Interview with Todd Boss, Founder of Motionpoems

Todd Boss is the founder of Motionpoems, an honorable mention for the 2015 Innovations in Reading Prize.

National Book Foundation: How does the filmmaker select the poem?

Todd Boss: It’s a misconception that Motionpoems “matches” poems with filmmakers. In fact, we offer filmmakers groups of about 10 poems at a time, and filmmakers select their poems from those groups. We invite filmmakers to read, fall in love, and choose.

Filmmakers fall in love with poems the same way any reader does; something in the poem reaches them or speaks for them or touches a chord. If a filmmaker doesn’t fall in love with a poem, we send them more poems until they do.


Photo of Todd Boss with Guest Producer Jennifer David (Credit: Sarah Hrudka).
Todd Boss (right) with Guest Producer Jennifer David (Credit: Sarah Hrudka).

NBF: What is the relationship between the poet and the filmmaker like? Do filmmakers often consult poets about the direction of their motionpoems?

TB: We invite the filmmaker to participate in a short, facilitated conversation by phone with their poet if they would like. That’s because they have been guaranteed complete creative control over their project.

We always preface the conversations by telling the poet that the conversation is purely research for the filmmaker and may not have any bearing on the creative direction of the project. We take the opportunity in that conversation to reinforce the fact that the filmmaker is in complete creative control. In fact, I often tell poets that they may not like their films.


NBF: Does that happen often?

TB: Almost 99 percent of the time. It’s a shock reaction in its initial viewing and it’s usually overcome in the second and third viewing. It’s just that, at first, seeing someone else’s interpretation of your work is jarring.

It’s a real trust game that our poets have to play. They have to be comfortable with giving up the poem. Smart poets understand that intrinsically. Once you put a poem on paper, it becomes reimagined by every reader. A motionpoem is just a window into one reader’s reimagination of the work.

Most of our poets love our motionpoems after the third time they’ve seen it. It’s just that initial shock that we’d like to prepare them for.


NBF: Your entire sixth season, thanks to a partnership with VIDA, features poems from female writers. How do you see Motionpoems expanding the voices of other communities in future seasons?

TB: We just announced that season 7 will consist exclusively of poems from African American writers through a partnership with Cave Canem. We’ll have more representing voices from different cultures and groups. We will also be exploring poems on timely themes that are potent for the moment.


NBF: Many of your films are co-produced by presses like Copper Canyon, Milkweed, and HarperCollins. How did these partnerships form?

TB: Really just through an invitational conversation. We say, “What have you got in the coming year?” and “Can we read through it?” and offer it to our filmmakers. The resounding answer is yes; we’re rarely turned down. It’s a great marketing and publicity tool for publishers. It’s also a great gift that publishers can give to their authors.