Saturday 23 September 2017

Film producer David Puttnam: 'Had I had the availability of the iPad throughout the whole of my career, I think I could have been 25pc more productive'

David Puttnam (75) spent 30 years as an independent film producer. He is a member of the House of Lords and Ireland's digital champion. Born in London, he lives in west Cork with his wife, Patsy. They have two children - Sacha and Deborah

Independent film producer David Puttnam
Independent film producer David Puttnam

I get up fairly early in the morning, at 6.30am. I try not to disturb the rest of the house. I shower and dress. Each Monday and Friday, I cross my courtyard here in River House, west Cork. I live a number of miles outside Skibbereen. It's quiet and peaceful, and right by the water. It's very beautiful. If it's Australia, I teach at 7am, and if I'm teaching Singapore, it's 8am. Then I plug in and teach them live. I'm very much practising what I preach.

I grab myself a coffee. I do a two-hour seminar - from what was, at one point, my garage - to various places in the world. I lecture to students about the role of cinema in society. I'm looking at a very large screen, like a wide-screen TV, and I can see my students sitting there. I can interact with them, and I then send them clips from the movies. They are clips from my own movies - like The Mission, Chariots of Fire and others. I'm using them to illustrate various aspects of film-making. Sometimes I show them the things that I got wrong, and I even have a trick of showing them what they would have been like if I hadn't made that mistake. I've been doing these seminars for five years.

Putting the technology together was a complex operation, and that had to be matched at the other end, but now it's absolutely seamless. I don't for one second feel that I'm not with them. They are on a big screen, and I'm on a huge screen at their end. When I started doing this, it was very unusual, and I now think it's a lot more usual. Yes, it means that people don't have to leave home to work, but more importantly, it means that people can be beamed in who would not normally be teaching that sort of course at that university. I'm available to five different universities around the world where, under normal circumstances, I couldn't possibly teach.

Then I come back and have some breakfast. I've been having fried tomatoes on toast for many years. Then I check my emails. I've got a schedule that the office has prepared for me. If it's a Monday, I have a brief lunch here, and then I drive up to Cork Airport and I catch the 4pm flight to London. I know them all at the airport, and I've cut the timings down. I have a little file I put aside, which is work I'm going to do during the journey. It gives me a nice quiet time to deal with things. The moment I leave the house, I'm working on my iPad. Had I had the availability of the iPad throughout the whole of my career, I think I could have been 25pc more productive. It's the perfect tool. I've always liked composing my own letters. It keeps me in touch.

If I'm voting at the House of Lords, I'll have dinner there, otherwise I'll normally have a dinner set up with somebody. The House of Lords is an enormously polite place. The issues that we get to deal with are significant, and we have to approve or change every piece of legislation that comes through. I've got three areas of expertise - education, media and the environment. You don't have to enter the debates. Sometimes you can just sit and listen.

For my three London days, I usually have breakfast, lunch and dinner with different people. It's a mixture of politicians, people I'm working with and catching up with friends. It's full-on. Then I'm out of there on Thursday afternoon and back to west Cork. I quite like the mix of city life and country life.

Yes, I could be taking it easy, but the idea of retirement is anathema to me. I don't do anything that I don't enjoy. Fifteen years ago, I promised myself that I didn't mind working every hour that God sends me, but I didn't want to work with people I didn't like. That has been my criterion. Another part of my working life is being the Irish Digital Champion. Pat Rabbitte asked me to do it when he was the minister for communications. Back then, I was already lecturing from home, and arguing that it was necessary for Ireland to become a connected nation. Every six weeks, I spend three days in Dublin doing a variety of things that the department has set up for me. It could be seminars or discussions.

If you go way back, you will find that every single technological development has had some sort of criticism. Aristotle and Plato hated writing, because they thought it ruined memory. And when I was young, they said that television was ruining eyesight and their lives. If you want to use it well, the internet is a fantastic tool, and if you want to piss your life away only playing video games, then, yeah, it is a massive distraction. It's up to the individual.

I feel very passionately about the power of technology. Being elderly in the modern world, as opposed to 50 years ago, is an exercise in loneliness for many people, but technology destroys distance. Years ago, people going off to Australia would wave goodbye at Cork harbour, thinking that they'd never see their family again. Today, a grandmother can speak to her grandson every day. Here in west Cork, the Ludgate Hub is a phenomenon. Years ago, if you grew up here, you had to go to Dublin or abroad to create a life for yourself, but now, as a result of the [1,000Mb] broadband here, people have a real choice. It's making the world more local, and offering local and rural communities exactly the same employment opportunities we traditionally thought of as only existing in cities. That's a big plus.

If I'm in London, I start my day with an email to my wife, Patsy, telling her I'm up, and asking how she is. Then last thing at night, I tell her, by email again, what sort of day I've had, and I ask about her day. Sometimes she'll send some images of the dogs. This makes me feel in touch. But above all, she writes beautifully, and is very funny. It's so much more than a phone call. I try to be in bed by 11pm. I like my life enormously. I live in a very warm, comfortable environment, with fantastic friends and great family. What more could you ask for?

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

Sunday Indo Life Magazine

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment