Founder, Creative Axis International & SVP of Partnerships, Telluride Film Festival
My Career Snapshot: (Bio)
Karen Schwartzman is a recognized strategic marketing and program executive with a 25-year track record of achievement in film, media, and entertainment. She is tapped for her expertise to enhance value around creative industries, and for the passion she brings to every project.
Through her Los Angeles-based company, Creative Axis International, founded in 2005, Karen deploys an array of strategic services for top-ranking media companies, brands, and not-for-profits. Her client portfolio includes world-class film festivals, preeminent cinema organizations, iconic Hollywood institutions, museums, art fairs, arts executives, and other content producers. She has a twelve-year relationship with the renowned Telluride Film Festival where, as SVP Partnerships, she manages the festival’s partnerships with Fortune 500 consumer, entertainment, and media brands, plus signature academic institutions and guilds.
Previously, she was four years at Variety as Managing Director, Strategic Marketing & Special Issues, five years as Program Director for IFP (Independent Feature Project) in NYC, and a Guest Curator at The Museum of Modern Art during a doctoral candidacy in Cinema Studies at NYU. In her twenties, she worked with iconic portrait photographer Arnold Newman on his retrospective book/exhibition, Five Decades; drove the Pan-American Highway in a Jeep from Caracas to Lima; and ran an eco-tourism business in the Venezuelan llanos.
My career has been wholeheartedly devoted to international organizations and the people who are committed to promoting, preserving, and widening the spaces for a rainbow of voices and enterprises to thrive in the global entertainment arena. I am most proud of the many impactful programs and relationships I have spearheaded (as well as the financing I’ve raised!) to build diversity into the mainstream on behalf of under-represented voices in the arts and business sectors. Giving back and sharing both my life experience and industry expertise with the next generations is my highest priority.
I got into the film world by falling in with a group of aspiring international filmmakers in NYC when I was working as a photographer’s assistant. I co-produced a short 30min film in Venezuela which gave me an immersive experience of every aspect of old-school filmmaking from conception to production, we did post in Paris, and I was successful in getting the short accepted to some 25 top festivals around the world. We used these opportunities to pitch European financing/production entities for feature projects and make connections. This experience taught me to be very resourceful, entrepreneurial, tenacious, and innovative in the business of film. After my academic and curatorial chapter, I had the good fortune to be introduced to the women running the IFP (at that time the hub for all things “indie”). I was offered a seasonal position on the Independent Feature Film Market, which before Sundance was the main event of the year for independent filmmakers to get their work financed, produced, and distributed. This began an exciting five years of immersion in the American independent film movement. I spearheaded programs year-round that gave filmmakers tools, resources, and opportunities to screen their work, plus we represented American indies at markets abroad. We were a small tight team. I learned to take initiative, manage up and down, figure out whatever I didn’t know, and work tirelessly. Throughout my career, I am grateful for incredible mentors in the women and men who believed in me and hired me– their intelligence, vision, execution, and friendship!
I’m coaching a young passionate executive in start-up mode on her non-profit venture. We speak everyday and my diverse experience enables me to support her in keeping all the balls in the air, clarifying priorities, setting goals, finding solutions, and forging access. And when she’s freaking out, we can do some breathwork or go get a drink!
Walk the Talk, setting the pace, breaking it down for everyone on the team, listening carefully, establishing trust, having your back and making it FUN.
When communicating, think always ‘who am I speaking to and why’ –be courteous and respectful to everyone (you WILL be working for your assistant one day…)
Three tied for business: Running my own business, Creative Axis, is the clear frontrunner, but it was an incredible moment when while boarding a flight for Berlin Film Fest and my boss calling to share news of my promotion to Managing Director at Variety; Opening night of the Venezuelan film retrospective I curated for The Museum of Modern Art. Personally, giving my dad quality of life during the long period of his illness. (…see challenge question)
My father was diagnosed with early-onset dementia when he was only 65 (specifically Lewy Body Dementia.) I had just started my exciting and demanding 24/7 job at Variety and this was the beginning of a 16-year journey as I became responsible for his care. While it was heartbreaking to lose him one drop at a time, and the challenges were oh so many, there were abundant gifts along the way. From being exposed to and the recipient of the incredible kindness and enormous generosity of people in the caregiving communities and the depths of my dad’s friendships, witnessing the incredible charm and power of his winning smile even in his most diminished state, to my own spiritual path in finding humility, gratitude, transcendence and a renewed vitality and purpose of my own life.
I heard this said recently: Hope is found between Faith and Being of Service to Others.