ENTER THE MIND OF HEATHER WATERS
“THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT RICHMOND THAT ATTRACTS ARTISTS. WHEN YOU COMBINE THAT WITH OUR INCREDIBLE LOCATION THROUGHOUT THE STATE, PLUS GREAT FOOD AND BREWERIES, AND THE MANY OTHER EXCITING THINGS INCLUDING OUR WONDERFUL UNIVERSITIES AND PRODUCTION HOUSES, THEN YOU LAND ON A GOLD MINE.”
Heather Waters has worked in several facets of the entertainment industry for over 20 years. From the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN at eleven to the Australian Music Festival at nineteen, Waters acted and sang for audiences as intimate as 20 and as large as 20,000 across the globe. In 2011, Waters founded the Media Industry Xchange, an online global collaborative platform for creatives and that same year founded the Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF).
Today, we chat with Heather about RIFF and the future of the Richmond film scene.
1. HOW AND WHY DID YOU START RIFF?
I started the Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF) 10 years ago after moving to the city from Atlanta, Georgia. I had been in Atlanta for a few years and prior to that in Los Angeles or in Nashville, Tennessee where I grew up. I have been involved in the entertainment business since I was a young girl either as a performer actress/model and singer, or later after moving to California where I began transitioning more to things like producing and directing. When I came to Richmond, I was gracefully lured here by a gentleman I was dating at the time. While that didn’t work out long-term (ha!), the wonderful thing that came about from that is me falling in love with Virginia and deciding to call it home.
Even prior to moving here, while visiting the area on my trips out, we would go to everything from music festivals and political lectures to low-key dive bars where we would hear incredible musicians or experience incredible exhibitions and events at the VMFA, the Historical Society, and many things in between including lots of tasty food and beer…how could I not have fallen in love with Richmond?
In those early days I was engaging in insightful conversations following shows or at industry events with filmmakers I met along the way because I was quickly pulled into the film scene before even moving here due to having had a script development company for a few years prior in LA and Atlanta where I develop writers. I met some really great people, and started getting to work behind the scenes with some of a few of them to help grow the film and music industries throughout the state – and with a special focus on Richmond of course because that’s where I decided to call my new home. From those conversations, I learned that despite the city (and state) having all of this immense talent in this industry I had grown up working in, many of them didn’t have the tools and opportunities they needed to get their work and artistry out there to the rest of the world — and that was really the inspiration for me starting RIFF. While we have some really lovely film and music festivals here in Virginia, we didn’t have one with a specific niche that was international, combined with a submission-based or international competitive festival which is meant in many ways a career launcher or accelerator – connecting that talent to the rest of the world similar to what a SXSW or Sundance and other festivals in the country do. So, after being here a couple of months, I decided to create one and sprang into action. I wanted to help with some of that, and knew I had tools and resources to do it. It has now been 10 years, and I haven’t looked back. I’m so glad for making the choice to call Virginia my home.
2. WHAT DO YOU SEE IN THE FUTURE FOR RIFF, AND THE FUTURE OF RICHMOND AS A SMALL ‘HOLLYWOOD’ PER SE.
Richmond has a bright future. Folks like to compare it to a small Hollywood, and one on the rise or even an Austin in terms of music and film because it is coming alive – and that always thrills me to hear because that’s exactly what a lot of us are working hard to do on the frontlines in many ways and behind the scenes year-round. There’s something about our city that attracts artists – whether it be visual artists, performing artists, and creatives across the board, and when you combine that with our incredible locations throughout the state, plus great food and breweries, and the many other exciting things including our wonderful universities and production houses, then you land on a gold mine. I think folks outside of Virginia see that very quickly when they visit, and particularly in Richmond. I also produce and direct films, and I can tell you having shot a few of them here in Virginia myself, our brick and mortar companies and the city and the Commonwealth itself are fantastic to work with. And anytime you can make a production environment friendly for an artist and producers, you are going to have a rise in growth in artistry itself. An explosion of creativity has occurred the last few years as a result of that, too.
3. WHY RICHMOND? DO YOU SEE RICHMOND AS A HIDDEN GEM IN REGARDS TO TALENT?
Richmond is a hidden gem for all of the reasons above and I would say there is a renaissance occurring beneath the surface. This comes as a result of so many of us doing great work and collaborating together throughout the city – also working more intimately with artists and each other including those outside of the state and even country. This always helps put our local talent on the map in more expansive ways, and it is deserving of that. Bringing outside talent in, is also key to growth in our city because it creates collaboration, and engagement. That’s one of the many reason why I love doing what I do through my work during the festival. We also love working with other companies in the city and welcome joining efforts in this because many of us share a similar vision as we grow our industries here. It is a rewarding experience and I enjoy the journey of it all. It’s fun to see our artists get the attention and world stage they deserve and RIFF is one of the players at the center of that each year.
4. IF YOU COULD EDUCATE OR GIVE SOME LITTLE-KNOWN FACTS ABOUT RIFF/RICHMOND BURGEONING FILM SCENE.
When it comes to the film festival specifically, part of our mission is to help drive production throughout the year, so for example, many of our visiting artists and filmmakers that fly in year to year from around the world or our bands that come in to perform or to participate in our industry panels, production events and other special events throughout festival week – those are the folks that we introduce to our local talent and brick or mortar companies to, so that we are constantly helping to forge new working relationships and ultimately inviting all of them to return to Virginia to shoot their next project or record their next single, whatever it may be. We are also focused on the content development side where we develop writers and projects throughout the year with our partners. Our goal is to continue these efforts and provide writers with opportunities, too, as they need more platforms to meet producers and financiers to get their projects off the ground. Or in many cases, we assist the filmmaker themselves with their finished projects get one step closer to distribution. All in all, RIFF serves as a another key tool and platform for all of these projects and artists to help further production and careers.
HEATHER WATERS – Industry Executive | Director | Producer
Heather Waters is the Founder & Producer of the Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF), Founder of the FLOW Collective and Media Industry Xchange, Co-owner of Creative World Awards, and President & Executive Director of the RIFF Arts Institute. She also works as writer, director & producer and is the past President of the Virginia Production Alliance for the state of Virginia.
In 2000, Waters shifted behind the camera to co-produce and direct projects in Atlanta, GA, leading to a new love for crafting story for the screen. Since then, Waters has gone on to produce and direct several projects.
When not at the directing or producing helm, Waters devotes her time to the development and advancement of other artists. In 2008, she joined forces with Marlene Neubauer to become co-founder of Creative World Awards, which provides writers with story and craft development. Throughout her time at CWA, Waters has been responsible for helping hundreds of writers develop their material, many of which have led to option deals or representation for the writers. After three years of co-founding CWA, it skyrocketed to one of the top international competitions. Now in its fourteenth year, it is considered a main go-to source for industry veterans seeking fresh new material for the silver screen.
In 2011, Waters founded the Media Industry Xchange, an online global collaborative platform for creatives and that same year founded the Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF). RIFF is now in its tenth year and has become one of the largest international competitive film festivals in the mid-Atlantic. In 2014, Waters expanded to add the RIFF Music Fest, which is a submission based global competition that discovers the world’s next emerging music artists. These artists go on to perform live music showcases during RIFF with strategic platforms presented where new relationships are forged between filmmakers and musicians. A year later, Waters expanded to add the FLOW Collective Creative Conference, which takes place annually during festival week and includes film and music panels, workshops, and industry pitch sessions. She also created the Youth Roundtable Project, which is an intensive, critical thinking and leadership development program for youth focusing on the arts, math, language, humanities, and science.
In 2018, Waters founded the RIFF Arts Institute (RAI), a non profit organization that focuses on the year-round development and promotion of artists, including filmmakers, musicians, and writers. Waters serves as the President and Executive Director.
As a film producer or director, a few of Waters’ latest films include Trading Ages, Stillwater Lake, and By the Grace of Bob. Through her companies and development consulting, along with her work as past Executive President of the Virginia Production Alliance, Waters places a strong focus on growing indie film and music throughout the state of Virginia and fostering talent and strategic partnerships within the production community. Her companies have become a key development and support platform for artists across state and international lines, always working to foster and connect artists and further careers.