Alex Marshall is one of these cases of mega plus graduates who, after having completed the Master and achieved great things in their careers, come back to the Media Business School flagship as expert or tutor.
Alex attended the 1999 edition of the European Master in Audiovisual Management together with other students that, years later, have become a reference in the Media industry such as Philipp Kreuzer, Johannes Rexin, Marta Baldó, Alberto Marini or Pedro Uriol.
Awards to films in which Alex has been involved include two BAFTAS (Four Lions and This is England), a Sundance jury prize (Tyrannosaur) and a President’s Award in Critics Week in Cannes (Snowtown).
MBS: Alex, when we have a look to the achievements of 1999 mega plus graduates we find a long list of success stories like yours. What do you think made 1999 such a good mega plus “vintage year”?
Alex: A mixture of good luck and great people. The same mixture that is the difference between success and failure in this industry. It was a really exciting time- film was on one of its many upswings and we just happened to be there. But also, the school had been running for a few years, built a reputation and attracted good people.MBS had started to really focus not only on the amazing experts but on ensuring that the cohort worked and played together.
Since then most of us have kept in touch and we keep on sharing information and, let’s face it, we are all quite competitive so we try and outdo each other…
MBS: 15 years have passed since you decided to invest a summer in Ronda and to complete mega plus. Was it a difficult decision? Do you remember what made you take this step?
Alex: For me the decision was simple. I was coming into film from another industry and I needed to shortcut into this world. I needed a network and I needed knowledge and I needed it fast. My choice was to go and knock on doors, work my way up from the bottom or just use the clout of the MBS to hammer down the doors. Everything I do now is thanks to sending that one email to the school to see if there was any chance….
MBS: Looking backwards, how has mega plus helped you in your career?
Alex: I still apply lessons learned on a daily basis. Most often the things I least expected to be useful- the lessons on pitching and management for example. Personally, I use less of the great technical information on a day to day basis- but only because my area of work does not require me to be in depth on things like scripts. But still, what I learned from great teachers like Bobette Buster is embedded in me. When I sit alongside the creatives, I understand their language and that is crucial for me. You don’t learn to be fluent but you learn enough of finance, development, production and exploitation to get by. And of course, there is the network.
You get 3 networks for the price of 1 at the Mega. First, the experts and the tutors. These people all come to Ronda to teach because they love doing it. They are all open to meeting the participant and having an ongoing professional relationship with them. Many of these people are at the top of their game- people you would never normally get to meet but here they are- coming to you! Taking a beer with these people in Ronda is the most relaxed way of meeting them and unparalleled access to their minds and experience.
Second, there is your cohort- your contemporaries, the people you will grow with, your friends in many countries. I guarantee some long term friends and colleagues will be met.
And finally the Mega family. Just about everyone who has spent the summer in Ronda has a shared experience with you. There are hundreds of former participants spread across the world and if you bump into them they are normally happy to help out with information and support- or at the very least to reminisce about their days in Ronda.
MBS: You have been collaborating with mega plus on a regular basis for 10 years now. How does it feel to come back as an expert / tutor?
Alex: For me, every year is refreshing. I love working with the new participants. The enthusiasm is contagious and that is a great thing. I can’t deny I am getting a bit older and more settled in my ways- so meeting the participants informs me about how the business is changing at the grass roots level. It helps to stop me getting stale and keeps me on my toes. Because the MBS has helped my career so much, it is great for me to be able to put something back too.
MBS: How does the tutorial system work and what does it provide to participants?
Alex: Each tutor has their own style and way of working. My aim is to be a sounding board- I want the participants to throw the ideas out at me and then I try my hardest to pull them to pieces. At this level, you should not be looking for a ‘teacher-student’ relationship. This should be a robust debate. I am always happy to have my assumptions challenged. I have probably read close to 100 project proposals, so I can help the participants to identify the weaknesses and strengths and to build on what they have. It is quite relaxed but I expect people to work hard- the harder you work in preparation for the tutorials, the harder the tutors work for you. We only get an hour or so face to face each time, so make the best use of it you can. If you don’t have questions, we sit in silence.
MBS: Have the participants profile and needs changed a lot since you started collaborating with the Media Business School back in 2003?
Alex: In many ways no- everyone needs help with cashflows and numbers! That remains a constant. The big change is the economy. It is tough out there and that means that the way projects are put together is a bit different. Budgets are more polarised on film, some countries are strong on TV, some are not.
Back in ’03, the way of putting things together was similar throughout most of Europe. Local idiosyncrasies but all manageable. Now it is more specific and there is more polarisation of budgets. This can make it feel more daunting but to me that just makes it so much more important that you have a great network of contacts to make sure that you don’t miss any possibilities for getting things made.
The profile of the participants is always varied- it is one of the things that makes the course so successful- I think the one change is probably that in years past, most of the participants were purely film focussed but now the types of content people are interested in has become much more diverse.
MBS: You have been tutor of over 40 participants. How would you describe the relationship that builds between a tutor and his student?
Alex: To me, the participants are not ‘students’ – they are my future colleagues. So from day 1 I treat them as this. I was walking down a street in London yesterday and bumped into Vivien, one of my former participants and now doing great things at the BFI here in London. Just seeing her put a big smile on my face- just like it does when I get to Cannes or Berlin and see everyone there- busy getting things done but always ready for a beer and a chat.
Many of the people I have worked with are good friends now. I feel quite proud of the ‘Megas’ as I see them progressing through their careers. Every day at Warp, I have the pleasure of working with Peter who works alongside me on business affairs. He came here as an intern and found a full time job- for me it was a no-brainer to take him on as I knew him through the Mega and knew that he had the attributes and training that would be perfect for us. I consider some of the gang from ’99 to be amongst my closest friends. A Mega is for life, not just for Christmas (only the Brits are going to understand that…)
MBS: What do you expect from mega plus 2014?
Alex: Blood, sweat and tears (and a few laughs too).
MBS: Do you have any tips to share with students in order for them to get the most out of the master and more specifically out of the tutorials?
Alex: Come with an open mind. This is not a course – it is privileged access to the heart of the industry.