Lack of funds may silence popular filmmaker

Mark Freeman, vice president of the University Film and Video Association, didn’t have much experience with contracting speakers when he first approached Student Activities. Since submitting his proposal to bring writer/director Kevin Smith to the University Lecture Series, however, Freeman has had his hands full with trying to make the deal work.

Now, after roughly eight months of working on the idea, Freeman still isn’t sure if the film auteur responsible for Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma will ever set foot on USF soil. And no one else involved with the process seems to know, either. Each party in the negotiation process has a different take on what’s needed to seal the deal.

According to Gail Stanley, development director and assistant to Kevin Smith, the contract as it stands now is perfectly acceptable, and the only remaining issue is whether Smith will be able to make the proposed date in October.

“The contract was fine,” Stanley said. “It’s a matter of scheduling. Because of the scheduling, we might not be able to make the engagement.”

Stanley said Smith will be filming his latest movie, Jersey Girl, up to the week before he’s supposed to speak at USF, and if filming runs long (which it often does), Smith will have to reschedule the lecture. Stanley added that Smith would be willing to sign a contract, provided that it came with a clause for rescheduling if necessary.

But for Freeman, scheduling is the least of his worries. The most imposing issue, according to Freeman, is funding. Originally, Student Activities approved $32,000 for Smith to appear, but the actual fee for the engagement now stands at $38,000.

While Freeman originally estimated the cost of the lecture at $33,000 plus first-class travel expenses, he never expected the figure would reach as high as $38,000.

“We tried working out the stuff and Jill (Reagan) called me and said ‘You know what? They’re looking for $38,000,'” Freeman said. “I knew we had to pay travel expenses, but I wouldn’t have guessed that to be $5,000. Maybe I was kidding myself.”

Though the $38,000 figure has not officially been approved in writing, Jeff Hyman, a representative of the Auburn Moon Agency, a college event agency that has been working with USF to contract Smith, said that it would more than likely be accepted as a travel-inclusive fee.

Hyman added that the difference in the anticipated cost was simply part of the negotiation.

“What happened is when you (USF) originally put in that offer, it didn’t include the travel expenses,” Hyman said. “So he (Smith) kicked it back, and said, ‘Not enough.'”

Stanley refused to comment on the money issue.

And with only a few weeks remaining to finalize the negotiations in time for the ULS schedule to be printed, Freeman is frantically trying to raise the $6,000 needed to keep his project afloat. He has approached local businesses, as well as national corporations to help sponsor the event, in exchange for advertising space at the lecture, but, so far, no one is interested. And with the relatively small size of his organization (UFVA), Freeman says it will be next to impossible for them to come up with the funds on their own.

“I’d say we have about 15 hardcore members who come to every meeting,” said Freeman. “Our budget for this upcoming school year is only $700.”

And while Student Activities originally offered $32,000 to bring Smith to campus, they have refused to offer the additional funds necessary.

According to Lori Woodlee, senior secretary for Student Activities, the ULS committee makes all decisions concerning the funding for lectures. Woodlee said the committee, which is made up of six students and four staff members, generally decides on a figure based on the overall value of the lecture, and the group that is proposing the lecture is expected to cover the remaining expenses.

“It’s very important that when you present a speaker that you are able to help pay for it,” Woodlee said.

Laurie Woodward, associate director for Student Activities, heads up the lecture committee, although she declined to comment on the Smith lecture.

“We have not confirmed Kevin Smith as a speaker but are considering the possibility,” Woodward wrote in an e-mail. “As of right now, there is no contract, no date and no confirmed price. I prefer not to discuss shows until they are confirmed and we have a contract.”

Jill Reagan, a member of the ULS committee who was originally the main member working with Freeman on the Smith lecture, is no longer involved with Student Activities.

Nonetheless, Freeman is committed to his task. He originally contacted The Oracle, after failing to gain company sponsorship, to inform students and possibly stir up some interest. And he’ll take the $6,000 any way he can get it.

“If we had 6,000 students donate a mere dollar each, we could still save this project,” Freeman wrote in an e-mail.

The possibility of simply charging students to attend the lecture is also out of the question. Aside from the ULS being against it, Hyman said that Smith would be against it, as well. Hyman has worked with Smith on more than a dozen other campus lectures, only a few of which have charged for the show.

“Kevin does not like to do that,” Hyman said. “His fan base often can’t afford to do that.”

Hyman added that, regardless of the money involved, Smith typically draws a large crowd.

“It ranges from about 800 people to 1,500 people, depending on the venue,” said Hyman. “But the majority do sell out.”

As a student interested in film, Freeman said Smith is an ideal speaker.

“I’m a big fan of his work, and I know a lot of people who are, as well,” Freeman said. “As an independent filmmaker, he wasn’t afraid of other people telling him it couldn’t work. He just went out and did it.”

And as a filmmaker who reportedly paid for his first feature film (Clerks) by maxing out all his credit cards, Smith is no stranger to money issues.

Although the writer/director couldn’t be reached for comment, Stanley said he generally enjoys speaking at college campuses. Instead of a formal lecture, Smith usually opens up the event to a question-and-answer session during which he can address students on a more personal basis.

“Kevin would really love to do the engagement,” said Stanley.