Ms. 35 #4: Programming Proposals

Ms 35 4
September 14th 2016

Ms. 35 offers helpful advice and answers to your etiquette questions related to NYC's moving image culture. Have a burning question about navigating the exciting world of New York City moviegoing? Unsure of how to conduct yourself during a communal experience? Feel like you're… in the dark? Send your inquiries to!

Dear Ms. 35,

As a film programmer, I struggle with an endless barrage of screening requests/suggestions from the general public. This does not include the welcome programming pitches from pros with an understanding of how it works—rather more the insisting pleas on social media, and the face to face "You know you should really show XX. I can guarantee at least 20 of my friends would pay to see it."

The answer I would love to give is "This ain't no juke box. Let me do my job," but clearly that is not very friendly. What do you think is the best way to respond that would be both mildly discouraging while not insulting the asker?

No Total Request Live

Hey, NTRL!

At last, a rare inquiry from the most elusive of New York Cinema species: the professional programmer! 

It’s funny how that works: few people would think to interrupt surgeon friends at dinner with their opinions on scalpel technique; Ms. 35 can only assume that, as with most specialized jobs tangent to forms of entertainment beloved by the public (music making/playing, drawing, writing), people conflate “enjoyment of something” with “learned experience” to be benevolently shared with an actual working professional.

To that end we’re tackling two things in this column: shedding a bit of light on the work that actually goes into programming in hopes of deterring unsolicited comments in the future, and coming up with a handy list of mildly shading phrases that will politely deter individual commenters in the moment.

Film programmers worth their salt have watched A LOT of movies. SO MANY MOVIES. Movies they’ve loved, movies they’ve hated, films they’ve come across, films they’ve had to watch for work, films they’ve sought out as holy grails. They are painfully aware of the politics, zeitgeist, and shifting whims of their current film environ. They have a working knowledge of what’s available, what’s overplayed, and potential blind spots, and within that they try to balance deep film nerdery with general audience interest (ratio dependent on venue, which they know). Over years they’ve built relationships and networks with distributors, production companies, directors, and producers. They do hours of research into rights and ownership, history, precedent, and influences. They have the tenacity of a water bear and the patience of several saints in tracking down cinema. They breathe and dream film.

Now you, dilettante, come along with your Film School 101 basic shit acting like you’re the first person who thought of programming a kung fu series based on Wu-Tang songs. (Fun fact: WU-TANG THOUGHT OF THAT FIRST.) The problem isn’t your lack of knowledge; it takes a long time and a lot of love and effort to reach the higher echelons of anything! The problem is the rude assumption the person you’re talking to, the person whose job it is to do the thing, somehow has less knowledge than what you’re about to impart. A mere moment’s reflection would suffice to correct this.

Alas, that reflection seems wanting. So to the long-suffering programmers, Ms. 35 recommends a blandly neutral approach, as nothing dumps a load of ice water on enthusiasm like a cool non-response. Here are some sample conversations:

NYU BRO: So you like, program at IndyMovie? You guys should totally show Natural Born Killers with like, Doom Generation . It’d be sick!

You: What a perfect double feature for your frat’s 90s night. Hope your brothers enjoy it as much as you do!

FILM SCENE NEWBIE: If you’ve never seen Possession , it absolutely changed my life when I saw it at [Anthology, BAM, Film Forum, or Videology, but that ain’t gonna stop me from saying]. You should totally show it at Tiny Microcinema!

You: I was so busy digging up under-seen films I didn’t have time to catch it at [list all the venues & years].

BASIC FILM BITCH: You guys should show [Generic Hollywood Film, despite lack of fit, rights, etc]; it’s my faaaaavorite movie!!!

You: I’m so glad you have a favorite—with all the films I watch on a daily basis, I just can’t choose.

Of course these are all tailored—the generic best is a blank stare for 2-3 seconds, followed by a small, pleasant smile and ‘Ah!’ Let the awkward silence grow until they change the subject.

See you at the movies,
Ms. 35


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Next time: CELL PHONES! See you in two weeks!