Social Impact Heroes: Filmmaker Joseph Alvaro has created a life-affirming video platform for uplifting stories about love and loss
…Talking about raising children alone we shared our trials and tribulations of single parenthood. Delving into how we coped or failed to cope in some instances with the death of our wives. It is a brotherhood few understand and happily so. Well after midnight we stumbled out onto the streets of the Village looking for a bite to eat. It was then that he asked the question everyone asks. How did I deal with losing Francés? Although I felt deep sorrow and loneliness when Francés died, our marriage was a gift to be treasured. I explained how I never felt bitterness for having lost her. That I was thankful for being so blessed. “It was by the grace of God that I was married to Francés,” I said. “I cherish every moment I spent with her. I’m lucky, not everyone gets to have that.” His face lit up with amazement. “I can’t believe you said that. That’s the same thing a friend of mine said to me,” he replied.
I had the distinct pleasure to interview Joseph Alvaro. Joseph Alvaro is a former television commercial director/producer and author of I’m One of The Lucky Ones — Remembering a Soul Mate. Joseph is the co-founder of The Lucky Ones (TLO), a life-affirming social and video platform, and online community. TLO is a digital destination for people to share their inspiring stories of those they’ve loved and lost. Exploring the continuing bonds with that special someone in our lives, The Lucky Ones celebrates our common humanity. Created with film/television critic Matt Zoller Seitz, editor-at-large at RogertEbert.com, television critic for New York Magazine and Vulture.com, the platform is a passion project for the two friends who each considered themselves “One of The Lucky Ones,” for having had the experience of marrying a soulmate. Recognizing the lack of outlets for people to celebrate the life they shared with a loved one, Alvaro and Seitz decided to create a platform that includes a series of five-minute videos, a chat forum and TLO Street Stories; a series of videos conducted on the streets of New York and New Jersey, with plans to visit other locations, where people share spontaneous heartfelt 60 second stories, telling us why they’re One of The Lucky Ones.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Joseph! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It was during the huge blizzard of January 2014 that Matt Zoller Seitz and I got together and came up with the idea for a television show called The Lucky Ones. We had met some fourteen years earlier having been introduced to one another by my wife Francés when she was the Senior Publicist responsible for the launch of HBO’s The Sopranos. At the time, Matt was a television and film critic for the Star-Ledger of New Jersey. They became fast friends while attending the Television Upfronts, an annual affair where TV networks roll out their season schedules and introduce new shows to advertisers and the press.
Seven years later Matt’s wife Jennifer unexpectedly passed away, leaving him to raise an eight year old daughter and her two-year old brother. Three and a half years later Francés died. Now, both Matt and I were single dads trying our best to raise children on our own. We stayed in contact, emailing and speaking on the phone and always intending to get together for drinks. But life has a way of making that difficult with children, especially when they are young and one of you lives in Brooklyn and the other lives in New Jersey. So, the years went by with the best intentions to meet never fulfilled.
Then while speaking before Christmas in 2013, determined to get together, we set a firm date to meet in the West Village after the New Year. Wouldn’t you know it, on the day we had planned to meet, the tri-state area was hit with a huge winter snow storm. Matt suggested we reschedule, fearing that it would be too treacherous for me to drive in. He could easily take the subway to Manhattan but the roads coming in from Jersey were likely to be dreadful. Having grown up in Michigan, I was used to this kind of weather and with a 4-wheel drive SUV, dismissed the notion.
We spent the better part of the evening drinking cabernet at the Kettle of Fish, a wood-paneled neighborhood bar whose tradition as a hang-out for writers included the likes of Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan. Talking about raising children alone we shared our trials and tribulations of single parenthood. Delving into how we coped or failed to cope in some instances with the death of our wives. It is a brotherhood few understand and happily so.
Well after midnight we stumbled out onto the streets of the Village looking for a bite to eat. It was then that he asked the question everyone asks. How did I deal with losing Francés? Although I felt deep sorrow and loneliness when Francés died, our marriage was a gift to be treasured. I explained how I never felt bitterness for having lost her. That I was thankful for being so blessed.
“It was by the grace of God that I was married to Francés,” I said. “I cherish every moment I spent with her. I’m lucky, not everyone gets to have that.”
His face lit up with amazement.
“I can’t believe you said that. That’s the same thing a friend of mine said to me,” he replied.
As we wandered up Sixth Avenue, trudging through the snow and jumping over slush puddles the size of small lakes, in search of a late-night burger, Matt explained how he had always wanted to do a TV show about people who had lost their spouses. We banded about different ideas and how we could structure a show. What elements we would incorporate like pictures, letters, old movies and various memorabilia that might be significant to each person’s story.
I went home and the next day and began writing the treatment for the show. No one had ever done anything like this before. Death is one of the last subjects in our mass media culture that hasn’t been explored in a positive light. As a culture we view the topic as taboo, something to avoid, even though it is a certainty for us all. Perhaps that is the reason. We don’t want to think about not being here anymore and we associate death with something uncontrollable, to be avoided at all costs.
We decided that the best way to make this work was to do a show that celebrated that special bond between two people. Let folks tell their story, regale the audience with the love affair they had with their soul mates no matter how long or short an amount of time they may have had together. Knowing this was not a concept we could pitch to a network executive, we decided that we should make a half-hour pilot and then shop it around. We reached out to friends and acquaintances, looking for people who would be willing to participate in the five minute vignettes we had outlined for the show. Between us, we came up with 5 people to interview and shot them all in 2 days.
During the edit session, one of the most gratifying comments we received came when Paul, a fellow executive producer and the show’s editor, turned to me while cutting an interview and professed, “this show makes me want to be a better husband.”
That’s when I knew we had hit upon something truly special. The stories we were telling were so simple and honest. They shared with the viewer the wonder of a loving relationship while reminding us to cherish every moment, for life can be indiscriminately fleeting.
Having cut the half-hour pilot, we shopped it around to various TV networks from A&E to Oprah. The reaction was the same. Everyone praised the show and its theme but they just didn’t know what to do with. So, Matt sent it to Frank Rich, executive producer of VEEP and former entertainment critic at The New York Times. Having recently lost his sister in-law, Frank suggested that we open up our format to include anyone who had had someone special in their lives pass away that they were lucky to have known. Frank’s feedback was invaluable and propelled us to where we are today.
In the streaming content world of today, many advertisers have become extremely wary of allowing algorithms to determine where their advertising will be shown. In many cases, to their horror, marketers are finding their ads alongside content that does not represent their views. Not wanting to be associated randomly with potentially offensive online content, marketers have sought out associations with content providers who align with their corporate mission. The Lucky Ones, with its life-affirming stories, successfully provides a place for marketers to reach their consumer audiences in a brand safe environment.
With that in mind, we created our own streaming and social networking platform for The Lucky Ones at, LuckyOnesTV.com. Taking Frank’s advice, we shot 4 new interviews with people who had lost a friend, relative or mentor to go along with the original 5 episodes in our Featured Stories category. It soon became apparent that we should incorporate the ability for our audience to tell their own stories. We created the category, Viewer Submitted Stories, where people upload their own 60–90 second videos or written stories accompanied with pictures. As we built the streaming platform and hired personnel to join our team, someone suggested we shoot videos of everyday people on the street for our social media channels @LuckyOnesTV, which would later live on the TLO platform. TLO Street Stories are 60 second interviews of random people on the street. The response we get is amazing. People yearn to celebrate the continuing bonds they have with people they have loved and lost. To our surprise, the majority of those willing to tell their stories are people under thirty-years-old. One might suppose it is due to the acclimation of social media and the willingness to share their lives with everyone they know.
People immediately appreciate the common bond that is our humanity even when they decline to be interviewed. Their most common response is, “what a great idea.” LuckyOnesTV.com explores our common humanity in uplifting videos which allow people to express their love and the bond they share with those who have passed in a positive way. It’s a celebration of life. Remembering those who have passed and being able to speak freely about them is cathartic and reminds us that just because someone is no longer here, doesn’t mean they aren’t with us.
Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?
The most gratifying aspect of my work is the reaction from people I interview. When they thank me for letting them share their story of that special someone, I am inspired.
One of the things that most surprised me when putting together our team was the immediate desire of people wanting to be a part of The Lucky Ones. Most of the people we interviewed were women and most presumed that a concept like ours would have been originated and run by women. They were surprised that a bunch of guys had created The Lucky Ones, which was a surprise to us. We never thought of it in those terms. But it makes sense, since we also assumed that our audience would be women between the ages of 35–65. It turns out that we were wrong too. Men of all ages have been incredibly responsive to the idea and eagerly willing to participate in interviews.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Leading a start up organization has proven a challenge when it comes to putting in place the right people to execute our vision and messaging. Leading a creative based company whose product is entertainment content is not like running a construction company, which I have done. There is a creative intangible and sensibility that can be difficult to convey. Too often I’ve assumed people came to the task with the same knowledge or at least sensibility that I have for what we are trying to accomplish. While they may understand the big picture, the execution of it has had its hiccups. Some of this is arbitrable to the lack of knowledge, some to misunderstanding of how we want to brand ourselves. I have found that taking the time to explain, sometimes reiterating it more than once, without becoming frustrated has made it easier to get the desired results. The death of my wife and daughter has definitely tempered my disposition. Where once when tasks weren’t done to my standards, I could be less than diplomatic. Dealing with their passing has given me a new perspective on what is important in life from what may be inconvenient at the moment. I’ve learned to take a step back, pause and as my wife would often remind me, “use your words.” I constantly remind myself that the people working with me want the same thing as I do; the success of our endeavor.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If there is one thing I could do to effect change in our society for its betterment, it would be the overhaul of how we deliver education to our children in urban centers. By default they are trapped in failing schools due to their zip code. There is no accountability for the quality of results. The most important undertaking a society can embark on is the education of its children. We fail this task at a tremendous cost not only to the children who are forced to endure these schools, but the greater society at large. There few services we purchase where we don’t have a multitude of choices.
Unlike the private sector, public education does not allow for the dismissal of those who are incompetent. Nor do parents have the ability to hold accountable those who oversee these government run schools. It should give us pause to think that the United States ranks 38th in education among the industrialized world, yet we spend decidedly more per pupil. Would any of us put up with that in the business world? The danger we face from this arrangement is all around for us to see. The rate of incarceration of young men and the number of children born to single mothers dependent on government assistance is crippling the well-being of our nation. Both, I would argue, are a direct result of poor education which leads to lack of opportunity and employment. A society is doomed to failure unless it provides the means for its citizens to be self-sufficient and contributing members to its collective whole. Education is the key as exemplified by the wealth created in Honk Kong, Singapore and North Korea. These countries with no natural resources, poor and illiterate 50 years ago have risen to prosperity by doing one thing… educating their population.
For too long, as leaders of our nation we have turned our gaze from this disaster because we had the wealth to mitigate its effects. That is no longer true. We have failed as leaders to address the issue head on. We can no longer afford to ignore this problem as the rest of the world’s population enters the middle class and their standards of living rise. If it were up to me, every child would be given a voucher to attend any school their parents deem appropriate. In other words, choice in purchasing a service.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is by John F. Kennedy. It sums up my view of many in our chattering class. Kennedy was delivering the commencement speech to the class of 1962 at Yale University when he told the graduates, “too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” Saturated by information spawned by the advent of the internet, too many people rely on dubious sources for their news without ever challenging its validity. As Mark Twain once opined, “a lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots.” I believe this lack of critical thinking comes from the abdication by our high schools and colleges to teach history, philosophy and civics to our children. The ability for critical thinking is something that is learned by exposure to different ideas, no matter how unpalatable the topic may be. The lack of critical thinking amongst a democratic populous not only threatens reason but erodes individual liberty and the ability to sustain a self-governing nation.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
If I could have lunch with anyone in the world, it would be Tim Cook, CEO of Apple. I’d like to know what he and President Trump talk about during their near monthly lunches together. To the public these two gentlemen probably seem like a very odd couple. But it makes total sense to me. Both are keenly aware of the global business climate and its affairs. I also think that they value one another’s friendship beyond the comprehension of the self-ordained politically correct crowd. Perhaps somewhere during the course of lunch I would have the opportunity to pitch a syndication deal for The Lucky Ones with Apple TV.
The one truth that will forever remain constant is that, we will all die. And how we lived our lives is all that will remain of our existence. Most of us strive to be good in our daily lives, to raise a family and contribute to the well-being of our society. The Lucky Ones celebrates those achievements and contributions in a microcosm by exploring the lives of those who’ve touched us in a special way, impacting how we think, how we behave and how we view the world around us. It’s those special people in our lives who’ve helped shape who we are that makes us, “One of The Lucky Ones.”
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!