Ari Kuschnir — Connecting the Dots

Ari Kuschnir is the Founder and Executive Producer of m ss ng p eces, the award-winning new wave production and entertainment company inspired by the limitless potential of storytelling and technology. We sat down with Ari to discuss starting his own business, being at an intersection between storytelling and technology, and insight behind the brand’s iconic name.

Hello and welcome to Movidiam podcast. Today I’m delighted to welcome Ari Kuschnir to the podcast. Ari welcome.

Happy to be here.

Well, it’s great to have you. So tell us how did you get started in the business Ari? You developed a remarkable 20 man business servicing the areas of New York and Los Angeles and the wider world. Where did it all start?

Funny enough I didn’t think I was starting a production company, I didn’t know what I was starting. I went to film school, I fell out of love with traditional production and the traditional ways of doing things in those early years as I saw what the industry was and I started to think about new ways of doing things and around 2005 is when you really saw the video and the web come together with YouTube, Vimeo and the video iPod which was mobile video for the first time. The distribution was solved, the quality was solved and all of a sudden you realized that you could get to people and you could make something and get it to people in a really clear new way. You could make really interesting things. We started to think about what could this be? What could we make? What kind of formats could we coin? That’s what got us into this journey. It’s a very unconventional start, I didn’t grow up in the business, I didn’t even think I was in advertising for the first couple years and I’m still, feel like I’m one foot in the advertising world, one foot in the entertainment world because I think of us as a more holistic, integrated production company.

It’s very interesting. I think that patchwork entrance into the business I’ve heard from a lot of people. I think it describes the way that technology suddenly was available and accessible and with the overhead to start a business wasn’t necessarily the challenge that it once was. And hey buster you’re in business ’cause you’ve got your first customer and you’re away.

Exactly. It was really the classic story of sold my car in Miami, moved to New York with a couple of thousand bucks, bought a laptop and a camera and this thing happened where iTunes store and YouTube and video iPod, pre-iPhone even was announced and all of a sudden we looked around and we started saying, “Well who do we know? How can we make things?” It was that easy. It was out of a living room with very minor gear. You could shoot the whole thing, edit it on your laptop, upload it and next day 300,000 people would watch it. It was a total revolution and it felt revolutionary at the time and we had the right idea at the right time but we were also talented to deliver on how to make those, that early work compelling so that it garnered a lot of attention and got us into the bigger branded content and later commercials and later everything else that came about.

That’s really interesting. A couple of points that I picked up on there. Firstly you don’t identify specifically with being in advertising. I think that’s a very interesting thing which I’d like to come back to. Secondly, you started off in the living room. Google was started in the garage so you really got some bright prospects.

Totally. We are in the industry, it is the business of storytelling for brands primarily. We do other things, sometimes I’ll partner up with the MIT media lab and we’ll make really cool shorts. Or we’ll partner up with an artist and make a music video or something really awesome or something new that hasn’t been done before. Right now we’re making, we’re doing a remake of Wargames with our friends at Echo, formerly Interlude which is an interactive embeddable, seamless player and we’re making essentially one of first original, long-form, serialized, interactive videos, interactive series with this very cult property from the 80’s and revamping to now. That’s not advertising of course, it’s an original play.

But we’re also talking about making the interactive ads for the interactive experience for a specific brand that wants to be attached to that project. All of a sudden we’re back in advertising. I like to think of us as I say, we’re the new wave production company ’cause I want to own that. At the intersection of storytelling and technology. Storytelling is first and it’s really about making meaningful pieces, making meaningful work. What that means is it doesn’t really matter to me what the format is, what the size the screen is, how long it is or what purpose it’s serving. I want to understand the purpose and the context of what I’m making but sometimes it’s a 30-second beer commercial on television and sometimes it’s a four-episode 100 plus minute interactive, original series that has never been done before. And everything in between.

It’s interesting ’cause you’re talking about a few different genres of production. In the past, you might have thought I am a tv producer or I’m commercial producer or I’m a Hollywood feature producer or I’m a documentary producer. And yet what I’m hearing from you is that actually, you have a team among you that is fairly multidisciplinary.

That’s right. I encourage unconventional thinking and connecting unusual dots and that’s a lot of the success of the company stems out things like that where you had us going to the Ted conference and meeting certain people and collaborating on certain things that were very unusual and they made things that were the calling cards for the company and even our more recent business partner Brian Latt who joined three years ago who’s a little bit older and wiser than we are who had already been at the tool and he had basically been the guy who helped pull that into a very successful top tiered, forward thinking production company.

He remembers seeing those things that we were making, collaboration with Jonathan Harris and things like that. And thinking, “Man, how do they do that? How do they pull that out?” Or the Google Glass film when Glass launched. These very unusual things that we were making that we could make that would suddenly get a lot of attention and he remembers thinking, “Man, how do these guys do that? How do they get into that?” Now that we’re all a team together and it’s like a perfect creative transformer, he understands, he brings a ton of experience and a lot of forwardthinking-ness but the combination of all of us Kate who’s our other business partner and Brian and myself and a lot of the directors and unusual talent that’s around the company creates a very unique atmosphere and we’re trying to preserve whatever that is as we grow. It’s sort of like a family, it’s sort of like a band, it’s too big now for it to have a specific style, of course, you don’t want to be pigeonholed into a specific thing. But there is a forward thinking-ness and an openness and a nimbleness to it that allows it to respond to new technologies that enable us to become better at what we do which is essentially storytelling.

That sounds super cool, super dynamic where it works and I think the future holds great things because I do believe that just for groups of creative collectives and teams are going to form and reform around projects based on expertise and move to whoever’s being bold and ambitious with a creative concept. I think this idea of being wedded with the customer for a lifetime, customers can be wedded to the talent and the best producer producing the best work.

That’s right. We keep getting called back for projects and again we keep doing unusual things. On one hand, we’ll do a very classic integrated campaign with 72 and Sunny, something really fresh and cool and relevant and very much tv-centric. On the other hand, we’ll do the video that announces Facebook spaces that Zuckerberg uses to announce Facebook spaces at the F8 conference that just happened. It’s a video explaining VR which we also do, we’re doing virtual reality projects.

We are the company that Facebook calls to do the launch video to explain a new way to do virtual reality in a social space and at the same time we do these very straight up ads and at the same time with Occulus which is also Facebook, we did this project with the NBA and Occulus that was groundbreaking piece of entertainment that was a 25 minute virtual reality documentary about the 2016 NBA finals which ended up being one of the greatest comeback stories of all time. That was like a 30 for 30, high-brow documentary made for VR for the first time ever. Nobody had tried to do it.

It was a huge, huge hit and now we’re doing more of that but it’s a very strange thing. I don’t know any other, very few companies can pull that kind of dynamic thinking and working on all those levels. Usually, you’re getting called to do the spots or you’re getting called to do the creative thinking or you’re getting called as a virtual reality company. What I like about what we’ve built is that it can encompass all that without losing focus, without feeling like you’re spreading yourself thin.

Interesting. Let’s dive a little bit closer to that Facebook. Facebook is holding up to the F8, it’s a massive story. Facebook, we know how hungry the newsfeed are for video. That’s a pretty impressive calling card. If you’re picking up the phone to them. How did that business come about and who actually drove a creative agenda there?

That’s a good question. I think that one was with the creative shop, I’ve got to double check. We’ve done a bunch of videos for Facebook and Instagram over the last probably two years. We’ve built a profile in the company, we’ve done stuff on the advertising side with a brand on Facebook and we’ve also done stuff directly about Facebook products. We’ve done virtual reality with Occulus. I think we have a great reputation and a great name there as problem solvers, as unique thinkers and so when they’re like, “Oh, we’ve got this new Facebook spaces, it’s a big deal, it’s the first time VR is social and you can interact with your avatars in there who can we call that can solve this for us and make a very compelling video that Zuckerberg can use to introduce this to the world?” We come up and that’s a very cool thing.

I think we came up in that conversation and we got that call from the Facebook team that was working on that and effectively developed and shot and made this very cool thing for a very cool new technology that nobody had seen before. The same thing happened with Google Tilt Brush last year with Ray Tintori, our director. He did a VR experience and then we got the call from Google to launch. They wanted to launch, announce Tilt Brush to the world about a year and a half ago. This is a very big deal, it’s like one of the coolest, really one of the great first virtual reality interactive applications where you can draw infinitely in VR and we came up with a format and a language to show in a 2D screen what it’s like to be in a 3D environment. Combining, they call it a mixed reality trailer. I love that.

I want to say, I love all these things a much as I love the more straight up working with agencies on boards and on branded content and on commercials and especially on integrated campaigns where you’re doing all of it. I love, did a thing with 72 and Starbucks where we shot 100 hours of content in 50 different countries, they made the tv spots, they made the YouTube, they made 10 mini documentaries, they made an interactive film. All came out of this premise of what happens over the course of 24 hours in a single day, different Starbucks around the world. It’s a beautiful project but it works as tv scene, it works as branded content, it works as an interactive video and it works on Instagram and social video. That’s the kind of thing that gets me really excited.

It sounds to me like you and your team are working towards the platforms brands need to advance themselves. You sound very dynamic in the way you move between platforms of great concept on all of them. What a great brief that Starbucks and sunny was.

Yeah, I think we’re just thinking about context, we were born on the web, we understand video on the web for many years. We were pioneers of video on the web in many ways. The industry looks a lot more like what we used to think and sound alike, now it’s like a normal thing. Ten years ago you would show people content on a small screen and they would think it’s a fad, kind of like what happens with VR in the last two years. You still have these doubts in these people who are like, “Well is this a fad? How are people, the glasses look silly. How are people, how’s it going to scale? Who’s going to watch it?” Those are the same kinds of questions we were dealing with 10 years ago with online content. Nobody questions that anymore. Again, I like that as much as I like seeing our ad in tv, our honest company commercial runs on the Bachelor and it’s a very heavy real spot about real women giving birth which nobody had seen on tv before. I love that because I go on Twitter and I see what’s happening with the comments of the ad and it’s a realtime response and it’s beautiful.

Yeah, sure. It’s absolutely fascinating. Just one thing that I think our listeners will be questioning. I certainly do. M ss ng p p eces spelled the way it is. Causes people to spend a lot of time checking their email addresses.

Yeah, it’s a funny thing. There’s a kind of, I don’t want to say a love-hate relationship with it, but I love the name it’s very, it’s an instant classic, people remember it forever when they see it but there’s no way to do the website with spaces, the URL, runs into all kinds of trouble and if you add the I’s you lose the branding. We’ve kind of gotten over it or whatever it is that’s buggy about it because it really is, people really do remember it, once they see it especially. And that is almost better, it’s a memorable name so that’s better than whatever annoying thing you have to type.

It’s a giffy name. For the internet era.

So anyway, I’m happy with it. I’ve lived with it long enough and I’m happy with it.

Ari it’s been absolutely fantastic to talk with you, thanks very much indeed for your time on Movidiam podcast. This is Ari Kuschnir from m ss ng p eces. Who’s doing some remarkable work. I highly recommend you go check out their work. Thanks for your time.

Thank you George.

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