When Michael Roban '88 was at Union, there was almost no information about how to get involved in the film industry.
The independent film lawyer now is making sure that the situation is different for current students.
After reading an article in Union College magazine about film director George Hickenlooper's visit to campus, Roban contacted Charlotte Eyerman, assistant professor of visual arts, who sponsored Hickenlooper's visit. “I have wanted for some time to get involved with Union on some basis to establish more awareness with undergraduates about career opportunities in the motion picture business,” he says. “The article about George Hickenlooper turned the lights on, so to speak.”
Working with Eyerman and other faculty members who incorporate film into their curricula, Roban hopes to begin to provide the contacts that are necessary for students who hope to break into the film world. The first step came this spring, when Roban spent a day on campus talking with students. He advised them about getting screenplays read, whether or not to go to film school, and how to further their education in film while still at Union.
A political science major, Roban knew that (1) he liked film and (2) he wanted to become a lawyer. Once he discovered that he could become a film lawyer, he was determined to succeed. “When you have a passion for doing something, you have no choice but to do it,” he says. “It wasn't easy, but I did it.”
He attended the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University and learned about entertainment law by poring through legal volumes in the library and studying industry contracts. He then began providing free services for struggling filmmakers through the nonprofit organization Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts while working as a real estate lawyer. “I liked being a lawyer and dealing with clients, but I wasn't interested in the basic business of the firm. But then I got lucky, and a studio executive friend of mine eventually threw me a film.”
That was the key to his entry into the film world, and today he represents writers, directors, producers, actors, and cinematographers. He describes what he does as “basically dirty, roll-up-your-sleeves work. But I love dealing with creative people and being able to bridge the business aspects of the film world with the creative. I am good at being a lawyer, but I also understand the creative process.”
Roban's Manhattan office sums up what his work is all about. It is filled with legal volumes and videotapes of his favorite films (“I'm one-half lawyer and one-half film geek”), and he attends or screens, on the average, five or six films a week. “I've always enjoyed stories, and film is just a great story-telling medium,” he says.
Roban is working with faculty to plan a symposium on independent film in the fall of 2000 that will include several days of screenings as well as numerous opportunities for students to interact with professionals in the film world. “I've always thought that Union would be a great place for a film arts program to thrive,” Roban says. “I hope that this might be a good first step.”
Alumni interested in getting involved are encouraged to contact Roban via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.