I met Tiffany Shlain, acclaimed filmmaker, founder of The Webby Awards and constant pusher of boundaries, on a breezy morning in SoHo in New York City. She looked stylish and authentic in her black and sunny yellow-striped poncho and hat. While we talked over hot cappuccino in the lounge of the Crosby hotel, she was fully present and attentive to our conversation despite the long line of press waiting to find out more about her new project, an AOL original series The Future Starts Here.

Through eight impeccably written, original episodes, Shlain once again has seized an opportunity to translate her personal philosophy to the big screen and elevate the conversation on what it means to be human in a rapidly evolving technological world. In the first episode, entitled Technology Shabbats, Shlain invites the viewer into her personal ritual of taking one day a week to unplug from the outside world and connect with family and loved ones.

In person, Shlain is fashionable, provocative, smart and precise. Her films have won over 48 awards, including a 2012 Disruptive Innovation Award from The Tribeca Film Festival. Recently, the US State Department has selected Shlain’s work to represent America at embassies around the world. In November, she is going to Israel with her film Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks to represent America as part of the 2013 American Film Showcase.

Shlain’s a dedicated believer in people, giving them inconceivable support and confidence — sometimes even more than they have in themselves. Her speech at the UC Berkeley’s commencement ceremony in May 2010 serves as an unceasing inspiration for American youth. For GALO, she offered her Case for Happiness, a perfect blend of her unique personal philosophy and fabulous filmmaking.

GALO: The title of your new AOL online series is The Future Starts Here. Where exactly is here?

Tiffany Shlain: Everyone is talking about the future — what’s going to happen, what’s going to happen — but the future does not start somewhere far off in the distance. The future starts here — right at this moment, the future is always here. So it’s more like a philosophy, the way of living. We are living in these incredibly exciting times and we’re constantly reshaping our future. That’s why I chose the title: The Future Starts Here. I believe that if you do not shape the direction of your future, someone else will shape it for you. I try to touch upon that in the episode Motherhood Remixed, which is like: create your own reality; we don’t have to work on somebody else’s schedule. The corporate America work schedule does not work for a working mother anymore and I tried to say this in my own way. Ninety-nine percent of my friends in San Francisco run their own companies or they are writers who work for themselves. We really need to push harder to reimagine what the work structure should be like. I still work as much as someone who works from nine to six, but I work when my kids go to bed and that’s just the way I do it.

GALO: Every artist has a moment of inspiration or clarity when it comes to an idea they’ve been trying to develop for some time; an idea that had never felt like it was just right – something was always missing. What was the moment when you decided to do the AOL series?

TS: I got the phone call this January from AOL. I was busy and happily working on this other film that’s premiering this winter called The Science of Character. But then, I got that call from this woman who said she loves my work and she offered me to create whatever I wanted to create, with complete creative control. And for me, if I wanted to do something, it would only be something that I was interested in. All of these topics in The Future Starts Here are the ones that I talked about or thought about a lot and am super interested in. I always look at the topics from the past, the present, and what the future could be. Those are always my lenses. And what really excited me is that I got to put on film what I always think about. Creatively, it has been very exciting. Basically, in five months, I got to make eight films. They are all interconnected. If you watched them all at once, it would work, but then if you watch them completely on their own, it would work then too. It was such a different way to think about things and that’s why I created the series.

GALO: In your work, you manage to say a lot in a very short amount of time – an endeavor that many would find extremely challenging due to the time constraint. What’s your secret?

TS: Yes, we worked a lot on those scripts. It’s my favorite Mark Twain story. He wrote a really long letter and said, “I would have written a really short letter but I did not have the time.” I mean, right? That is the main challenge: how you condense and squeeze and distill everything down.

GALO: You have been honored by Newsweek as one of the “Women Shaping the 21st Century,” but who’s made it on your list of honorary women?

TS: I have a list of my female heroes: Marie Curie, Gloria Steinem, Russian filmmaker Maya Deren, Laurie Anderson and Björk. I also have heroes that are couples because my husband and I also collaborate. Fortunately, I was brought up by two feminist parents — my mom and my dad were both feminists — so I never thought of the world where as a woman I’m a victim or am not getting enough to do something. Everyone can do whatever they want to do; it’s all in the mindset.

GALO: Various socially relevant issues come up in your films, parenthood being one of them. You look at how flexible schedules and shifts in gender roles have revolutionized parenthood. What does it mean for you to be a parent in this day and age?

TS: It’s my whole exposé in my forthcoming film The Science of Character. It’s going to have a big premiere, but I can’t announce it yet. It’s an eight-minute film which talks about what you need to instill in children. In The Future Starts Here, there is that one episode, Idea Porn, when I was on a transatlantic flight with 100 other thinkers invited by the UN with the goal of solving a world problem through collective thinking. Since I got back from that plane ride, my daughter has been coding, she’s learning new visual coding language and I am very excited about that. It is all about creating your own reality and visual coding is all about that. It’s the different mindset, how to develop things.

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