IM Chat w/Adam Roffman, Program Director, IFFBoston

untitled.JPGme: hi
adam: Hi Cynthia
me: how are you doing
me: is the festival stuff over now?
adam: tired!
me: i can imagine
adam: Still doing wrap-up. Gathering the press, mailing back some posters, paying some vendors, etc., etc. And cleaning house for the first time in months.
me: do you live full-time in boston?
adam: yep
me: i read somewhere that you do props for studio films during the rest of the year
me: does that take place in boston?
adam: Well, I do props and set decoration on studio films from May-December. January-April I take off from work to focus solely on the festival. The film work is almost entirely in Boston, RI, and New York for me. The next film I start on Monday in Rhode Island.
me: any films i’ve heard of?
adam: The Departed, Fever Pitch, State and Main, The Perfect Storm, and upcoming films include Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone” and Peter Hedges “Dan In Real Life”
me: yep, i’ve heard of those
me: have you made any films, or have plans/aspirations to do so at some point?
adam: I made a one-minute short film called THE TERROR OF THE INVISIBLE MAN which played at 26 festivals and then was acquired by IFC. Now, in addition to my art department work on studio films, I am a producer on Alex Karpovsky’s new feature GENERAL IMPRESSION OF SIZE AND SHAPE and will be producing a few other features in the coming year or so
adam: I plan to direct a feature at some point, but am in no hurry. I’d rather have a great script and do it right than rush into it just so I can say “I’m a filmmaker”.
me: you are a busy man
me: do you also travel around to a lot of festivals?
adam: I go to a few each year, but my filmwork keeps me from going to as many as I would like. I make it to Sundance every year (7 years in a row now) and usually hit a few others each year. I’ve been to Seattle, Newport, Cleveland, Hamptons, IFP Market, and some others. Some of the fest staff go to Toronto every year so we get that covered too.
me: can you describe what exactly is a program director’s job?
adam: I oversee the film and special guest programming for the festival. There are 5 people on our core staff who have input in programming and as Director I make the final call on which films actually get in.
me: would you say yours is a more casual or intimate fest than most others? it seems to be to me, but i’ve only been to a few
me: been to silverdocs, and i worked with the boston jewish film fest
me: silverdocs is very corporate though
adam: I feel like it is definitely more casual and intimate from my experiences and most of our visiting filmmakers tell us the same.
me: yeah it seems like a big film party
adam: I haven’t been to Silverdocs, but hope to make it one of these years. I’m friends with Sky Sitney there.
me: whereas others seem much more professional-oriented
me: iffboston just seems much more open and approachable
me: and there seem to be many more friendships being made rather than just “networking”
adam: I think alot of that probably has to do with the fact that from top-to-bottom our staff is between the ages of 25-35. We just try to give the fest a more casual and youthful vibe.
me: also, the film announcers always take care to note that the festival is entirely volunteer-run
me: what exactly does this mean–none of you get any salary whatsoever for the festival?
me: including the directors?
adam: Yes, festival directors are volunteer as well
adam: We put every dime we make at the festival back into the festival. For the time being we are all living off our day jobs and doing the festival as a passion. We hope it gets to a point where we feel comfortable taking some salary, but for the moment we would rather put that money back into the festival and make it as successful as possible.
me: that’s amazing
me: is that common? i imagine it’s not a big money-maker generally for the staff of any festival and every fest has lots of volunteers but i don’t know how common it is for the directors to be unpaid as well, especially for one as big as iffboston
adam: I think it’s common for very small film festivals to be completely volunteer-run, but I don’t think any other festivals our size are volunteer-run from top to bottom. We’re probably unique in that way.
me: there also seem to be more men doing the organizing, which from what i’ve seen is a little unusual
me: seems like most fests are run by women
me: again, from my limited experience
adam: Umm, I am thinking of all the fests I’ve been to and whether it’s more men or women as organizers before I answer the last question
me: ok
adam: From my experience, it is pretty balanced at most of the fests I’ve gone to. BJFF and Silverdocs is almost entirely run by women and those are more the exceptions. I don’t think any of the other fests I go to have a woman as their Exec. Director or program director
me: interesting that the two i know are the exceptions
me: i also heard at silverdocs, on some panel, a complaint from filmmakers that festivals pretty much only show invited films and rarely show blind submissions
me: does iffboston show many submissions or is it mostly invites?
adam: We show more submissions than invites every year. I would say about 70-75% of the films we are show are submissions. Alot of people would like to assume that if a film played at Sundance and then plays at our festival that is was invited, but that’s often not the case. We had a number of films submitted to us this year that played Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW, etc.
me: wow that’s good to hear
me: i imagine the more corporate festivals are the ones that show mostly invited films?
adam: I can’t really say since I don’t know about the inner workings of other fest’s staffs. I would make some of those same assumptions too, but people make assumptions about IFFBoston inviting films all the time and they are usually wrong.
me: is this a common complaint then?
me: sounds like you’ve heard it before
me: it was the first i’d heard of it
adam: no, once or twice a year on a filmmaker messageboard I’ll hear some filmmaker complain about that, but it’s usually coming from a film that has just been rejected so we take it with a grain of salt.
me: always some sour grapes
me: so do you have any favorites from this year’s festival?
me: or do you have a favorite genre in general?
adam: I wouldn’t say I have a favorite genre in general. I definitely lean towards darker material, but I like to mix it up. My faves this year would probably be DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, MONKEY WARFARE, PROTAGONIST, EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY, and THE PATTERNS TRILOGY, but I am very, very happy with the program overall this year. I definitely think it was our strongest program yet.
adam: I checked your blog last night and I was excited to see that you both saw and liked KINETTA. That was a film I knew the good majority of people that saw it wouldn’t get into, but I thought it was a well-made and challenging film and I like to throw a few of those in the program each year even though I know they will probably not well attended and will get murdered in the audience vote.
me: yeah i really liked that one
me: and saw some bashing of it on some blogs
me: it takes some patience to get into
adam: exactly
me: also a strong stomach!
me: i wish i had one, i can’t handle the shaky cameras
adam: so I read
me: happens frequently in indie film unfortunately
adam: luckily, the shaky camera thing doesn’t get to me. I see alot of it going through the submission process
me: i’m bummed that i missed day night day night
me: but hopefully i’ll get to see it at another time
adam: I know it will come out on dvd at the very least. And probably have a one-week run at the Kendall
me: cool
me: did you go to film school?
adam: I went to Radford University (in Virginia) for undergrad and Emerson College for Grad School, both for video production. Then I left grad school a credit shy and started working on Bill Nye, The Science Guy for a season, and then started working on films.
me: leaving grad/film school early makes sense, especially if there’s work available
me: i was film studies so didn’t get to make any films
me: but i’ve been writing screenplays lately and very much want to make one
me: we need some female mumblecores!
adam: I would advise against film school for most people serious about working in the business, except for the growing up/maturing factor. As far as working your way up the ladder, college only slows that down.
me: that’s what i tended to hear from some people outside of grad school, working in the business
adam: I would love to see some female mumblecores! I enjoy films with female protagonists much more anyway.
me: yeah we really need it
me: i have no problem with male directors we just need to add more females to the mix
me: so i need to get moving
me: and make one!
adam: yeah lazy! Get on it!
me: 🙂
me: so do you have any advice for someone interested in starting a festival, what would be the first thing you would do? (or did)
me: i had for some time been thinking boston needed a doc fest, but iffboston covers docs pretty well
me: and the kind of doc i like isn’t made often anymore
me: a more arty doc rather than the typical doc, which is more like journalism
adam: I don’t know why, but I’m having a hard time answering that “first thing to do” question. We do try to cover the docs pretty extensively at the festival and that has always been the strongest part of the program. I think a doc fest would be cool, but I don’t know that there would be enough good docs in a year to support both IFFB and a separate docfest.
me: yeah that was my concern
me: even at silverdocs there are only a handful that i really like
me: as for the ‘first thing to do’ your response is pretty much the same as i got from some other festival people
me: some said pick a date
me: some said pick a venue
me: but the rest is kind of ummmmm
adam: I was going to say “venue”. That is kind of the most important thing to do when starting a fest. Figuring out if it is in the neighborhood of your target audience, making sure it’s not the stronghold of another festival, making sure it is accessible to public transportation, etc.
me: yeah
me: and having a strong theme would help
me: have you heard of the true/false festival?
adam: of course!
me: i like the idea of that festival
me: have you been?
me: i’d love to go but have never made it yet
adam: no, it’s way too close to our dates for me to be able to attend. Same with Sarasota, Nashville, HotDocs, etc.
me: i met the director of that fest at silverdocs last year he was kind of stumped by my question about starting a fest too
adam: Like I said, I think the venues are key. Part of the reason it may stump people is because they are probably thinking back to what they did when they started their fest, not the important thing they learned by year 2 that they should have done from the beginning.
me: yeah
me: so what’s on the radar for iffboston now, do things shut down or is there work to be done throughout the year?
adam: we are starting our monthly screening series at the end of May with a film called THE HAWK IS DYING starring Paul Giamatti and Michelle Williams. It will be at the Somerville Theatre. Date TBD.
me: interesting
me: we’ll watch for that

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