By Jacob Nelson
Mara Webster will be speaking on Thursday, October 1 at Frances Searle Building, #1-421 as part of the MSLCE October Speaker Series. The event is free. RSVP here.
When Mara Webster was growing up, she knew she loved film, but she didn’t know how she’d end up working in the film industry. In fact, she didn’t even know that the job she would end up getting existed.
Now, Webster works full-time to produce panels for the Tribeca Film Festival. So, for example, when Christopher Nolan and Cary Fukunaga appeared in 2015 as part of a master class series on directing — that was Webster’s doing.
“It’s everything from creating the concepts and deciding who we’re going to invite to come speak to working with our production to make sure they have everything they need,” Webster said in an interview, “It’s a profession I didn’t know existed when I was younger.”
Part of that reason for that is because, in a way, the job didn’t exist yet when Webster was younger. She had been producing panels for Tribeca part-time until a few months ago, when the festival decided that her role should be expanded to full-time.
Prior to working at Tribeca, Webster worked… well, at basically every other major film festival in the country. She began as a production assistant at Tribeca, then volunteered at South by Southwest, worked as a stage manager at Hamptons Film Festival, a Theater Operations Team Leader at Sundance, and a Registration Coordinator at Nantucket Film Festival. Along the way, she’s also worked on television and film production crews for shows like “Blue Bloods” on CBS and for the movie Roadie. But it’s the festival circuit that has always captivated Webster.
“Each festival has to carve out its identity,” Webster said, “Some are more industry based… Nantucket Island is more about the location, but you go to Sundance and get on any bus, and almost any person on the bus is part of the festival.”
Because Webster has had so many roles in such an eclectic mix of festivals, she’s seen firsthand the talented community that comprises the film industry, and the important role festivals play in making the public aware of that talent.
“It’s about curating for audiences,” Webster said, “Festivals are so crucial to the voices of filmmakers and talent that wouldn’t get their work known otherwise.”
The festival circuit also offers a variety of jobs to people interested in seeing film from another perspective than what you might see working on a production. And when it comes to finding a career in the film industry, specifically within festivals, Webster says it’s all about the connections you make over time.
“You’re with your co-workers so much,” Webster said of the intense collaboration involved in organizing a film festival, “It just creates an immediate, very tight knit bond.”
Webster is reluctant to refer to this sort of connection-building as networking, because she says it’s much more organic than that. That said, she’s found that the relationships she’s established within the film festival community have helped her land other opportunities, and she’s returned the favor to others as well. In fact, shortly after our interview, Webster had scheduled a call with a former Tribeca intern who was hoping to get some of Webster’s insight on working at Sundance.
“Everyone says the film industry is so mean,” Webster said, “And it is hard, but people are so so supportive of each other. They help others get their foot in the door.”