INTERVIEW WITH… WENDY EIDSON OF SAN LUIS OBISPO FILM FESTIVAL
Talking to us on the blog today is Wendy Eidson from San Luis Obispo Film Festival which runs from 11th till 15th March 2015. For the early birds their deadline is 15th September, with the regular deadline occurring 31st October and later deadlines in November and December. So get your films in early! Without further ado, let’s talk festivals…
Hi Wendy, tell us a bit about your job, and what you do…
I began as the Artistic Director 9 years ago so at that point I was in charge of just the festival programming. We had a pretty amazing festival that year (2006) thanks to some great films and big name visitors, and the following year I became Festival Director, in charge of pretty much everything. Fortunately I got an assistant a few years later and that has made the work load somewhat bearable. I’m in charge of fundraising, marketing, administration, programming, tech coordination, mid-year events…and cleaning the toilets when necessary! All in all, it’s a great job and the only way I can make a living in the film business and live in San Luis Obispo, dubbed the “Happiest Place in America” by some writer who did a study on happiness. It really is a pretty great place to live.
You’ve recently added a whole extra day to the festival line-up this coming year, due to demand! Would you say that your audience is mostly filmmakers, film-lovers, or both?
Our audience at this point is mostly film-lovers but we are constantly working on making it a destination festival for film makers too. We have a good number of film makers attending because of our proximity to Los Angeles (3 hr drive) so that helps. They definitely enjoy the networking, the wine, the beauty of the area and once they come to SLO, they always want to come back. We added an extra day because the number one complaint in surveys has been that the festival isn’t long enough! A pretty good problem to have!
When do you start the initial task of work on the festival, and what’s the first thing you have to do?
The first thing we do is analyze what went wrong and what went right. We do a daylong retreat with our board to assess how well we did and what changes we want to try to make to improve the festival the following year. This year, we got over 900 surveys filled out during the festival, so those gives us a lot of useful input. Much of the programming is luck and timing and we all recognize that so the board is good about not putting too much pressure on me too early on. It’s impossible to know in June what films or special guests we’ll have the following March, so our planning is pretty hypothetical at that point. But we do start to organize mid-year fundraising events then. We have been doing movie events in the late summer and fall for the past few years that help generate income and awareness about the coming festival.
Your mission statement is, ’To entertain, educate and inspire film-goers and filmmakers. Movies Matter!’ Do you feel independent film finds its feet on the festival circuit?
I got involved in festivals for the first time 2005 and knew nothing about them. I was in production formerly so really had no idea what film festivals were for or about. My learning curve was pretty steep and what I realized was that there are different festivals for different purposes and that there is a place for festivals our size. First, I have witnessed a growing excitement among our community as people have started to realize what an amazing opportunity they have to enjoy world class cinema AND the people who create it right here in our small town. We have hundreds of non-profit organizations in our community and our festival has been able to find ways to collaborate with many of them because you can do that with movies…and that’s why we say “movies matter!” In that way, people in the community have also connected with the film makers and have become supporters of them in a number of ways. So it’s exciting for me to see how the festival has done its small part to make those connections which will continue to flourish and develop each year.
I also hear regularly from filmmakers what intelligent and engaged audiences we have in SLO County, so I think they benefit greatly from the input they receive from Q&A sessions and discussions in bars and at festival parties. A number of filmmakers are still finalizing their films at the time they screen them here, so they have used our audiences for test screenings and have incorporated their input into the final product. It’s exciting to be part of the process!
We also began screening local and youth films about 8 years ago and this has given fledging filmmakers a chance to have their films seen by large audiences on the big screen….an opportunity they would not get otherwise. I think this has been very inspiring for the filmmakers and the audiences as well and several of our youth filmmakers who have also done our summer workshops are now in good film schools pursuing their passion.
What’s your advice to someone who gets a rejection from a festival?
Rejection is not pleasant no matter how you spin it. But it’s just part of the game…obviously we can’t accept all of the hundreds of films that are submitted and we are looking to build the strongest program we possibly can. We have a very democratic process and in fact we just added another 20 people to screen films initially…people from every walk of life, not just film people, who help me come up with a well-rounded program. So we just tell film makers who get rejected that the competition was stiff (and it always is) and we don’t go into the details of why their film wasn’t accepted unless they ask us. I don’t have any problem sharing our evaluations with them and try not to sugar coat it either. I don’t think that does them any good if they really want to know. I also explain that it doesn’t mean their film wasn’t good. It just may not have been suitable for our festival. It might win an award at some other festival though!
Tell us the best and worst part of your job.
Best part – I get paid to watch movies!
Worst part -trying to get a commitment from a busy major celebrity or filmmaker to come and accept our annual career achievement award. It’s so difficult, stressful, always last minute, and people start asking me who our special guest is going to be about 10 months before each festival! I guess they think celebrities are just waiting by their phones hoping the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival will choose them this year! It doesn’t really work like that :0
I should also say though that once we get them here, they have pretty much all said they want to come back and many have! James Cromwell has come back 3 or 4 times ( he presented the award to Jeff Bridges last March) and he, Josh Brolin and Norman Jewison are on our Advisory Board just because they enjoyed the festival so much. Alan Arkin surprised me by saying he wanted to come back to present the next year’s award…but he’s been too busy working since then! Maybe next year!
Share with us one of your favourite films and tell us why you like it…
It’s not online in full, but I’ve chosen to share the trailer for ‘Hank and Asha’. It’s unique, contemporary, international and from the heart. Our audiences loved it and so did I!
Thanks to Wendy for taking the time to speak to Festival Formula and sharing her thoughts. Submissions info and deadlines can be found here, so don’t delay!
Below is Wendy’s biography:
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Wendy got her first job at 14 as a production assistant on a television series, and that was it . . . she was hooked. After graduation from college and a short stint at art school, she began working full-time as an assistant director, working on many film and TV productions, including A CHRISTMAS STORY, SUSPECT, A NEW LIFE, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and many more. Wendy met her husband, Tim, while traveling in the South Pacific and in 1989, they moved to San Luis Obispo to start a family and a mail-order food business called Mo Hotta – Mo Betta. They successfully grew the business, selling it in 2000. From 2001-2004, Wendy was the Executive Director of the SLO Little Theatre, and a year later became the Artistic Director of the SLOIFF. In 2007, she became the festival’s full-time director. Wendy finally had the chance to write, shoot, and edit her first short documentary, “Real Men Knit” in 2007 and hopes to have time for more creative pursuits in the near future.