors UK Distribution Committee
I’ve been lucky enough to work with Andrew on the Board for a number of years, and I’ve seen the extraordinary transformation under his leadership that Directors UK has undergone to become the flourishing, powerful and respected organisation it is today. It’s certainly no overstatement to say that all UK directors owe a huge debt of gratitude to Andrew for his enormous achievements.
But it’s the manner in which he’s led that’s always struck me personally. He’s been a great example to us all – and that’s saying something when you sit with a Board of often very vocal, strong-minded directors – a room full of people very used to being in a leadership role themselves! Andrew commanded respect from us all with ease – fearless and determined when required, but always open, always listening, always balanced and thoughtful – a great source of clarity, rationality and purpose.
As well as being an inspirational role model, Andrew has been a real support to me personally – from when he first convinced me to step up and take on the Distribution Committee Chairmanship (despite my being a relative newcomer to the Board). Subsequently he’s always been generous with his time and support in relation to both my Directors UK roles and wider career. Thank you, Andrew, I feel hugely grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with you over these recent years.
Steve Smith, Chair of Directors UK
Directors UK Chair Steve Smith has also paid tribute to Andrew Chowns, and our many achievements under his leadership. You can read Steve’s tribute to Andrew here.