Tiffany Shlain is an award-winning filmmaker and founder of the international Webby Awards. Tiffany directed the acclaimed documentary CONNECTED: an Autobiography about Love, Death & Technology and the LET IT RIPPLE series. She creates disruptive innovation in the way she makes films and the way she uses social media itself to further global conversations about the digital age in the 21st century. Her work is exploding globally, currently translated into 65 languages, and her newest film ENGAGE will premiere on Saturday September 8th in Los Angeles at the Interdependence Day Celebration 2012.
Julie Anixter: We loved your documentary film, Connected, which is about why people have the desire to connect and what it means for our world today. Your goal is to start conversations about what it means to be interdependent in the 21st century, and your approach to making films models that message. You are now curating and collaborating with other people and filmmakers in a very different way. Is that what you mean when you talk about Cloud Filmmaking?
Tiffany Shlain: Yes! Cloud Filmmaking is our way of bridging people and ideas across the world. We use the cloud to source creative content — video, artwork, photographs, etc. — then edit it together to create impactful and educational films that are then customized for free and given back to the individuals and organizations that helped to create them. All of the films from our Let it Ripple: Mobile Film for Global Change Short film series are collaboratively created, collaboratively translated, and collaboratively customized. By translating these films into as many languages as possible, we are able to make the films even more global. We have a Cloud Filmmaking Manifesto on our site where anyone can learn more. This could be interesting for your online global community — to understand how we use mobile technologies in new ways to make films in new ways.
Each of our films, starting with our feature documentary Connected, have focused on triggering important conversations about what it means to be connected in this digital age. Our new film Engage, which we premiered yesterday at the Los Angeles Interdependence Day celebration, is about the importance of engaging in society. Our next film, Brain Power, looks at new research from Harvard and The University of Washington on how to best develop children’s brains and links this new research to ideas on how to best develop the global brain of the Internet. This film will be released in October along with a TED Book.
We are in a period of great creativity – and the Cloud makes it so much easier to create. This new film series takes the innovative ideas we started to propose in Connected and puts them into play with filmmaking social activism, and communication.
Julie: Tell us about the innovation that Connected represents.
Tiffany: Connected really looks at the history of connectedness in the 21st century. It starts in the beginning of civilization. It asks the question “why do we have this desire to connect?” What is that desire based in? I use a very personal story to crack open that subject. The film then moves through history, exploring the world and what happens as we all become more connected – the good, the bad, and the potential. At the end of the film we ask what will it look like when everyone on the planet is online? What is the potential, what do we need to be mindful of, and what’s the “bad”? We mostly focus on how innovative ideas can come from various perspectives to tackle the biggest problems of the world… the potential is endless.
Connected premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2011, screened in movie theaters all over the country and received great reviews. It also got selected by the U.S. State Department as one of 19 documentary films from the last decade representing the culture of the United States as part of the 2012 American Film Showcase. I was honored that Connected was selected to kick off the Showcase in South Africa this summer. Connected will also screen in Russia and Thailand this fall and many other countries in the coming year. Really, we never just saw it as a film; it was always a bigger trigger for a deeper conversation about connecting in the 21st century.
Our “worldwide host a screening tour” allows anyone to host their own screening, and our discussion kit, that helps guide post-screening conversations for hosts and educators, features the DVD of the film, a book, conversation cards, curriculum, and a free, interactive mobile app. We published these kind of companion pieces to go with the film that allow you, or any group you’re part of, to delve deeper into the issue — whether you work at a company or whether you want to explore it personally, globally, or a myriad of ways.
Incidentally, the last line of the film was “After centuries of declaring independence, perhaps it’s time to finally declare our interdependence!” This line, in essence, launched our foray into Cloud Filmmaking and the Let it Ripple series was born!
Tiffany: From that last line, we thought, “let’s put the potential of all this innovation into practice.” We know that 2 billion people have cell phones, and we make films. We began looking at how to make films with people from all over the world. So, we rewrote the Declaration of Independence to create A Declaration of Interdependence. We posted it on the Internet, and invited people with cell phones or over the web to send us artwork and videos of themselves reciting the Declaration. We received amazing entries, from each continent. We cut it all together to create our first four-minute Let it Ripple movie that premiered at Interdependence Day last year in New York.
As a filmmaker, some of my other films that have done very well, and at most they were translated into seven languages. This would be done over the course of being three years out in film festivals. To compare, within six weeks, our four-minute film, Declaration, was “volunteer translated” by people from all over the world into 65 languages!
Tiffany: That is just so huge. I couldn’t believe that our message could be translated into so many languages within a few weeks.
Julie: I love that you were surprised! You know, I think I told you we connect to people in 175 countries, so you may see an increase in your numbers after this launch. I hope our community will take you up on your offer. Will you tell us more about your newest work?
Tiffany: Yes! Well, we mentioned yesterday’s premiere of Engage, the second in the Let it Ripple series. It’s a two minute film… a ‘big picture’ inspiration about the importance of engaging in the world. Starting today, we’re offering free customized versions for any organization that wants to use it for the purpose of making the world better from where they stand, through engagement.
Tiffany: Yes, totally free! Individuals and organizations can request a free customized film on our website. We’ll include the organization’s call-to-action, logo, and URL. To-date, in one year, we’ve already made 100 free customized versions of our first film for organizations all over the world.
We understand that so many organizations do great and important work in the world, and yet they don’t have exciting media to engage people. Now, with the Internet, organizations can use emotionally engaging video to help encourage people to act. Through the Let it Ripple series, non-profit organizations now have access to free films that can be used for fundraising or to enhance the communication of their message or mission.
Julie: I love what you said about how many great organizations just don’t have good media. They don’t have the budgets or the wherewithal to develop it and that’s a huge issue for their outreach and advocacy. It’s just radical of you to be creating media that anyone can co-brand and re-purpose. You – your project – has declared your interdependence by teaching others, by showing someone else that they too can innovate, and this is part of our mission in the world.
Tiffany: We love doing this work.
Julie: We heard you just received a Disruptive Innovation Award from the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival for your filmmaking. First, congratulations…that’s a big honor. Tell us why you think they gave it to you.
Tiffany: Thank you. It meant so much to me and my team at the Moxie Institute. We received the award because of the way we’re approaching filmmaking and using the Cloud to make it a global participatory medium. We did it with our feature documentary Connected, and then with the Declaration of Interdependence and Engage. We just came out with a free mobile app for our Connected film, which is an innovative in the film space. At my film studio, we are always thinking of new ways to reach people and to inspire discussions about the important issues of our day.
Julie: What’s the next big issue you’re tackling?
Tiffany: In October, we have another movie coming out called Brain Power. Brain Power looks at how to best nurture the brain and how to best nurture the global brain of the Internet. And simultaneously, with its release, there will be a TED Book that will expand upon all the subjects we tackle in the film. This is a new book series by the TED conferences – you know TED…
Julie Anixter: But of course! Who doesn’t!
Tiffany: So the same day that we release Brain Power the film, we’ll simultaneously launch the TED eBook that will feature videos, links to talks, music and other ways to really expand on the film’s main ideas. This is going to be another really different approach to releasing a film–inviting people to delve deeper into issues for themselves.
Julie Anixter: Well, I think that our global community is going to be thrilled and feel very lucky to be able to connect to these tools.
Tiffany: The big picture is all about encouraging conversations through our films, discussion guides, eBooks, mobile apps and our other tools. The second part would be, to literally engage, and this would be requesting a free customized ending of our film.
Julie Anixter: Okay, I got it, ideally it’s a one-two punch.
Tiffany: Yes. We’d like organizations to have the foundation.
Julie Anixter: I want to ask you one more question. I see you fueled like a speeding bullet train, in your desire to open up this conversation about connectedness, and I want to ask you again…. why?
Tiffany: Well, in 1996 I founded the Webby Awards, during the Web’s infancy. It’s presented by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences; which includes a 1,000-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, visionaries and creative celebrities, and other Internet professionals.
So, I’ve spent the first part of my career, nearly a decade of my life leading The Webby Awards — looking at the Web’s impact and implications, the pioneers of the Web, and how the Web is changing the way we live. Also, people are using technology to connect faster and faster today and it’s changing every aspect of our lives, yet we’re not taking a moment to have a bigger conversation about what it means — what’s the good, what’s the bad, and what’s the potential. So now I run my film studio full time and make films coupled with using the internet to engage people new ways. But The Webby Awards are such an important part of my life.
Julie: Yes. And btw we’ve heard about those 5-word Webby acceptance speeches too!
Tiffany: Yes, we instituted the 5-word speeches in year one and no one ever goes over–even to this day. Love that! The Webby’s continue to shed light on the best of the web, which as we all know is changing the way we do everything so rapidly. I think as a society, we are all moving so quickly, and it’s important that we take a moment to have a bigger conversation. A real conversation about what’s the good, what’s the bad and what’s the potential. There is so much good, but there are also some things that are not so great…like being distracted all the time. One day a week I completely unplug with my family, and that’s been really profound for me. I talk about this in my work and in the films too, which is to say that all this technology is amazing but don’t let it supersede those important, real life interactions.
Julie: Yes, I think a lot of us are feeling this way.
Tiffany: I encourage people to take a moment to explore how technology can be great for their company, their organization, their personal life, etc. and then think about what does it take away and what can be done about it. Lastly, and this is the fun part, where can this all lead? What is the potential for innovation? What’s the potential for humanity? What tools need to be made? What do we need to be thinking about as we move forward?
Julie: The reason I find your films so compelling for innovators is that in my own work, I continue to see this schism between, on the one hand the people who are dying to innovate, the brave ones or the brave companies who are taking risks; but on the other hand, the huge number of companies and people stuck and afraid and not wanting to risk the business or jobs they have and fail. Or the more cynical ones will say, “Innovation, isn’t that a buzz word?” Recently, a lawyer who works on intellectual property said to me, “Innovation, that’s not something you do, that’s something you respond to.” That’s indicative of what many people think – that innovation is only created by a privileged and lucky elite. What I love about what you’re doing is that you’re giving people all over the world an opportunity to co-create with you.
So, as we close, specifically how can our community engage with you?
Tiffany: There are three ways. First, any of your readers or community members that would like to host a screening of Connected can contact us at Host Your Own Screening page. Secondly, we’d love to have Engage translated by your audience for use in their countries. Details are available on the Get Involved tab of our website. Finally, because our mission is to start these conversations, we will work with your community to customize versions of Engage or A Declaration of Interdependence for non-profit organizations. Here is more information about film customization for organizational use.
Julie Anixter is Chief Innovation Officer at Maga Design and the executive editor and co-founder of Innovation Excellence. She worked with Tom Peters for five years on bringing big ideas to big audiences. Now she works with the US Military and other high test innovation cultures that make a difference.