Radical Filmmaking with Emily Best
Do you feel like you see yourself and your friendships reflected in most TVs or movies? We sure don’t. Emily Best tells us why we won’t get more diverse representations of women on screen unless we change the way films and shows are funded and distributed—and how she plans to do just that.
Emily is a producer, director, and the founder and CEO of Seed & Spark, a new crowdfunding and streaming platform that wants to change the way entertainment is made and distributed—so that independent creators can actually be independent. She started Seed & Spark after making her own first film, where she learned just how little Hollywood’s middlemen understood about reaching women.
I started thinking of all the movies I had ever watched and everything that was available to me and I was like, “where are my friendships? Where are the women I admire?” And they were nowhere to be found. And so, that summer we started toying with the idea of making a movie that would represent female friendships the way that we understood them. And I didn’t know that this was a radical idea.
—Emily Best, founder of Seed & Spark, on why she made her first film
We talk about:
- Why the film industry doesn’t see women as a viable audience (spoiler: they’re wrong about that).
- Using a wedding registry website to create a crowdfunding campaign for her first film.
- Why Seed & Spark is the only streaming service with a pay-what-you-can model—and a community where creators and fans build real connection.
- Why algorithmic content recommendations—a la Netflix—lead us to an unsatisfying place (and how to change that).
- The importance of creating a code of conduct for online communities—_before_ you’ve got trolls and Nazis.
- Fck Yes!, a webseries about consent that shows what happens when people actually talk in the bedroom—and how awkward moments can turn into extremely sexy ones.
- What’s next for Emily: A documentary project about the Equal Rights Amendment (which is still not ratified).
Plus: Sara and Katel get real about their own failures when it comes to diversifying who’s involved in what, and talk about their fave subject: female friendship (and donuts).
By doing the thing that was easy, which was bringing in somebody who was already connected to us, who we knew would be a good fit, we weren’t able to think about the benefits of bringing in somebody from a different background.
This episode of NYG is brought to you by:
Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Try it free, then use code NOYOUGO to get 50% off your first paid month.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher Today’s episode is brought to you by Harvest, the makers of time-tracking and project-planning tools for all kinds of businesses. Track vendors, map out complex tasks and team schedules, send invoices, and just look cool, calm, and collected the whole time. Try it free at getharvest.com, and when you upgrade to a paid account, make sure to use the code “noyougo” for 50% off your first paid month. That is getharvest.com, offer code “noyougo.” [intro music plays for 12 seconds]
Katel LeDû Hey everyone, I’m Katel.
SWB And I’m Sara!
KL And you’re listening to No, You Go, the show about building satisfying careers and businesses—
SWB —getting free of toxic bullshit—
KL —and living your best, feminist life at work. On today’s show, we’re talking with Emily Best. She’s the founder and CEO of Seed & Spark, which is a platform for crowdfunding and streaming TV and movies. She’s also a producer and director herself, and she’s just really fucking cool. She’s here to talk with us about what it’s like as a woman creator in Hollywood, and what she’s doing to change that for everyone.
SWB I am so glad we got to talk to Emily about this, because I feel like this has been such a big conversation in Hollywood the past couple of years—talking about things like pay inequality or—you know—#oscarssowhite, or even the #metoo movement. Looking at representation in entertainment is such a big deal, but it also really got me thinking about just how systems of inequality are perpetuated in general, like the way that across industries, people who already have connections, who are already in the right networks, they’re the ones who get to have new opportunities, and other people just stay shut out. And it’s this “rich get richer” sort of thing. And that’s definitely not just in entertainment, I mean that’s absolutely something we’ve talked about in tech. You know, I remember when we had Nicole Sanchez on the show and, you know, she does diversity and inclusion consulting, and she talked about going into different companies to try to help them de-bias their hiring processes, and what she would find is that these companies would still ultimately want to hire people from the exact same backgrounds as always, right? So even though they said they didn’t want to be biased, they would want to hire people who went to the same schools that they had gone to, or who had worked the same companies that they had also worked at. So, what you end are with are these systems that are just circular, right? So, it’s the same people hiring the same people over and over again. And obviously, I think that that is bad—I think that if you’re listening to this show, you know where we stand on that—but what I really had to think about that I want to talk more about is the way that I’m also part of that system. And—you know—like you and me, right? We’ve actually even I think been a little bit part of that system on the show. So, for example, a while back we decided we wanted to bring somebody on to help us a few hours a week just to help us have our shit together and up our game, right? So, helping us share more cool stuff on social media and help us manage our inbox, and email guests—things like that. So, we were basically looking for a production coordinator and we ended up hiring someone awesome. Her name is Sarah Blackstock and shoutout to her, we love her. But she wasn’t someone from outside of our network. Katel, she was somebody that you already knew.
KL Yeah, and I totally agree with this and Sarah does this kind of work part-time with us at A Book Apart and I suggested to you that we should consider her because I thought, “damn, she’d be a great fit.” And she is a great fit. She’s awesome at managing social stuff and just totally vibes with us in terms of caring about—you know—our podcast, the same issues that we want to talk about, which is great. But it’s true, she got this gig because she was—you know—already in our orbit. And granted, it’s—you know—it’s not like a full-time thing, it’s—it’s a few hours a week, but we didn’t search for her.
SWB Yeah, and I guess what that fundamentally comes down to is that our show ends up still being—you know—created and produced by a bunch of white women. And all the time I am talking about how I want to make sure we’re elevating the voices of people who aren’t white, people who are different than us, and it’s really easy to rely on the same old, same old. And when you’re white, that ends up tending to be other white people. And so—you know—obviously, we’ve put effort into making sure we have diverse people on the show and I—and I think that we’ve done a reasonable job there—not always perfect, but I think that’s definitely something that you can see—you know—in the history that we have. But I think we need to acknowledge something here. And I think what we need to acknowledge is that by doing the thing that was easy, which was bringing in somebody who was already connected to us, who we knew would be a good fit, we weren’t able to think about the benefits of bringing in somebody from a different background and what that might bring to the show that would be different and equally as good or potentially even better. Who knows, right? Because it wasn’t even on our radar.
SWB So—you know—Sarah’s awesome and—and I don’t want to minimize that because she’s great and I love her and I want to keep her on the show, but I do feel like I just want to be honest about that. I don’t think I thought enough about what we might be missing out on by not casting a wider net. And so I feel like it’s important to talk about that publicly because if we keep growing, and I really hope that we do, I want to make sure that we’re doing better next time, that we’re really thinking about that and thinking about who we are going to and how we are going about those decisions. Because I think even at the small scale, they’re so crucial.
KL Yeah, this is something I think about a lot too when it comes to who we’re working with at A Book Apart. And I definitely don’t think we talk about it enough and we haven’t done a good enough job. And we need to be up front about that because who we work with is very public. It’s obvious if you look at who our authors are, who we’ve published—it’s a lot of white guys. So, I think when I realized this was a problem, and that was a couple of years ago, I started doing a lot of things differently and I—and I still—you know—there’s still work to do. But I thought about, I need to make our proposal submission process a lot more open and visible and push it out to—you know—to people who might not have seen it or might not have thought to contribute something. So, I published the outline and a form on our website and I wrote a blog post about it and I was hoping to share it with communities that would circulate it. And that’s still just small percentage of what I could be doing to do more outreach. I’m also looking actively for people who are speaking and writing about things that we might publish, and I think the challenge that I run into a lot is that I’m one person. So, I can get to a bunch of—or a couple of—conferences a year and sort of look for talent, but it’s time consuming, all of that takes time. And I think when I look at bringing on different voices, if I sign somebody today, their book might not come out for another year or two, so—you know—talking about that sort of moment I recognized this big problem, next year I think our lineup is maybe 90% women authors, which is so rad, I’m so proud of that. But that—that took a long time.
SWB Totally. I mean, it takes forever to even figure out when you’re talking to somebody if they really are ready to write a book and want to write a book badly enough to actually do it, and then want to invest the time in fleshing it out and then also even what their idea is. All that stuff just takes forever, it’s not—it’s nothing you can kind of short-shrift.
KL Right, exactly. And I—that’s one of my favorite parts of the process is working with folks to make that happen. And if you don’t do it in the beginning, it’s like you’re playing catch-up and trying to solve this much bigger problem later on.
SWB Yes. And that actually reminds me of something that Emily said in her interview, which I thought was really helpful and a really great conversation, where she was talking about setting up boundaries for building an inclusive community and a community that doesn’t tolerate harassment and she was like, “well, we haven’t had any problems with that yet, but I decided to write a code of conduct before we had problems.” And I think that’s exactly the right approach for so much of this, right? You have to build in that inclusion from the beginning because otherwise it’s really hard and slow to try to right that ship down the line, because you’re trying to undo stuff, or you’re in a defensive position. And so, it means that—you know—you really cannot start out by only thinking about desired outcomes. You can’t just think about all the positives, you have to think about the negatives, or you have to think about who you could be leaving out or who could be hurt by whatever it is that you’re doing. And so—you know—that’s something I think about when it comes back to us. It’s like we were thinking about all the positives of working with Sarah that we didn’t think about what we might be missing out on by not opening it up to other people. And I think that’s on us, and that’s something that I’m definitely going to be thinking about for a while.
KL Yeah, totally, me too. Well, Emily said so much inspiring stuff, do you want to take a listen?
SWB Yes. [music fades in, plays for five seconds, and fades out][8:38]
SWB So, our friends at Harvest asked us if we could try using their time tracking software for something a little bit different. So, Katel, do you have any personal time problems we can solve?
KL I actually do. So, I’ve been knitting this blanket and I have actually been working on it for two years. And I can only seem to get myself to work on it in the winter and it’s just taking forever. I just counted and I have done 180 rows so far, and that means I have 252 more rows to complete the pattern.
SWB Oh my god, that sounds like so much! It’s going to be three more years!
KL Ugh, I know. [laughs] And I just can’t work on this for that long, I need to set a schedule and get it done or I’m going to give up.
SWB Okay, so how long does it take you to knit one row?
KL Well, I tracked my time working on it yesterday and it takes me about ten minutes.
SWB Okay, so you’ve got 2,520 minutes. So 2,520 divided by 60 is exactly 42 hours. So, okay. If you just made knitting this blanket your full-time job for a week—I mean, on top of your other full-time job and this podcast—you could get it done!
KL Right. Yeah…
SWB Okay, okay, so you’re not going to do that. Okay, so we have—we have to do some project planning. So, it is six weeks until January 1st. If you knit for seven hours a week until the end of the year, you could have this completely done. You could do this in an hour a day!
KL Ooh! Or like two episodes of the new Charmed every day. I think I can do that.
SWB I think you can definitely watch two episodes of Charmed. [laughs] But you’re going to run out of Charmed, right? How many episodes are there?
KL There are only a few.
SWB Oh, okay, what else is in your queue? Are you caught up on Riverdale?
KL Definitely gotta catch up on that. Um and I might need another show in the queue—if anyone has suggestions.
SWB Send them in! But also, this is pretty doable, right? Just an hour a night watching your teen dramas, knitting your rows, and you’ll get it done! So, all it took was some time tracking and some forecasting and now you can—you know—put it in your schedule and stick with it, which is exactly what Harvest tries to help you with. So, they’ve got this tool called Forecast where you can schedule teams out across projects and then track how booked up different people are or how free people are. And that way, you know just how much people can fit into their schedules or how many Charmed episodes they can watch. So, check it out at getharvest.com/forecast. [music fades in, plays for five seconds, and fades out]
Interview: Emily Best
KL Emily Best is the founder and CEO of Seed & Spark, a new crowdfunding and streaming platform that wants to change the way entertainment is made and distributed. She’s also an advocate for diversity in entertainment and a producer and director in her own right. Her current creative project is “Fuck Yes,” a web series about sexual consent. Uhh… fuck yes to that! Emily, welcome to No, You Go.
Emily Best Thank you so much for having me.
KL So, let’s start with Seed & Spark. Can you tell us about it and how it came to be?
EB Yeah. So, we built something that hasn’t been built before, which is that we’ve combined crowdfunding and subscription streaming into a single platform. So, I think rather than thinking of us like a crowdfunding platform, we’re more like a creative marketplace akin to Etsy, where we’ve built the tools for thousands of small businesses and content to power themselves. So, funding audience building and obviously being able to stream, so that audiences can watch stuff is all part and parcel of the same platform. In 2010, I was producing a play in New York City. It is—Hedda Gabler is to women actors what Hamlet is to male actors. It’s like a seminal role for a younger woman. And there aren’t many of those in theater, as there aren’t in film. We were producing this play—I never thought of myself as someone who would get into cinema, but my friend Caitlin Fitzgerald, who was playing the lead, she was on the up and up. She had done some really big movies and she was starting to sort of get into that role that young, beautiful women get into of auditioning for all these parts. And so she would come to set where we were working with this brilliant material and she would bring the sides for her auditions the next day and the parts that she was being asked to audition for were so insulting to women. And it was a wakeup call for me. All of a sudden I started thinking of all the movies I had ever watched and everything that was available to me and I was like, “where are my friendships? Where are the women I admire?” and they were nowhere to be found. [laughs] And so, that summer we started toying with the idea of making a movie that would represent female friendships the way that we understood them [laughs], right? And I didn’t know that this was a radical idea. So, the lessons that we would get from trying to make a movie that would eventually be called “Like the Water” were really the foundations of starting Seed & Spark.
KL That’s so awesome. When you were sort of first starting out, what was your experience as a first-time producer? And what was that beginning like?
EB Yeah. So, I got lied to is how it happened. Caitlin was making a movie that summer with Ed Burns, and it was 2010, right? So, there were some interesting things that had just happened. Canon made a camera that put a full-frame sensor in a photography camera and that turned it into a high-resolution video camera, and all of a sudden, high resolution video was accessible to everyone.
KL Yes, I remember that.
EB Right? So, this was like a boom. Well, Ed Burns was one of the first independent filmmakers to adopt this technology for his own purposes. Caitlin invited me to set one day to see what they were doing, and I knock on this apartment door in Tribeca, and I went and watched them shoot a scene. And it was the cinematographer just holding a 5D camera, and it was a guy with a boom, and Eddy was like rewriting on the fly, which I think is something that he does, and they shot the scene. And that was it! There was no crew, there were no lights, there was nothing! And so, Caitlin brings me to see this and she’s like, “we could make a movie, it’s so easy!” [KL & SWB laugh] So, Caitlin would go on to co-write a script with our friend Caroline Von Kuhn, who would go on to direct, that was the opposite of the kind of movie that you are able to make for $9,000 theatrically. So, Ed Burns was making a run-and-gun, mockumentary-style Manhattan kind of captured-in-the-streets film. Caitlin and Caroline wrote a slow, contemplative drama about a young journalist who goes home to her childhood town in Maine to write the eulogy for her best childhood friend who has died. And so once we got a cinematographer involved—a woman who is now one of my best friends, Eve Cohen—Eve Cohen was like, “you can’t shoot this movie the way he shot that movie.” And so, all of a sudden this $9,000 idea we thought we had was much larger in scope. And so now I was just producing a legit nearly $200,000 independent feature. And I got really lucky. My dad goes to his—I think it’s his 45th high school reunion and hooks up with a guy name Bar Potter who he went to high school with and turns out, Bar Potter has been in LA producing movies for 30 years. And Bar Potter basically took me under his wing and taught me how to produce movies, step by step. I was very lucky because he was an attorney first and contracts are really what a producer needs to be good at in the end. So, I got very, very lucky to have that education. But then when I started the fundraising process and I started talking to people about the kind of movie we wanted to make and the kind of women we wanted to put on screen that was different from anything that’s been done before, I found out that innovation is not a good pitch in movies actually. [laugh] They were like—they want to know that there’s a tried and true audience for this thing. It wasn’t that people were surprised that women weren’t represented, they were like, “yeah, but that’s because there’s no audience for it.” So, it was really hard to raise money. [laughs] We raised some money from let’s call it friends, family, and fools—affectionately. And then we—Caitlin got a big, residual check from her work in “It’s Complicated” and put some of that into the movie. And then we were still like $20,000 from what we needed to go and shoot the movie. And the interesting thing also about 2010, 2011 was this was the rise of crowdfunding out of the ashes out of the financial crisis. And so Kickstarter and Indiegogo were starting to become kind of all the rage in the filmmaker community. And our filmmaker friends knew very well about it, but our friends’ parents did not, right? [laughs] And we figured we needed to get to our friends’ parents if we were going to have any hope of raising any money. So, instead of running a crowdfunding campaign on a newfangled crowdfunding platform, we built a wedding registry of all of the items that we needed—the camera, and the car rentals, and—we were going to Maine in the summer—so the bug spray, and the sunscreen, and the food, and the makeup, and the coffee—you name it, right? We built this long wedding registry and we sent it everyone we knew and a really interesting thing happened when people could see what their participation was—you know—like “oh, I’m not just giving money so these girls can fuck off to Maine for the summer, we are participating in helping them achieve this thing that they want to achieve.” What was more surprising to me and the big revelation was, “okay, now I have got to sell this movie and get it distributed.” And I started talking to sales agents and distributors and they weren’t particularly interested in us until we told them about what we did and how many people had contributed and how at every screening we had anywhere in the world, including places where I was not aware we knew people, like Oaxaca and Romania, people who contributed to our campaign either showed up or sent their friends. And so it was this really powerful tool for building community around a project that was trying to do something differently. And this project was trying to do something differently in a year when I sat across from a sales agent, who after telling him about what this movie is about, it’s a—it’s really a friendship drama about a women discovering—you know—rediscovering herself after the death of her childhood friend, he said, “well, if you could put some lesbian erotica in it, I could sell it.”
KL [inhales sharply] Yeah…
EB He wasn’t talking about lesbian erotica for lesbians. He was trying to think of, how do we make this movie palatable for a male audience? And it was like a wakeup call moment of like, “oh, it’s that nobody—none of the middlemen actually know how to reach women, and so they assume they’re not a valuable audience.”
EB Right? And this would be the beginning of unravelling sort of a century of institutional bias. I realized that if you wanted to reach an audience that wasn’t being reached, there were literally structures in place to make sure you couldn’t do it around projects. And so I started ideating with a friend of mine about well, what if we made this tool for creating a wedding registry for your movie or show available to more filmmakers. And I was like, “well, it doesn’t have to be filmmakers, it could be, like, journalists and dancers and writers and whatever.” And the idea was that it would really help you gather and understand your audience, because my experience was when I went into the room with those third-party gatekeepers—if I knew about the audience and if I had data about the audience, then I could get them to listen to me and pay attention. And I was very interested in going from feeling like I had no power in any of those discussions to feeling like I had some power and authority to explain why my project had value and why my IP had value. And I think the biggest realization for me at that time was—you know—independent film quote-unquote for so long has been you have to independently finance, write, edit, produce, direct, sound design, color correct, etc. And then you have to wait to get picked by a festival and wait to get picked by a sales agent and wait to get picked by a distributor and I’m sorry, but what the fuck about that is independent?
KL [laughs] Yeah.
EB Like actually what happened is I woke up one day and I was like, independent filmmaking is dependent filmmaking, and the internet should make it possible for us to be actually independent, but there’s a lot of work to be done. And part of that work is deprogramming the filmmaker brain that what you have to do is work hard and if you’re just special enough, you’ll get picked. Because that I think is the thing that we’re working against the hardest.
KL Yeah, I feel that so much and I mean you went from filmmaking to also changing—you know—how entertainment is being created and funded, and it’s like changing who holds the power, which is really fucking incredible. What was the driving force behind that part of it?
EB Education. As we were going and testing this—like I took this wireframe to Sundance in 2012 and I talked to every filmmaker who would possibly talk to me. And the filmmakers, many of whom had crowdfunded at that point, said, “yeah, so these are the things that are hard about crowdfunding, but what’s really hard is distribution.” And boy did I not want to get into the distribution business, but it was shouting at me loud and clear that actually the only solution that’s going to be really valuable to filmmakers is an end-to-end one, where the work that you do up front to raise money and gather audience has to be meaningful to your ability to secure distribution, monetize distribution, pick a good path for distribution, etc. So, the beginning of the film business, there is no audience data because people are pushing nickels through a window, right? [laughs] They’re going to the nickelodeon literally, and so you don’t have any audience data because it’s just a cash business. And oh by the way, even if you did, there are Jim Crow laws and shit governing who can and can’t go into theaters, so you wouldn’t get audience—good audience data anyway. And then they put a box in your living room called a TV and then you can watch whatever you want and nobody really knows what or why. And then they start spying on you with your permission through Nielsen, right? And Nielsen started to deliver sort of aggregated data, like here’s how many people watched a thing. But they had to make a lot of assumptions about why or what motivated that watching behavior. And so, in absence of any real audience data, the film business grew its marketing capacity based around assumptions about what made stuff successful or not. All of the greenlighting that was happening in Hollywood and otherwise was backward-looking. This is what performed well before, and therefore this is what will perform well in the future. And then it got really interesting in the 2000s. Two things happened simultaneously: the internet hit the film business, the DVD market collapses almost overnight, and for unrelated reasons, the censorship rules lighten up in Russia and China. And so, Hollywood starts to see that if they can make movies that play well in China, that gives rise to the Hollywood mega-blockbuster. Because all of a sudden, they’re not making 500 million dollars on a movie, they can make a billion plus dollars on a movie. And that had never been true before. And ever since then, Hollywood has been making these super mega-movies for international audiences. And in the meantime, Netflix, who saw all of this coming, went to the studios and was like, “hey, I see what you’re doing in movies, we will pay you x plus one for those syndication deals. And just like the rest of your world, we will also not give you audience data.” And the studios were like, “fine, we’ve never had audience data, we don’t give a shit about audience data.” And that would set a precedent that the platforms like Netflix would get all of the audience data and the producers from the studios all the way down to little, old me trying to make my movie would get no audience data through distribution. The film business has basically been set up to completely segregate the producers and even the distributors of content from the data that would help them make smart and efficient marketing decisions on the internet, and it has created a massive power imbalance, worse than even when the studios were basically giant monopolies. Because without that data, filmmakers are completely dependent on the platforms to just get their movie out there, but they can’t compete with the platforms because they have no data transparency. And because Netflix got so much data and got so powerful, it’s driven a ton of consolidation in the last 24 months, right? You have AT&T buying Time Warner, which means Turner and HBO and everybody, and they’ve shut down FilmStruck because it’s not a billion dollar business, right? And that kind of consolidation has never ever been good for the independent creator. And ultimately, that was why I thought crowdfunding was so valuable because crowdfunding was the first time that filmmakers could go directly to their audiences and transact and get all of the data from those audiences and be in direct contact with them. And it continues to be one of the only ways that they can do that. And that’s why we then moved into the streaming space, is because we realized that there were no real streaming services being offered that also disintermediated the relationship between filmmaker and audience and would allow a savvy filmmaker or a savvy distributor to just open up Google Analytics and make some smart marketing decisions about how to drive more traffic to their projects.
KL So, then speaking of streaming, you’ve noted before that human curation versus feeds driven by algorithms was pretty critical to how Seed & Spark works for end users, which is different than what you see on all the other platforms. Why is that so important?
EB Well, first of all—fundamentally—algorithms don’t curate. Algorithms recommend, humans curate.
EB So, right now there is more audio/visual content out there than could ever possibly be watched by a single person, or even thousands of people, for the rest of their lives for all of time. So, algorithms, not dissimilar to what happens in your social media sphere, they tend to create a bit of a bubble. And my fear about algorithmic recommendation is really—the same thing that happens on Facebook or otherwise—is the echo chamber effect. So, I think what we’re all trying to do is build empathy and build bridges. And an algorithm is trying to recommend to me the thing that is most similar to the other things that I’ve watched, which creates a little echo chamber of I’m probably only all of a sudden getting recommended things that look like me. And I think why we make movies is to get us to recognize ourselves in the other. And that’s really why we’ve taken a human curation approach. So, you can tell us a little bit about how you’re feeling—like what your mood is or what kind of theme you’re interested in—and we will recommend for you no more than four movies at a time that fit kind of the thing that you’re interested in at the moment. And those are decided by people—how those things get structured and categorized and recommended are decided by people. We design playlists, so that if you’re interested in a certain topic or theme, you can move through a bunch of different movies that will give you really, really different experiences around that theme. Because ultimately, the point of storytelling has always been to connect us to each other and I think algorithms are actually very divisive, and that’s something that fundamentally we don’t want to build into our technology.
SWB Yes! And one of the things I think a lot about is just like the extreme examples, right? So, if you look at the way that say YouTube will send you toward more and more and more extreme content. So you can go really quicKLy from, let’s say, you watch a Jordan Peterson video—I don’t know if you’re familiar with him—
EB Yep. Unfortunately.
SWB Unfortunately. A right-wing academic from Canada who says a lot of trash stuff about Muslims and women and a lot of other groups. But you might end up on a video from him, somebody links to it, or you Google something and end up on a video from him. And he’s fairly abhorrent—but, you know, if you start watching videos like that, there have been studies that show that within one or two clicks of watching related content, all of a sudden you’re on explicit propaganda videos that are anti-black, for example. And that kind of stuff, that algorithmic function is—algorithms just want to get to some sort of finite right answer, and so they’re just going to go further and further and further, And that’s—there’s no joy there. And what you’re describing is fundamentally about finding joy and connection and that’s so different.
EB That’s right. Computers are not going to help us do complicated human things like build empathy. I don’t think the internet will ever replace or supplant community building. Community building has to happen in communities. It doesn’t happen on the internet. Now, the internet can be a tool that aids different kinds of community building. And that’s why on the crowdfunding side—you know—the way that we went about building our business. You know, when we—[laughs] when we launched, I raised like $245,000 and then in the first two years, I think I raised a total of a million dollars. And during this time, IndieGoGo raised like 65 million dollars and Kickstarter raised—I don’t know—20 million dollars or something like that. There was just no way that I was ever going to compete with their resources. So, we went on the road—literally went on the road. I got in my car in LA and drove all the way across the country and all the way back and we taught workshops about how to help filmmakers use the tools of the internet to build and amplify the community-building efforts that they needed to do in order to build enough support and funding around their projects. And that turned into what is now a national education program. In 2018, we will teach 137 live workshops in person, not only for us to build human connection with them, but for them to build human connection with each other. And if you look at why do people choose Seed & Spark, it’s because—so, some of it is because they heard about us at one of these events, but more often than not, it’s that they heard about us from a friend who attended one of these events. And that I think is, to me, like, an example of the power of… there is stuff that you can only do in person, and you can’t build math functions to replace that.
SWB I love that so much. And we see a lot of people who will just try to plunk humans into the same digital space and call it a community, which is not actually a community. And so I really like calling out that a community means something. And so related to that, I wanted to ask you about something you wrote about recently, which is having a code of conduct for your community. So, in the technology industry, there has been lots of debate about codes of conduct—should we even have them and whether there’s even a safety problem we should be dealing with at all. So, I’m really curious how you decided what would be in the code of conduct for Seed & Spark, and how that came to be.
EB So, our community was increasingly demanding more ways to speak directly to one another. And separate from that, I had heard from my friend Eileen Carey, who is an entrepreneur, about some of the problems that corporations were facing with their Slacks—that harassment was happening in one-to-one communications in Slack channels, and there was no transparency for the corporation into those channels. And then also the reverse, that there is like a super function where you can go and look at people’s Slack messages and then their safety was being—anyway! There was like a bunch of issues around one-to-one communication that is enabled by a platform, either inside a company or inside a community. That it seemed to me—I didn’t want people to think that if you weren’t posting it publicly, but you were using our website to communicate with people in ways that would make them feel uncomfortable or shut them out or shut them down, that we wouldn’t have a say in that. I don’t subscribe to the notion that my job on a tech platform is to protect free speech, because free speech is protected in the Constitution. And all it means is that you can’t get arrested for your asshole opinion. But I don’t need to let you run around with your asshole opinion and shut people down on my website. I don’t have to tolerate that, right? [laughs] And since we’re trying to build a community that is about engagement, empathy, support, diversity, it means there can be lots of different kinds of opinions and that has to be okay and there has to be an environment that encourages lots of different kinds of opinions. Now, this is a sort of statement that an asshole will love to glom onto and be like, “well, you don’t like my conservative opinion,” and I was like, “no, I don’t like your racist opinion.” Because your racist opinion is fundamentally saying that other people’s opinions don’t belong there, and that is not the same. My opinion that you shouldn’t be able to shut people down is not the same thing as your opinion that other people shouldn’t be shut down and guess what? I get to fucking decide. So, if you’re a person who wants to use the internet to be terrible and shut people down, that’s fine. My corner of the internet is not for you. And so, we want to make sure that everybody feels like they have a pathway for notifying us if they feel like there is rude or harassing language or other ways that people use the internet to spam and be crappy. [laughs] We just want to make sure that people can feel like they have some control over their experience, and also I think that encourages it to be a safer place to disagree. And that’s—that to me is like, the code of conduct is about kicking the discussion level up a notch and demanding a little more from people than just whatever the fuck the first thing was you thought to say. And to be honest, we haven’t had these problems really before at all on the site at all, but I also just wanted to put a stake in the ground about why we don’t want to see them in the future either.
SWB Yeah, I love that because I think that part of the way that you prevent those problems is by putting your stake in the ground while you’re small enough for that to be a really easy thing to do, instead of waiting until you’re big and then pretending it’s hard.
EB For me, it was like we have to release the code of conduct in conjunction with these new functions. It can’t be as a reparative measure, it has to be as a proactive measure. When you work in diversity and inclusion generally speaking, you have to be thinking about being proactive and not reactive. Because reactive is where the discrimination often happens and it gets defensive. And we didn’t want to come from a defensive position, we really wanted to come from a really proactive and positive place of like, “hey guys, here’s what we’re trying to do here. As such, here are some things you shouldn’t do here because we’re trying to do this other thing here.” And then, because I am not a person who tries to, like, assault other people on the internet, you actually have to go through some mental exercises around, like, “what is a terrible thing that somebody could think to do that I wouldn’t normally think to do?” That part’s hard. So it is helpful to look at other codes of conduct, because other people will have thought of nefarious behaviors that didn’t occur to you.
SWB Yes, yes. So, I want to switch gears a bit and ask about something that I think is also pretty exciting and pretty important, which is your series “Fuck Yes,” which talks about consent. Can you tell us about that?
EB “Fuck Yes” is a web series, they are digital shorts about consent. And they’re really meant to be examples of what effectively navigating consent situations would look like. So, rather than being—I think so much of sex education is about what not do. These are really just vignettes about different kinds of couples navigating what to do. And we came together and sort of decided that a Fuck Yes episode is a couple that comes to sort of an awkward moment, and they navigate an awkward moment, and guess what happens? Nobody dies from awkward. And maybe it’s a little bit funny and sweet. And what happens after the awkward is it gets way sexier, because actually communication is such a core part of what makes sex sexy. It’s like we spend so much time as humans talking, and then most people get into the bedroom and just completely stop talking, as if that’s not allowed as part of the sexual experience. And that’s so weird if you actually think about it. Because talking is as much a part of what can make something sexy. And that’s sort of core to the episodes. They pretty much all have moments of humor to navigate the situations, and ultimately, the important thing is both parties arrive to something that feels like a fuck yes. So, not just a yes, but a fuck yes.
KL I love that and I think I speak for both of us—we are so excited about that and encourage everyone listening to check it out. So, let’s look into the future a little bit. What are you working on next and what are you excited about?
EB I’m excited there’s like 100 women going to Congress. I am working next on a documentary about the Equal Rights Amendment. It’s actually a fact that most people don’t know that we never passed the Equal Rights Amendment. Or rather, we passed the Equal Rights Amendment, but it’s never been ratified. We are one state away from ratification, but there are massive, massive legal challenges stacked up against it even once it does get ratified. And there are huge implications to the fact that women are not equally protected under the law. And it goes to reproductive rights, it goes to domestic violence, it goes to pregnancy discrimination, it goes to workplace and wage discrimination—all of these things and it’s in part because we don’t have language in the Constitution to protect us, so it’s been my latest obsession and that’s what we’re working on now.
SWB That sounds amazing.
KL So, is there someplace we can follow along to see that when it’s viewable?
EB Probably in the mid to late spring there will be a place where you can start to follow along, and our hope is to release something for the 100th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in early 2020.
EB But nationally speaking, everybody should be following what’s happening in Virginia. Their legislative sessions opens on January I think 19 or so, and that is the next likeliest place to ratify, at which point 38 states will have ratified, and then shit starts to get really interesting.
KL That’s amazing.
SWB Emily, it has been so awesome to talk with you. We have one last question, which is just where can folks learn more about you, Seed & Spark, and everything you’re working on?
EB Well, I’m easy to find on Twitter @emilybest. Seed & Spark is seedandspark.com. I would really encourage everyone to go and subscribe. We are the only pay-what-you-can streaming service, meaning you can pay anywhere from $2–10 for the exact same service, whatever you can afford. And I believe we are the only streaming service on the planet right now that has 50/50 gender parity among the directors for the movies and shows on our site, and there’s a lot of really awesome stuff to watch.
KL Well, that sounds excellent. Thank you for sharing all of that and thank you so much for all of the incredible work you are doing. We are so excited about it and we are so excited to talk to you today. Seed & Spark is so cool—everyone, you should check it out right now, it’s at seedandspark.com. And thank you again.
EB Thank you so much for having me.
SWB Yeah, fuck yes to all of this! [EB laughs][music fades in, plays for five seconds, and fades out]
Career Chat with Shopify
SWB Hey y’all, it’s career chat time with Shopify. This week we have Courtney Symons. She’s a lead writer working in Shopify’s Office of the CEO, and she’s got advice to help you take what you’re passionate about and turn it into the next phase of your career. Courtney, let’s hear it.
Courtney Symons I was on the marketing team at Shopify for four years, but my real love has always been writing. I made a point of having conversations with our CEO Tobi Lutke about my passion for writing. And without even realizing it, I planted a seed in his mind that created a connection: when he thought about writing, he thought about me. And when he decided he needed a writer, he offered me the job. I learned that when you want something, you need to throw it out to the universe. You can’t just wait for things to happen to you. Being bold about my ambitions has paved the way for so many incredible career opportunities.
SWB As someone who also loves writing and finds a way to make it part of everything I do, I love this. And I love that Shopify has so many roles I never would have expected. Maybe even one for you! Visit Shopify.com/careers to see what they’re hiring for today.
Fuck Yeah of the Week
KL So, we already talked about “Fuck Yes” with Emily, which was really awesome and we just have to fuck yeah to, but do we have anything else this week?
SWB Yeah, so I definitely have a fuck yeah to anything regarding consent, but I have something else that Emily talked about that I want to give a fuck yeah to, and that is female friendships. So, she is so right. Female friendships are not depicted enough in media, or at least not in their actual depth or in all of their glory. There is so much about female friendship that gets reduced down to like, oh we go to book club, or drink wine together, which like, maybe, but I think there’s so much more to it than that. And I think she’s totally right that we need to be able too see more of that and that there is an audience for that. And so first of all, fuck yeah to the female friendships I have, and particularly to you, Katel, you know? Our friendship on and off the show this year has just been so incredible to me.
KL I think the other day we realized that we were seeing each other like every other day. And maybe it’s not that often all the time, but it’s very frequent. And it’s not just because we’re friends and we like hanging out, because we obviously do. But I don’t know, I’m really excited about the show and a bunch of stuff we’re working on, and it really makes me happy to talk about it because when I moved to Philly a couple of years ago, I wasn’t sure what my friend network was going to be like, and I definitely wasn’t sure if I’d find a best friend here. And Sara, you are one of my soulmates. So if you get sick of me, I’m sorry, but I promise I will at least always bring donuts.
SWB Oh, I appreciate that, but I don’t think I’m going to get sick of you. I’ll probably get sick of the donuts first. [laughs]
KL [laughing] Yes!
SWB I also though want to give a fuck yeah to something else in this too, which is us being able to share our friendship on the show. Because, you know, I hope it starts to change in some small way the thing that Emily was talking about, right? That lack of depiction of female friendships. Because I think hearing us talk publicly about our relationship and sort of demonstrating the trust we feel for each other and the way that we’re really willing to be vulnerable with each other and be there for each other, demonstrating that to people and kind of putting it out there as like an awesome thing that we have, I think that that’s really, really great. And people need to hear stories about people being best fucking friends and working on badass projects together and celebrating that. So, I’m glad we’re telling them.
KL Ugh, fuck yeah to that!
SWB That’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and it is produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Emily Best for being our guest today. And if you loved today’s show as much as we did, you should definitely make sure that you give us a rating or a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever it is that you listen to your favorite shows, because your support helps us do what we do and grow this little baby into a grown-up podcast! Thanks for listening and see you next week. [music fades in, plays alone for 32 seconds, and fades out]