Above the Line: Margaret Nicoll

Finding the road less traveled

WHO: Longtime Sogecable acquisition and pic distribution chief Margaret Nicoll

WHAT: Now her own boss at project-packaging outfit New Zeal

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING: A real person in a people industry –and likely to benefit from that

MADRID — Dinner with Margaret Nicoll.

Expect company. With her, quite likely, will be son Stefan, who runs production house Guerrilla Films, or daughters Anna and Francecsa, when they pass through Madrid. Four-year-old grandson Jimmy may be on hand.

Friends and colleagues will pop by. There could be relations over from Nicoll’s native New Zealand.

Nicoll has just gone indie, creating project packager New Zeal. For most of the ’90s, however, she was the highest-ranking femme exec in the Spanish biz, serving as head of acquisitions at paybox Canal Plus Espana and Sogecable, then topping Sogecable distribbery Sogepaq.

“She taught us a lot, such as that you didn’t need to shout down the phone to do deals. That, for a Spaniard, was quite a revelation,” says Javier Mendez, head of acquisitions at Antena 3.

Apart from Via Digital, all the current heads of acquisitions at Spanish commercial nets served under her at Canal Plus.

“She’s a connector. She always puts human relations before anything else,” says Sogecable head of film Fernando Bovaira, who, like Sogecable director of pic distribution Jacques Roldan, is a former “Nicoll Boy.”

This drive to connect people lies at the heart of NZ.

“Basically I’m trying to put people together to make things happen which haven’t happened before,” Nicoll says.

This philosophy has led to Guerrilla’s “A Country House Project”: five digital vid features shot at the same house by five directors of different nationality.

Nicoll also is advancing international financing on Elio Quiroga’s English-lingo sci-fi thriller “Avatar,” co-produced by Planeta 2010 and Marta Esteban’s Imposible Films.

Her new indie role seems to dovetail with her down-to-earth persona.

Some 10 years ago, she bought an unfashionable holiday house on an unfashionable headland in Menorca, swept by the Tramontana wind — the landscape is not so different from the north island of New Zealand.

“She’s still very New Zealander in some ways.” Roldan says. “There’s a straight-backed honesty to her which inspires confidence.”

Nicoll, who now occupies a characteristically unpretentious office with Guerrilla in central Madrid, had never planned NZ, she says. But when she was ankling Sogepaq last June, “I was swamped by people asking for advice. NZ has grown out of that demand,” she says.

As well as other companies, she will handle all international business for Guerrilla.

“I never thought I’d end up working with my family,” she muses. But Margaret Nicoll’s family — whether by blood, friendship or respect — is far bigger than such an unpretentious person would ever believe.

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