Cree Nevins, left, Peggy Gormley, center, and Jessica Smith, core staff of the Tribeca Film Festival. They are recruiting 1800 volunteers for the event to be held in May.
Looking at the handful of employees occupying a sliver of hardwood-floored space on North Moore Street, youd think you were observing the daily workings of a small temp agency or a start-up public relations firm. Youd never guess what the sparse group is really up to: putting together one of the largest film festivals in the world.
Like Park City, Utahs Sundance, the Tribeca Film Festival will feature movies that will make little-known actors and directors tomorrows stars, and will include parties and premieres that will be documented in local press and gossip columns.
The Tribeca Film Festival, which began in 2002 as a September 11th charity event produced by the not-for-profit Tribeca Film Institute, has brought nearly half a million people and $100 million in revenue to downtown Manhattans local economy in just 2 years of existence.
This years event, to be held May 1-9, will bring filmmakers and industry honchos to view the independent films, short films, and documentaries. They will also attend the panels to be held in venues throughout lower Manhattan. But it wont be just industry insiders coming. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are expected as well.
Its a populist film festival, said David Earls, director of development.
Which is why the handful of people now toiling in the North Moore office are seeking volunteers: 1,800 of them.
I compare this to a political campaign, said Peggy Gormley, volunteer coordinator for the festival. You come into town with a core, skeleton group and collaborate with hundreds of local volunteers to get the job done.
So Gormley is calling all aspiring producers, accountants, event planners, PR representatives, and travel agents as well as anyone with a love for the silver screen to sign up for one of her 15 committees.
There are a variety of tasks that cater to people with diverse interests, said Jessica Smith, 24, who volunteered at the festival last year when she was still a student at NYU and this year was hired as a production assistant. And its a great opportunity to see how hard people work in the film business. As an attendee, you think, I could run a film festival. But its amazing how many components need to exist.
Volunteers are required to make a minimum commitment of three six-hour shifts, which they can fulfill in a range of departments. A Screenings volunteer might serve as an usher or a doorperson at screenings, while a Travel volunteer might organize transportation and accommodations for filmmakers and other important guests. A Production volunteer will do everything from lifting heavy equipment to fixing lighting emergencies to making sure all the local Starbucks are adequately stocked with festival mini-guides.
For people interested in working in film, you really learn something in production, said Cree Nevins, who heads up the division. Its like being a real-life, on-set grip or roadie. You work with every other department. Youre the framework of the whole house.
Of course, its not just the desire to learn that drives people to volunteer. Perhaps even more alluring is the opportunity to see movies for free and the ever-present possibility of a brush with celebrity (one reason that the Special Events division, which oversees premieres and parties, is such a popular preference choice on the application).
Youll get to see any number of famous people going to see the screenings, said Dan Cento, 22, who volunteered last year and is interning for credit this year. Volunteers in the Panels department in previous years provided support for such events as a discussion of Love in the Movies with participants like Nora Ephron and Lauren Bacall and a panel on What Makes a Movie Funny that included Nathan Lane and Paul Rudnick.
But volunteers are first required to attend an orientation session that emphasizes professional behavior.
This is not a networking opportunity, Gormley said.
Most of those who sign up to volunteer are students, many of whom will seek jobs in the film industry after graduation. But volunteer applicants come from all over the place Gormley has received applications from foreigners who will travel to New York for the festival and from professionals who want to donate time during evenings and weekends. The application, which asks applicants to list their skills and the departments theyd most like to work for, can be found on the festivals web site, www.tribecafilmfestival.org.
Recruitment starts early, as volunteers for certain departments may be called for duty as soon as next month. The barebones staff must swell up well in advance of the crowds that will gather, oblivious to the exorbitant labor and thousands of bodies required to make everything flow like clockwork.
Its fascinating, said Smith of her volunteering experience, to see what it takes to make something look effortlessly glamorous.