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Tribeca Film Fest Panel & Programs Producer’s Advice on Starting Out: ‘Be Proactive.’

By Jacob Nelson

When Mara Webster was a child, she made a seemingly innocuous decision that ended up marking the start of her professional career. T

he decision? What she wanted to do for her birthday. Webster, who works as the Panels & Programs Producer for Tribeca Film Festival, grew up in a small English village, and fell in love with film. She spent her time watching Lars Von Trier movies and whatever foreign title she could get her hands on. Her parents began to notice. “My parents picked up on it,” she said at an MSLCE Speaker Series event held last Thursday, where students heard her speak about her life and career with Northwestern Assistant Professor Aymar Jean Christian.

When her birthday rolled around, Webster recalled them asking her, “Do you want to have a big party or go to this thing called the Toronto Film Festival?” Webster chose the festival. It would be her first of many. “It was the best thing in the world,” she said about the experience. She knew she wanted to work in film, and her experiences at film festivals allowed her to realize that there were more professional opportunities in the industry than she had first imagined. “I didn’t know that this existed,” Webster said about film festival jobs.

Her first professional foray in the industry was as a production assistant in New York, where she moved the first chance she got. Then she did some unpaid internships while earning money in temp jobs, working as a bartender. “You never say no to a job, never say no to making money,” she told the audience. Webster said that one of the secrets to success in creative industries like film was to be ready to jump into anything. “The biggest thing when you’re starting out… is just be proactive,” Webster said.

Now, Webster’s job involves putting together the panels that are a huge draw at the Tribeca Film Festival. She obviously loves what she does, and her joy was apparent as she described the work itself. One of her panels involved the Last Week Tonight host John Oliver interviewing the still living members of the legendary comic troupe Monty Python. “I feel like I have a very selfish job, because the John Oliver and Monty Python, that was what I wanted,” Webster said. “I feel like a talent scout… figuring out who should come to the majors.”

View a clip from Webster’s talk on YouTube here.