Two local groups merge to foster the regional film industry
The Rochester Association of Film Arts and Sciences had a notable speaker for its monthly general meeting in August. The guest, Stephen McBride, had graduated from Penfield High School in 2007, before attending MCC and the New York Film Academy in New York City. Now, having worked in the film business for eight years, including work on major movies and other programs, McBride had returned home to offer advice for those who wanted to work in film production.
Which was exactly what Zachary Welch wanted.
The Rochester Association of Film Arts and Sciences (RAFAS) is a nonprofit with the goal of “fostering and supporting excellence in Film Arts and Sciences within the Upstate New York region.”
According to its website, the group helps provide education and other tools for its membership, including “information related to local independent productions” and avenues to connect with individuals already established in the industry. The cost of joining is $49 a year for standard membership, providing benefits including access to job postings, discounts to specific events, and other perks.
For Welch, RAFAS’s executive director, the main thrust of the group is “to create a learning ladder,” providing a pathway for those who want to move from working on amateur productions to more professional sets. “That’s our goal. Our goal is to provide that, for those who need it, as well as support independent film in the greater Rochester area and support and promote those who are—people who are already working in film, as much as possible.”
The story of RAFAS began in 2014, when Stan Main approached Welch about succeeding him as chairman of the board of Rochester Movie Makers, one of the two organizations that make up RAFAS.
According to Main, “one of the main reasons I wanted to start the group was to learn what, if anything, I could do in the filmmaking world, personally.” Rochester Movie Makers was first created in 2008 as a hub for individuals who wanted to make movies but didn’t know how to get started. “The initial goal was to create a group not unlike Austin Film Works,” Main says, referring to an Austin, Texas–based program where attendees paid $500–800 for a thirteen-week course. Participants in the workshop would learn the basics of moviemaking, from writing a script to editing the finished movie, which would be screened at a local theater.
After finishing the workshop, Main’s work in radio brought him up to Rochester, where he realized “that there wasn’t a school like that here,” noting how RIT was the only option at the time, where “you basically had to, you know, come up with $20–30,000.”
So Main crafted what would eventually become Rochester Movie Makers, turning it into a nonprofit and drawing a following. “We at some point, we got up to fifty people at the meeting. So it got really strong for the first couple of years.”
However, after five years, he came to realize “that filmmaking was something I was never going to really do.” He also was hired as the program director for two local radio stations, Warm 101.3 and Fickle 93.3. The full-time job “really cut down the time I could work on the group.” Main approached Welch, whom he had worked with “on a couple of different films,” finding him to be “one of the strongest people” to take over the organization.
After becoming chairman of Rochester Movie Makers, Welch’s first order of business was “to examine what we thought was working and what we thought wasn’t working.” The board reached out to multiple members of Rochester Movie Makers for feedback, reaching a consensus that “everything Rochester Movie Makers was doing was pretty much fine,” although there was an underserved niche.
“It was not catering to a good portion of intermediate-talented people that are sort of on the cusp of being an amateur and wanting to make it a profession.” Welch approached RIT Professor Dave Sluberski, noting how “a lot of the answers that came back from that overlapped with the services and the purpose behind Rochester Audio Visual Association (RAVA).”
Formed in 1956, RAVA was a weekly luncheon for “AV types, back in the day when there was Kodak’s, and the school districts, and Bausch and Lomb,” according to Sluberski, who is RAVA’s former president and RAFAS’s current board chair.
However, attendance with the group was starting to drop off. “It was just four to five people showing up for the meetings, to actually do the work,” says Sluberski, mentioning how one of RAVA’s principal programs, a media scholarship named after RAVA co-founder Tom Hope, “was starting to go.”
“So it was like, we need to try a couple of different things and reinvent.”
As a result of drops in attendance and a lack of payments from RAVA members, the officers took a vote, choosing to merge with Rochester Movie Makers, becoming RAFAS in 2016, when it was made public. As a result of the merger, RAVA officers joined the board of trustees, responsible for long-term steering of the organization, while the executive board, run by Welch, handles day-to-day planning.
Now, with the refurbished style and meeting formats of RAFAS, Welch has an eye on the future, incorporating workshops with professionals and continuing to draw in talented speakers to discuss their craft, with the possibility of partnering with a local film festival.
For Sluberski, the current drive of RAFAS members to push the organization to succeed is much like making a movie, one where participation is key.
“You make a movie for the fun of it and have a story to tell, and how is all that paid for? It’s paid for by an audience that’s basically willing to go to a theater and pay for it to see that. And that’s the same dynamic now with a group like RAFAS. You know we’re all passionate about doing this type of thing. But we need everybody to come to the table to help.”
Patrick Harney is a freelance reporter who covers the economy, education and local events in the Monroe and Ontario Counties.