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About Rob Epstein

rob epstein headshot

Rob Epstein is a director, writer and producer who has been crafting moving, thought-provoking and socially relevant content for over three decades. Since 1987, Rob and his producing partner Jeffrey Friedman have worked under the Telling Pictures banner, traversing the worlds of non-fiction and scripted narrative. Rob has produced films that have screened worldwide, in cinemas, on television, home video and digital platforms, at museums, and at leading film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York. Rob has received two Academy Awards, five Emmy Awards, three Peabodys and both a Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowship. Rob continues to explore and cultivate the unique brand of socially relevant storytelling that is embodied in his pioneering and award-winning range of work.

Rob moved by bus from New York City to San Francisco at age 19. His first job in the city was as an usher at the Castro Theater back when there was still a smoking section. While taking a filmmaking class at San Francisco State University, he became a production assistant on a documentary in early development where he met his mentor, Peter Adair. He quickly rose to co-director, with the other members of the Mariposa Film Group. The film became the landmark documentary Word Is Out, released in theaters in 1977, airing nationally on prime-time public television, and recently restored and re-released by Milestone.

Rob’s next project was the Oscar-winning feature documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, which he conceived, directed, co-produced and co-edited. The film touched audiences immediately, becoming an international festival sensation starting at the Berlinale, and winning the Academy Award for Best Feature documentary as well as the New York Film Critics Award for Best Non-Fiction film of 1985. In 2013, the Library of Congress selected it for the National Film Registry, and the film is now also part of the prestigious Criterion Collection.  Harvey Milk was recently named as one of “25 most influential documentaries of all time” by the Cinema Eye honors.

Rob won his second Oscar for the documentary Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, made with Jeffrey Friedman. Rob's other films with Jeffrey include the box office hit The Celluloid Closet (Emmy Award for directing), the HBO documentary Paragraph 175 (Sundance Film Festival jury award for directing), Where Are We?, and most recently, And the Oscar Goes to... for Turner Classic Movies. 

In moving from documentary to dramatic narrative, Rob and Jeffrey collaborated on the narrative feature HOWL, starring James Franco, followed by Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard and Sharon Stone, and released by The Weinstein Company’s Radius. Both films premiered at the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals. HOWL was developed at the Sundance Institute Writer's Lab, where Rob and Jeffrey were Sundance Screenwriting Fellows in 2009, and was released theatrically by Oscilloscope Laboratories. It received the Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review.

In addition to his Oscars for The Times of Harvey Milk and Common Threads, Rob has received several Peabody and Emmy Awards, as well as Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships. In 2008, Rob was recognized with the Pioneer Award from the International Documentary Association (IDA) for distinguished lifetime achievement. He has also received achievement awards from Frameline (1990), Outfest (2000) and the Provincetown International Film Festival.

In addition to his filmmaking career, Rob is a professor at California College of the Arts, where he also serves as Co-chair of the Film program. He has also been a visiting professor at the Graduate Film Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He currently serves on the Sundance Institute's Board of Trustees as well as the board of the Yerba Buena Center of the Arts in San Francisco. He is a member of the Directors Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where he currently serves on the Board of Governors and chairs the Documentary Branch.



About Telling Pictures

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman are among the few directors, writers, and producers in the independent film world traversing non-fiction and scripted narrative. Rob and Jeff's partnership began in 1987 when they opened an office in a former convent and Catholic girl’s school in San Francisco and founded Telling Pictures. Their films have screened throughout the world in movie theaters, at major film festivals (including Sundance, Berlin, Venice, Telluride, Toronto, and New York), and on television and home video. Between them they have received two Academy Awards, five Emmy Awards, three Peabodys, and Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships.

Rob and Jeffrey's most recent documentary feature, And the Oscar Goes to..., includes interviews with Oscar nominees and winners including Goerge Clooney, Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg, Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks, Helen Mirren, Sir Ben Kingsley, and many others, as well as clips from Oscar-nominated movies, Oscar ceremonies, and exclusive backstage footage. More than a history of the Oscars, it is a celebration of the art and craft of making movies.

Their dramatic feature Lovelace tells the complicated story of Linda Lovelace, the first "adult film" superstar. The film, starring Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, and Sharon Stone, premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it was acquired by the new Weinstein division Radius-TWC. Lovelace had its European premiere in February at the Berlin Film Festival.

Their previous film HOWL, starring James Franco as the young poet Allen Ginsberg, was the opening night film at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and in the official feature competition at the Berlin Film Festival. It was released by Oscilloscope Laboratories in the U.S. and The Match Factory abroad (Freedom of Expression Award, National Board of Review, 2011).

Their other films together include Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (Academy Award, Feature Documentary, 1989), Where Are We? (Sundance Documentary Competition, 1991), The Celluloid Closet (Emmy Award for directing, Peabody, duPont-Columbia Awards, 1995), and Paragraph 175 (Sundance Film Festival jury award for directing, 2000). Prior to their partnership, Rob directed the Oscar-winning classic The Times of Harvey Milk.

For television they produced and directed episodes of Crime & Punishment (2001-2), Dick Wolf's non-fiction NBC prime-time spin-off of Law & Order, the HBO series America Undercover and Real Sex, and program segments for ABC, PBS, and MSNBC.

Their short documentary The Battle of amfAR premiered at Sundance 2013, followed by the Tribeca Film Festival and an HBO premiere on World AIDS Day. 

In 2000 Jeffrey and Rob were honored with a career achievement award by Outfest, the Los Angeles LGBT film festival. In 2009 they were Sundance Screenwriting Fellows with their screenplay for HOWL.

Retrospectives of Rob and Jeffrey's work have been curated at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London, the Taiwan International Film Festival, and CameraImage in Poland. 

photo by Don Holtz

About Jeffrey Friedman

 photo by Don Holtz

Jeffrey grew up in New York City, where he began his career at age twelve acting professionally off-Broadway.

He began his film career apprenticing to some of the most respected filmmakers in the business, on such films as Marjoe (edited by Larry Silk, Academy Award, Documentary Feature, 1972) and William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973). He worked with the legendary editor Dede Allen on the Arthur Penn segment of Visions of Eight (1973) and with Thelma Schoonmaker on Martin Scorcese's Raging Bull (Academy Award, Film Editing, 1980). 

Jeffrey's editing creditis include director Carroll Ballard's feature Never Cry Wolf (1983), as well as numerous documentaries for television, starting with the NBC prime-time documentary series Lifeline (1978) and the PBS documentary Faces Of the Enemy (1987), for which he received a co-directing credit. He edited the short documentary Kings Point (HBO), which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2013.

Jeffrey first worked with Rob Epstein consulting on The Times of Harvey Milk. In 1987 Jeffrey and Rob formed their production company Telling Pictures and began working as a filmmaking team.

Together Jeffrey and Rob produced and directed and Jeffrey co-edited Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt (Academy Award, Documentary Feature, 1989) and The Celluloid Closet (Emmy Award for directing, 1995). They also produced and directed Paragraph 175 (Sundance Documentary Jury Prize for Directing, 2000). Their short documentary The Battle of amfAR (HBO) premiered at Sundance 2013, and their documentary feature And the Oscar Goes to... premiered on Turner Classic Movies in February 2014. 

Their first scripted narrative film was HOWL (2010), which they wrote and directed. Howl, starring James Franco and featuring David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, Jeff Daniels and Mary-Louise Parker, premiered on opening night at the Sundance Film Festival, followed by the Berlin and London International Film Festivals. It was released theatrically and on home video by Oscilloscope Laboratories in the U.S. and internationally by The Match Factory. HOWL received a 2011 Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review.

They next directed Lovelace (2013) starring Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard, featuring Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Hank Azaria, Bobby Cannavale, Chris Noth, Juno Temple, and James Franco. Lovelace premiered at Sundance (where it was quickly picked up by The Weinstein Company/Radius for US distribution) and at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

Jeffrey has taught documentary directing in the graduate program at Stanford University, and editing at California College of the Arts. He is a member of the Directors Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is co-author of The Art of Nonfiction Movie Making, published by Praeger in 2012.