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Who is a storyteller?

Stefan Sagmeister takes a very extreme stance in this video, but sometimes extreme stances help spur the conversation.

We all tell stories in our lives. We tell stories to our kids, to our friends and our work colleagues. Every startup entrepreneur who pitches her company (hundreds of times), learns how to tell a compelling story in a pithy way. Should we all call ourselves storytellers?

We all make food to feed ourselves. Whether it’s toast, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, pasta or a more gourmet meal. Should we all call ourselves chefs?

We all doodle and make presentations. Should we all call ourselves creators or artists?

We all hum. Should we all call ourselves musicians?

We all tinker on our computers, fix annoyances and set up our preferences on programs we use. Should we all call ourselves technologists?

Maybe you laughed at the last one, but it’s a valid comparison. Just like it would be silly for people who uses technology as part of their jobs to call themselves technologists, it is silly for people who uses storytelling as part of their jobs to call themselves storytellers.

They are both tools you use to do your job. They are both tools in life, at this point. Everyone tells stories, everyone uses technology.

One of the points in Sagmeister’s video I do agree with is that most novelists or filmmakers don’t actually call themselves storytellers. They call themselves writers/novelists and filmmakers.

The word storyteller has been consumed by pop-culture, by tech culture. While I definitely do not feel as strongly about this as Sagmeister seems to (to each his own, who really cares, etc.), I do think words have value and when they are misused, they lose value. As he says “…it sort of took on the mantle of bullshit.” Yep.


Madras 375

My hometown, Madras, is celebrating its 375th anniversary.

When I’m home in December, during the “season”, the one concert I try not to miss is by Sanjay, so here’s a lovely song from one of his concerts. A little piece of Madras.

It was either this or The Madras Song.


Experiencing art

One photo

Why do Gopnik and Viveros-Fauné spend an entire hour discussing a single work? Because that is what art deserves. Consider that people spend weeks, even months, with a novel; hours with a movie or a play; and countless hours playing video games

But when it comes to visual art, the treatment—the time devoted to a viewing—can approximate the length of a drive-by shooting or a turn on the catwalk. Too often people literally take a spin around the room of a gallery or a museum and then dine out on the experience—”We saw Pollock!” They say. “And Judd and Albers and Soutine!” Of course, they did see those artists’ works; they just didn’t spend much time with those artists and artworks. They didn’t, as it were, slow down and hang out (sorry) with those artworks for a meaningful length of time.

via Strictly Critical Video: One Hour Looking at a Jackson Pollock Painting at MoMA – artnet News.

The amount of work it takes to create any piece of art is significant. For a movie, it may take years to make the 90 minute film. For a painting, several weeks or months.

The world is moving in the wrong direction in terms of speed of consumption and in terms of how it is consumed. A selfie with a piece of art is about you. Not about the art.

Art deserves more.

photo credit : jackson-pollock.org


Paying Creators

Paying Creators

A month ago, I got an email from a filmmaker, Kenneth Wajda.

He had seen my film “In That Moment” when our films screened together at the deadCenter Film Festival in 2011.

I am in the small town of Lyons Colorado, (20 min north of Boulder) which
got destroyed by flood waters last September. I am working to open a
screening room to show indie films in town, called the Lyons Cinema and
Photography Art Center. Just opening a new business has been a source of
inspiration for this town. Would it be possible to screen your film for our
audience? And/or other films of yours? I want to create a program that shows
quality films worth talking about, and yours certainly is.

I may be able to offer some pay. I am a believer that filmmakers should be
paid for screenings, so I will try to make some payment to you for your
work, depending on our turnout. (We only seat 30 or so, so it can’t be a
lot, but it may pay for a beer or two, anyway.)

As a filmmaker, I want my movies seen, so I sent Kenneth a vimeo link and got on with my life.

Two weeks later, I was surprised to receive a PayPal payment of $10 from Kenneth. Now, as he had said originally, $10 is not a lot of money, it may pay for a couple of beers or coffees. But here’s a filmmaker who’s starting a business in a town that’s been recently devastated, who is trying to spread the love of movies, and who is paying filmmakers to screen short films.

In a world where content is consumed for free, where creators have to give stuff away for years before getting paid, this was a very refreshing change.  The symbolism, and the intent behind it, matters. In fact, it is so unusual that it has forced me to write a rare post.

Good luck, Keith, in your efforts to bring short film to Lyons, Colorado.


How will celebs change crowdfunding?

Kickstarter BadgeWhen Zach Braff launched his Kickstarter campaign for “Wish I Was Here”, he caught a lot of flak.

Kickstarter is a platform and I believe anyone should be able to use it. Even celebrities. And I agree that famous people bring new funders to the platform.

Zach raised $3,105,473 on Kickstarter, exceeding his $2 million goal significantly. Since May 24th, when the campaign ended, till today, there have been eleven updates via Kickstarter (there were 32 while the campaign was ongoing). He says he hired a team of three to manage the kickstarter funders as he wanted “everyone to love the experience”.

As Perry and Yancey said in their post:

Kickstarter is a new way for creators to bring their projects to life. Not through commerce, charity, or investment — through a new model powered by a willing audience. The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects offered backers tickets to the premiere, cameos in the movie, access to the creative process, and other experiences in exchange for pledges. Fans were thrilled, and 100,000 people jumped on board.

It is a willing audience, who obviously thought that the perks they were getting were worth what they paid. They got to feel good about making this movie happen and Zach put effort to ensure they felt cared for.

“Wish I was here” premiered at Sundance and was acquired by Focus Features for $2. 7 million.

The budget was, reportedly, $5 million.
$3.1 million was raised on Kickstarter, so let’s say it is roughly $2.7 after all fees and fulfillment. The remaining $2.3 million came from investors of some sort – maybe from Zach himself, friends and family, and investors who didn’t insist on creative control.

This means, with the Focus deal, the investors have recouped their money. And there are still the other territories to be sold1, DVD, streaming rights etc.

If this movie had been funded without Kickstarter, Zach would have had less creative control and he would also still be working to recoup his budget. But with Kickstarter, Zach benefitted and his investors who were willing to have no creative control, also benefitted.

The hurdle rate just got a lot lower when Kickstarter is thrown into the mix. This is true for everyone, but it is specifically true for celebrities because they can fund such large amounts.

This raises all sorts of questions:

  • Is crowdfunding  a risk-free form of filmmaking that celebrities can enjoy? Is it another perk of being a celebrity?
  • Will investors ask celebrities to throw crowdfunding into the mix more often? Investors can validate the idea and reduce their own risk.
  • Will this lead to investors wanting to fund more celebrities (or proven properties like Veronica Mars) who are able to bring in “free” money?
  • Will this this help or hurt independent filmmakers who don’t bring as much crowdfunding clout as a celebrity does2 ?

It will be interesting to watch this space.


  1. Focus bought the rights only for North America, Poland and South Africa 

  2. I don’t necessarily mean “on” Kickstarter or other crowdfunding platforms (although that might also happen), but rather, the choice producers will make in terms of which movies to take on, the choices PE funds will make in terms of which movies to fund etc. 


Designing your path

Designing your path

When I was in my late twenties, I was convinced that I was on the right path, and one that I would be on for a long time. I was working in Silicon Valley, and while the hours were long, I was having a lot of fun.

But then life happened, I moved to New York and dreams I had suppressed were brought to the fore. Since I was a young child, I had wanted to be a photographer. So, I decided to go on an adventure and become a filmmaker. And what an adventure it’s been. I’ve never worked harder and never been happier.

My dear friend and former colleague, Avid Larizadeh, wrote an article in Forbes about inspiring women to design their own paths.

It has become clear that we need to do more to shine a light on the ambitious, successful women who dream big and achieve their personal and professional goals while staying true to themselves.

She, very kindly, cites me as one of the examples.

Shripriya Mahesh is an incredible woman: A wife, a mother, an award-winning filmmaker and a successful Silicon Valley executive. She owes all of it to her passion, openness and determination. When I first started at eBay, she was assigned to me as my mentor and then became my boss and my friend. I’m now lucky enough to be godmother to her twins, so I know first hand how open, passionate and strong she is. Shri leads by example: She taught me how to create solutions for any problem and above all, that you can pursue your passion at any stage. She reinvented herself as a filmmaker after 15 successful years in technology while having twins and supporting her parents who were struggling with illnesses. Shri has now found a way to fulfil both passions by leading the product launch for a startup and working on her first feature. She proves that it is possible to handle any personal and professional challenge with determination and positive energy.

You can’t co-opt someone else’s path. You are unique, what makes you happy is unique. Figuring out your path is not easy, but it is worth it. For me, the path was much more circuitous than I would have imagined, but also more fulfilling that I could have imagined.

I love film. I love tech. I want to find a way to do both. Can I? I don’t know, but I am certainly going to try.

Each (of the women) is very unique in her path and identity, however they all share a few very important traits: They are passionate, positive, hard working, confident and most importantly, they are constantly learning and teaching. They promote others and are great leaders with loyal followers. And if you ask each and every one of them, they will tell you that they are no better than you. If they can design their own paths and stay true to themselves, you can, too

 


Live With Bliss

Live With Bliss

MS Subbulakshmi was one of the greatest carnatic singers of all time.

On
October 23, 1966, she sang Maithreem Bhajata at the United Nations in New York City.

My grandparents were in the audience.

My mother used to sing the song to me as a child and I loved it for its musicality. When I learned the meaning, I loved it even more.

The key message, of the song is “Sreyo Bhooyaath Sakala Janaanaam” which translates to “Let all the people live with bliss”.

And that is my wish for 2014.

With friendship please serve,

And conquer all the hearts,

Please think that others are like you,

Please forsake war for ever,

Please forsake competition forever,

Please forsake force to get someone else’s property,

For mother earth yields all our desires,

And God our father is most merciful,

Restrain, donate and be kind,

To all the people of this world,

Let all the people live with bliss,

Let all the people live with bliss,

Let all the people live with bliss.

Photo credit and all rights owned by: Raghu Rai
Source of the translated lyrics: Wikipedia


“Varenya” at Film Bazaar

Film Bazaar  IFP

“Varenya” will participate in Film Bazaar’s Co-Production Market in Goa, India.

Film Bazaar is organized by India’s National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and aims to help filmmakers with South Asian stories connect with financiers.

Every year, IFP nominates a project to attend the Co-Production Market and I am honored that they chose “Varenya” to participate this year.

Read NFDC’s announcement here and Screen Daily’s article here.

My gratitude to IFP and NFDC for their support.


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