In 1999, a preview of Notting Hill – the best-selling movie of that year – was screened by the lake on campus. That’s because the man who greenlit the film was none other than alumnus Stewart Till CBE (BSc Economics & Administration 1973). For over 30 years, Stewart has been an influential figure in film production and distribution, and was awarded a CBE in 2000 for his services to the industry. He has been responsible for movies such as Trainspotting, Being John Malkovich and Fargo.
Now a producer in Hollywood with Till Entertainment, Stewart has previously worked as an executive at companies including 20th Century Fox, Universal and Sky TV, as well as being the former Chairman of the UK Film Council and one of the largest film distributors, United International Pictures.
What are some of your memories of being a student at Bath?
I joined in 1969 when the University was quite embryonic. There was a sense on campus that we were part of something new that could be very special. While some universities were all about their history, Bath always looked to the future, and I found that very exciting and empowering. I was a keen footballer and played for the University 1st XI. We were the underdogs and no one expected us to beat the bigger universities but we did. I was also social secretary and then vice president of the Students’ Union, responsible for entertainment. We got top bands at the time to play at our events, like Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd. We were creating history, though we probably didn’t realise it at the time.
What’s the secret to spotting a hit film?
It’s essentially intuitive but a good script is vital. There’s a famous saying that there’s been many a bad film with a good script but there’s never been a good film with a bad script. Is it a compelling story? Could you imagine audiences going? Is it distinctive and unusual? You read a hundred scripts before you find one you like.
Which movies are you proudest to have been involved with?
The two biggest ones are The Usual Suspects and Four Weddings And A Funeral – in part because other people didn’t want to make them – they had been turned down. More recently I’ve enjoyed working on Taboo with Tom Hardy.
Movies are a form of escapism for most of us – can you still enjoy a good film?
I still enjoy watching TV and going to the cinema but I can’t help watching it both as a consumer and as a professional at the same time. Half of me is thinking, ‘where did they find this script? Oh I wouldn’t have cast him’. But I love it. Recently I really enjoyed Jojo Rabbit and Parasite – films I had nothing to do with, but they were so intelligent and entertaining and could possibly change people’s views about things.
What advice could you give to recent graduates who want to get ahead?
I think you need three things to be successful: you need to be bright, you need to work hard and you need luck. There’s a quote from Thomas Edison that says genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. [When I’m hiring] I always look for team players. Maybe it’s because I’m a sports fan, but I do like people who not only want to be successful themselves but who want the team that they’re playing for to be successful too
How did your degree at Bath impact on your career?
I’ve worked in London and America; I’ve run international divisions of companies; I’ve worked in ad production and film and television. I’ve got a business brain and I’ve also got a creative side to know whether a script will work. You could argue that my degree taught me the theory of business, accounting and marketing, but the entrepreneurial atmosphere of the campus nurtured my creative skills – putting on social events, choosing the bands and deciding how we marketed it. Bath had an enormous impact on me. I arrived unsure about life and uncertain about my future career and left four years later a better, stronger and more optimistic person. Several decades later I am living in Santa Monica and am enjoying some success in film and television. I owe Bath a lot.