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Johnian magazine issue 51, autumn 2023

Colin Burrows: in a nutshell

Written by Colin Burrows (1978)

2 min read

Colin Burrows (1978) created Special Treats Productions in 1985 to make content for the film industry and then started producing documentaries as well. He was the founder of the Turks and Caicos International Film Festival and is on the Advisory Board of the London Action Festival. He sold Special Treats in 2022 and is desperately trying to retire, so far with little success. His current production is CANNES UNCUT, a feature-length documentary about the film festival which will screen in 2024.

Colin is sitting at the base of a large camera unit. He is dressed smartly in a dark blazer with light chinos. He is sporting glasses and a smile.

I started my broadcast career at St John’s by joining the Cambridge University Broadcasting Society at the 1978 Freshers’ Fair. When that grew into Cambridge University Radio, I became the Programme Controller in 1981. I was also editing the now long-defunct College newspaper SCAN, so I knew that I wanted to work in the media in some way. As my degree course was Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic Studies (ASNAC), I wasn’t sure I could rely on that for employment!

My first paid job was at Capital Radio, before moving to the BBC as a radio producer. But by this time, I had also set up Special Treats Productions to make behind-the-scenes content on film sets and that grew into a large production company by the end of the eighties. As anyone who starts their own business will know, the more successful you are, the less time you have to do the work you’re actually good at. Payroll, pensions and personnel all get in the way of a glass of rosé at the Cannes Film Festival.

My favourite production should by rights be one of the Bond films. I’ve worked with them for over 20 years, going to all sorts of glamorous locations and doing exotic things but, in truth, it’s the smaller films that are more fun. Perhaps my real favourite is Love Actually, which was a very happy production. I knew most of the cast quite well, including my Cambridge contemporary Emma Thompson. Director Richard Curtis became a friend (and my first guest at the Turks and Caicos International Film Festival [TCIFF]) and the film remains a perennial favourite with fans.

Colin has his arms round musician Nile Rodgers and director John Landis. Colin is wearing a smart shirt with a 'fishy' pattern and a blazer. Nile has a black shirt with rolled up sleeves, a light hat, shades and beads around his neck. John is in a black and white hawiian shirt.
Colin with musician Nile Rodgers and director John Landis at TCIFF 2021
Poster for CANNES UNCUT. Tom Cruise is on the red carpet posing for photos in black tie. A woman in a dress is behind him with her back to us. The poster reads 'CANNES UNCUT' at the top and 'THE STORY OF THE FILM FESTIVAL' in smaller letters at the bottom.

Talking of the Turks and Caicos Islands… we bought a house there 10 years ago and foolishly I suggested to some local friends that they should have a film festival. So that was the end of my vacation time there. We ran the first edition in 2019 and I set the theme of ‘Oceans and the Environment’, which continues to this day. It’s a festival that celebrates film-makers trying to make a difference and now involves me in discussions with the Turks and Caicos government about developing a Film Commission and growing the creative sector there.

My advice to my 16-year-old self would be to shut up and sit down. I was a noisier, more annoying version of myself then – it wasn’t until a couple of years later, in my first year at St John’s, that I calmed down into a more recognisable version of who I am today. So, my 16-year-old self would have completely dismissed advice from a 63-year-old. I hope the fresher would have been more sensible.

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Colin is a content producer for the film industry. He was Director of Special Treats Productions until June 2023 and is now Producer at Once Upon A Time Content. Colin is Festival Director of Turks and Caicos International Film Festival, which celebrates the best of film-making and storytelling about the oceans and environmental sustainability.

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