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Thomas Hoegh, Chief Executive Officer, Arts Alliance Media

Image of an Investor sat in a chair, smoking a cigar, from Skillset's visual guide to filmmaking, 'The Business'.
How did you get involved in the business side of the film industry?

I got my first professional job in the entertainment industry hanging lights for a Bob Marley concert in Oslo. His crew were so stoned, it was impossible to get things done. I was 15 years old and was so afraid that I was going to lose my first job that I worked all night to get it done. But I was hooked from then on...

I studied to become a theatre director in America for four years and returned to Norway to work as a director, first in the radio drama department of the National Broadcast Corporation and then in television and the theatre, directing major events like live shows to celebrate the Oslo Peace Accords and as assistant artistic director of the 1994 Winter Olympic Opening and Closing ceremonies.

After a six year stint as a director, I was ready for a change. I decided to go into the management side of the entertainment business and studied for an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1995. There I stumbled across the media lab at the neighbouring Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They had an extraordinary group of talented people with a passion for media working there - the world's leading experts on the future of media. But none of them had any experience in the media. They had never been on a rock and roll tour or on a film set or in a radio studio. So I used my experience of the media to help them bring their products alive. After that I became a shareholder in their companies. I sat on their boards. And before I knew it I had a portfolio of companies that turned out to be the gems of the early internet revolution - companies that today are the backbone of the offerings of Yahoo and AOL, such as Launch Media Network and Spinner.com.

In terms of film, I got involved in short films initially. We were early backers of Atom Films and I have been on the company's board for six years.

More recently, we took control of the arthouse cinema chain City Screen (owner of cinemas including the City Screen York, the Cameo in Edinburgh, Brixton Ritzy and the Clapham Picture House) - and further consolidated the arthouse sector in the UK. There were a number of smaller cinema operators in the UK and we felt that none of them had the scale to be able to compete efficiently with the multiplexes. We didn't want to change the experience or the programming - but we changed how it was run, removing layers of inefficiency and creating a company that used technology to get to know and serve its customers better.

At the same time the DVD explosion started. So we purchased a company called dvdsontap.com and transformed it into www.lovefilm.com with the help of its two founders.

We came in with a bit more sophistication in terms of industry relationships, our knowledge of logistics plus our experience of building businesses from the front end - such as how to make the experience better for consumers by including things like a recommendation engine. That's the building block for both lovefilm.com and City Screen going forward - to get to know the customers as well as possible but at the same time to make it clear that the customer's identity is theirs.

I'm also involved with film production, and sit on the board of a film fund run by US independent producer Hart Sharp Entertainment who are best known for making Boys Don't Cry and You Can Count On Me.

Arts Alliance Media is also developing a digital cinema business. Two years ago we launched the first digital cinema circuit in the UK and are bidding to run the UK Film Council's digital cinema circuit.


What kind of businesses do you invest in?

The majority of our investment decisions are based on people's ability to execute. Creative people are very important, but it's the ability to deliver which is the hardest part.

I find that the people who are most capable of building a business in the film industry are the people who manage to detach themselves from the sexy side of the business.

I am most interested in businesses that do all the boring bits. By 'boring bits' I mean something you can offer to everyone and something that everybody needs.

So when we got involved in digital cinema, we thought about it completely as a logistics business. We don't to want to have anything to do with film rights, we don't want anything to do with upside or downside if a film plays well or badly.

All we want to do is be efficient and reliable and secure. Some people thrive in building businesses like that - other people don't.


What advice do you have for people wanting to get involved in the business?

Be very professional from day one in any job. So if you are a runner on set, don't stand and ogle over an actor like Jude Law. Let him do his job while you are an efficient runner. If at the end of the film people say this person was as good at running for the gaffer as he was for Jude Law, then you will be invited back. And that's what it is all about. It's being invited back which is the name of the game. You only do that by working harder - showing up earlier and leaving later than anybody else.

Getting practical experience is really important. Get involved. Today there is no excuse not to get involved in production - any student can make a short film. You can go to a library and borrow a video camera and edit it there. Anyone who hasn't made ten shorts and says they want to be a filmmaker has no sympathy from me. There is no-one in this country that is too poor to make short films. You really need no money - I mean zero. The only way you can become a good film-maker is to make films. That goes for anything.

Nobody has ever become a professional by sitting on their arse.

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