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Avatar financier to raise £12m to train next generation of film-makers in special effects


The financier behind the hit movies Avatar and Life of Pi has been asked to find the money to train a new generation of film-makers in digital special effects and computer gaming.

Patrick McKenna, chief executive of Ingenious Media, has been appointed as the new chairman at the prestigious National Film & Television School (NFTS), where Stephen Frears (The Queen) is chair of directing and Brian Tufano (Trainspotting, Billy Elliot) is head of cinematography.

One of McKenna’s priorities is to find some £12 million in funding to complete the school’s “Digital Village”, which is needed to supply the British film and computer games industries with specialist skills.

McKenna was accused earlier this year by Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, of exploiting film investment as a means of avoiding tax. He responded by saying: “We have never been in the business of tax avoidance.”

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey last night described the NFTS as “one of the best film schools in the world” and predicted McKenna would transform its development. “Patrick McKenna and Ingenious have a proud history of investing in the UK’s creative industries and have contributed to many of our global success stories, including Avatar and Life of Pi. I look forward to Patrick taking the NFTS to new levels of success.”

McKenna, who also provided finance for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, said the school had a “worldwide reputation” and was “able to attract some of the world’s best creative talent onto its teaching programmes”. The financier, who succeeds the former ITV director of television Simon Shaps, is also chairman of the Young Vic Theatre company and of the independent television production company Hat Trick.

Some of the NFTS students are currently involved in work on the new Star Wars project Episode VII, scenes of which are being shot at a secret location in the United Kingdom.

The Buckinghamshire-based school, which was founded in 1971, is a hothouse for British film talent. Its students have been nominated for 25 student Oscars and BAFTAs, winning seven of these junior awards. Alumni include Harry Potter director David Yates, Skyfall cinematographer Roger Deakins and Atonement composer Dario Marinelli. In the past year the school has hosted master-classes from directors Wim Wenders, Bernardo Bertolucci, Joe Wright, Edgar Wright and Guillermo Del Toro.