Santa Barbara exec director secures sponsors

As executive director of the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Roger Durling recognizes that art and commerce must go hand in hand. Which is why, in addition to final say on the event’s programming, the ability to secure sponsorships cannot be underestimated.

“That’s part of my responsibility,” he says, acknowledging that he’s helped by development manager Mary Lynn Harms. “But the head of any festival is pivotal to creating those relationships.”

The key to such relationships, he maintains, is their mutually beneficial aspect.

“It’s not like they’re just giving you cash because they feel sorry for you,” he says. “Festivalgoers have a certain affluence, because they’re able to travel and spend all day at the movies. The average film festivalgoer makes about $100,000, and you represent that to American Express and Chopin Vodka and tell them they’ll have an audience.”

As an example, he cites Lucky Brand Jeans, a longtime sponsor currently listed in the “supporting” tier.

“Lucky Brand loves our Modern Master Award,” he says, referring to an accolade that went to Will Smith in 2007 and goes to Cate Blanchett this year, “because they love the young, hip and affluent.”

Because film festivals are nonprofit, such sponsorships are essential. “They do it for marketing,” says Durling, referring to businesses. “We do it because we need it for financial reasons.”

Film fests must be flexible, of course, for sponsors come and go. “Car dealerships are hard these days,” Durling notes. But one sponsor’s departure can mean another’s entrance. This year, for example, Chopin Vodka signs on as a “supporting” sponsor.

For its coin, Chopin will see its name associated with this year’s honoree for Outstanding Performance, Angelina Jolie. But Durling cautions that one mustn’t confuse sponsorships with endorsements. “Angelina isn’t posing with a bottle,” he says.

Stars have been central to this fest for years, and not just as honorees. Durling lists several as helpful, including thesps Kirk Douglas, Jeff Bridges, Tim Matheson, Carol Burnett, John Cleese and Dennis Franz. Other industryites have also lent a hand, particularly helmers Andrew Davis and Ivan Reitman, a board member, and former studio toppers Tom Pollack and Jeff Barbakow, the board’s prexy. “These are all friends of the festival,” Durling says.

“And I’m not shy about asking them for favors,” Durling says. “Our award to Tommy Lee Jones this year came about through the connection to (director) Andy Davis, who will be presenting it. We’re not afraid to call and ask people to help us out.”

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