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Breaking News: Kirsten Schaffer in as Outfest Executive Director; Todd Heustess ousted after seven months

The Egyptian Theater
Updated at 9:35 p.m.

Outfest has named Kirsten Schaffer as its executive director in a surprise shake-up in leadership at the largest film festival in Southern California.

Schaffer, formerly director of programming and deputy director for the Los Angeles-based organization, replaces Todd Heustess who had been in the job just seven months.

Outfest donors were informed of the change in a letter late last week and sources tell Greg In Hollywood that Heustess was forced out of the job. The reason behind his ouster is not being revealed by Outfest which released this statement: “Todd Heustess has left the organization to pursue other avenues within the non-profit sector.”

Huestess was named just last September to succeed longtime executive director Steven Gutwillig after Schaffer had the job on an interim basis last year. Outfest’s summer film festival is the largest arts and culture event for the gay and lesbian community in the region.

Anyone who is a regular at Outfest events in Los Angeles is well aware of Schaffer who charmingly introduces many of the films being screened at the summer festival. She has been with the organization for eight years

The Egyptian Theater

Schaffer released a statement to Outfest supporters early Monday evening which did not address Heustess.

“In a time when we are reminded that our lives are not seen as equal in the eyes of many, Outfest’s work is increasingly important,” she said. “Outfest brings together diverse communities and ensures that LGBT culture is shared and celebrated. Now more than every, I am energized to lead this organization.”

Todd Heustess – pictured at the Outfest Fusion event on March 6 with Doug Spearman and Jennia Fredrique – could not be reached for comment Monday. I had spoken with him at Outfest Fusion and he was thrilled with the record turnout for the event. And now just over three weeks later, he has left.

More to this I’m sure. Will keep you posted.



(All comments are reviewed before being published, and I review submissions several times per day.)

8 Remarks

  1. I’m not so sure everyone would describe Ms. Schaffer as “well-regarded, and popular.” Some would say just the opposite. Outfest seemed a bit shakier last year under her control. She can be abrasive to people, especially people who may not be perceived as important enough for her. This major donor will take a wait and see approach before writing a check for Outfest, likely sitting out this year.

    Todd Heustess seemed like a great match for Outfest. Can you get the real story about what happened, Greg?

  2. I disagree with Robert about Kirsten and Todd. Todd seemed like a fish out of water in the Outfest ethos, which was guided so well by Stephen Gutwillig and several other executive directors in the years since I became involved. Kirsten is charming, intelligent, and very well-informed on film and queer culture. I look forward to seeing what impact she will have on the festival as she begins to put her stamp on it.

  3. As a former member of the board of directors for many yeras – through Gutwillig and even before – I will say that Kirsten is an incredible asset to Outfest, and, in a larger sense, to the LA film community. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of gossip to dish on Todd – just wasn’t a good fit for the organization. Raising money for the SF Opera is not necessarily good prep for the indie film world. But whatever, Kirsten has had good training by Stephen and others, and most importantly is respected by filmmakers around the world, audiences, the staff and the Board. This major donor is applauding and relieved by this organic choice.

  4. I happened to volunteer at Outfest for 2 seasons and as just a peon in the scope of things aways found Kirsten to be really sweet. She went out of her way to get to know everyone involved. She would come up to you just to say something sweet. I don’t know how well she did her job really but I do know that she was very well liked. You know how they say you can tell things about a person by how well they treat a waiter? well, that goes for any subordinates.

  5. For everyone expecting and anticipating dirt on why Todd Heustess left, I am afraid you are up for a disappointment because most likely there is NONE.

    Todd’s term with OUTFEST has shown nothing less of a devotion and dedication of his entire life for the purposes of the festival, while building it to become the most influential LGBT festival in the nation and a mecca to LGBT filmmakers. The success of the recent FUSION can reflect that. You don’t fire an executive director after pulling off this year’s FUSION. Mr. Heustess spent a lot of time traveling, meeting investors, working until 1am and returning back to work at 6:30am.

    All I am saying, there are things that are meant to be left for those involved.

    Kirsten is a big asset for the Outfest, but let me remind you all, if the festival could have done with her as the executive director earlier, Todd Heustess wouldn’t have been the topic of discussion today as the parting exec. director of the festival. Why? Because Kirsten would’ve been the executive director all along. Guess the board were second guessing her as well?

    Food for thought.

    And if you still feel like dishing dirt….go watch a soap. I hear “Wet Palms” is on sale ;)

    - A.

  6. People there’s no there there and there’s no dirt or gossip because it’s simple – Outfest is running out of money, that’s why everyone is keeping quiet. Letting Todd go was a financial decision – period. The biggest expense they can get rid of is the ED salary. I have good connections over there who confirm this. It’s pretty serious and I’m sure we’ll all be getting letters in the mail soon about donating to save Outfest. The economy is really hitting non-profits hard, really hard and they are fighting to survive. Kirsten needs our support and so does Outfest, we can’t let them go away.

  7. Todd was an amazing asset to an organization that has gone stale, lost its way and has a Board that is amazingly inept. This organization has been in deep financial trouble for a couple of years and my understanding is that Todd was brought in to try and right the ship. For the first time this year in several years, i donated money due to the new leadership. That will be the last time. There are other gay organizations that need our money now, that are well run and have strong Boards, not co-presidents and “political correctness” run amok.

  8. April 4th, 2009 at 10:05 am
    aformer outfester says:

    As a recent former Outfest employee, I can confirm that the organization is in deep financial trouble. The weekly topic among the staff revolved about the financial mess. We had to go through various channels, paperwork and board members to buy a paper clip or a pen. It was easier to bring office supplies from home. So my guess is that Todd’s fund raising connections in California (which gave millions to something as inoffensive as opera) were not interested in having their money connected with low budget films that showcased gays kissing and lesbians rolling around in bed. The majority of California is still conservative as evidenced by the passing of Prop 8. Consequently, Todd’s salary was certainly draining Outfest’s dwindling reserve, putting a halt to its cash flow (as you well see, there will be no replacement for Kirsten’s old position). So leave Todd alone and focus on supporting Kirsten and the organization before it goes under.

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