EXIT INTERVIEW: Eddie Schmidt
By KJ Relth
The beginning of 2012 marked the end of Eddie Schmidt's three-year run as IDA Board President. As he passed the title over to Marjan Safinia, Eddie answered some questions about his time with IDA and gave some advice for the incoming Board President.
What did you do while you were at IDA?
I served on IDA's Board of Directors for six years, beginning in 2006. For three of those years, 2009-2011, I was the organization’s Board President, and during the latter half of 2008, I stepped in as its interim Executive Director until we found a great guy named Michael Lumpkin. In addition to those administrative/spokesperson roles, I participated in the advocacy committee (formed in the wake of IDA’s work on behalf of Joe Berlinger and his film Crude), the development committee [and] the annual Awards show (which included co-hosting in 2011); moderated events and panels; and often contributed to Documentary magazine and to documentary.org.
There were three main goals that guided all my work: relevance, inclusion, and fun—in that order. I believed strongly that IDA held a unique position in representing the documentary community, and our renewed commitment to advocacy during that time (on issues including free speech, fair use and net neutrality) was a direct result. By speaking up for documentary filmmakers, and asking other filmmakers to speak out, too, obviously increased our relevance—but also our inclusiveness, making the community stronger and more connected. I also felt it was important to try to make our Awards screening process more reflective of the entire membership, and we eventually accomplished this, thanks to digital technology and a dedicated staff who made it possible for judges across the country to watch films online and vote. And while "fun" may sound like a trivial goal, it isn't. Who wants to belong to a member organization that isn't fun? Not me. So I tried to bring some humor and irreverence wherever it was appropriate. And probably even a few places where it wasn’t.
What were you up to before joining the IDA Board of Directors?
I was a documentary filmmaker, TV writer/producer, and former sketch comic coming off of an Oscar nomination (for Twist of Faith in 2005) and starting to feel more connected to the greater doc community beyond my own projects. At the same time, I recognized that the individual members of the community (including myself) were looking for streamlined and specific information and advice—as well as a unified voice—that an organization like IDA could provide. So it seemed like an organization that I could give a lot to, but one that would also give something back to me. And that was true on both fronts. Two then-current board members, (publicist) Nancy Willen and (attorney) Michael Donaldson, encouraged me to join. As I said in my remarks during the 2011 Awards show, within my six years on the board I went from young punk to elder statesman.
What's next for you (besides your film premiere at SXSW in early April!)?
I'm currently directing something for television that I can't yet discuss, and I've been producing a documentary with BMP Films (Bunim-Murray). They did Autism: The Musical—that’s in post. I'm also one of the directors making a film for Cinelan’s Focus Forward omnibus project. And yes, I executive produced a terrific film about artist / raconteur Wayne White (Pee-wee's Playhouse), called Beauty is Embarrassing, which premiere[d] at SXSW [this year]. And along with Morgan Neville, I'm exec producing another new documentary about one of my favorite all-time bands, Devo. So, you know...not much.
Do you have any advice to incoming President Marjan Safinia?
Wear comfortable shoes. No, that's the advice they give new film directors. Honestly, I think the hardest thing for the President is to maintain patience. Non-profit organizations can make great strides, but it really doesn't happen overnight. It’s a gradual thing. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to move mountains, but you have to listen to others, attempt solutions that may not work the first time out, make prudent small changes so you can later make bold, bigger ones, etc. It's a hard thing to learn when you jump in excited to (allow me to take back a phrase that’s been denigrated unfairly in the culture) "community organize."
What will you miss the most about your time at IDA?
I'll miss the intellectual workouts; the problem-solving around societal issues that face documentary filmmakers as journalists and as citizens. Areas where we really did make a difference.
And I'll miss the camaraderie—of our board and executive committee meetings themselves (which really evolved into enjoyable sessions), as well as the public events. As Board President I felt like it was my duty to go as many events as possible, and as a result I got to meet a lot of interesting people and learn about fascinating projects I may not have otherwise known about. I’ll try not to be a stranger, but I also know my family's glad to have me around a bit more.