Seattle International Film Festival programmer eats breakfast, lunch and dinner with a movie playing.

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SIFF PROGRAMMER
Megan Leonard

What do you do? I work as a programmer for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Not the computer kind, but the film kind, which means I watch an endless number of films and decide which of those should play at our festival. I’m also a programmer for Indie Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee, and Cucalorus in Wilmington, North Carolina.

In addition to programming festivals, I’m a full-time film producer. I produced three short films last year, including “Mixtape Marauders” (directed by Peter Edlund through our production company Visual Pollution) that just had its world premiere at the Oscar-qualifying Aspen Shortsfest. We hope to bring it to a Seattle screen soon.

How did you get that job? I started as a programming assistant at SIFF when I was a sophomore film student at Seattle University, and basically never let go. The job description said “watch and research films” and I was all in. Although the majority of films I watch are ones that can’t even get onto Netflix, I also get to travel to other festivals like TIFF and Sundance to see the premieres of some of the best films of the year (shoutout to SIFF opening night film “The Big Sick” — it rules!). After three years of working as an assistant, interim artistic director Beth Barrett and the rest of the SIFF team hired me on as a real employee. Now I focus on films for its New American Cinema, Documentary and Shortsfest sections.

What’s a typical day like? This time of year, I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with a movie playing. I’m also researching other festivals and reading through the trades to see what new films I should be tracking, and sending out email requests for screeners of films that I want to consider for the festival.

Using my millennial attention span to my advantage, I also dip back and forth into my producer role. I prep for different upcoming productions by doing any number of tasks, whether that’s calling every golf course in Western Washington to find a location or searching for the most authentic looking fake weed. No day is the same, that’s for sure.

What’s the best part of the job? Discovery. When you watch films all day and the majority of them are mediocre, finding a true gem is very special. In a lot of ways, as a programmer, you form weird attachments to these films as if you made them yourself. Obviously, this isn’t true, but you feel responsible for them getting into the festival, and personally insulted if someone doesn’t like them. Meeting the filmmakers of these films you feel so attached to is incredible because you’re their biggest fan — and they have no idea who you are. I try to play it cool though.

What surprises people about what you do? People tend to be surprised by the lack of glamour in the day-to-day. With programming, watching five or six films in a row can really burn you out. Yet after screening all day, I still enjoy going out to the movies on a Friday night to decompress by watching “Logan” or whatever the big blockbuster is of the moment with my action-movie-loving boyfriend.

Same goes with producing. Occasionally I get to go to a festival and hang out with other filmmakers, but the majority of the time I’m doing paperwork and ordering port-a-potties.

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