Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Q&A with Universal Pictures UK Sales Director, Andy Leyshon/3-free-DVD-giveaway!

Andy Leyshon is a major player in UK film distribution. Working for Universal Pictures as their UK Sales Director, he has overseen some very successful film releases over the last few years, including the runaway hit 'Mama Mia'. He is also a really nice guy. So nice in fact that he agreed to answer a few questions about his work for my blog:

You're the Sales Director for Universal UK. Can you explain a little bit about what it is you are responsible for?
Basically dating our films in cinemas. In consultation with other senior members of the team, I help plot out where the best release dates for our titles are; then ensure the films get booked into the best cinemas; negotiate with exhibitors what we get paid for them; and finally aim to secure each title its maximum playability. Sounds a little dryer than it actually is!

What career path did you take to get to where you are today?
I did a Degree in Cultural Studies, which then led to a Masters in Cinema Studies, which in turn had a work placement option. All of the previous work placements had been in exhibition, but I thought I'd try distribution and did a brief stint as a runner with a company called Electric Pictures. Then, Masters passed and various temp jobs under my belt a job for a full-time runner position came up at Momentum (who had taken over and re-branded Electric). After that I moved from Runner to Print Manager to Sales Assistant to Sales Manager to Sales Director over the course of 8-9 years. Then when Universal decided to go it alone in the UK in 2006 I got the gig as Sales Director and have been here happily ever since.

I'm told you made the decision to distribute 'Mama Mia' in the UK, which was obviously a huge success (until 'Avatar' it was the highest grossing movie in the UK). Which other films have you decided to distribute that have gone on to be runaway success stories?
I wish that decision was solely mine as I'd be singing it (in an Abba-stylee) from the rooftops! Despite initially feeling that Mamma should be an Autumn release (ala previous big female hits) we took a collective punt that it could be the ultimate feelgood Summer film, obviously repeat viewing astonished us and the rest is history. Much like Avatar and Titanic such runs are incredibly rare, but a joy when they do happen. Its very hard to single out specific others, but ones I'm proudest of would include Hot Fuzz, Inglourious Basterds, Lost In Translation, Amelie, The Bourne Ultimatum, Atonement, O Brother Where Art Thou, Eternal Sunshine, Downfall, A Serious Man and Kick-Ass currently.

With hindsight, have there been any films in your time at Universal that you would not distribute given a second chance?
No comment!

You live in Brighton. Is that a good place to work in the film industry? Do you work in London mostly? Or is your job possible at home (via the phone/internet)?
I love living in Brighton and have done so for my entire career in the film industry. I wish the commute was better, but am now very used to it after so many years. Its easy enough to travel between Brighton & London. I could feasibly do a lot of my work from Brighton (via phone/internet), but I'd lose the personal touch of being in contact with my team and exhibition partners, so London it is, though I do miss the sound of seagulls & waves hitting pebbles during the day.

'Nanny McPhee 2' is currently top of the UK Box-Office and 'Kick-Ass' is also getting some postive write-ups: what other films do Universal have coming up this year?
Nanny is a terrific success already and will hopefully go on to be the biggest family hit over Easter. Kick-Ass also looks a winner and I can't recall having seen a film play so enthusiastically, so with a fair wind it should become the most talked-about release in April. Other than that, its another eclectic year for us with releases including Robin Hood (Ridley Scott & Russell Crowe team-up again for the origins story); Get Him To The Greek (Russell Brand & Jonah Hill comedy); Scott Pilgrim V The World (Edgar Wright's latest masterpiece with Michael Cera); Greenberg (the new Noah Baumbach); Step-Up 3-D (oh yes its back and even better in 3-D); Despicable Me 3-D (the first of many films to come from a great new partnership with Chris Meledandri - the man behind Ice Age & Horton Hears A Who); and The American (new Anton Corbin starring George Clooney) amongst a bunch of others.

You were at the Empire for the Kick-Ass premiere and it's a lovely cinema. What is your favourite cinema in the UK?
The diplomatic answer from a distributor would be that I love all of the my children equally...however, the Dukes Brighton clearly has a very warm place in my heart. From the building to the staff to the great mix of programming to the fantastic cakes it is definitely my fave venue. Also, it is 1min from my door.

As a lifelong film fan, do you still have to pinch yourself when you get sent scripts or when you are talking to directors and the like?
Absolutely. Its always interesting to meet any talent on any project and to see their perspective on things. As for scripts, the train journey is ideal reading time for me, so I get through them pretty voraciously. Every day is different in this industry which is what makes the job worthwhile.

I don't know if you're allowed to tell me, but what has been the most odd/funny interaction you have had with a movie star or filmmaker
No comment as I have a mortgage to pay and had better try to keep my job for a while yet!

On the subject of Universal Pictures: readers have the chance to win a trio of brand-new, recent Universal Pictures DVDs: Ang Lee's 'Taking Woodstock' (trailer below) aswell as the Vince Vaughn/Jon Favreau comedy 'Couple's Retreat' and 'Vampire's Assistant' directed by Paul Weitz (whose brother Chris also directed a vampire film last year: 'Twilight: New Moon'). All you have to do is e-mail me a piece of Universal Pictures related trivia. The most interesting or suprising e-mail will win the DVDs. E-mail your factoid to me at: I look forward to hearing from you.


  1. Very interesting read yet again Mr Beames, keep it up!

    although one quick (probably stupid) question, if this is the uk sales director, what role does he have in reading scripts?

  2. That's a really good question! Maybe you should be asking the questions! I know sometimes he gets sent scripts to read of films which are being made. I think it's so he can see early on if he wants to distribute them. I suppose production companies send scripts around to get a distributer attached as soon as possible.