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Industry Insights: Tara Barnett

Currently Sales Manager at Twentieth Century Fox, Tara covers Theatrical Sales across a wide variety of clients in Exhibition. Tara previously worked in the Sales team at Momentum Pictures, and since joining the film industry in 2008 has worked on over 230 films, spanning arthouse breakout hits (BIRDMAN, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL), larger blockbusters (THE WOMAN IN BLACK, GONE GIRL) and record-breaking successes (THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, THE KING’S SPEECH).

Why do you think you are a Sales Manager at 20th Century Fox?

Watching films, understanding the box office, and negotiating how they fit together is my passion. No matter how much there may be an audience for a film, they need to be able to see it! And of course, the splendour of big screen cinema is now more than ever the most impressive way to experience a film. It’s very rewarding to be part of delivering that cinematic experience and maximising the audience it reaches, and being at 20th Century Fox has given me the great privilege of working on an unrivalled slate of incredibly diverse content: this week alone I’ve worked on foreign language films, Oscar winners, big movie blockbusters and a kids film…!

What’s your elevator pitch to describe the kind of films and/or filmmakers you like working with the most?

Professionals, who put the work in. Film is a labour of love for all those involved, and no film’s journey is ever straightforward or easy, but working with experienced people who care about what we’re all doing is very important.

What is it about such material or teams that you find the most inspiring?

It’s hard to be vulnerable and pour everything in to what could be catastrophic failure, sometimes again and again, but every film deserves its best chance at success and it’s inspiring to see those who follow through with that and learn from misjudgements: those are the people you can rely on.

If forced to give one tip to new people coming through what would it be?

Read the trades. We’re part of a global business and that’s very often the first source of information about the key companies and players that no matter where you work or what you are doing, you need to know about.

And what pitfall would you say is essential to avoid in your sector when starting out?

Don’t just network; make friends. People who work in film are by nature sociable and outgoing: the sector is forged on relationships, and there are lots of events and opportunities to meet new people, but you have to be there to make it happen. The support and advice you will gain in your career from these people will be absolutely invaluable in the future.

Tell us about the latest film / exhibition / book / public figure / article to have inspired you?

My grandmother is currently half way up the coast of Norway, travelling by boat to the Arctic Circle – for the second time. Having spent over 60 years working as an operating theatre nurse, her hard work, resilience, and good advice continue to astound and inspire me, and I count myself very lucky to have female role models like her in my life.

What frustrates you about what you do?

The industry relies on those who are experts in their field, but there’s a tendency for this to mean we don’t get the opportunity to learn from different areas of the business because we are so focussed on becoming specialists. With most work nowadays conducted over email, it’s very difficult to gain any insight into what other people do on a daily basis even if you work in the same office, let alone across the industry on the other side of the globe.

How do you overcome this?

By getting the conversation started, and keeping it going. I am a bit obsessive when it comes to telling others what Theatrical Sales is all about (I have a whole presentation on it) as I think it’s important not just to share the basics of what we all do, but the details of how that affects each part of the business and why. We’re all part of a very long value chain and cannot afford to be unfamiliar with every part of it, especially now that the industry models are changing so rapidly.

Do you believe in the ‘female gaze’ and what does that mean to you?

On the one hand, the female gaze is context and as such is undeniable, but on the other it doesn’t necessarily find representation in any  work made by a woman, just as the male gaze is not inherently found in every film directed by a man. The male gaze is so ubiquitous in film to the extent of most finding it tiresome and boring, so the female gaze theory, especially when it extends beyond authorship and flips the object/subject relationship, is where it really gets interesting.

Jill Soloway’s masterclass keynote from TIFF a couple of years ago was a brilliant dissection of the female gaze, examining all its definitions and why its place in culture is so important. As she points out, there is so little in our cultural bank of storytelling from a female perspective that parity seems a long way off – I would’ve loved to have seen how her suggestion of pausing the output of men until we are on equal footing was received by the crowd!

Parting shot:Please tell us what you are excited about as regards the film industry and the next 5 years and why.

I’m excited and terrified in equal measures by the democratisation of filmmaking and distribution, and the massive increase in consumer choice. In some ways it’s easier than ever to make and distribute a film thanks to cheaper equipment and the advent of digital, but we’ve seen an increase of nearly double the films being released theatrically in the UK over the last ten years and although an expanding market is always a positive, the increase in competition puts a questionably unsustainable strain on the risks involved with traditional theatrical release models as they stand.

With the explosion of opportunities to access film that audiences now have both inside and outside the movie theatre there’s still an unsteadiness on price points, which can be confusing to consumers when ultimately valuing the worth of content, but we’re not the only industry to be affected by that.

I think overall the industry has to remain flexible, open, and transparent with figures to enable the right business model choice for the right film to be made, and I remain cautiously optimistic that in doing so the business of film can continue to evolve, grow and ultimately flourish.


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