Saturday, January 9, 2010

How it all got started

OK, so here's the story:
One night a few years ago my husband, my sister and I were all watching a brilliant documentary called Why We Fight. The documentary was intelligent, illuminating, shocking, moving and basically made me want to curl up into a big ball and cry. In fact, about an hour into this documentary I felt so overwhelmed that I wanted to turn my attention to something of no substance. And that is how I found myself sequestered in my bedroom reading US magazine.

Somewhere into an article about Brangelina I realized that this is a problem. If you want help starting, stopping or ameliorating a global issue, I am basically your target audience. I genuinely want to help, to get involved, to be of use. But instead, I am hiding under my bed reading made up news about hyphenated celebrities.

I realized then that I had been taken over by an illness I like to refer to as Impending Sense of Doom. Perhaps you recognize this feeling? I also felt ISD while reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road and watching the polar bears in An Inconvenient Truth (On the iceberg?! The horror!). ISD comes on when you are presented with an insurmountable issue and you feel like there is nothing you, the average person, can do about it. And when that happens, I just don't want to know anymore. If I heard about a genocide and there was nothing I could do about it, I’d get ISD. If you told me that thousands of elephants were being slaughtered in front of their families and developed post-traumatic stress disorder, and there was nothing I could do about it, I’d get ISD.

What else could I do?

And then I had an idea. I have access to a production company! I have (albeit limited) producing skills! Maybe there was something else I could do.

I conceived What You Can Do as a web series that would take a pressing social issue (global warming, AIDS in Africa, hunger, etc.) and show what an individual could DO about them if they had a minute, an hour a week or a year. We planned to begin pre-production on our inaugural episode that June. We pitched it to the Discovery Channel.

We were summarily rejected.

And then as happens every once in a very blue moon. Fate steps in.

Alicia (the one with the actual producing skills) and I were up at the Berkshire International Film Festival screening a short film that On the Leesh had produced. The festival had invited Alicia to participate in a panel to speak about emerging distribution models and she accepted.

The panel was at 9 AM on a Sunday morning. I assumed that most people would be doing my favorite Sunday activity- sleeping - but actually, it was a wonderful turnout. In the course of the discussion, our plans for What You Can Do came up, and as luck would have it, a producer from a NYC PBS affiliate was in attendance. After the panel ended, he invited us to come in and formally pitch the idea to WLIW.

We did, and they loved it.

Following the meeting was a creation process involving much trial, error, tears and leaps of faith. The result is the one-minute version that is running now. And running still.

This project thus far has been both terrifying and inspiring. Inspiring that something I had envisioned as more of a wish than an actual possibility is now -due to the efforts and faith of some immensely talented and courageous people -a reality. And terrifying in the sense that - as there are really only a few people working on this in a very small office - I am still not actually sure that this is possible.

I am not naive enough to believe that a single project can cool down the planet or end global strife, and yet, I don’t believe it’s at all too wide-eyed to surmise that the first step is to offer people tangible solutions. And who knows? Maybe these videos will reach someone or inspire someone who really can make a difference. Someone with a larger skill set, and a more talented brain than I possess.

I thank you for reading this. And I thank you for being brave/ naïve/ crazy/ hopeful/inspired/wide-eyed enough to take this leap with me.

I thank you for joining us as we kick off What You Can Do 365.

Let’s take this year – and let’s show them what we can do.

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