Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Meet Alan Inkles

He's Busy Busy Busy...

By: Adam Misch

He has one with him shaking the bear-like hands of James Gandolfini. Next to that, sits another with his arm around the beautiful Leelee Sobieksi. There’s also a smaller one of him standing and smiling between comedians Ellen DeGeneres and Kevin Pollack. These are just a few of the hundreds of photos that line the perimeter of the office of Alan Inkles, director of the Staller Center at Stony Brook University.

Inkles, the 48-year old charismatic movie-lover has the arduous task of overseeing and enhancing the arts and music center located in the center of Stony Brook University’s campus. Inkles said he doesn’t dwell on past accomplishments throughout his 25-year tenure at the Staller Center because it will only hinder his future goals.

The Staller Center, which generated about 250,000 people this year has an eclectic group of people coming to see the events that are shown there on a regular basis. Inkles believes that people from every walk of life and every demographic attend his shows, but he is still worried about the younger generation not tuning into world of live performances.

“I used to go on stage and ask students, how many of you have been to a live production?” said Inkles. “It was a small percentage and it’s going to get smaller if we don’t get on our horse and start doing more things for younger audiences.”

Inkles, who’s newly formed gray hair drowns out his once jet-black filled scalp, is an undergraduate and graduate alumni in Fine and Theater Arts from Stony Brook. Incidentally, he got his first break and started working in marketing at the Staller Center, which was then called the Fine Arts Center, because he suffered a knee injury during a play and couldn’t pursue his life-long dream of acting.

Barbara Wien, finance director of Staller Center and the person responsible for giving Inkles his first opportunity to work for Staller said, “He came to my office after he graduated and has been a truly wonderful person to work with ever since.”

As both Inkles and Wien joked at the end of the day, Inkles teasingly said, “You gave me my first job, and now you can’t retire until I retire!”

His once inflated dreams of being a soccer goal-keeper and an actor at UCLA burst when he said he realized that he wasn’t athletic enough to stop soccer balls from plummeting into the back of the net and he couldn’t hit his high notes as a singer or actor. Odd-jobs, like working at a 7-11 and a Arby’s, helped Inkles scratch together some extra money before actually getting a steady job at Stony Brook.

A Short stint in directing plays and auditioning for pilots in the early 1980s were his first steps into the door of the entertainment world.

Inkles keeps a giant, blown-up black and white photo of a scene in a play, performed in Stony Brook called, “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder,” where he played the lead role, across from his desk in his office in the Staller Center. “When this job gets to be a real business on a day to day basis, I like to look across my office at a picture of me, as an actor, 30 years ago and say you know what, find the art,” as Inkles lost himself while he stared at his own picture.

He put up the photo up in his office 15 years ago when he was informed that the picture was lying face first in a garbage dumpster. Inkles cleaned it up, stuck a nail on the wall and placed it in direct sight of him at all times. “I act as an artist when I negotiate with clients. I act as an artists when I watch films for my festival,” he said. “Its not all about the dollars and cents—it’s a business of art.”

Inkles’ 23-year old daughter Jennifer, who is also a Stony Brook alumnus, has followed him in his mammoth professional footsteps. She is the Media Relations Coordinator at AMC Entertainment in New York City and according to him; she is his connection to the Hollywood scene. “He’s very dedicated to his work and when I was home with him, he used to stay up till 3 a.m. every night, watching movies for preparation of the festival—its pretty commendable,” said Jennifer.

Generating about $1.9 million in ticket sales and private funding, the Staller Center has grown into a venue for independent and mainstream films, art and comedy shows and a platform for multi-genre, live performances.
With an array of performances from a Pink Floyd laser-light show to a night with world-renowned trumpeter Chuck Mangione, who played in Staller even though he recently lost his two band members in a plane crash, Inkles provides people from all over the Tri-State Area with an exciting schedule of lively events.

One of Inkles biggest duties as the director of Staller is recruiting these big time players from Broadway and Hollywood to come and bring life to the 1000 seated theater in the main hall. “With these big artists, it’s the reputation of Staller and a trust factor,” he said. “They know they have someone they can rely on.”

Inkles takes pride in his communication skills and ability to make performers and their managers feel comfortable and fully confident in his business ethic. “Alan is hands down one of the most passionate and enthusiastic presenters that I work with in the entire country,” said Tobias Tumarkin, Vice President of Columbia Artists Management. “He has a great combination of creative entrepreneurial spirit mixed with a strong business sense that is all too rare in the non-profit performing arts world,” he added.

Probably the single biggest event of the year for the Staller Center is the annual gala. This year’s celebration, which brought in about $190,000 from the $80 ticket sales and the donations made by private investors, consisted of an evening with two of Broadway’s biggest stars, Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.

The gala was booked almost a year and a half before the actually performance and Inkles was at the forefront of luring these two in to put on an outstanding show for his audience. He saw both LuPone and Patinkin perform in Evita and once again 12 years ago in Texas. They stopped doing shows together but that didn’t stop Inkles from contacting them over and over again to get them to come to Staller. Both Broadway legends unified once again and the Staller Center performance was the first stop on their traveling tour.

The stage was set and the venue was packed. The audience burst into a resounding applause at any chance they had and barely any of the sold-out crowd left their seats during the twenty-minute intermission.

Inkles stayed grounded in the trenches of the gala as he bantered with the ticket-holders and funding donors and shook hands with every person within a two-foot radius of his arms. Remembering the hard work he put into this event, Inkles was on the brink of losing it when Patinkin was feeling ill hours before the big night. “The gala had so many roadblocks that it almost got cancelled four or five times,” he said.

His hard work went off without a hitch and the performance will resonate as a classic event for the Staller Cener.
Students at Stony Brook University also pay homage to the work done by Inkles and the rest of the Staller Center crew. Luke Manas, junior and cellist for the Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra said, “The facilities I get to use on a daily basis are great, especially the ones in the performance side of the building.”

Along with being the director of the Staller Center, Inkles is also the founder and director of the Stony Brook Film Festival, which is in its fourteenth year. The festival runs from July 23 through Aug. 1. Last year’s festival held about 15,000 people throughout the 10 days that it was open.

“We’re not Sundance, or Hamptons, or The Cannes Film Festival who have millions of dollars and do nothing but put on a film festival all year," he said. Throughout the year, Inkles sifts through over 800 films by himself, which range from two minute shorts to two and half hour feature films; only to choose a handful for the film festival.

During this time of the year, Inkles doesn’t have a single minute of free time, and if he finds a way to get a few hours to relax, he does that by lying down to watch a movie entry for the festival. He relies on the help of his staff of thirteen people before and during the festival, but he takes the hefty task of watching all entries on his own shoulders. He has the final decision and its made by himself because he does all the legwork by himself.

"If you talk to a film festival programmer, and they say they watch ever minute of every film, they're lying to you," said Inkles. "But I will tell you this. If you've put in a good story and have a good cast in it, and worked hard on it, I will watch it through...unless it offends me."

Ask Inkles about his daily schedule around festival time, and he would probably run down a list of unfathomable things he has to do daily and most likely run out of breath before he’s done.

Wake up at 6 a.m. Drive his youngest son Jesse to school. Drive back to Stony Brook University. From then on, he’s on a constant loop of checking and writing emails, going in and out of meetings, reconfiguring the budget and making phone calls to book new shows. After work is done around 7 p.m., its straight home for a quick dinner and he uses the rest of the night to watch movies and take notes for the festival. Two to three times a month Inkles also goes to see live jazz or dance shows in New York City, Las Angeles and Canada for new ideas for future performances at Staller.

Though, it isn’t all that bad. Being director of the Staller Center can have its perks. Along with tediously watching plenty of movies, hanging out and gabbing it up with celebrities, and getting commended for his work over the years, Inkles believes that just bringing a fraction of joy and culture to people’s lives is the grandest perk he can achieve. “I’m not discovering a new gene, or a rocket scientist finding a new place for all of us to live in 200 years, but my staff and I are feeling like we are providing a very valuable service for our community and campus,” he said.

His plans for the future seem to focus around one goal—the younger generation. With his co-founded idea of “first on us,” which is a free ticket for Stony Brook University students in their first year, he plans to have the Staller Center packed with young people. “I’m not going to raise the prices of our tickets, but we do need to find a way to draw younger people into our building,” Inkles said.

Julianne Rulon Greene, Marketing and Public Relations Director for the Staller Center said since the six years that she has been working at Staller, he has been a marvelous boss and one of the hardest workers she’s known. “The entire staff is devoted because he is so involved and so devoted,” Greene said.

One of the disadvantages of his grueling, but vibrant work is his lack of family time, he said. Inkles is so involved during this time of the year with searching for the perfect movies for his festival, he has little time for his three children, Jennifer, 18-year old Kevin, 14-year old Jesse, wife and dog--a Bichon-Poo, which is a mix between a Bichon Frise and a Poodle.

“My job isn’t as bad as digging ditches, but it’s not as glamorous as people think,” he said. Inkles knows that he has a “damn cool job,” but also realizes that people really underestimate how much work he is actually doing for the Staller Center and the Film Festival; but he also appreciates the fact that all his hard-work is kept in the dark. “People shouldn’t know how much work I’m putting in because if they were talking about me, then I wouldn’t be entertaining them fully and doing my job correctly,” he said.

His office, which doesn’t look like it even has wallpaper or paint because its is so cluttered, has boxes stacked high with Staller Center shirts, massive amounts paper-work, huge movie posters, framed photos with him and the many celebrities that came to perform and plaques commemorating his accomplishments. There’s a direct correlation to the outlook of his office in comparison to his everyday life as the director at Staller—busy,busy,busy.

To Inkles, any free time could be used towards work time. The people he surrounds himself with appreciate his stellar work and dedication to the fine arts and his community.

“You can feel his energy when he comes into the building, and when he’s not here its drained of everything,” said Wien.