Berkeley Internet maven explores new approaches
By Lou Fancher Correspondent Contra Costa Times
Once again, Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker, Webby Awards founder, and leader of the film studio, The Moxie Institute, has her head in the clouds.
The Bay Area Internet maven has been dreaming big ever since cofounding the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences and disrupting traditional, solo-flier filmmaking by inviting people from all over the world to provide video and photographic content for her collaborative films.
Her online-based cloud filmmaking approach caught on -- not just with Sundance Film Festival audiences, but at global TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conferences, with U.S. Department of State, and more.
As the Internet made life more connected, her films and lectures offered a close examination of the way technology impacts everyday life that began to turn heads. Recently, she's been flying high in Hollywood and flying to the United Kingdom.
AOL, a multinational digital distribution corporation formerly known as America Online, is launching an original web series on its ON Network. ON is a curated video hub, with 14 channels devoted to news, video games, home. fashion, food and "The things that turn you ON."
Along with premieres from Sarah Jessica Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow and equivalent luminaries, Shlain's eight-episode "The Future Starts Here" will debut during ON's first fall season.
But not until she returns from a whirlwind trip with 100 "change agents" (like California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist) aboard a private British Airways flight. They're jetting East to present global strategies for technological innovation to British Prime Minister David Cameron and other dignitaries gathered at the DNA Summit, part of the G8 Innovation Conference in London.
Asked to discuss the eight-episode online series as a starter, Shlain says, "I'm taking big ideas I've explored and have made films about and bringing them to a new format and a new audience."
Shlain's films are about connectivity and how it is transforming the way we live. From a digital vantage point she's parsed reproductive rights, American Jewish identity, neuroanatomy, and even the importance of regularly unplugging from the digital racetrack.
Collecting donated videos and photos from people all over the world, her Moxie Institute combines these cloud-sourced contributions with top-rate animation, original music and often, Shlain voice-overs. The "give back" are the customized, short films they make for use by organizations with humanitarian causes.
After rattling off the list of topics for the upcoming ON series, which includes "working mothers in the 21st century" (she's one), "new thinking about thinking" (she's doing it), and "unplugging" (she and her family do that, one day a week), Shlain says her mind is on mobile phones.
"You have to design films for the mobile screen now. (Images and text) have to scale up and scale down. It has to be dynamic, but also intimate, because people hold their phones inches from their faces," she says.
For the ON series, Shlain and her team will use archival and stock clips, but no cloud sourcing. Gaining permissions would be too intensive and expensive and besides, original filming and animation is a large part of the films she has already produced. Although her method for the series will be slightly different, her message will be the same: Technology is changing -- and more importantly, it's changing lives.
"I've always wanted to have a discussion in the middle (of extreme pro and con arguments about the Internet)," she says. "Technology is just an extension of us: We are good, bad and everything between. These new technologies are our superpowers: We need to be mindful because we have agency in how we use them."
Shlain expects the 10-hour flight on a British Airways jet redesigned for brainstorming to stimulate new ideas.
"It's like a creative city, with a great view," she says. "You do better thinking when you can see farther."
The biggest deterrent to attracting more girls and women to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) -- a subject Shlain suggests will be a primary topic -- is the lack of a compelling delivery system.
"They make these subjects unemotional. They've sucked the energy out of them in the school system," she insists. "I'd love to have scientists matched with artists; taking ideas and contributing to larger conversations with emotional storytelling."
It's a big idea: Revolutionize the educational landscape by marrying science and art. Or it's a retro idea: Just under 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks put big science ideas artfully on paper. If Shlain is writing ideas in the cloud, she's also counting on the wings of AOL and the winds of international travel to spread them far and wide and maybe, reach virgin ears.