Are two heads better than one? Sean McManus and Josh Welsh, the new co-presidents of Film Independent, are happy to have a mutual partner in leading the nonprofit that runs the Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival.
“I look back at what Dawn did, and I’m not sure how she did it alone,” Welsh says.
By Dawn, he means Dawn Hudson, of course. As the longtime exec director of Film Independent, the well-connected Hudson was instrumental in growing FIND into a specialty player powerhouse. When she announced her departure to become CEO of AMPAS last summer, industryites wondered who would be able to fill her heels.
“It was a daunting task,” admits “Six Feet Under” producer and FIND board member Alan Poul, who co-chaired the search committee to find her replacement. “Dawn was such a strong single executive. The idea of dividing the position was something that we approached gently.”
Poul acknowledges that it will take time for the duo to be accepted as the two faces of FIND, “but both of them are so well liked and well respected among the L.A community and they’re both articulate and affable, I have no doubt that they’ll grow into it.”
McManus and Welsh also come from divergent backgrounds and disparate specialties within FIND, making for a strong tag-team dynamic. As FIND board member and longtime indie publicist Laura Kim says, “They are the perfect pairing of skill sets.”
McManus, a USC business school alum, was Hudson’s right-hand man for years as the org’s senior director, overseeing its staffers and playing a key role in expanding its annual budget from $1.6 million to more than $8.5 million. After Hudson’s exit, he operated as interim director. Welsh, who has a doctorate in philosophy from Johns Hopkins, ran FIND’s Artist Development programs for a decade.
But they resist the notion that they represent opposing sides of commerce and art. “Our roles have been focused on complementary areas, but our brains have been on the same page,” McManus says.
While there remains some division between the duo’s responsibilities, between fundraising and filmmaker programs, Welsh says there is extensive overlap.
“We’re not operating in silos,” says Welsh. “We don’t make decisions without the other’s input.”
As an example, Welsh cites the Spirit Awards: The kudocast has afforded Welsh the opportunity to do fundraising development. And for all the artists services the org runs, Welsh says he’s worked closely on getting those programs funded.
“We’re a good team when we go out and pitch our programs,” he says. “I can articulate what we’re doing and how we serve filmmakers, and Sean, as a fundraiser, has the combination of personal skills and savvy that has enabled him to grow this organization financially.”
McManus considers the org’s fundraising successes a team effort. At FIND’s L.A. Film Festival, for example, he notes AEG’s sponsorship was the result of many, including former fest director Rebecca Yeldham, Hudson and Gloria Campbell, as well as himself. For this year’s Spirits, McManus also heralds the arrival of new auto sponsor Audi, a partnership he says took a couple of years to cultivate.
As for the future of FIND, McManus and Welsh thank Hudson for leaving the org in a solid place, not only operating in the black over the past few economically challenging years, but launching up-to-date efficiencies, such as a new website and database. “We are now leading a very mature, stable and strong organization,” claims Welsh. “So we don’t have to completely revamp. It’s a matter of expanding the types of programs we have to offer and deepening the funding for those programs.”
One growing area of development is television. Both co-prexies tout their new Fox Writers Intensive program, a partnership with Fox Broadcasting’s Audience Strategy to find writers from underrepresented communities. Welsh notes an increased focus in their Producers Lab on questions of distribution rather than just getting a movie made.
“That’s an example of the direction that we’re moving,” he says. “We’re keenly attuned to the needs of filmmakers finding and reaching their audience.”
As the org moves forward, McManus refers to “The Five I’s” to define the values FIND represents: Integrity, Inclusiveness, Innovation, Initiative, Inspiration. “They’re our guiding principles,” he says.
And the nominees are:
Producer: Thomas Langmann
Producers: Miranda de Pencier, Lars Knudsen, Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech, Jay Van Hoy
Producers: Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Producers: Michel Litvak, John Palermo, Marc Platt, Gigi Pritzker, Adam Siegel
Producers: Evan Goldberg, Ben Karlin, Seth Rogen
Producers: Tyler Davidson, Sophia Lin
Lauren Ambrose – “Think of Me”
Rachael Harris – “Natural Selection”
Adepero Oduye – “Pariah”
Elizabeth Olsen – “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
Michelle Williams – “My Week With Marilyn”
Demian Bichir – “A Better Life”
Jean Dujardin – “The Artist”
Ryan Gosling – “Drive”
Woody Harrelson – “Rampart”
Michael Shannon – “Take Shelter”
Michel Hazanavicius – “The Artist”
Mike Mills – “Beginners”
Jeff Nichols – “Take Shelter”
Alexander Payne – “The Descendants”
Nicolas Winding Refn – “Drive”
Director: Mike Cahill
Producers: Mike Cahill, Hunter Gray, Brit Marling, Nicholas Shumaker
“In The Family”
Director: Patrick Wang
Producers: Robert Tonino, Andrew Van Den Houten, Patrick Wang
Director: J.C. Chandor
Producers: Robert Ogden Barnum, Michael Benaroya, Neal Dodson, Joe Jenckes, Corey Moosa, Zachary Quinto
“Martha Marcy May Marlene”
Director: Sean Durkin
Producers: Antonio Campos, Patrick Cunningham, Chris Maybach, Josh Mond
Director: Robbie Pickering
Producers: Brion Hambel, Paul Jensen
FIND finds fresh Spirit guides
Piaget Producer’s Award | Audi Someone to Watch Award |