In Orbit With... Ari Kuschnir

TMU: How do you describe m ss ng p eces?

AK: I describe it as a new wave of production and entertainment company that’s at the intersection of storytelling and technology, but it’s really storytelling first. For me it’s a curiosity that became a creative collective that became a successful, forward thinking production company.

TMU: So you famously traded your car in Miami years ago for a laptop and a camera, what happened next?

AK:The origin story of m ss ng p eces goes back to film school. I grew up in Columbia, in South America, in a sort of media-deprived landscape. Because of that lack of access, I was mystified by the screen and how those things were made.

Later in life this brought me to New York. We spent a couple of months trying to find out what m ss ng p eces would be, and we kept coming back to video. The video iPod had come out, Youtube and Vimeo had come out – all these signs of technologies that were suddenly taking care of distribution and enabling new formats to emerge. I met the guys from Coolhunting, and we took that idea and made the Coolhunting video, which was the first well-made, short-format documentary series on the web. This is one of the most common things on the web now, but 10 years ago it was revolutionary. It was really just the right idea at the right time.

That got us our second gig, which was working with the TED organisation. That opportunity instilled a sense of purpose and meaning, using the power of storytelling for good and not just making beer commercials. Or not doing only beer commercials, but balancing it out. That was huge for us – 25 years old and in a room with the Bill Gates’ and Al Gores’ of the world, and being able to ask them anything we wanted because we were making films for TED.

From there we began operating as a creative collective, we didn’t want to call ourselves a production company at that point, because we felt we were doing something new. Then in 2012 we announced our roster of directors, in 2014 we started the LA office, expanded it to a VR digital experiential roster, and it sort of goes from there. VR came along and we are nimble and interested enough to realise that this is going to be a new way of telling stories, much like the web video was.

TMU: What’s the best part of your job?

AK:The challenge of connecting dots in unconventional ways is a thing that gets me excited. I feel it’s one of my core strengths – understanding the technology and how to respond to it from a storytelling perspective, having the right idea at the right time and being a little bit ahead of the competition in terms of thinking about what the production company of the future should be. And what I want to do is to be really good at it, holistically, in an integrated way.

TMU: So that all answers the next question then, that is, when someone comes to you are they expecting m ss ng p eces and yourself to be a strategic creative partner in building an idea out?

AK: Well not always, we do a lot of work with agencies that’s a lot more straightforward and executional, in a good way. It’s a little bit more of the traditional side of the business. I think there are great creatives, brands, and agencies that come up with cool ideas, and my job is to find the right director for it and make sure that it’s a smooth process. But we do add creatively to it, like any other production company or director would in that case, but it’s a lot more executional than some other more unconventional stuff, such as VR work, where you’re coming up with the idea from scratch or doing a content series that’s a play on something that already exists in the brand that hasn’t been developed quite like that.

TMU: How do you see VR moving forward? How do you see it being adopted as a widespread format?

AK:I think that mobile phones are going to play a big role. If you buy the Samsung S8 you get the VR gear for free. It’s an add-on, like having new headphones, that’s the way I think it will upscale. People update their phone every one or two years, and they’re put in a position where that gear is either free or cheap, gear that allows you to be put into a whole other world, and they think “why wouldn’t I do that?” So that’s one way of it happening. A blockbuster series, Mr. Robot, did a 15-minute backstory episode that was released in VR. That’s not essential to the show, but if the first episode of the next series was only available in VR, then there is another huge wave of people who go and buy headsets because they can’t miss it. That’s what we need. We sort of had that with the NBA’s “Follow My Lead”.

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I was at the NBA store when that was being shown to the press and public, and it was selling headsets. People would take it off and say “if this is the kind of stuff I’m going to see, I’m going to go buy one of these right now”. The problem is that there’s no follow-up, these things are a one-off. It needs to be thought out as episodic, to keep people coming back. If there isn’t a follow-up, people will lose interest. On the commercial side there are multiple ways of doing premium VR experiences, and I would say we’re getting more of that now, it’s not just a fad. It’s hard to say where we’ll end up with it, but it’s clear that it’s the new way of doing things, and it should be taken seriously.

TMU: Where do you see the next big things in storytelling besides VR? Do you see other ways that stories can be integrated into products?

AK: We’re working with our friends at Echo. There’s a great article in the New Yorker about them called ‘The Movie with a Thousand Plots’.

So we’re doing “War Games” with them. We’re very excited about that, they’ve done some seminal commercial work in the interactive space using that technology. I see a convergence now between what they’re doing and where VR is going, and I can see that these two are coming together in a really interesting way. There will be interactive VR experiences triggered by sight, and things with wearables and biofeedback, such as triggering scenes based on how fast your heart rate is. These technologies are already out there, and it seems you could connect them to trigger stories based on your emotional or mental state. It could be the next step in storytelling, or it could be kind of terrifying. The technologies are neutral and humans choose how they want to use them, for good or bad. All of this technology is already here, and already pretty accurate – it’s only a moment of time before they collide.

TMU: How do you see consumers and brands interacting in the next three to five years?

AK:I can really only speak about the content side of things. I think that it’s a continuation of what we’ve been seeing which is the philosophy that we’ve had, which is that you have to make stuff that people actually want to watch. The new generation is definitely savvy, when you look at the content that is now native to Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, as far as video content goes what the brands are doing is great work.

The question is how they sustain and connect that directly to brand value. We’ll see a continuation of this to new platforms like VR and AR in more interesting ways, and just like anything there will be a lot of crap, some good stuff, and a few really excellent pieces of content that transcend the marketing bubble into the wider world. But I think we need to raise our collective consciousness and avoid the culture of distraction. We’ve distracted ourselves to oblivion and now we have the epitome of that, vapid and empty. Bad media diet, bad food diet, bad emotional diet, and no sense of what really matters in life.

I think contributing positively through storytelling is important, and I’ve seen it happen, especially with some of the VR stuff we’ve done. The hope is that we come out stronger from all of this, but it’s certainly a tricky moment.

TMU: What are the three pieces of content that you’re the proudest of, or have brought you the most creative satisfaction in the past year?

AK:I really liked the NBA project, more because of the pop culture factor. I thought we broke some ground there in terms of the length, nobody had done a long-form, high-end sports documentary that was really worth watching. We got lucky that it was one of the greatest finals in NBA history, but we also had a killer team, and made a killer film, and that’s still some of the best press we’ve had on anything we’ve ever done. I also loved this Water Is Life project that we did, it was really well executed.

I’ve just had a baby and so I’m living the work that we did for The Honest Company right now. I like the ongoing relationship we have with them, it’s very transparent, it’s showing families and babies and birth in a very contemporary way.

A beautiful and humanising ad for The Honest Company detailing how childbirth segments one's life into a distinct before and after.

TMU: What’s the best diner in Brooklyn right now?

AK:I’m a health nut, I don’t do diners. The one thing that I do allow myself is the Jewish deli Frankle’s in Greenpoint, they have a mean brisket. That’s the closest thing I have to a diner, when you come to Greenpoint you’ve got to try it.

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