Some think the exit is the end of the line, but it’s just a new chapter of your story if you stay true to your vision.
- Col Needham
Started when there wasn't any commercial use of the internet, and a hobby that turned into an obsession. When the World Wide is at its infancy, Col Needham kept a record of every detail of every film he had seen, and turn the things he knew into something that fueled his passion throughout his young adulthood.
His obsession is what made IMDb, the largest online database of information related to films, television programs, and video games, including their casts, production crews, characters, biographies, plots and summaries, trivia and reviews.
His actions has turned the mind of the tech-minded, shy, Hitchcock-obsessed computer programmer, into a Hollywood player himself.
Colin Needham was born on January 26th, 1967, in Manchester, United Kingdom, He grew up on Stockport Road and attended Audenshaw School. Needham later went on to Hyde sixth form now Hyde Clarendon. As a boy, Needham spent a lot of time with his grandparents who ran a newsagents.
Needham's first trip to the cinema was to see Jaws at the age of eight with his mother. He recalls, "I was scared of even going in a swimming pool, let alone the sea." But the moment was the beginning of his hunger for movies.
It was in the late 1970s that Needham foresee his future. When computers and movies began occupying his mind, he started reading Personal Computer World magazine, and built his first machine from a kit, a Science of Cambridge MK14. At the age of 12. He saw Star Wars and Colossus: the Forbin Project, which was about a computer that takes over the running of the U.S. defense system. Needham was addicted to movies that he once took out a loaned VHS of Ridley Scott's Alien and watched it 14 nights in a row.
His passion for movies didn't stop when the ending credits are over. He typed out information about every film he had seen, making a record out of them. "Technology and film," he explained, "these two things were kind of on this collision course."
With his interest in technology and movies, and after starting his own software business for games at the age of a tender age of 14, he went on to complete his computer science degree at Leeds University before commencing a career in technology research in Bristol, England. Needham graduated B.Sc in 1988.
In April 1989, Needham took his first trip to the U.S.. After he checked into his hotel, he 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 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."
The Internet Movie Database
"My first film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and it ignited my passion of films as a five-year-old. If this ever started to feel like a job I wouldn't want to do it anymore. I'm very fortunate to be in my position."
The project originated when Col Needham posted his interests about a movie called "Those Eyes" which described the movie's actresses. It wasn't long until others with similar interests responded with additions or different lists of their own.
"When I was a teen in early 80s I was watching films and losing track of what I'd seen so started a paper diary - the classic geek thing to do. I thought after two weeks, why am I writing this? So started a database for personal use on my computer of the names, directors, etc.."
His personal movie database was more like an internet bulletin board, and were simple records, kept on a succession of early computers. Needham continued adding information to this early IMDb by including every film he had seen since the age of 13.
Needham subsequently started a "Actors List", while Dave Knight began a "Directors List", and Andy Krieg took over "THE LIST" from Hank Driskill, which would later be renamed the "Actress List". Both lists had been restricted to people who were alive and working. By adding more than were actually needed, they soon have to include retired people, kept separate under "Dead Actors/Actresses List".
The goal of the participants now was to make the lists as inclusive as possible.
By late 1990, Needham's teenage passion about movies became a list that had almost 10,000 movie and television series. Thanks to volunteers and data from the internet in the late 1980s, the list continued to grow immensely rapid.
On October 17, 1990, Needham developed and posted a collection of Unix shell scripts which could be used to search the lists. The website moved onto the young World Wide Web under the name Cardiff Internet Movie Database with its website created with Perl programming language. And with the help of Alan Jay, IMDb's movie ratings had been properly integrated with the list data and a centralized email interface for querying the database had been created. With all that, the early database became indexable and searchable, giving birth to the original IMDb.
The data behind IMDb were stored in computer servers in the computer science department of Cardiff University in Wales. Rob Hartill was the original web interface author. In 1994 the email interface was revised to accept the submission of all information so people no longer had to email the maintainer of the list with their updates. Over the next few years, IMDb's database was run on a network of mirrors across the world with donated bandwidth.
Walking to Fame and Amazon's Acquisition
Col Needham co-ordinated IMDb as a worldwide volunteer effort from 1990-1996. At the time, IMDb was better known as the "rec.arts.movies movie database", but by 1993, the database was moved out of the Usenet group as an independent website underwritten and controlled by Needham and others.
As IMDb was then opened to more users of the young web, it received more volunteers. People were invited to contribute data which they may have collected and verified, which greatly increased the amount and types of data to be stored. Entire new sections were added.
And when IMDb was incorporated in January 1996 in the United Kingdom, it became the Internet Movie Database Ltd.. As an independent company, Needham as its founder, became the primary owner as well as the figurehead. General revenue for site operations was generated through advertising, licensing and partnerships. He rewarded its volunteers by making them it's shareholders.
With IMDb's first film-related advertisement coming from Independence Day, Needham that was still working for Hawlett Packard had to quit in order to give his fulll-time focus and work to IMDb. He bought IMDb's first server with a credit card. After two weeks, he sold his first piece of online advertising.
As the site grew large, IMDb quickly became one the largest website on the web. At the time, IMDb has included full production crews, uncredited performers and other demographic data. As resources are used more than they can be created, Needham start needing supports.
Needham's group then allowed some advertising to support IMDb's ongoing operations, including the hiring of full-time paid data managers. And it was in 1998 that IMDb became too much to handle. It was unable to secure sufficient funding from limited advertising, contributions and unable to raise support from the visual media industries or academia.
Needham saw then end but didn't give up. In 1998, a Seattle-based online booksellers, Amazon, came to London to visit IMDb. Amazon then had advertising hosted on the IMDb site so Needham first thought the meeting was concerning that.
But he was surprised when Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos offered him the chance for IMDb to be acquired.
"I emailed the team and told them everything after the discussion. Back then Amazon had never bought any other company," he said.
Needham and Bezos then stuck a deal. Needham sold IMDb to Amazon, on condition that its operation would remain in the hands of Needham and his managers, who soon were able to move into full-time paid staff positions. In addition, the benefits of being acquired by a larger company meant that IMDb also has access to shared services such as a much larger human resource, legal, finance and training.
By acquiring IMDb, Amazon was given the outright to attach IMDb to Amazon as a subsidiary. While IMDb now able to pay the shareholders salaries for their work, Amazon can use IMDb as an advertising resource for selling DVDs and videotapes.
IMDb became a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon as of April 1998.
The acquisition didn't stop Needham in continuing his role. He works daily from an office in Bristol with IMDb staff members in countries around the world. Needham is a board member of Into Film.
In 2015 when IMDb is a quarter of a century old, Needham's teenage catalog that holds his childhood passions, has turned into Hollywoods hard drive and movie-goers' source of answer to almost any movie questions imaginable from about almost anything shown on screen. And with Amazon behind its back, the two are part of a changing Hollywood that uses user comments, ratings, clicks and ideas to create the next billion-dollar movie franchise.
Col Needham married his wife Karen in 1989. The couple have twin daughters and live in the village of Stoke Gifford, a suburb of Bristol, England. Needham is not a headturner despite he is also known to be an actor and executive (Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature (2001), Suffragette (2015) and Points West (1957). He and his wife usually go on a date to their local Odeon.
With IMDb becoming the market leader in its field, when it comes to online film coverage, no one can touch or even come close to it. As one of the top 50 most popular websites, Needham is seen by many as the most powerful British in Hollywood.
Needham that walked his first red carpet in Cannes 2008, has received a 2014 Creative Coalition Independent Spotlight award for his work to support independent filmmaking. Needham that admitted seeing 8,254 movies back in 2013, was also a jury member at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
In 1999, Needham collected two Webby Awards for IMDb.