Meet the most powerful Brit in Hollywood: Col Needham, creator of IMDB.
Col Needham is 46 and lives in Frampton Cotterell, a small village eight miles outside Bristol. He is bright-eyed, wears glasses and has the face of a beaming baby. Despite nearly three decades of living in the West Country, he still sounds Mancs. Every Tuesday lunchtime, he and his wife Karen go on a date to their local Odeon. At the pub, he has a small glass of white and goes easy on the nuts. He laughs a little more than average – every fourth or fifth statement is broken by a big giggle – but other than that, he is not an obvious headturner.
Needham is also the most powerful Brit in Hollywood – by miles, by millions. He is our Harvey Weinstein. More than that, he’s our Mark Zuckerberg, too: the Steve Jobs of south Glos. That’s because, 23 years ago, Needham created the Internet Movie Database – a compendium of film and TV credits, connections, goofs and trivia. At first it was a cottage hobby: run from his semi in Stoke Gifford (four miles from Frampton) while he was working for Hewlett Packard and the internet was still in its infancy. But as the web grew, the potential of a site whose raison d’etre was connectivity became plain. IMDb quickly became the market leader in its field. It still is: when it comes to online film coverage, no one can touch IMDb. The site is now among the 50 most popular websites in the world, with 160 million monthly unique users.
Needham sold to Amazon in 1998, but retained the reins. Today, not only does he pave a path for film fans, he also keeps the people who actually make movies on a tight leash – through subscription site IMDbPro (which, among other things, gauges every star’s current wattage) and sister sites such as Box Office Mojo (which tracks profits and losses). When he met Steven Spielberg at the Oscars in February, it was the director who grabbed hands and paid lip service first.
That, says Needham, was especially thrilling: his first trip to the cinema was to see Jaws, aged eight, with his mum. Afterwards, he recalls, “I was scared of even going in a swimming pool, let alone the sea.” He was hooked, hungry for all the movies he could consume. Six years later, in 1981, came his first experience of home entertainment: he was loaned a VHS of Alien and watched it every day for a fortnight. Then, in April 1989, he took his first trip to the US: he checked into his hotel, drove to the nearest video store and rented A Clockwork Orange, which was banned in the UK at the time. “My secret plan … well, my broadly public plan” – he pauses for a happy laugh – “is to make everyone love film and TV as much as I do. Growing up, we went to the cinema quite a lot. But it wasn’t until I got online that I started being able to discuss films with other people.”