Film distribution consultant Ngozi Okali

Ngozi is an experienced hand when it comes to distributing films to the cinemas, having worked for the likes of Warner Bros., Disney and E1. But last year, she was still determined to boost her career and confidence.

This is why she chose to do the Bird’s Eye View Future Leaders in Distribution course supported by ScreenSkills using National Lottery funds awarded by the BFI . “I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up for the course, but was determined to say yes to everything and make new connections,” Ngozi said.

What she found was talking to other women who had faced similar obstacles and difficulties in their careers was actually quite reassuring. “I realised I wasn’t the problem and sharing our experiences and how we overcame issues was very helpful and encouraging.”

Future Leaders in Distribution is a training programme for women (including those that identify as women across the spectrum) with at least seven years of film distribution experience and with the ambition to run/own a distribution business or operate at a higher executive level.

The course lasts four months. It is designed to fit into a full-time work schedule and comprises 13 sessions involving workshops, group sessions, panels, peer networking, mentoring and business coaching.

“I’m not a very internal-looking person, so when it came to the workshops I found it hard to open up, but actually I picked up some great tips, including how to talk to people when I’m giving a presentation and how to calm myself down,” Ngozi said. “I’ve done quite a few presentations to students and get really nervous beforehand, to the point that I want to cancel, but the insights I gained from the course really helped.”

Similarly, the business coaching sessions proved fruitful, “more like seeing a psychiatrist”, she jokes, as they analysed her characteristics and traits, and worked on ways to improve them. Some of them she had not even noticed I was doing.

Equally, Ngozi has learned to improve her online presence, including posting her thoughts and insights on LinkedIn. “The leaders on the course gave me the confidence that what I had to say was interesting and a little different.”

Indeed, Ngozi has had a fascinating 20 years in the industry, starting out in home entertainment at Warner Bros., before moving into audio restoration at the time of the onset of DVDs, cleaning up the studio’s foreign audio in libraries worldwide and releasing them digitally.

“Then digital cinema came along and I was the first digital cinema manager for Warner Bros., serving Europe and the UK, which was a fascinating time. I did that for two years before becoming technical manager at Disney for the UK, handling distribution to the cinemas.

“My most stand-out release and premier was on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was the biggest and most challenging title I have ever worked on, with the tightest security guidelines, tightest mastering and localisation turnaround and widest release. It was by far the most highly anticipated worldwide release and premier and it pushed me to my limits, but I’m so proud to have pulled it off successfully.”

She followed that with her first foray into the independent space as head of technical at E1, which proved eye-opening. “I knew everything about delivering into cinemas, but not much else about the film industry. I gained that knowledge and experience at E1 where I learned about minimum guarantees, negotiations, post-production, legal and more,” she explains. “As well as wider discussions around where to place films in the schedule. At Disney you just choose the date and everyone works around you. So having to decide what to release and when, and moving dates around was interesting.”

Ngozi worked at E1 for a year-and-a-half, and was retained as a consultant, but the work finished in March. Like the industry at large, she then went into isolation.

However, she has been boosted so much by the ScreenSkills course that she is determined to climb the ladder and enter the leadership space, having previously accepted that she would always be a manager. “I feel I’m ready, but will have to change my career a bit, especially as distribution and technical operations jobs are few and far between. But I’m determined to stay in the industry and succeed.”

Box-out: Ngozi's advice for those starting out in film distribution

"Understand how you fit into the bigger picture and take an interest in what others around you are doing. How does your work connect with theirs? From production to post-production to distribution and exhibition, we are all part of the chain and every step along the way goes towards achieving that ultimate goal of getting a film on screen. Once you understand the bigger picture and how you fit in, work is much more engaging and can be very exciting."

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