The Organisation of an American Film Festival
Source: Boulder International Film Festival
This year I had an opportunity to be the Technical Producer for Boulder International Film Festival while I was staying in Colorado, USA for the winter. The town is at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and the festival has been going on for 12 years and attracts about 25,000 attendees, with screenings in seven venues, two of which are in neighbouring towns, and parties and events in several other locations.
The role required skills I have experience in: audio/visual equipment, IT, social media, and event production. I sent in my CV (they call it a résumé) and they were happy to invite me onto the team.
The first thing that surprised me about the festival was how many people involved were volunteers. The event producers, marketing team, venue managers, stage managers, sustainability team(!) almost everyone in the 100-150 staff were volunteers donating their free time to the operation, not to mention the larger number of crew over the festival period, who are also volunteers. It’s pretty amazing that such a large organisation exists almost entirely out of goodwill.
What I found most interesting, was how everything was organised. BIFF 2016 was the largest production where I have been part of the management team. As a producer, you see how the infrastructure works, knowing what is involved in decisions being made lets you see the flow of information and mechanisms of order. My role had me contacting a lot of members of staff. Some knew more about what was going on than others, even people nominally doing the same job.
Source: Deanna Amacker
The festival this year was re-build from the bones of the last couple of years. People that have been involved for a long time know the drill, and changes are flagged as important. If something was poorly handled one year, extra help is secured or extra resources allocated the next year, meaning there never has to be a top-to-bottom rethink of how things are organised, patches are put over problems until the whole thing is a giant patchwork.
The film festival has grown organically like this since its inception. If they moved location, or if a lot of the people involved changed at once, or if a new management team came in that wanted to do things differently, the festival would probably see a fairly drastic re-structuring from the inside. A lot of the way the festival works is based on friendships and casual arrangements, rather than legally binding business arrangements. A lot of the way things are set-up is based on the context, rather than based on standard business practises. The hierarchy works differently for each team. It is not set up by the management team, but has developed naturally based on levels of involvement and knowledge of what’s supposed to happen. It’s the difference between an orchestra all being given parts written by a composer, and a jam session where people just show up with their instruments and try to follow the tune.
Pros and Cons
The wonderful part is how all these little pieces of organisation over specific areas all come together, in their own unique ways, to raise this celebratory beast that breaths into life every year. It’s like seeing the inside of an anthill behind glass. All those little minions are all running around with a specific task and purpose. It would be impossible to know what they were all doing all of the time, and their paths seem so trivial and inconsequential, but somehow the whole thing operates efficiently as a colony, and they accomplish incredible things that they wouldn’t be able to as individuals.
The downside of this is that communication channels aren’t always clear, knowledge isn’t centralised and other people’s roles and responsibilities are not really clear to newcomers or outsiders. But with an organisation made up of volunteers who are contributing varying amounts of time, that fluctuate year-to-year, it’s rather inevitable that the structure can seem organic and chaotic rather than tightly managed and mechanical. It certainly didn’t seem to hold them back.
Source: Boulder International Film Festival
I didn’t get to see many of the films at the festival, my work kept me busy. I did catch the end of ‘Code: Debugging the Gender Gap’, one I was excited for, about women in technology. The bit I saw seemed to make the point I thought the film would, that women have just as much natural talent with technology as men, the reason they are traditionally excluded is mainly cultural, and also that there are plenty of women deliberately lighting the way for more to participate. The film was discussed at a panel event, and the discussion was broadcast online to create further discussion.
Working for BIFF, I met a lot of interesting people that I really enjoyed spending my time with. If my life brings my back to Colorado next Feb/March, I’d love to do it all over again.
Myke Hall is a screenwriter, producer, and sound recordist with the filmmaking collective Glasgow Film Crew. He also co-hosts the crew’s weekly meetup events. Myke’s background includes music performance and promotion, Internet radio and podcast presenting and producing, and music journalism. Myke has professional skills in social media marketing and IT support.