6 Things You Didn't Know About Planning the Tribeca Film Festival

Learn how festival organizers approach venue selection, manage staff, and make programming decisions.

By Beth Kormanik April 18, 2018, 7:01 AM EDT

Television programming has been a part of the festival since it screened the series finale of Friends in 2004. In 2017, it featured a panel with cast and creators of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale. This year's world premieres include shows from Netflix, YouTube Red, National Geographic, and ESPN.

Photo: Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

The 17th Tribeca Film Festival begins tonight with the opening gala screening of Love, Gilda, a documentary about the comedian Gilda Radner. What follows through April 29 is a packed schedule of films in competition, special screenings, galas, talks with directors and actors, virtual-reality programming, and much more.

Pulling it off is no small task. Festival organizers shared behind-the-scenes details that show how the festival comes together.

1. The festival switched from a volunteer program to a paid temporary staff in 2014. Managed by a four-person team, the 800-person Crew is an experienced bunch, with 65 percent having previously worked at the festival and 15 percent who have been with the festival since the beginning. They receive a screenings voucher for every shift they work, and the festival also organizes special screenings for Crew members as well as a thank-you party after the festival wraps. In 2017, some 600 people attended the party, which took place on a boat.

2. The festival uses venues beyond Tribeca. The heart of the event is in Tribeca—with screenings and other events at Tribeca Film Center, BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center, and Spring Studios, but they also take place at Regal Cinemas Battery Park Stadium 11, Cinepolis Chelsea 9, and SVA Theatre. Two of its reunion events—celebrations of the 25th anniversary of Schindler’s List with director Steven Spielberg and actors Liam Neeson, Sir Ben Kingsley and Embeth Davidtz, and the 35th anniversary of Scarface with director Brian De Palma and actors Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer—will take place on the Upper West Side at the Beacon Theatre.

3. Content programmers stay nimble. While programming decisions about films in consideration begin some six months before the festival, planners have the flexiblity to add timely content. In late March, organizers announced the inaugural New York event for the #TimesUp movement in support of workplace equality and an end to sexual harassment. The day-long event on April 28 will feature conversations with actresses Ashley Judd, Julianne Moore, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Amber Tamblyn, Marisa Tomei, and Sienna Miller, as well as Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center, Hearst chief content officer Joanna Coles, the poet and activist Robin Morgan, and others. Proceeds from the event will benefit the movement's legal defense fund.

4. It’s nearly a 24-hour-a-day operation for the duration of the festival. Duties include hosting filmmakers, producing back-to-back events, and moving the films to each theater to ensure they play on time. Staff can work as late as 3 a.m. and arrive back at the office as early as 6 a.m. It's all in the service of creating a memorable experience for more than 100,000 attendees.

5. Bloomberg is the festival's longest-running sponsor, signing on in 2001. The company's support has changed over the years, from hosting conversations about business entertainment to more recently staging community events outside of New York to grow the festival's audience. AT&T is the festival's presenting partner. Among its sponsor initiatives is AT&T's Free Film Friday, which invites film fans to free screenings on the last Friday of the festival, this year on April 27. Tickets were available at select AT&T stores.

6. Organizers have been thinking beyond film since nearly the beginning of the festival. In 2004, the festival screened the series finale of Friends at the Tribeca Drive-In. In 2016, Tribeca launched an official section of the festival dedicated to TV programming. Organizers added virtual-reality programming in 2012. This year's Tribeca Immersive programming, which includes a virtual arcade and talks on tech-related subjects such as blockchain and AI—will take place April 20 to 28.

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