By Zak Forsman, September 6th, 2011

We caught up with Tiffany Shlain as she prepares to release her newest feature, CONNECTED “An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology.” A DIY pioneer, Tiffany is always at the forefront of utilizing interesting and innovative ways to reach and engage audiences. Starting next week CONNECTED makes its way to screens nation wide after a successful festival run.

What made you decide to make the film CONNECTED?

Fifteen years ago, I founded The Webby Awards because I was fascinated by how the Internet was connecting people all over the world in new and unexpected ways. And being so interested in the ways things are connected, I it always struck me how so many of the conversations about the problems of our day were discussed as separate challenges. Whether the environment, women’s rights, poverty or social justice, it became more apparent to me that that when you perceive everything as connected, it radically shapes your perspective. The concept of interdependence has been around since the dawn of humanity, but the relatively recent component of the internet has added this new layer that connects us in a fresh way, almost giving the world a new type of central nervous system.

I am a filmmaker and so decided to craft a film that would tell the story of being connected in the 21st century.  I asked my father, Leonard Shlain, to be a co-writer on the project.  My dad was a surgeon, but also a pioneer in writing about connections between science, consciousness, the human brain, art and civilization. His best-selling books included The Alphabet Versus the Goddess; Sex, Time, and Power; and Art & Physics. He was an incredible visionary, had a wonderful knowledge of history and I felt he would make an enormous contribution to the film.  Just as we began production on CONNECTED, he was diagnosed with brain cancer.  I quickly discovered that here I was writing about all these interrelationships and the one great connection I had overlooked was the emotional connection.  That’s when I began the difficult process of rewriting the film to include my personal story of connection interwoven into the the bigger story of connection throughout history and where I think we are heading.

The subtitle of CONNECTED is “An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology.”  What does the word “autoblogography” mean?

“Autoblogography” is a word we made up in order to convey that the film is autobiographical, but also has to do with technology.  It also conveys the humor which is a major thread in the movie.

Is there a connection between CONNECTED and your last film THE TRIBE?

In my earlier film, THE TRIBE, I explored American Jewish identity through the history of the Barbie Doll.  I know, it sounds absurd.  After all, what can the most successful doll on the planet show about being Jewish in American today?  It turns out that Barbie was invented in 1959 by an American Jewish businesswoman named Ruth Handler.  A Jewish woman created the ultimate shiksa. With THE TRIBE, I wove together archival footage, graphics, animation, humor, and even slam poetry that took audiences on a ride through the complex history of both Barbie and the Jewish people.  By revealing all these unique connections, THE TRIBE explored the question of what it means to be an American Jew in the 21st century.  CONNECTED employs much of the same collage visual style but explores what it means to be a human in 21st century.

Do you believe there are positives and negatives to technology?

My father loved quoting Sophocles, “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”  So, from the beginning of time, every new technology and advancement brought with them a complex mix of positive and negative repercussions as well as unintended consequences.  CONNECTED addresses the potential of these new 21st century technologies, the importance of harnessing their powers, but also covers the ramifications when these new technologies take over and even overwhelm our personal lives.

I’ve started practicing what I call “technology Shabbats” with my family.  Every Friday at sundown, our whole family disconnects until Saturday night.  No cell phones, no internet, no television, no Ipads. No multi-tasking. We disconnect completely. Or maybe I should say we connect completely – with ourselves and each other.

I am learning that turning off technology is just as powerful as turning it on and that our society needs both.  Technology can be so enticing and overwhelming, but we also need to remember how important it is to be fully present with the people you love and also be alone and quiet.  The potential of technology globally and personally is exponential, but we need to know where the off switch is and when to shut it down.

So what is the ultimate goal of your film?

The goal of CONNECTED is to launch a global conversation about what it means to be connected in the 21st century.  I hope that the film will be the catalyst for this global conversation.  In an effort to expand the power of the film, we’ve created a robust website, facebook page where we constantly add new articles about this topic and have created an educator’s kit including conversation cards, a film guide a curriculum for educators.

In the film you say, “For centuries we have declared our independence, perhaps it’s time we finally declare our interdependence.”  What does it mean to declare our interdependence?

It’s time to shift perspective.  In many ways we as a species are mirroring the way we each develop as a human on this earth. We come into the world completely dependent on our mother’s and parents.  As we grow up, we evolve into independent adults, live on our own and get our own jobs and provide for our own families.  But this independence then brings us to a new realization of how we are connected with family, friends and community.  I think we, as a species are evolving to the point where we are entering this understanding of our interdependence. Who knows if all these tools we are creating for collaborating in new ways through the internet are leading us to this understanding, or the understanding is driving us to create these tools. Technology is just an extension of ourselves. It is not separate. Regardless of what’s propelling it, these living and thinking interdependently will actually change our consciousness and help make real transformation in the world around us.

So you are optimistic about our future?

When I do Q&A’s after screening CONNECTED, I am frequently asked, “What makes you so optimistic?”  I respond by saying that I believe in humans and humanity and in our innate ability to change for the better.  Look at the end of slavery and apartheid, the women’s rights and civil rights movements, and other political and social transformative movements in the last few hundred years, and you can see how we are indeed evolving. There are two things that make me optimistic. We as humans are curious and we have a deep desire to connect. These two things will make us move us forward to a better place.

You are also spearheading a new project called “Let it Ripple.”  What is this and how does this connect to CONNECTED?

The ‘Let it Ripple’ project will pick up where CONNECTED leaves off. We are creating a series of six short films, all tied together by the general theme of connectedness.  The first film is A Declaration of Interdependence. My husband, Ken Goldberg, co-writer Sawyer Steele, and I wrote A Declaration of Interdependence, which is based on the American Declaration of Independence. Our new declaration was then posted online on July 4th and tweeted out via YouTube and we invited people from all over the world to submit video of themselves reading the declaration in their native language from their cell phone, laptop, whatever was handy.  We also asked graphic designers and artists to interpret the words creatively and submit artwork. The submissions are blowing me away. It’s interdependence in action. The film will be made up entirely of these submissions, tied together by our animator, Stefan Nadelman, with music by one of my favorite sound artists Moby.

A Declaration of Interdependence will premiere on Interdependence Day which is September 12th at a special event near Ground Zero in New York.  Every time we get an entry, I get chills watching the videos.  It is thrilling to see people from all over the world declare their interdependence. We are going to edit it all down into an inspiring 3 minute movie that will be posted on the web and we are going to provide this film for free and allow different organizations and non-profits to use the film by putting their own call to action at the end. We are open-sourcing the creation of the film and hope to open source how it is used.

By sharing these messages of connectedness and interdependence, I believe there will be a positive ripple effect; sparks that help turn what we’re talking about into action.  It’s all about connection.

http://connectedthefilm.com/

CONNECTED opens in theaters in major cities beginning in mid-September.

*All dates below start one week runs

SF: Sept 16th SF Landmark Embarcadero
Berkeley Sept 16 Shattuck 10
Marin: Sept 16 Sequoia Theater
Santa Cruz: Sept 23 Nickelodeon
Portland: Sept 23rd Regal Fox Tower 10
LA: Sept 30 premieres at The Pacific Arclight Theater Hollywood
Seattle: Oct 7th Landmark Varsity 3
NYC: Oct 14th Angelika Theater
Denver: Oct 28th Landmark Chez Artiste

Honored by Newsweek as one of the “Women Shaping the 21st Century,” Tiffany Shlain is a filmmaker, artist, founder of The Webby Awards and co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Tiffany’s films and work have received over 40 awards and distinctions.  A celebrated thinker, she delivered the commencement address at University of California at Berkeley and is a Henry Crown Fellow of The Aspen Institute. www.tiffanyshlain.com

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Posted in Storytelling audience distribution transmedia

Zak Forsman is an artist-entrepreneur whose emotionally-charged motion pictures are known for highly authentic performances and beautiful compositions. They have been praised by Ain’t It Cool News as “Brilliant” and “Absolutely Gorgeous” and by Filmmaker Magazine as “Very Accomplished, Amazing.”

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By Zak Forsman, August 10th, 2011

In part two of the series Henry Jenkins and WorkBook Project founder Lance Weiler sit down for a conversation about participatory culture and how “if it doesn’t spread it’s dead.”

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Posted in Storytelling transmedia

Zak Forsman is an artist-entrepreneur whose emotionally-charged motion pictures are known for highly authentic performances and beautiful compositions. They have been praised by Ain’t It Cool News as “Brilliant” and “Absolutely Gorgeous” and by Filmmaker Magazine as “Very Accomplished, Amazing.”

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By Zak Forsman, July 31st, 2011

Henry Jenkins and WorkBook Project founder Lance Weiler sit down for a conversation about participatory culture and how “if it doesn’t spread it’s dead.”

NEW BREED – A Conversation on Transmedia – Part 1 from The Sabi Company on Vimeo.

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By Zak Forsman, July 18th, 2011

The following is a guest post by Kim Lessing.

Just about five years ago, Glen Trotiner, a filmmaker who’s had every job from p.a. to producer, and his buddy, Jeff Hephner, a television actor, were in bar in the East Village drunk talking about two of their favorite subjects: conspiracy theories, and fixing the world’s problems.

Somehow, that night, the two discussions became linked and a story that needed to be told began to unfold:

It began with one of their favorite conspiracy theories. Just before he died, in 1943, the 87 year-old reclusive inventor, Nikola Tesla, who had given the world alternating current, radio, radar, and x-rays, claimed to have invented a device that could produce energy from a free and unlimited source, and distribute it without wires or cables.

The device was never publicly demonstrated.

The conspiracy theory claims the device was removed from the inventor’s lab by Government Agents on the night the inventor died, and has been suppressed by the authorities for all these years.

Their story would begin almost seventy years later as two roommates, Jeff, a conspiracy theorist, and Sam, a debunker, go out in search of the one remaining surviving witness to the events of the night of Tesla’s death.

Just as the premise for The 9th Dot was hatching, Jake Wasserman, an ambitious and talented high school student, came to work for Glen as a production assistant. Jake is one of those kids born with a camera in his hands. Glen recognized his potential and immediately took Jake under his wing.

With Jake’s input on the script, The 9th Dot began to take shape (the title comes from the nine dot puzzle, developed by Disney, that tests for thinking outside the box).

The search for an actor to play Sam ended during a difficult film shoot in Maine. Ariel Shafir, who was coincidently, (or not so coincidently) playing conspiracy theorist in that very movie, read an early draft of the 9th Dot and came aboard to play Sam.

It seemed then that the project was ready for take off. Unfortunately shooting was put on hold when Glen went off to Romania to work on the movie Blood Creek.

Luckily, right after Glen returned, he learned Titan-TV, was looking for web content that could be launched into episodic material. Titian, read and loved the script and suggested it be conceived as a web-blog. Each episode would be a short segment of the investigation. The audience would be participating in real time, blogging along with Sam.

Just as the scripts were finished, however, Titan-TV stopped making original content. A disappointing blow, but like any good story, it didn’t end there.

The gang went ahead with shooting. They shot at locations all over New York City, including the New Yorker Hotel, where Tesla had died, Bryant Park, where Samuel Morse had once first shown the world the dots and dashes of Morse code at the very first New York Worlds Fair, and The Engineers Club, where Tesla had once belonged.

Soon, Jake took on the daunting task on editing, and furthered his role as a valuable collaborator. He singlehandedly created a unique look for the episodes, alternating between the handheld investigative footage with carefully crafted animations.

The finished product looks and feels like nothing ever done before; a true demonstration to the powerful content that can be created when passion meets craft.

CBS interactive saw the first three episodes and offered to pick up the series.

But then CBS Interactive was folded into CNET, so the series lacked an outlet once again.

At that point it became clear that if the project would never meet it’s full potential waiting around for the networks.

Five years after the bar stool meeting, the show is finally ready to launch, on August 1st, on it’s very own homegrown website (www.the9thdot.com).

A preview of the investigation is already up on the site, ready to watch. Self-made and self-promoted, it’s been a labor of love for all concerned and its birth is testament to power of interactive story telling in every sense of the world.

In the same way the character Jeff distrusts corporations, the 9th Dot’s creative team Glen, Jake, Jeff and Ariel want The 9th Dot and its followers to speak for themselves,

The cost of energy is still a global problem. The price of gas is still too high. And Tesla’s invention is still missing. There is much to be considered, and discussed and there is problem solving to be done. The 9th Dot is the place to listen and be heard. Above all else, we want to hear from you.

www.the9thdot.com

http://twitter.com/#!/the9thdot

http://www.arch-entertainment.com

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Posted in Storytelling audience transmedia

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By Zak Forsman, November 12th, 2010

I have had several conversations with fellow filmmakers in the last six months around the idea that most American independent films are severely underdeveloped and suffer from extensive pacing issues. After making an honest appraisal of my own work, I have turned my focus from issues of discovery and distribution to that of creative development (and financing). It’s my humble opinion that less discussion is needed around methods to (effectively) coerce an audience toward your film and more is needed on crafting good, solid, innovative stories that are irresistible to an audience.

I’m a moderator over at a popular filmmaking community and discussion board called DVXuser.com and help facilitate a free and open online short film festival there three times a year. Each fest is defined by a theme or genre: from loss and love to thrillers and westerns. This time, we’ve decided to renew its focus toward good solid storytelling technique so our members can exercise those muscles a bit. We recently decided on a genreless and themeless turn as FictionFEST.

In writing the rules and guidelines, we included some principles that I wanted to share with you. I looked at some of the principles that serve as a foundation for my story development and find a lot of value in revisiting them from time to time.

THE PRINCIPLES OF FICTIONFEST

FOUR QUESTIONS – Does your story acknowledge the following questions: Who is your Protagonist? What are they after? Who or what is in their way? And what are the consequences if they fail?

IS IT HIGH CONCEPT? – Without famous actors and the luxury of a 90 minute running time, short films benefit greatly from placing the concept first. If it were pitched as a feature, would it attract a star and name director? If someone else made this, would you watch it based on the logline alone? In short, is your story the star?

WHO DRIVES THE PLOT? – The Antagonist typically steers the plot and the Protagonist reacts to increasing levels of threat. When searching for a story, consider defining the person or force working against your main character as a foundation to build the rest of the story upon.

A CLEAR MOTIVATION – Do we know what your Protagonist wants from the beginning? And are we on board with him/her? Do we care?

THEME – What is the central question of your story? A definitive answer to that question with a “yes” or “no” will conclude it. In a short film about a dirty cop, your theme could be: can justice prevail untarnished?

GET IN LATE AND GET OUT EARLY – To avoid pacing issues, in each scene ask yourself what point is the absolute latest I can jump into the scene and the earliest I should leave it. Do we need to see the character walk into or leave the room, or introduce themselves to the other characters in the scene? What happens if they are already underway by the time we join them? Is anything lost? Look at the beginning and ending of your scenes and ask: Is it essential? Is it dramatic?

UNIFY INTERNAL & EXTERNAL CONFLICT – Does your protagonist have to confront an internal issue in order to solve an external problem? For example, must your main character learn the meaning of love before he’s willing to fist fight his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend? Must the cyborg rediscover what it means to be human before he can save all of humanity? Unify the internal and external.

PRIVATE, PERSONAL & PROFESSIONAL THREADS – A fully-realized Protagonist can be illustrated by three levels of problems: private, personal and professional.

PRIVATE: Conflict known only to your main character.
PERSONAL: Conflict known only to characters close to your main character.
PROFESSIONAL: Conflict known to all or most characters in the story.

In a work of short fiction two of the three may be greatly minimized, but consider the value in a set of obstacles that confront your Protagonist on multiple levels. For example, say that your superhero must defeat the plans of the villain (professional), keep his love interest safe from harm (personal), AND avenge the death of his parents (private).

AVOID CLICHE ACTION & EXPOSITORY DIALOGUE – Have we seen this before? If so, consider doing the reverse. When you find yourself faced with a cliche, re-consider the following questions for each scene: Who wants what? What happens if they don’t get it? And why now? If you find yourself writing dialogue between two characters about an off-screen third, consider dramatizing that information instead. How can we show that rather than tell it? As an exercise, if you deprive your characters of speech, how would the scenes play out dramatically? Now knowing that, how would dialogue elevate it?

Certainly, there is much more that could have been considered and included. But I think this serves as a pretty good foundation to build upon. I suspect many would acknowledge these as fairly obvious points for “a good story, well told”, but frankly, it’s not showing up in a lot of the work I see out there. If you’d like to flex your storytelling muscles, please join us over at FictionFEST, read the rules and start a discussion thread for your film. The deadline isn’t until mid-March 2011 and you’ll find the community there to be engaging and supportive. It’s a filmmaking community unlike any I’ve been able to find online.

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Posted in Storytelling festival screenwriting

Zak Forsman is an artist-entrepreneur whose emotionally-charged motion pictures are known for highly authentic performances and beautiful compositions. They have been praised by Ain’t It Cool News as “Brilliant” and “Absolutely Gorgeous” and by Filmmaker Magazine as “Very Accomplished, Amazing.”

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