Media Interview with Mark Dinning, editor-in-chief at Empire

For anyone who doesn’t know, could you tell us a little bit about Empire and what it covers?

Empire is the world’s biggest movie magazine. It was started in 1989 in a pub on the Holloway Road and the vision for it was to be like Q magazine but for movies. Since then it’s evolved into this monumental movie brand. We cross all platforms at the moment; we have eight foreign editions across the world and we sell out our rivals internationally by two copies to each of their one. And next year we celebrate our 25th anniversary, which is very exciting.

Can you tell us why you think Empire has been so successful and still continues to be?

We’re really lucky, it has been a phenomenal success rate. Our male/female split is 70% male and 30% female, but we are a movie magazine for movie lovers for both genders, of all ages. We’re categorised as a men’s lifestyle magazine and just under a year ago we overtook Top Gear to become the second biggest men’s lifestyle magazine in the country, which is fantastic!

I guess a lot of the success comes down to that we have a team that delivers a world class publication each and every month. I think that we’re really consistent in that. I think we also write about movies in a way that’s in-depth enough for the hard-core fans but also accessible enough for people who just like movies, and people who like movies is basically everybody. Although on the one hand, you can argue movies are a niche subject, I would actually argue the opposite. I would say it’s the broadest subject that there ever is. And obviously movies at the moment are going through a fantastic heyday. The world is a tough place at the moment, but movies seem to be enjoying this amazing success. I think the slate coming forward in the next couple of years is just amazing. We have 'Batman vs Superman'; 'James Bond'; 'Star Wars'; 'Star Trek'; 'Avengers 2' and more.

Going back to the question. A) Being sort of frank about it, I think were really good at what we do, but B) I think that the subject that we cover is in a really healthy place. The combination of those two factors is just the perfect storm, really, that we're enjoying very much.

What plans do you have for next year?

Next year we celebrate our 25th anniversary. It is a really exciting time for us. We’re really proud that we’ve been doing this for 25 years. We’ve got crazy plans, a lot of meetings with very cool directors. Look out for 2014; it's going to be amazing!

You’ve been shortlisted for the PPA100 cover of the century, why do you think the 2005 Breathing Vader cover was chosen and do you feel you have a good chance of winning?

In all honesty, I would love to take credit (and probably will!), but the truth is, I wasn’t editor when that cover was done. However, I do think it’s just such an iconic cover. That cover of Empire is the biggest selling issue of all time and bearing in mind that we're currently on issue 294, that’s pretty good going. It was art directed by a guy called Ian Stevens, who did a brilliant job and just kept it really clean of cover lines; it’s a really beautiful image.

The breathing card inside was perfect. I think if you do magazine treatments just for the sake of doing a treatment, I think it can look quite gimmicky, but there was just something so perfect about the iconography with Darth Vader, who’s this character that we’ve all grown up with. You can ask anyone, even show them a picture of Darth Vader and ask them who it is and they’ll pretty much be able to tell you. I think it was that perfect synergy of the right movie at the right time with the right execution and I’m not surprised that it remains the biggest selling issue of Empire of all time and do I think we can win? Yeah, why not?! I’m the eternal optimistic. Of course we can win. But that cover is up against some brilliant covers. I went to the launch that PPA did for it when they announced the shortlist and we’re in fantastic company, what a bunch of covers! May the best man or woman win! 

Do you pay for contributions from freelance journalists?

Yes we do. The best contact would be to go to our section editors. It’s pretty much split into three sections which is news, reviews and features. My best tip would be to look at which movies are coming up. We plan very far ahead, we tend to work two years in advance. So we’ve got plans up until June 2015. We know a long way in advance what we’re going to be doing, but not planning the fine details of it until much nearer to the time. One of the first things I ever wrote for Empire magazine when I was a freelance journalist was about a movie called 'Deep Blue Sea', which is a big dumb shark movie, so I pitched, “I’ll find you someone who has been attacked by a shark and lived to tell the tale” and they said "yeah, great". I supplied the pictures for it and did the interview for it. So that kind of stuff; look what’s coming up and think laterally.

The person to email is Dan Jolin – our features editor – but also if you have a specific news story, of course pitch to our news editor, which is Chris Hewitt. Whatever you’ve got, make sure that the angle is right, make sure the angle is a very Empire angle, and then find the right person to pitch that story to, and then you’re kind of half way there. 

What types of PR agencies do you work with?

We work with all sorts – obviously for us, the major studios who all have their own internal PR departments, so we deal a lot with the PR departments for 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, the big studios, but we also deal with PR agencies, that are either employed by the studios or distributors or might be employed on a film-by-film basis. And we’ve got great relationships with them, we’ve worked with them all for a really long time. So I guess those would be the main ones.

Of all the press releases you receive on a daily basis, what percentage of them make it to publication?

Not very many, to be honest. What’s interesting about Empire is that we operate very much as a brand, and when I came on board back in 1999, Empire was, let’s face it, a magazine. Now, I don’t see Empire as a magazine, Empire is a brand, so in terms of press releases I guess online would be where we publish a big proportion of something that appeals to our target readership. The average age of that person is 27 and roughly 70/30 male/female so it roughly depends. 

What interests you most about your job?

I’m a big movie fan and you have good days, you have bad days, some days stressful, some days less so, but fundamentally, I love seeing movies and it’s kind of as simple as that, really. I also love a great deal of the people who make them. I think as a magazine our real heroes are directors. We’re obviously fans too of actors and actresses but really it’s the creative vision behind it. The screenwriters, movie directors who most interest us. So the day I stop enjoying movies is the day I should move on, but at the end of the day it’s a great place to be and a great industry to work within.

Can you name your top three favourite movies of all time?

1. 'Jaws'

2. 'The Empire Strikes Back'

3. 'The Shining'

Number three can change, but numbers one and two will always pretty much remain the same. I’m a big scuba diving fan and I’m a big Steven Spielberg fan, therefore sharks + Steven Spielberg = greatest movie of all time.

If you could time travel, what time would you go to and why?

I would travel to whatever year it is in 'Back to the Future II'. I always wanted a Hoverboard as a kid. And if not then, I’d go back to the seventies, because most of my wardrobe will be from the seventies, so I wouldn’t have to buy a new wardrobe.

The Empire team are tweeting @empiremagazine.

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