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Mike Downey - film producer

Mike Downey
Mike Downey (BA French with Theatre Studies 1979-83) is a film producer who launched his independent UK production company ten years ago. Film and Music Entertainment has since become one of the UK’s most successful and prolific independent production companies. He has produced 40 feature films in that time with producing partner Sam Taylor and company chairman Stephen Daldry.

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An initial hankering for the priesthood as a young lad was transubstantiated via an unidentified theological schism into a passion for the theatre. One thing led to another .....

What was the best careers advice you were given?
I went to one of those old fashioned English provincial grammar schools, “Huish’s” in Taunton. On the side of town where I came from people didn’t go to university. One day my form master, Bob Edy, said to me, “Downey, you know you could go to university if you wanted to....”

Nobody had ever mentioned it before. There was an assumption at the school that everyone could. I just assumed I was excluded from that group. My first Damascene experience.

Describe yourself in three words
Fiery, tenacious, giggly

What are the most challenging parts of your job?
Negotiating the choppy waters where fictional narrative art and the commercial industrial process converge........the sublimation of self.....self pity....

What have you done that you are most proud of?
That I saw my parents live to be proud of me and my work, and at the end of their hard lives in economic exile I was able to share whatever creative success I had while they were still alive.

What drives you?
Curiosity and a little man in the back of my head which says..."heh, heh...one day, gobshite, they will find out you know, just what a fraud you actually are...” Sometimes it’s a girl. In the back of my head.

What single thing would most improve the quality of your life?
A dog that didn’t bark at anything that moves or makes a noise

What three objects would you take with you to a desert island
The two volume full (but micro) OED that comes with magnifying glass - so I can wallow in words and make fire as well!; my unfaithful dog: Doggi; and a yoga mat. The dog loves yoga.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years’ time?
Still on the desert island but hopefully this time with Marijana. The love of my life.

How would you like to be remembered?
A loyal, reliable and trusted friend constantly tickled by the absurdity of our condition. The human one.

What are your favourite memories of your university years at Warwick?
Not sure I’m allowed to write those down here....but I can tell you the locations: the small bedroom in 34 Tachbrook Road, the scenery dock in the main theatre of the Arts Centre; behind the curtain in the Chaplaincy.

Do you have any advice for new graduates and undergraduates?
Your education shouldn’t prepare you to get a job. Don’t look at it as such. It’s privileged time to explore your world, ideas, the bars of the student’s union, the watering holes of Royal Leamington Spa and the spring meadows around campus – read E.P.Thompson;’s Warwick University Ltd. He was our hero when I was there in the late seventies. He saw the future of education – and it wasn’t a happy one.

It’s not all about the work. It’s nothing to do with getting a job. It’s about doing semi-useless things that help you find out who you might want to be.

Anything else you would like to add?
I had a fantastic time at Warwick. I nearly didn’t. I nearly left because I was unhappy early on. I’m so happy I didn’t leave – and so lucky to have that form master at my school – who pointed out something that wasn’t obvious to a working class second-generation Irish lad– that I could actually consider going to University. Who me? 35 years after that conversation – I still can’t quite believe my luck. My mum and dad would have a laugh if they knew I teach at Universities and was The Thomas Ewing Professor of Film at Ohio University for a few years! I’m not sure how much wisdom comes from that – however, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, should we!

Mike Downey: the facts

Age
50
Lives
Between Notting Hill (London) and Grimalda, Istria (Croatia)
Education

- St George’s Roman Catholic Primary School (Taunton, Somerset)
- Huish’s Grammar School (Taunton, Somerset)
- Boursier du Gouvernement Francais Diplome D’Etudes Theatrales – Universite de Paris III-Sorbonne Nouvelle
- BA French with Theatre Studies, University of Warwick 1979-83
- Maitrise des Lettres, Universite de Paris X – Nanterre
- Doctorat de Troisieme Cycle Universite de Paris X - Nanterre (as yet incomplete)
- Diploma in Socialist Self Management Economy – University of Belgrade

Career

Producer and founding partner of Film and Music Entertainment (F&ME).

F&ME’s catalogue includes UK Film Council-funded and award winning White Lightnin’, Guy X, Deathwatch, Before The Rain and international co-productions written by Gunter Grass, Thomas Keneally, James Ellroy and Clifford Irving. His award winning South African production Son of Man, premiered at Sundance, as did White Lightnin’ while Loving Glances, opened the Venice Film Festival.

Theatre director, producer and critic

Mike spent most of the eighties as a theatre director and producer in France, Germany, the former Yugoslavia and the U.K. as well as working as a publisher, contributor and critic for various international publications including Variety, Screen International and Moving Pictures International.

Lecturer

In his spare time Mike has been Thomas Ewing Professor of Film (Ohio University) and remains on the Film Board Oklahoma University and also is President of the Motovun Film Festival in Croatia. He works closely with Amnesty International establishing Amnesty Human Rights Awards at international film festivals. Downey is a consultant for USAID the American government programme rebuilding infrastructure (film) in the Balkans.

Mike has served two terms as a BAFTA Council Member and one as a member of the BAFTA Film Committee, in addition to an eight year stint as Board member of the European Film Academy alongside Wim Wenders, Volker Schloendorff, Istvan Szabo, and Pawel Pawlikowski.

Artistic Advisor to the Zagreb International Film Festival, where a complete retrospective of his films was held during their 2009 edition

Interests See above, plus cooking, eating, drinking, gardening, skiing and dancing



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Mike Downey (BA French with Theatre Studies 1979-83)
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Mike on the set of Son of Man in South Africa
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Mike on location