Sunday, November 15, 2020

Greta Gerwig: Paving a Future for Women in Hollywood

Greta Gerwig is the director of the comforting and relatable (at least to me) movie, Lady Bird. This movie is important for a number of reasons including the fact that it follows a female main character and focuses on the love between mothers and daughters, which, according to Gerwig, is relatively unexplored in cinema. And I would have to agree with that statement. Lady Bird also gave the lives of teenage girls a chance to be taken seriously. Finally, Greta Gerwig was only the fifth woman ever to be nominated for best director at the Oscars. 

Greta Gerwig on the unforgettable night she showed now-Oscar nominated 'Lady  Bird' to family, friends - ABC News

Greta Gerwig’s work certainly counts her as a paradigm shifter or at least someone trying to get the ball rolling for the representation of women in filmmaking. She has always been meticulous, hardworking, and a bit of a rule follower. The big 5 of her personality includes open to experience, conscientious, and agreeable though she seems to be more of an ambivert and is not neurotic. According to interviews, she is actually slightly self-deprecating. She is extremely intrinsically motivated and has said she will continue to make movies no matter how award shows turn out. She is also big on collaboration and being close with people on sets that she works on. Greta Gerwig is so inspiring to me because she knows the importance of women getting more involved in filmmaking. 

How Greta Gerwig Turned the Personal 'Lady Bird' Into a Perfect Movie -  Rolling Stone

It's a Sign of the Times: Breaking the Barriers of Toxic Masculinity

I am sure most all of you have heard the name Harry Styles before, whether through One Direction or his solo career. I will admit that I have had and still do have a huge crush on Harry Styles, but that is not the sole reason I am writing about him. It seems like Styles has been the IT male celebrity for nearly a decade and continues to create an ever growing fanbase. In his career as a musical artist and celebrity, Styles has pushed many boundaries, broken many records, and has become a musical icon like no other.
Harry Styles was born in Worcestershire, England in 1994. He first rose to fame as a competitor on the seventh season of the British version of The X Factor. At the young age of 16, Styles and the other four members of One Direction stole the hearts of millions of girls worldwide as they took third place on The X Factor and quickly became a boyband sensation. However, being shoved into the spotlight at such a young age definitely posed some challenges for Styles as he continued to grow and mature in the very public eye.
In a Rolling Stones interview, Styles revealed that he suffered from anxiety while performing and touring with One Direction. He said, “I was constantly scared I might sing the wrong note. I felt so much weight in terms of not getting things wrong.” He has also admitted to having stage fright during his early performances with One Direction. While Styles has said he still very much enjoyed his time with One Direction, this pressure of getting things wrong and letting his group down may have contributed to the band taking a hiatus in 2015. Since then, Styles has gained much more confidence as a solo artist which has helped him to develop into the influential artist he is today. Since becoming a solo artist, Styles has also taken a much more directive role in his music as he has written all the tracks on his two solo albums. These two albums showcase a much more vulnerable side of Styles. He isn’t afraid to pour his inner feelings and thoughts into his songs, and this is evident by the raw emotion present throughout his albums.
When it comes to the culture of the music industry and society as a whole, Styles has done many things to break from traditional gender norms by his androgynous clothing choices and his refusal to speak about his sexuality. In November 2020, Harry Styles has become the first man ever to appear on the cover of Vogue by himself. However, it’s what Styles chose to wear on the cover that makes the biggest statement. Styles chose to model a Gucci dress for the photoshoot and when asked about it, he responded that “[he] doesn’t feel confined to strict gender norms when it comes to fashion and life.” He rejected the idea that certain clothes should only exist for men or women He is seen as breaking down the barriers of toxic masculinity.
As this idea of stereotypical gender norms is slowly becoming outdated in this new generation, Styles is one of the people leading the way in breaking barriers that previous celebrities and people in general have been confined to. With his fashion choices and lifestyle, Styles is exemplifying western culture as he breaks from tradition and creates his own idea of life. He isn’t afraid of the criticism or backlash he may receive from his fashion choices. Styles can be seen as exhibiting a lack of conventionality according to Sternberg’s personality traits. He is very free spirited and happily lives life in a way that’s fun and exciting. Styles wants to spread kindness and isn’t constrained by judgements or stereotypes. He has continued to let go of his fear and fully explore his joy and freedom, and I am excited to continue to see his growth as an artist and a human.

 Creator of a Franchise: Masahiro Sakurai

Perhaps not the most famous game designer of all time, but definitely one with incredible amounts of influence, Masahiro Sakurai is probably best known for his work on the Super Smash Bros series, the most prolific selling fighting game series of all time, and one of the flagship franchises for Nintendo. He currently works independently from Nintendo, and has made other contributions to the field of video games, such as Kid Icarus: Uprising, and an initial  developer of the Kirby series as well.

Sakurai’s career really got off the ground when he started to think about what he wanted to do with his life; initially, he wished to go into engineering after entering college, but realized that he had no real interest in engineering. A position at a company called HAL Laboratory - a Japanese company that had previously failed to make video games and eventually was rescued by Nintendo and put under its command - opened up, and Sakurai, 19 at the time, decided to join the company. Within his first year at the company, he had already made his mark; he had conceptualized a new character, named Kirby, a simple pink puffball, and managed to get a game released, Kirby’s Adventure. This game sold over 5 million units, spawned two sequels, and garnered large amounts of praise for its simplistic yet appealing art style, simple and easy to execute gameplay, and the unique idea of Kirby absorbing enemy powers. Furthermore, while at HAL, Sakurai met with Satoru Iwata. Iwata was someone who would later on become the President of Nintendo as a whole, but at the time, after Nintendo saved HAL from bankruptcy, Iwata was chosen as the employee who would lead the company under Nintendo’s orders. During Sakurai’s time at HAL, these two gentlemen would become good friends and work with one another frequently on various projects; perhaps the most important project that came about as a result of their friendship was a video game, called Super Smash Bros.

Sakurai, seeing the immense success games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter - very popular fighting games at the time, for those who many not be familiar with them - enjoyed, decided to create his own 2D fighting game with unique mechanics; the characters would dynamically change throughout the match, accumulating percentage points; as a character gained percentage points, they would become easier to launch using various moves, and once they got launched far enough, they would be launched outside the confines of the stage and into the “blast zone”, and lose one of their many lives. Iwata, hearing this idea, agreed to help Sakurai, and helped him by coding the project; together, after enjoying their initial draft, they decided to be more ambitious, and submitted the idea to the higher ups at Nintendo, and put in characters such as Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong, all incredibly popular characters at the time. The Nintendo higher ups had loved the demo, and allowed the game to be launched; Super Smash Bros., the resulting game, sold 5.5 million units, and was the Nintendo 64’s 5th best selling game. 

After that initial success, however, Sakurai was still not satisfied, and decided he wanted to make a new game for Nintendo’s upcoming console; the Nintendo Gamecube. Working for 40 hours at a time and often sleeping for less than 4, he and the team at HAL managed to create Super Smash Bros Melee; the game was a smash hit, selling over 7 million copies, and still has prolific and thriving community up until this day; in 2018, in the prestigious fighting game tournament EVO, Melee - by then a 17 year old game - had garnered over 130,000 viewers at one point; not bad for such an old game, one might say.

Afterwards, Sakurai continued to work on the Smash Bros series as well as other games despite personal and medical issues; he developed chronic pain in his right arm, making it incredibly difficult to test his ideas, and was hit hard by the death of Satoru Iwata, his longtime friend, mentor, and partner in game development, in 2015; yet despite these setbacks, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, the latest entry in the series, was an unprecedented success, being the best selling fighting game in the history of video games, having sold over 21 million units at the time of this post being written.

Sakurai was most definitely a Big C creative, in my eyes; he broke the mold in what people considered a “fighting game”, and managed to make his idea the most popular fighting game the world has ever seen. He came up with the idea on his own, and worked tirelessly to ensure that it would be a successful, well received idea. In contemporary times, Sakurai has also become the face of Smash Bros, frequently addressing the community when new content or news comes out regarding the games. He also greatly utilized the talents of those around him whenever possible; for example, his wife, a creative designer, was the lead designer of the graphical interface of every Smash Bros game after the two of them were married, and he made excellent use of Iwata’s coding skills and experience to help make the initial game Super Smash Bros, a successful endeavour. In the end, Sakurai is someone who has made one of gaming’s biggest household names, a franchise that is popular with both casual and competitive gamers, and is a shining example of what pure creativity and a strong work ethic can result in.

Works Cited:

Michael Schur: The Face Behind All Your Favorite Shows

 Legendary television creator Michael Schur is nothing short of a hit sitcom machine, cranking out crowd-pleasers left and right.

Schur’s career began as a writer for Saturday Night Live after graduating from Harvard University with a B.A. in English. Since then, he has worked on the production team for popular shows like The Office, Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Master Of None and The Good Place.

Much of Schur’s success is due to his own creative strengths — The Good Place star Ted Danson once said “It’s all Mike. We’re all just a bunch of little Mikes.” — the environment and culture of television show production requires a lot of collaboration. And, as notes, “it isn’t cool, in the world of television, to take too much of the credit.”

Over the many years of experience he’s accumulated in his field, Schur has a “dedicated group of talent that follows [him] from show to show,” which include actors like Marc Evan Jackson, who stars in both Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place, and Greg Daniels, who helped write and produce The Office and Parks and Recreation.

This small group of collaborators that also have connections to other talents and creatives places Schur in a medium to high range of “Q,” which has been noted by Brian Uzzi and Jarrett Spiro to be the most optimal range for creative success.

Another factor to Schur’s success is his inauguration of what New York Times calls a “new tone in prime-time comedy, an era of good-hearted humanistic warmth.” This reimagining of modern television is inspired by his experiences of reading the formal experimentation in literary fiction writers like David Foster Wallace, who New York Times labelled “another innovator obsessed with goodness.” 

The organizational culture that Schur worked in at NBC is also a factor in his “rise to network power.” The network’s “reward orientation” — as described by Laird D. McLean — is based on Schur’s creative achievements, and his reward was complete creative freedom for a new show. That show ended up being The Good Place, which has since been nominated for fourteen Primetime Emmy Awards along with a number of others.

Schur’s most recent project has been an American sitcom series titled Rutherford Falls, which will premiere on NBC’s Peacock streaming service.

Jenny Welbourn's "Wear I Live" Exposes the Reality of Being a Youtuber in NYC

 ****TW: Anxiety and depression****    

 We all have our comforts that we turn to in moments in distress. For some of us, it’s baking, binge-watching Netflix, what have you... As for myself, I like to escape my world by peering into other peoples’. Youtube is the perfect space for that.

Jenny Welbourn is from Colorado and has been making Youtube videos on her channel "Wear I Live" for five years. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and now does Youtube full-time. Welbourn advocates for slow fashion and collaborates with brands that work to enact positive change in the world. Welbourn’s videos cover a variety of topics such as fashion, mental health, veganism, and city-life. 

When Welbourn first started making videos she was still living in Colorado. She dreamt of living in New York City because she believed it to be the ultimate location that could foster her passions. Since her first videos in 2015, Welbourn has become far more candid with her audience, letting them in to hear intimate details of her life. She now has 267,000+ followers and her channel is only growing. 

Something that I love about Welbourn’s videos is that she captures seemingly dull objects or actions on film and makes them captivating. For instance, many of her “Day in the Life” style videos have shots of her pouring coffee into mugs. This task may seem tedious, as many of us pour ourselves a cup of coffee every day without thinking. But for Welbourn, she makes a serene, aesthetically-pleasing experience out of it. Welbourn sets up her camera in a way where it looks like we are a guest in her house observing her. Her set-up is uniquely Jenny, as her shots always feature the unique artwork and vintage kitchenware that she has in her home. We see the steam wafting from the hot coffee mug and the sunlight pouring into its blackness. Welbourn emphasizes the importance of having rituals and discusses how something as simple as pouring yourself coffee can be a grounding sensation. 

Welbourn has become increasingly open about her struggle with mental health. Welbourn’s videos help her get back to a sense of normalcy even when her life feels chaotic. In 2018 she released a video called “2018 about my anxiety and depression.” In the description, Welbourn writes, “This wasn't the easiest to make but I felt like it was crucial to put out for me to continue making videos at a better capacity again.” While I can’t say Welbourn’s mental health struggles fuel her creativity, she does productively incorporate her mental health issues into her creative works. 

One of the reasons Welbourn’s videos are so alluring is because she seems to be both equally intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. She cares about her subscribers and strives to be more open about her life so that her audience can have a safe space to connect with others about shared struggles and passions. She also cares about her own wants and needs and knows that at the end of the day, she will make material that is authentic to her and her vision. Welbourn is aware that many people would rather hear about her takes on fashion rather than her mental health struggles, but this doesn’t stop her from creating what she wants and needs to make for her own personal growth.

When thinking about the Jungian personality types, Welbourn definitely falls on the “Sensation” and “Feeling” quadrant. She takes pride in her sensitivity and acknowledges how sometimes her emotions dictate her actions and behavior. This personality trait is what makes Welbourn’s videos so relatable and comforting - they don’t try to paint a perfect image of life, but rather, they expose both the beauties and the heartaches of it. 

Along with anxiety and depression, Welbourn suffers from a chronic illness. In an interview with Coveteur, Welbourne describes how “a big thing for me was fashion because it made me feel good on the outside, even though I felt not great on the inside.” Welbourn’s illness has pushed her to lean into her love for fashion and catalyzed the videos that feature her curated wardrobe. 

Welbourn sees the world through an artist’s lens; she turns seemingly mundane exchanges into lovely, calming scenes. She teaches her viewers how to look at life in different, creative ways. She demonstrates how to find fulfillment through simply shifting perspectives. When I need perspective from my own personal world, I turn to Jenny’s. 


Fenn, Bess, and Tom Rosenthal


Tom is an idiosyncratic singer/songwriter that doesn't take himself or his work too seriously. His work can be described as quirky pop songs. From his song about "Watermelon," to his cover of Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious," to his song where he counts up to the number "157," there is a lot of fun to be had in listening to Tom's music. 

There's a lot of truth and heartfeltness in there too though. "There is a Dark Place" and "We're All a Bit Scared" are my personal anthems for this pandemic life. And of course, there's his very serious ballad of ultimate friendship entitled, "Jim and Dwight."

He lives in London and often collaborates with other indie artists to make wacky and fun music videos. Most notably, he collaborates with his daughters Bess and Fenn to make silly and wholesome music. For Tom, this emphasis on fun is an integral part of his creative process. In an interview, Tom said, "I was determined not to let fatherhood make me too serious… but now it's even more important to keep writing 'silly' songs." While Tom works on the piano, the lyrics and vocals are created by Bess and Fenn. Together, they even created an EP, "They're Awake!" Recently, Fenn's song "Dinosaurs in Love" has gotten a lot of attention-- so much so that this four-year-old has published a children's book with her father. You can buy it as a holiday gift for friends and relatives here. 

We have focused a lot of time on very serious creatives in class. Those who have changed entire fields; changed the world. Those with serious trauma and whose work aligns with such deep and serious exploits. But not all good or even Big Creativity has to be that way. As a society, we often put a much higher (maybe over-exaggerated) value on things with deep intense meaning as compared to fun and silliness. Sadly, part of this bias also discourages children from interacting with creative work and identifying as creative people. What we value sends a message to children about who they should be and if we value who they are. 

If we want more creative people in the world, and I think most of us do, we have to encourage creativity in children. That seems obvious, but creative media for children is often dumbed-down or not "really creative." Tom's music is not for children per se, it's for "all the humans," but he wants his music to be able to appeal to kids too. Part of restricting the audience of what is "meant for kids" means that they only see what falls into that label. Not every kid is going to or should experience all creative media, but the segregation of that media has gone a little too far. And the creativity of the media that children get to be exposed to suffers for it. 

Even more than that, we need to start valuing children's creativity more. Our emphasis on the restrictive qualifications of Big-C, and all of the renown that comes with it, means that children can never see themselves as a valued part of that story. I think if you listen to Fenn's "Dinosaurs in Love" you will agree that this is an awesome creative work. Part of that comes out of a mentality and a family culture that allowed her to see herself and her creativity as valued just as much as an adult or an eminent creative would be. 

Children are awesome. Children are weird. And children are creative… sometimes more than any of us adult people. We don't tell them this enough. In fact, most of what we do tells them otherwise. Let creative work be fun and silly. Let children experience it. And let them know that we care about the creative things they do and create just as much as we value the adults that align with our eminent biases. 

Then dance a little bit, because that's fun and no one is looking (I promise). 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

This is Nick, and this is Jack, Meet the Guys Who Changed Financial News


“This is Nick, and this is Jack, and you're listening to snacks daily… snackers, this is gonna be the best one yet”...

With an intro like that, you might expect to be getting updates on what’s hitting grocery aisles near you, but that’s the sound bite that greets the thousands of listeners, dubbed “Snackers”,  that tune into a financial news podcast every morning. “Snacks Daily” aims to deliver “digestible financial news” and promises a breakdown of 3 top business stories in around 15 minutes. It’s a format that works, as the podcast is consistently in the top ten on both Spotify and Apple podcasts, and currently ranks #2 in the Business News category. But before snacks was a podcast, it was a humble daily newsletter dreamed up by two men who wanted to make finance more accessible to all. The success of this newsletter and podcast must be attributed to the unique personalities behind it. So let’s meet Nick and Jack. 

Nick Martell and Jack Kramer were random roommates freshman year at Middlebury college. The pair jokes that they met while drinking the same protein shake… and the rest is history. While they eventually went their separate ways, they became roommates again in New York City working their first jobs in the financial industry. It was 2012, occupy wall street was in full swing and Europe was experiencing a banking crisis. Nick and Jack walked to work every day a little ashamed to be wearing their suits. At night, they debriefed their woes over a beer. Part of the problem, they reasoned, was that finance was “too boring, jargon-filled, and inaccessible” especially to millennials.  So the pair set out to fix it. They took their inspiration from “The Daily Show” which presented political news in a way that was fun and satirical. So they started a newsletter “MarketSnacks” that would cover “Bite-size business news” and do so in a way that was engaging. The email newsletter was wildly successful and soon they were receiving sponsorship offers. From there they continued to grow, making several TV appearances to tell their story and getting featured on Forbes “30 under 30” list. On these shows, their chemistry caught the eye of a podcasting company who encouraged them to convert their product into the podcast that engages so many listeners today. Another huge boost came when they were acquired by Robinhood, an investment company with a similar mission to make the financial industry more accessible to all. 

What makes Snacks Daily so great? Not only have Nick and Jack managed to make financial news and investing accessible, but they’ve made it entertaining. From the legal disclaimer/theme music RAP to their snack fact of the day, they’ve created a perfect package for delivering the day’s top stories. The comedic, light-hearted summary allows listeners to feel like they know what’s going on in the markets and requires just 15 minutes. The pod fits perfectly into a morning commute or breakfast time and is peppered with corny inside jokes that keep “snackers” coming back for more.  The creators also make sure to engage with their audience. Both are incredibly active on social media and each podcast ends with a “snackfact” submitted by one of their listeners as well as an ever-growing segment where they congratulate listeners on everything from birthdays to engagements to passing their LSAT. In the early days of the pandemic they encouraged listeners to share what they could get done during a podcast, to which one man shared a video of him planking for 17 minutes straight… Needless to say, these segments have created an incredibly loyal group of connected listeners. 

The dedication to the quality of their podcast is evident, and despite it being a side-hustle for both, they never miss a day. The pair share a pretty unique routine that allows them to do this. Their creative process involves a LOT of collecting during daily sessions they call “Headline Hammer”. They spend a short period of time in an intense brainstorming session. “We research, like, dozens and dozens of resources and primary sources, and then we curate them and pitch them to each other,”. This period reflects the divergent and generative portion of the geneplore model. Anything and everything is on the table. Then they move into the convergent and interpretive phase where they come together to evaluate what they’ve come up with in the brainstorming session. In these evaluative sessions that they engage in the strategy they credit as the key to their success: The One and Done rule. If one disagrees, they don’t argue with it, they side with the objection and they move on. This system may not work for everyone but it works perfectly for them and allows them to move quickly, a very necessary pace as this project is still their side-hustle. 

In addition to this, they credit their success to their friendship and experience playing team sports. Both played sports in college while they roomed together at Middlebury and in the words of Nick “I think we’re both very comfortable with knowing how teams have to work when they’re in either times of crisis or tensions- how you have to be accountable together.” Additionally the pair agrees that their friendship has helped rather than hindered their success. They have always been able to agree that their relationship is more valuable than any joke and that allows them to produce better material and jokes in the long-term. 

Another thing they acknowledge is that podcasting takes a lot of motivation. Most people that start a podcast quit before they gain any renown. It’s clear that both Nick and Jack are very intrinsically motivated to produce this podcast. Despite their massive success at the end of the day, they still consider this a “side hustle”. They created the newsletter and podcast while pursuing their MBA’s and now both hold other jobs in the financial industry. Even on the way to Jack’s bachelor party they stopped at the airport Cinnabon to record the next day’s podcast. 

This motivation and collaboration has led to a fantastic product enjoyed by thousands of listeners and changed the way people present financial news. Since Nick and Jack’s success with “Market Snacks” other newsletters and podcasts have popped up trying to do a similar thing, make news digestible, and deliver it quickly. But no one does it quite like Nick and Jack, and their active fan base proves it.  They are their main differentiator. Besides their ability to breakdown financial reports, headlines and stock percentages into something comprehensible, their chemistry and humor keeps the show engaging. The two play off one another so well that it gives the podcast an authentic and unscripted feel despite delivering loads of fast-paced information. If you’re looking for an energetic and informed start to your morning I highly recommend adding snacks to your routine. Oh, and ask your friends HYHYSD? (Have you had your snacks daily?) this is gonna be the best one yet…. 

Want to listen to snacks? You can find it here:

Here’s an interview with them: