British Academy eyes TV expansion

Twenty years of growth for the Los Angeles arm of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts have only whetted the org’s appetite to make a big impression Stateside.

While pursuing a permanent home in L.A. (the lease on the old building is up) and increasing its focus on charitable efforts, BAFTA/LA is also dead set on expanding its reach in television.

In its early years, after being founded in 1987, BAFTA/LA was much more centered on film, but this changed with the involvement of TV kingpins like “American Idol” executive producer Nigel Lythgoe.

“I would say that our contribution to the television industry has increased exponentially over the last five years, and that is reflected in the membership and also the number of events we are doing that are

television-related as well,” BAFTA/LA board chairman Peter Morris says.

Coming alongside BAFTA/LA’s growth in membership has been the expansion of its Britannia Awards. Originally offering one award per year (the first was presented to Cubby Broccoli), the gala now bestows five with the addition this year of the Humanitarian Award (being given to Richard Curtis, writer of “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Love Actually” and other films and TV series).

The expanded festivities figure to augment what BAFTA/LA executive director and chief operating officer Donald Haber and Morris already consider a rewarding evening.

“The difference with the Britannia Awards are the speeches,” Morris says. “It’s no ‘I’ve come here because my next film is such-and-such, and I could use the exposure.’ It’s because they want to tell an anecdote about the person they are honoring and how that inspired them. Shirley MacLaine (presenting) and Elizabeth Taylor (being honored) the same year, that was a comedy double act made in heaven! We want people to laugh and say, ‘That was a good night.'”

With increased sponsorship (and renewed sponsors at that), the awards will also be televised for the third time overseas, with the money from the sales going toward BAFTA/ LA’s expanding charitable efforts.

“We recently formed a partnership with the Shriners Hospitals for Children, which will allow us to provide a medical clinic four times a year in a community in South Central Los Angeles,” says Haber.

The clinic’s location dovetails with the free movie screenings BAFTA/LA had already been hosting at the neighborhood’s Helen Keller Park since 2005.

“A reporter asked me, ‘Why are the Brits doing this in L.A.?'” recalls Morris. “We were asked and we got involved. … It’s not that huge a deal, and it makes such a vast difference in the lives of these people.”

BAFTA/LA is also eyeing new media, actively recruiting people from the industry for its membership. Most of all, BAFTA/LA seems keen to book more partnerships and alliances.

“BAFTA/LA has a tremendous opportunity to become a much more international organization,” Haber says. “Our membership is highly international, and we have an ability to form alliances with other organizations around the world. This is my opinion: You will see more alliances over the next five to 10 years — alliances within the L.A. community and also international.”

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