Nik Powell, the respected UK producer, businessman and former director of the National Film and Television School (NFTS), has died at the age of 69.
A statement published on the NFTS’ website sad that Powell had been receiving treatment for cancer and died this morning (Nov 7) in Oxford surrounded by his family.
Powell was the co-founder of UK video label and production outfit Palace Pictures in 1982 with Stephen Woolley. Through the company, the pair released movies including The Evil Dead, and produced features including a trio of pics with director Neil Jordan: the Oscar-winning 1992 feature The Crying Game with Forest Whitaker and Miranda Richardson, the Oscar-nominated 1986 film Mona Lisa with Bob Hoskins and Cathy Tyson, and 1984 fantasy drama The Company Of Wolves with Angela Lansbury.
Speaking to us this morning, Woolley said that Powell was “a rock to so many people” and a “constant ally”.
“I’m in shock. I can’t believe he’s not around because he never took ‘no’ for an answer, that was his philosophy,” Woolley said. “He was an incredibly inspirational person who continues to inspire people.”
Woolley, who now runs Carol producer Number 9 Films, recalled that Powell first approached him with the idea to start a video label when Woolley was working at the Scala Cinema, which Powell had made a small investment in.
“He asked me, ‘Can you get those funny movies you show at the Scala and we’ll release them on video?’ I spent a year buying these Fassbinder and John Waters films, but putting subtitled videos out in 1982 was not a way of making money. Then we bought Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva, the combination of those films made the company.”
“He gave me unconditional support and backing throughout the entire ten years we worked together. He never once tried to creatively mess with what we wanted to acquire and produce. He was a phenomenal person to work with as a businessman because he just closed deals. Getting the enterprise off the ground, that was where Nik’s strength was.
“He applied the experience of selling records to film, and it was a great combination. The things we were doing were really quite ‘out there’, but he never questioned it for one second. He joined in in a way that was phenomenal. Palace was ahead of the times and that was Nik’s clever entrepreneurial nous,” added Woolley.
Powell’s film credits also included Charles Dance’s 2004 drama Ladies In Lavender starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, and more recently Martin Koolhoven’s 2016 thriller Brimstone.
In a varied career which saw him operate a small record shop and a recording studio, Powell was also one of the co-founders of the Virgin Group with Richard Branson, launching Virgin Records in 1972 and establishing it as a major force in UK recording before it was sold to EMI in 1992.
In 2003 he became the director of the UK’s National Film and Television School, a position he held until 2017.
“I spent five incredibly happy years working with Nik as his deputy. He was a good friend and I will miss him hugely. He told me recently how his work to support and develop NFTS students to reach their full potential was probably the professional achievement he was most proud of. The culmination of his work at the School was recognised in 2018 when together we collected the BAFTA for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema award. Nik leaves an unrivalled legacy and no one has done more than him to set the bar high. We will continue to strive for the future success of the School in his honour,” commented NFTS Director Jon Wardle.
The school said it would commemorate Powell’s life in due course.
Len Rowles, now Head of Development at UK sales and production outfit Protagonist Pictures, was a student at the NFTS during Powell’s tenure and told us he was “an incredible believer in every one of his students”.
“I feel so lucky to have had his support and mentorship from the very start of my career. He opened the door to the industry and welcomed us in. It was always a comfort to seek him out in the midst of a scary new experience; I fondly remember being at the European Film Awards with our graduation film and listening to him make the same beloved Arsenal jokes to a crowd of international stars – after which he encouraged us to mingle confidently. His impact was both personal and global and I’m sure I speak for many when I say I am so grateful. Sending condolences to his friends and family at this deeply sad time.’ Rowles said.