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Sue Bruce-Smith

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Sue Bruce-Smith
Born
Susan Bruce-Smith[1]

1957/1958
Birmingham, England
Died (aged 62)
Dublin, Ireland
EducationKing Edward VI Camp Hill School
University of Kent
Goldsmiths, University of London
OccupationFilm producer

Sue Bruce-Smith (1957/58 – 2 May 2020) was a British film producer. Variety described her as an "industry titan".[2] She spent most of her career with Film4, and was serving as its deputy director at the time of her death. She specialised in financial and marketing strategy for distribution.

An influential producer, she is described by the industry as being encouraging but not imposing, and a key figure in the success of many British and independent films. She financed and/or produced multiple films for directors including Lenny Abrahamson, Danny Boyle, Sarah Gavron, Derek Jarman, Asif Kapadia, Yorgos Lanthimos, Mike Leigh, Steve McQueen, and Ben Wheatley. Among her over 100 films are several Academy Award winners, including 12 Years a Slave, The Favourite, Room, Slumdog Millionaire and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Early life

Bruce-Smith was born in Birmingham to Maureen (née Sinclair) and James Bruce-Smith. Her mother was a teacher and her father was a GP. She attended King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Girls, and then studied French at the University of Kent.[3] In the late 1970s, she spent some time studying in Paris with future colleague Amanda Nevill.[4] After graduating from Kent, she became a secondary school teacher.[3][5] She also studied at Goldsmiths, University of London.[5]

Career

1985–2004: Career beginnings and progression

In 1985, Bruce-Smith took a temporary job at Palace Pictures,[3][5] which had begun producing films the year before,[6] after taking a career break from teaching.[5] She said that she was informally interviewed by Palace's founder Stephen Woolley and producer Paul Webster, explaining that they did not care about qualifications and she only revealed her education after being employed. She later spoke about misogyny in the company from its co-founder Nik Powell, saying that when she voiced opinions Powell would "react like [she] was a stupid woman hassling him over a fire drill. It was like swatting a fly for him", and that he would always come back to her later and admit she was right.[6] Still, she said that she "was incredibly lucky to land at Palace [because] everyone was hugely inventive and questioning of the orthodoxy, which made it a dynamic and pretty anarchic environment, filled with highly creative people".[7] She initially worked there, her introduction to the film industry, as a print and bookings manager, before moving up to marketing and distribution. In this role she worked on films including A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hairspray;[8] she personally promoted A Nightmare on Elm Street by dressing up as Freddy Krueger on stage at the London Hippodrome.[7] Bruce-Smith developed a passion for independent film at Palace.[3]

In 1989, she joined the BFI's production department as its head of sales, staying until 1993 when she moved to the BBC and managed films' international distributions. Eventually, she joined Film4 for the first time in 1997.[8] Working at Film4 in the late 1990s, Bruce-Smith put up funding for one of Werner Herzog's films, and was said to be amiable to his unusual requests.[4] She left Film4 briefly in 2001 to pursue work with the independent production company Little Bird in Dublin, Ireland, but returned in 2004.[8] She remained a board member of the Dublin International Film Festival until 2015.[9]

2004–2020: Return to Film4 and acclaim

Film4 director Tessa Ross personally called Bruce-Smith to entice her back to the "recalibrated" Film4, and she became head of commercial development and distribution.[8] She was said to be swayed back to Film4 because it would involve work in public service filmmaking, "which she was instinctively drawn to with its sense of remit and social purpose".[7] In 2008, she was one of the co-founders of film sales company Protagonist Pictures as part of a Film4-Ingenious Media-Vertigo Films venture, marking Film4's move back into international distribution, something that Ross' rebrand had ended in 2002.[10][11] Rose Garnett wrote in her obituary for The Guardian that Bruce-Smith spent "much of her long and influential tenure [at Film4 working] with Tessa Ross".[3] Interviewed in 2014, Ross said that Bruce-Smith "comes to editorial meetings, she reads scripts early on, we talk about ideas, we often talk about directors and producers, and matching people up. She's very involved the minute we decide to move things into production – in conversations about scale and value, and how things should be built, she's unbelievably involved".[12] Ross left Film4 in 2014.[13]

Ben Wheatley, with whom Bruce-Smith worked on four films. She described him as "undoubtedly one of our boldest, brightest and most audience savvy filmmakers".[14]
Ben Wheatley, with whom Bruce-Smith worked on four films. She described him as "undoubtedly one of our boldest, brightest and most audience savvy filmmakers".[14]

In 2013, Bruce-Smith distributed Ben Wheatley's film A Field in England. It was reported as the first time that a film utilised complete simultaneous release, being released in cinemas, on home media, video on demand, and free to TV at the same time.[15] Though the first film with all these releases happening on the same day, similar strategies with platform releases only days or weeks apart had been done before. Discussed in media scholar Virginia Crisp's book, Bruce-Smith suggested that changes in audience were driving the innovations in distribution. She said that Film4 had "wanted to do something like this for quite some time, to give the audience what they say they want: to be able to watch a new film when and where they want to"; she still described the practice as experimental and disruptive, supporting theatrical releases.[16] Wheatley also gave his voice to the importance of the cinema,[16] and to the importance of having financial backing from a channel if choosing to go down the simultaneous release route.[17]

In the 2015/16 award season, Film4 (under director David Kosse) had 581 nominations from eleven films, most of which Bruce-Smith was involved with, including fifteen Academy Award and 22 BAFTA nominees; within these were three of the five Academy Best Actress nominees and eventual winner (Brie Larson for Lenny Abrahamson's Room).[18][19][20] Bruce-Smith called the Oscar wins inspirational.[20] Off the back of this success, Film4 was given a larger budget for 2016 from parent company Channel 4, allowing Bruce-Smith to set bolder aims in strategy. She signed the creators of The Inbetweeners for a four-film deal, and began working on more co-productions.[21] Bruce-Smith was promoted to deputy director in 2017 by new director Daniel Battsek.[7]

Production style and outreach

A mark of Bruce-Smith's work was creating strong relationships with up-and-coming directors, many of whom are "now considered to be among the very best", including Steve McQueen, Wheatley, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Sarah Gavron.[22] Another is Abrahamson, who, when interviewed in anticipation of the 2015/16 award season in relation to Room, said that he goes to Film4 first with new projects: "they are supportive of the directors they work with, and there is no other agenda other than to help you make the film you want to make [...] the early stages of a project are when it is at its most delicate [...] it is so important that anybody you let into that part of the process is carefully chosen".[18] Bruce-Smith concurred, saying that she liked to get involved from the start of a project, and always put the filmmaker first.[18]

Specialising in financial and marketing strategy for distribution, Bruce-Smith would also guide production and leave her mark, but was committed to protecting a filmmaker's vision.[3][7] Bruce-Smith hosted the British industry's emerging female talent dinner in 2017, and is said to have gone out of her way to encourage both new and female talent in all aspects of the industry.[4] In 2016, she spoke with Womanthology on diversity in the industry, saying that while female roles were on the rise there was still a lack of women writers, directors, and directors of photography. She also acknowledged "there is still a lot to be done to [...] keep diversity uppermost in our minds when taking the development decisions about which stories to focus on".[5] In 2018, as deputy director of Film4, Bruce-Smith said that they had made use of Film London's Equal Access Network to hire people from more diverse backgrounds[23] and, after Frances McDormand referenced the inclusion rider in her 2018 Academy Best Actress speech (for the Bruce-Smith backed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), explained the concept of the inclusion rider and said that McDormand was "throwing down the gauntlet to the industry" with her public mention.[24]

Personal life and death

She married Irish celebrity chef and journalist Hugo Arnold in 1992, and they had two children.[3][25] The couple owned houses in Dublin and Tuscany, Italy, and would often have friends staying at both. Bruce-Smith was diagnosed with cancer in 2018, described as "long and hard" but which she faced with good humour. McQueen dedicated the premiere of their fourth film together, Widows, to her after the diagnosis. She died at home in Dublin on 2 May 2020, at the age of 62.[3]

Legacy

Bruce-Smith was well loved and respected in the industry,[3][8] with Nick James saying that in January 2019, when she walked into a BAFTA screening theatre for an event in tribute to her, he "experienced such a joyous, instant explosion of applause" as he never had witnessed before.[8][7] She received a special BAFTA in 2019 for Outstanding Contribution to Cinema.[3] On receiving the special BAFTA, Bruce-Smith said: "I am very grateful to Bafta for this award and for prompting me to encourage all women out there not to limit themselves. Be properly ambitious and confident in your own ability to see that ambition realised."[8]

Mike Downey, deputy chairman of the European Film Academy, wrote after her death that "Bruce-Smith's contribution to British, European and world cinema was immeasurable", and Pippa Harris, the chair of BAFTA, said that "her contribution to the UK film industry, and especially to Film Four and to independent film-making was immense".[4] She was a passionate advocate for independent film,[4][8] and was a member of the events committee of the British Independent Film Awards.[4] Garnett lauds that Bruce-Smith "was pivotal in ushering [the] work [of] Steve McQueen, Andrea Arnold, Jon Glazer and Yorgos Lanthimos [...] through to audience and acclaim. She was central to the success of Mrs Brown, Slumdog Millionaire, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Room, The Last King of Scotland, This Is England, You Were Never Really Here, Amy, and, most recently, the Oscar-winner The Favourite".[3]

Mexican news outlet 24 horas noted that the news of Bruce-Smith's death had been reported all around the world, in recognition of "her legacy in the seventh art" (film),[26] and James wrote in his tribute that appraisal of Bruce-Smith was "not only a reminder that the creative and financial elements of film are inextricably connected but also an admonition to auteurist magazines like this one [Sight & Sound] not to ignore or sideline such figures so much in future".[8]

Filmography

365亚洲官网As development coordinator, marketing-distribution, or company executive unless noted.

Year Title Director Notes Ref(s)
1981 The Evil Dead Sam Raimi (at Palace) [7]
1982 The Draughtsman's Contract Peter Greenaway (at BFI) [7]
1984 A Nightmare on Elm Street Wes Craven [8]
1984 The Company of Wolves Neil Jordan [7]
1985 Letter to Brezhnev Chris Bernard [8]
1986 Absolute Beginners Julien Temple [27]
1986 Critters Stephen Herek [7]
1987 The Last of England Derek Jarman [8]
1988 Distant Voices, Still Lives Terence Davies [8]
1988 Hairspray John Waters [8]
1988 High Hopes Mike Leigh [8]
1989 Scandal Michael Caton-Jones [27]
1993 Naked Mike Leigh [28]
1993 The Snapper Stephen Frears [8]
1993 Wittgenstein Derek Jarman [29]
1995 Persuasion Roger Michell [8]
1996 Stonewall Nigel Finch Special Thanks [30]
1997 I Went Down Paddy Breathnach [29]
1997 Mrs Brown John Madden [3]
1999 East Is East Damien O'Donnell [27]
2000 The House of Mirth Terence Davies Thanks [30]
2000 Sexy Beast Jonathan Glazer [27]
2001 Charlotte Gray Gillian Armstrong [29]
2001 Late Night Shopping Saul Metzstein [30]
2001 My Brother Tom Dom Rotheroe [30]
2001 The Warrior Asif Kapadia Thanks [26][30]
2003 The Actors Conor McPherson [4]
2004 Dead Man's Shoes Shane Meadows [28]
2004 In My Father's Den Brad McGann Executive producer [7]
2004 Trauma Marc Evans Executive producer [7]
2006 Hallam Foe David Mackenzie [30]
2006 Isolation Billy O'Brien [30]
2006 The King James Marsh Thanks [30]
2006 The Last King of Scotland Kevin Macdonald [3]
2006 This Is England Shane Meadows [3]
2007 And When Did You Last See Your Father? Anand Tucker [30]
2007 Boy A John Crowley [30]
2007 Far North Asif Kapadia [26]
2008 Happy-Go-Lucky Mike Leigh [28]
2008 How to Lose Friends & Alienate People Robert B. Weide [30]
2008 Hunger Steve McQueen [8]
2008 In Bruges Martin McDonagh [27]
2008 Incendiary Sharon Maguire [30]
2008 Slumdog Millionaire Danny Boyle [3]
2010 127 Hours Danny Boyle [4]
2010 Another Year Mike Leigh [28]
2010 Chatroom Hideo Nakata [30]
2010 Four Lions Chris Morris [28]
2010 The Inbetweeners Movie Ben Palmer [30]
2010 Never Let Me Go Mark Romanek [4]
2010 Submarine Richard Ayoade [28]
2011 The Deep Blue Sea Terence Davies [4]
2011 The Future Miranda July Executive producer [31]
2011 The Iron Lady Phyllida Lloyd [27]
2011 Kill List Ben Wheatley [22]
2011 Shame Steve McQueen [7]
2011 Tyrannosaur Paddy Considine [19]
2011 Wuthering Heights Andrea Arnold [30]
2012 Berberian Sound Studio Peter Strickland [30]
2012 Hyde Park on Hudson Roger Michell [30]
2012 The Imposter Bart Layton [19]
2012 The Odyssey Asif Kapadia Short [26]
2012 On the Road Walter Salles [30]
2012 The Pervert's Guide to Ideology Sophie Fiennes [32]
2012 Seven Psychopaths Martin McDonagh [30]
2012 Sightseers Ben Wheatley [30]
2013 12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen [7]
2013 A Field in England Ben Wheatley [15]
2013 The Double Richard Ayoade [30]
2013 How I Live Now Kevin Macdonald [30]
2013 Le Week-End Roger Michell Executive producer [33]
2013 The Look of Love Michael Winterbottom [30]
2013 The Selfish Giant Clio Barnard [27]
2013 Starred Up David Mackenzie [30]
2013 Under the Skin Jonathan Glazer [8]
2014 '71 Yann Demange [27]
2014 A Most Wanted Man Anton Corbijn [30]
2014 Black Sea Kevin Macdonald [30]
2014 The Duke of Burgundy Peter Strickland [34]
2014 Ex Machina Alex Garland [7]
2014 Frank Lenny Abrahamson [2]
2014 Jimmy's Hall Ken Loach [35]
2014 Mr. Turner Mike Leigh [28]
2014 The Riot Club Lone Scherfig [30]
2015 45 Years Andrew Haigh [8]
2015 Amy Asif Kapadia [3]
2015 Carol Todd Haynes [4]
2015 High-Rise Ben Wheatley [2]
2015 Life Anton Corbijn Thanks [36]
2015 The Lobster Yorgos Lanthimos [2]
2015 Macbeth Justin Kurzel [37]
2015 Room Lenny Abrahamson Executive producer [38]
2015 Slow West John Maclean [30]
2015 Suffragette Sarah Gavron [4]
2015 Youth Paolo Sorrentino Executive producer [39]
2016 American Honey Andrea Arnold [7]
2016 Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Ang Lee [19]
2016 Free Fire Ben Wheatley [4]
2016 Our Kind of Traitor Susanna White [30]
2017 Beast Michael Pearce [30]
2017 Dark River Clio Barnard [30]
2017 Disobedience Sebastián Lelio [28]
2017 How to Talk to Girls at Parties John Cameron Mitchell [30]
2017 I Am Not a Witch Rungano Nyoni [7]
2017 Journeyman Paddy Considine [40]
2017 The Killing of a Sacred Deer Yorgos Lanthimos [2]
2017 Lean on Pete Andrew Haigh [30]
2017 T2 Trainspotting Danny Boyle [5]
2017 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Martin McDonagh [3]
2017 Trespass Against Us Adam Smith [30]
2017 You Were Never Really Here Lynne Ramsay Executive producer [3]
2018 American Animals Bart Layton [8]
2018 The Favourite Yorgos Lanthimos [3]
2018 The Little Stranger Lenny Abrahamson [2]
2018 Peterloo Mike Leigh [28]
2018 Widows Steve McQueen Producer [41]
2019 Calm with Horses Nick Rowland Executive producer [42]
2019 The Day Shall Come Chris Morris Executive producer [43]
2019 Dirt Music Gregor Jordan Executive producer [44]
2019 How to Build a Girl Coky Giedroyc Executive producer [45]
2019 The Personal History of David Copperfield Armando Iannucci [4]
2019 Rocks Sarah Gavron Executive producer [22][46]
2019 True History of the Kelly Gang Justin Kurzel Executive producer [47]
2020 Dream Horse Euros Lyn Executive producer [48]

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