1. Watershed moments: where and when do you feel your own history as a creative technologist / video director / interactive producer began? It probably began when I was 7. My family just bought a Hi-8 video camera. No one really knew how to use it so I took it upon myself to be the Porter Family Videographer/Director. This probably happened right after I learned how to quell the incessant blinking of our living room VCR. As soon as my sister, my friends, and I realized that we could make our own TV shows (granted they were barely watchable many years later), we saw that we weren’t creatively tethered to what was hard-wired to the cable box, but there were infinite possibilities for multimedia creation and collaboration at our finger tips.
2. Who has been most critical in helping you forge your own history? Jim Henson. For the past 18 years I have had a signed picture of Jim and all of his wonderful creations above my work area, wherever it may be. Ever since I can remember I was absolutely glued to every TV show and film he was responsible for. I really enjoyed the fact he wasn’t afraid of raising the bar for music and humor so that adults also found it both extremely entertaining and heartfelt. Although watching diabolical David Bowie in Labyrinth definitely scared the hell out of a 5-year-old Winslow.
Jimmy Repeat & Mark Portillo, founders: Mr. Gif
photo credit: Josh Wool1. Watershed moments: where and when do you feel your own history as a creative/innovator/entrepreneur began? As corny as it sounds, Andy Warhol is a person we refer to in conversation the most. Even though everyone is on his nuts like jelly, that dude has really been the most influential person in the art scene + New York. How he started in advertising, then all that factory, to the list of people he called collaborators. Reading about all these artists living in NY in the 80’s, all have different stories involving that dude. When we grow up, we wanna be just like that creepy looking albino.
2. Who has been most critical in helping you forge your own history? One of the largest influences on us happened in the beginning of our career, when we picked up a freelance gig from Marc Ecko. He showed us what a great client was like. It was a simple powerpoint presentation, but from the onset he treated us like professionals, and actually listened to what we had to say. It made us realize that great collaborators do exist, and that we shouldn’t settle for a steady day job paycheck taking orders from a lame boss who only got his creative director title because he S’d some Ds up the corporate ladder.
3. What’s one piece of advice you would give the next generation as they strive to write their own history? It all comes down to hard work and a some luck. Realizing that you are better than you realize. Don’t undervalue yourself. Finding your niche is half the battle, and never settle. Don’t drink & drive. Never stop learning. Don’t put tin foil in the microwave.
Merete Mueller, documentarian: TINY: A Story About Living Small
1. Watershed moments: where and when do you feel your own history as a creative/innovator/filmmaker began? My background is in writing — fiction and essays — so my history as a filmmaker began with writing. When I sit down tell a story, I usually start with a group of images that eventually turn into scenes… I’m always soaking up these details and storing them away. Documentary filmmaking felt so obvious — it was this same process, only now I was absorbing these details with a camera rather than relying solely on my own memory.
When I first had the idea to make TINY, I actually suggested to Christopher, who eventually became my co-director, that he should do the project on his own. He has a background in filmmaking and I said to him, “I have this great idea for a film you should make.” It never occurred to me that I could make a film. But he insisted that I be involved and once I started picking up the camera and shooting, I realized I could do it. When TINY premiered at SXSW, other people were suddenly calling me a Filmmaker and a Director, which is a different kind of beginning. Having that kind of outside validation is silly in some ways. I was the same person thinking the same thoughts and making the same work, but being recognized definitely helped me to take my work more seriously and think about it within a new frame.
2. Who has been most critical in helping you forge your own history? My grandmother taught me a lot about storytelling. When I was a kid, she’d sit with me in the back seat of the car or in a restaurant while we were waiting for our food to arrive, whenever I was bored, and we’d make up elaborate stories together. We alternated sentences back and forth, each on of us contributing a new layer to the narrative or a new twist to the plot. During one summer vacation visit when I was about eight years old we wrote a script about an alien romance and acted it out in the living room. We dragged all the comforters off of the beds to build our Martian set and I recorded the whole thing on my Dad’s camcorder. She was an intensely creative, passionate person — she made everything seem possible.
There were very specific stories about her childhood in Brooklyn that she told over and over again. For the past year I’ve been working on a novel based on some of these stories. As I’ve interviewed other family members and heard various people’s memories and versions of her, I’ve realized how much she exaggerated everything.
Facts and numbers didn’t really matter to her — the point of her stories was always their emotional impact. I think she embellished and bent her stories because she wanted us to experience her memories as vividly and intensely as she did. And in turn, each of us has interpreted and remembered her stories according to our own perspectives and life experiences. So the process of writing this novel has been one of investigating why and how we all tell stories about ourselves, looking at the stories we inherit from our families and relive perhaps without even realizing it. She passed away a few years ago, but I feel like she’s writing this novel with me, like we’re back in the back seat of the car alternating lines back and forth.
3. What’s one piece of advice you would give the next generation as they strive to write their own history? Don’t be afraid of the hard stuff. That’s what makes a story interesting, and real. That’s what will set it apart. We’re all so used to documenting our lives, but nobody really wants to expose the sad or the difficult experiences we’ve been through, or our real insecurities or the questions we have about life.
I think the more we expose these tender spots in our own stories, we start to develop a sense of humor about them. We realize they’re not such a big deal. We’re all messy and weird. Our insecurities and quirks are what give us the ability to connect with each other. Perfectionism kills creativity. We need to give ourselves more license to be rough around the edges and to be honest about that with each other and curious about it in other people.
Matthew Brimer, Founder: General Assembly
1. Watershed moments: where and when do you feel your own history as a entrepreneur began? Both of my parents are highly creative people and business owners, so a lot of my own entrepreneurial spirit was “in the blood” so to speak. I take a lot of inspiration from the careers they’ve built over the years, and in many ways my Midwestern roots are reflected in my work today in NYC and all over the world. Before General Assembly, I started a venture-backed social gaming company in college (which failed), an Ivy League antique furniture business, and myriad other projects and endeavors… each one a learning experience and building block that helped me on the next step in the journey.
2. Who has been most critical in helping you forge your own history? My close friends who are also entrepreneurs. Surrounding yourself with amazing people in your life is one of the most important things anyone can do, and I have been fortunate to call some pretty incredible folks my friends and colleagues. Being an entrepreneur can get lonely at times, so having like-minded entrepreneurial comrades along for the journey is a big help in continuing to fight the good fight.
3. What’s one piece of advice you would give the next generation as they strive to write their own history? Don’t be afraid of failure. It’s a necessary step along the journey, and the most successful people in history have encountered countless failures before reaching their big triumphs. Failure is humbling, and it helps show you who you really are, where your strengths lie, and how to become a better person. Ultimately any entrepreneurial journey is a marathon — not a sprint — and with that comes all the highs and lows that you might expect. So hang in there, gather friends and confidants to help you when times are rough, and always be learning.
Steven Peterman, Founder: The Sketchbook Project
1. Watershed moments: where and when do you feel your own history as a entrepreneur began? I have always been an organizer. Since I was a little kid, I would never just do things simply. I consider myself a perfectionist with out being perfect. When I get an idea in my head, I have to do it. I might not do it like everyone else, or 100% perfect, but I get it done. When your a little kid this is frowned upon, when you are an adult, you are an entrepreneur.
2. Who has been most critical in helping you forge your own history? My mom was always a romantic, who believed in following your emotions and feelings, while my dad was a business man. He wanted things thought about and organized before they were attempted. I feel that I came out as a perfect mix of the two! I can be haphazard and follow the wind, but I always have a secret business plan floating around my head.
3. What’s one piece of advice you would give the next generation as they strive to write their own history? I believe that everyone has good ideas. It’s the people who follow them and take the chance that are entrepreneurs. We all have it in us. Your life can be anything you want it to. You just have to work for it.
Main image credit: Luca Chiriani