Tiffany Shlain was talking about the web before it was cool to talk about the web. In 1996, Shlain launched the first annual Webby Awards, a series of awards given to honor those practicing web excellence. To put that in perspective, here is what the web looked like in 1996: In 1996, the founding of Myspace was seven years away, Mark Zuckerberg was 12 years old, and the biggest deal in the world of tech was the fact that the chess computer “deep blue” had defeated Garry Kasparov.
To say that Shlain is an innovator is a slight understatement. In her career as a filmmaker and futurist, Shlain has released over a dozen films and received countless awards from a host of film festivals. She is a creator with an eye constantly towards the future as technology shapes it.
Her latest series, “The Future Starts Here,” on AOL, takes a look at the near and far future as well as where our humanity fits into the sprawling digital landscape that is the 21st century.
We wanted to know what Shlain felt the future of web video looked like and what being a “futurist” really means, so we asked her.
In the profiles I’ve read about you, you’re described as a “futurist” in many cases; what, in your words, does it mean to be a futurist?
I think a lot about the future. I do it very grounded while looking at the past and where we are today. I believe that if we look at the past and where we are today, we can help shape the future. It’s not as much predicting the future as it is just looking at the future, I’m extremely interested in the past and the present in order to help people shape the future.
“The Future Starts Here” has a wide range of content spread throughout its eight-episode run; how did you develop the concepts for each episode?
AOL approached me and pretty much said, ‘do whatever you want,’ and I was busy working on another movie and I kept saying ‘well, we’re busy,’ but they kept saying ‘whatever you want, complete creative freedom.’ Then, when I really started thinking about it, these eight topics are subjects I am extremely interested in. So I thought, I’m going to do something interesting — something I’m already thinking about — and put them onto film. They are all linked together and there is a bigger structure there. What they all have in common is that they’re looking at important topics of our day and looking at the past, present, and future of that area.
As a futurist, where do you see web video changing entertainment and culture 5 or 10 years down the road?
It’s changing everything. I actually don’t think of this [“The Future Starts Here”] as a web series. I think of it as a screen series. We are making content and you can watch it on any screen possible. I just got this device over the weekend from a Google event, I plug it into my laptop and it immediately goes onto my TV. So everything on the web I was watching on my television.
You often explore how pop culture has shaped future technologies; how do you think science fiction media, specifically, has influenced modern technology ?
Science fiction is a way for us to project our hopes and fears. It’s a place where you can let your imagination run wild and imagine what the future is going to be.
How has and how will technology influence filmmakers like yourself?
It changes every aspect! The way we make film; we are doing this film where we employ, what we call, cloud filmmaking. We invite people to send us videos and incorporate them into a film. So the way we are making films is different, the way I’m writing scripts — I write collaboratively and I use a Google Doc and we’re all writing at the same time from different places — the way we screen our films. Every aspect has changed, it’s exciting.