In this episode of OWC RADiO, host Cirina Catania, talks with Orlando Luna (Producer/Benefactor) and Andy Stein (Founder and Executive Chairman) of the Orphaned Starfish Foundation, as they unveil the behind-the-scenes stories of how this organization came about and how OSF is now teaching technology, creativity and story-telling using mobile hardware and software.

OSF was founded in 2001 to help orphans, victims of abuse, survivors of trafficking, indigenous populations, refugees and at-risk youth worldwide escape their cycles of poverty and abuse through education and job training.

As of this broadcast, over 15,000 children in countries around the world have seen their lives changed as mentors from the organization arrive to empower their inner creativity. By taking away the thought that filmmaking is “hard,” and giving them simple but powerful tools, all the team has to do is train them and give them the inspiration to create! The results are surprising.

In a new association with Mobile Phone Studio and WeMakeMovies, The Orphaned Starfish Foundation’s emerging tech-arts program is reaching out even further to enable children to tell their stories through film. Yes, it is about gear, but it is even more about freedom of expression and a safe field in which to run.

The work is as powerful as it is important.

We are proud that Other World Computing sponsors our show. Please visit their website and give them some love!

Find out more at: www.osf.org

Orphaned Starfish Foundation logo

Write to us at OWCRADiO@catania.us or comment below.

For more information about our amazing sponsor, Other World Computing, go to MacSales.com or OWCDigital.com, where you’ll find hardware and software solutions and tutorial videos that will get you up and running in no time.

For more about our host, filmmaker, tech maven and co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival, Cirina Catania, visit cirinacatania.com.

If you enjoy our podcast, please subscribe and tell all your friends about us! We love our listeners. And, if you have ideas for segments, write to OWCRadio@catania.us. Cirina is always up for new ideas!


In This Episode

  • 00:04 – Crina introduces Orlando Luna, producer/benefactor, and Andy Stein, founder and executive chairman, of the Orphaned Starfish Foundation.
  • 02:41 – Andy shares his story of how he started forming the Orphaned Starfish Foundation.
  • 09:55 – Orlando shares the equipment that they bring to the orphanages for children to use for learning.
  • 15:03 – Orlando shares the process on how the children practice shooting, creating scripts, and editing videos. 
  • 22:50 – Cirina shares how amazed she was with elementary and middle school kids who are not afraid of using technology. She discusses visiting Rancho Bernardo with We Make Movies and Smartphone Studio team.
  • 26:56 – Orlando shares how the foundation helps children prepare for getting jobs in the production industry.
  • 31:48 – Orlando shares how all the kids and teens in the center work well together with projects. This inspired them to help people interested in filmmaking.
  • 36:32 – Orlando shares how Andy helped the centers in getting a good Internet connection for seamless learning.
  • 40:50 – Cirina shares what she read on the foundation’s website about them being transparent with the money that goes toward the administration and foundation itself.
  • 44:16 – Visit osf.org to donate, get involved, and to know more about the Orphaned Starfish Foundation.

Jump to Links and Resources


Transcript

Oh, here we are together again. This is OWC Radio, and today we are sharing something with you that makes me very happy. The Orphaned Starfish Foundation, Orlando Luna, producer and benefactor, and Andy Stein, founder and executive chairman, spend some time talking with me about three of my favorite subjects: technology, creativity, and storytelling.

I’m your host, Cirina Catania, inviting you to listen in. I have Orlando Luna here with me. We’re going to talk about an amazing program that you are a producer and one of the benefactors of, and it’s called Orphaned Starfish. It’s a nonprofit, and they’re doing wonderful things. So Orlando, can you, first of all, tell us a little bit about Orphaned Starfish?

OL: There’s a filmmaker on the West Coast named Sam Mestman who runs an organization called We Make Movies. And I’ve known Sam for a little while through my day job at Apple. And he told me about this stuff he was doing. He’s like, “Listen, I’m going to these underserved areas, and I’m doing these filmmaking workshops. And we’re telling these amazing stories, these kids have the most breathtaking stories you’ll ever hear.” I saw his passion when he spoke about it. It’s almost like he found his life’s calling. And I’m like, tell me more about it. And when he told me about it, I told them, I need to know a little more, but I think I’m in. Sam first introduced me to the foundation’s organization. Then I met their founder, and there’s a little bit of a backstory behind that I’m happy to talk about, making it even cooler.

His name is Andy Stein, right? 

OL: Yeah.  

What’s the back story? Come on, you can’t say something like that and then not tell me.

OL: He refers to himself as a recovering banker. He was a really big finance guy and has financed huge projects like highways in Panama and a bunch of hotels and quite a bit of celebrity stuff. All these things he’s done have been just amazing stuff in his business life. He was traveling a lot, but he found it a little empty, and he said, “Hey, this is kind of cool, but I want to do more.”

Andy, tell me how you got started with all of this.

AS: I was in banking and investment banking for over 20 years, but my passion has always been working with children. Ever since I was a kid, I did bikeathons and walkathons. Rose through the ranks of Special Olympics, I was Chemical Bank’s Volunteer of the Year. But about 20 years ago, I was the number one flyer in the state of New Jersey for Continental Airlines, and I hated getting on another plane. All I did was go to every country manager and say, “Look, if you want me to come to your country and pitch business, you have to find an orphanage two hours on the schedule and we play with some kids.” I’m an amateur magician, and I make balloon animals. I just wanted to be with kids while I was on a business trip, and every country manager at the bank would find me an orphanage somewhere. And I spent a couple of hours playing with these amazing kids. The place I was going to the most was Santiago, Chile. And it was a beautiful orphanage for victims of some of the worst abuse in Chile. These girls have been through the worst you could imagine. But they were always so loving and friendly and hopeful. And one day the nuns took me aside, and they said, “look Tio Mago, uncle magician, the girls love you. They can’t wait until you come back. But I’m not sure if you know what happens here. At the age of 18, by law, these girls are considered adults and have to leave the orphanage. Predators are waiting outside, and within a year, 100% of these beautiful flowers will become prostitutes or live on the streets.” That was my aha moment. I went back to blackmail the law firm who made […] the year before and had them set up a 501(c)(3) in a week, and this was back in 2001. 

You may have a very distinct story, but for some, sometimes music drives them. Music can also drive the narrative of what someone is trying to say.

And behold, we set the foundation. I raised $40,000 from friends and family and we started a foundation goal: The Orphaned Starfish Foundation. And we decided together with the nuns that education and job training would be the way out for these kids. So we built a state of the art computer center, and I committed for life not knowing how we would support the center, the teacher, the supplies, and the maintenance of those computers for life. And it was magic. Six months later, the younger kids were at the top of their class. The older girls had learned to use Microsoft Office. They learned to use the keyboard. They learned to use the internet. They have skills. Now I have a lot of statistics, but in almost 20 years of operations in that orphanage, only one girl is down to the streets. Every other girl has gone to a university or gotten a full or part-time job. And then I can go through the next 18 years very quickly, but I’ll tell you as I went from country to country, as I did, the foundation grew and grew. My desire to do more business and not to philanthropy went down. So I dedicated my life about ten years ago, I gave up money altogether and dedicated myself full time to the foundation. And since that point, we’ve gone to now help 15,000 children around the world. 

OL: And he started doing magic shows at orphanages while he was traveling first in Chile, and then in other parts of the world. But in Chile, in particular, he was doing these magic shows, and he was just having the greatest time. But after doing them a few times, he was going to these girls’ orphanages, and they were having a great time, so was he. One of the nuns took them aside after a few times he had been there and said, “Hey Andy, we love having you, you’re brightening their day. You see the smiles, but I just kind of want you to know 100% of these girls, the moment they turn 18, will become prostitutes. They don’t have another avenue.” And this just hit him like, like a ton of bricks. And his first thought was, well, we have to do something about that. And that’s essentially how he started the foundation.

AS: I thought it was only gonna save 32 girls in Chile. And now we’re hoping 15,000 around the world. 

OL: He started doing it part-time at first, and then it kind of grew into a full-time endeavor. And he’s dedicated his life to doing this. This is all he does. He goes around the world. They’ve got like 60 different centers and 25 plus countries. It really is a story. The beauty of the story is, and I got to experience firsthand, I went to tour Panama with him because we were setting up for doing one of these workshops prior to all the quarantining going on. He didn’t set me up for it. These are not sad stories. The backstories are sad for sure; some of these orphans have been through the most unmentionable kind of things. But these are joyful children and young teens, just with great stories. And they have a thirst for knowledge and attention. And what he did is he basically started a technology program. First with his centers, and then affiliated with other centers where they’re teaching the basics of computers and coding. They’ve expanded it to robotics, all kinds of stuff just needed in these areas.

So you have a very strong background in technology?

OL: I do. And then I have a personal connection to this too, which kind of led me to it. When I first heard about it from Sam, and then I ended up meeting Andy, which was interesting, I called Andy up, they’re based in New York, I asked him, “Hey, I’m in New York quite a bit, when can we meet?” And he told me, “Well, I just moved to Miami. So I’ll let you know when I’m in New York.” And my response was, “Well, I live in Miami.” We ended up having lunch, like two days later. I’m adopted, so I came from that world and had the most amazing parents. But I realized my life could have gone completely different. Circumstances could have made it very different. And I could have been growing up in that situation. So it hit me. Personally, to be able to not only tell their stories but to even talk to these kids and go, “Hey, you’re kind of my story.” Not to the same extent, or it’s not the same story, but it certainly could have been.

I’m sure that the kids are very inspired when they see you, a very successful person comes in. You’re talking to them about the potential and what can happen if they learn these new skills. I wish I could be a fly on the wall next time you do that. I think that’s amazing.

OL: They love the attention because let’s face it, a lot of these kids, that’s one of the things they haven’t gotten. And although the orphanages are both girls and boys, there’s probably a stronger mix of females. And quite frankly, Andy is probably one of the first solid male presences that they’ve had in their life. A male that wasn’t trying to take advantage of them or wasn’t trying to look for something. So they love the attention of anybody. But certainly coming in and saying, “Hey, we’re going to learn all this cool stuff, and it’s not about Andy or me, it’s about you guys and the stories you have to tell.”

Okay, so Orlando, I have a question, what is the equipment in the kit? What do you take with you in the field?

OL: Well, we start with a group of iPhones. It’s easy to use and has a terrific camera. They can just use an iPhone, so that’s our starting point. For microphones, we got a variety of mics. We’ve been using some Rode VideoMic, but also some of the Saramonic products. We usually give them a boom pole so they can do audio out in the field with folks. Little clip mics that attached directly to the iPhone. Apogee makes a clip mic digital. That’s straight into the iPhone, so they each get an iPhone for the sound, and then we tie it into this kind of really cool system made by UltraSync BLUE, that’s a BlueTooth timecode generator. That, in conjunction with Apogee’s meta recorder, lets us record independent audio. We can name via metadata each of the mics, so we could say this is Cirina’s mic. This is Orlando’s mic. It syncs the timecode via Bluetooth. So when you bring it into Final Cut, it all has a matching timecode. And it’s already tagged with the person’s name. It feels almost magical. You don’t have to do any of that for anybody that’s done audio and trying to figure out and tag audio later on or rename it. It just pops into the app, and all of a sudden, wow, I’ve got everybody’s audio, and it’s all in sync. This is like the gorilla way of doing it, and it’s great.

Technology and equipment are the instruments. But the story really is what makes anything the most compelling. Click To Tweet

That’s awesome. I’ve told people in the past, use a GoPro because they’re synced to the atomic clock. And you can use that to kind of sync your nonexistent timecode with your other devices. This is good news. I haven’t tried it. I’m gonna try it.

OL: And then software-wise they’re shooting with FiLMiC Pro. And Filmic Pro also ties into this timecode generator. So now you’ve got video and audio, all with matching timecode and then in Filmic, you can name the clip the way you’d like it. So we teach them ahead of time to be a little organized. We know when they get to the edit session, we want them to focus on telling their story and not worry about managing all the digital files. And they still need a little help with that, but for them it’s great. These kids, I think I’ve said this before if you don’t tell them something hard, they don’t know it’s hard, they’re just like yeah, okay, that sounds good, we’re the ones that think it’s hard.

What about lights, do you take any lights?

OL: Not too much. They use natural light, but we’re using some of these small Aputure, I think they’re the AL-M9 lights, tiny, and can mount on the actual phone. So we use an iOgrapher mounts for the phones, it’s a frame that goes around the phone and lets you attach mics and lights, and the Aputure light pops right in. It’s super bright and can be used just as a fill light. If they’re shooting outdoors or doing interviews, sometimes they’ll pop one on the camera. And maybe a second one off to the side and have like a key light and a fill or just a background element. So we have several of these at their disposal. And we divide them into little mini crews of four or five. Each crew gets their own kit: two, three lights, multiple iPhones, multiple mics for the actual shooting sessions. And then later on, when we go into edit sessions, they get their editing hardware.

So gimbals, tripods?

OL: Yep. So we have the DJI gimbals variety of the Osmo 2 and the Osmo 3 depending on what we can get for each session. So that comes in the kit. And they love the gimbal, they love the phones, but the minute they put it in the gimbal and they start running around, they’re just having so much fun with it doing all kinds of shots. And the beauty of it is we tell them how it works, but we are really careful. We’re not giving them theology saying, here’s how you should shoot with this. We really want them to experiment and think of something that they think is cool from a camera perspective. Because you’re always trying to balance giving them instruction, so they know how to use the equipment. But at the same time, we’re not trying to dictate even how they use the equipment because that’s kind of part of the creative process.

The beauty is we tell our students how filming works, but we are careful not to teach them everything. We really want them to experiment and discover things themselves. Click To Tweet

And I know they love that. “Don’t tell me what to do or how to do it. Just wind me up and throw me out there.”

OL: Yeah, point me in a direction and let me go.

So they’re outside or inside wherever they go to capture their story. Is this scripted or nonscripted?

OL: It actually is kind of scripted depending on the time we’re with them. If it’s a really short time, we give them a project just so they can complete something. 

Like a logline? 

OL: Yeah, we’ll give them like a mini project and say, “Hey, go shoot the opening of a door, do five shots and illustrate opening a door.” And we limit them to that and say, what you would think of the close up of someone touching the door to the door opening. But they’ve become far more clever than that. One of the kids did this video where they had a balloon, and they followed the balloon around through the exit, and in the end, it was outdoors, and it flew away. You have to really see it. Who could have thought of that? Again, exposing someone’s creativity. And we like to do that because it gives them the feeling of “wow, I started a project, and now I finished it.” And then the second step is they actually script something. We give them some kind of theme. Again, the theme relating to where they’re at, and the theme is super open-ended. It could be giving us something about the history of this environment.

And it could be whatever that means to them. If we’re at one of the facilities, what does the facility mean to you, and they could focus on a person, or they can focus on the facility themselves, and they actually do script it out. We asked them to build a shot list, script it out, work with them on it, and say, “Hey, here’s what you’d like to do.” When we divide them into groups, we usually have a mentor with each group that goes on the shoot, helps them with any technical difficulties, and helps them with the script. As you know, scripts might be out in the field, and all of a sudden, they see something, and they’re like, “Oh, this wasn’t in the script. But maybe I could do this.” And then we have a conversation. “Well, how does this fit into your story?” Ultimately, the baseline is we’re trying to help them with the storytelling. Technology is the vehicle, and we want to take that out of the way, but we want them thinking in terms of story and what’s compelling. And we always tell them, if this is interesting to you, it could definitely be very interesting to somebody else. There’s not a deep, granular criterion for what you’re doing. If this excites you, we want to see it, and you might be surprised that other people will be excited by it.

They’ve shot, you’ve given them the storyline, or they’ve made their script, they’ve made their shot list, they go out, they have all this great equipment, a certain amount of time to shoot, they come back in, and then what happens?

OL: Then it’s edit time, we help them get the media on systems. So for hardware, it’s been either the MacBook Pros or iPads, depending on the session. If it’s the MacBook Pro, we give them the option of iMovie. But we do some basic instruction on Final Cut. I’d say 20 times out of 20 they ought for Final Cut, they’re almost challenged. They’re just like, “oh, I get to use Final Cut Pro. Great.” On the iPad, we use Luma Touch. And we find the same reaction. We give them some basic instruction on getting the media, and we help them out with that. They learn basic editing, and then we let them go and do their thing. I think we do a good job on the organization’s end. When they’re bringing their media in, they’ve already got a lot of that work done on the iPads. We’ll Airdrop it into the iPad on the MacBook Pros. We will either Airdrop it or plug straight in, and sometimes we’ll have some external media around, and we can plug that in as well. But they’re good to go, and they start editing right away and cutting, and I think that’s great. The great thing is they get so excited that they’re like in and already going, “how do I speed ramp this clip?” and I’m scratching my head going, “what do you mean speed ramp? You just learned to edit.” And then two hours later, some of them are doing multi-cam. It’s like, “Yeah, we did like ten shots, and we put it into a multi-cam,” and I’m like, “wow.” We had one of them who had, I think, has done a lot of reading on stuff, and he’s like, “How do I put an LUT into this?” “LUT? You’re kidding, right?” He’s like, “No, I don’t want to have to color correct. I heard you could just put an LUT in, and it’s gonna look great.”

It’s called Rec. 709.

OL: Exactly. The thing I learned is don’t underestimate these kids. And I knew they were smart and sharp and special, but their absorption of this is incredibly rapid. And by the end of this, we’ve got the hardware. They put it together. We helped them edit because we limit them to how much they shot just to keep it controllable. Sometimes they’ll be doing some speed ramping, and zoom in on a shot, or maybe b-roll. They keep it pretty clean in terms of editing, and sometimes they need some help on the audio side, just some cleanup work. But for the most part, again, we want them focusing on the story, and that ends up becoming where they spend a lot of time as we do. They’ll scratch their head and go, “gosh, I don’t know if this shot works,” or they’ll be like, “God, we’ve spent so much time on this shot and now it doesn’t feel like it fits.” Welcome to our world. So they go through some of the same iterations we do organically because we never tell them ahead of time, “hey, you might go out and shoot something, and it’s your baby. Then you get on the editing line and all of a sudden you have to make a decision.” They come to that on their own, and that’s fantastic.

Don't underestimate kids’ learning capabilities. They’re young, but they’re smart, sharp, and their absorption is incredibly rapid. And that’s really special. Click To Tweet

So you have a lot of libraries of music and sound effects too that helps drive the story so they can use that right?

OL: Yeah, using all the materials. On the audio side, since we usually have a short amount of time with them, we’ll use some royalty-free audio pieces or even better. A lot of cases they’ll find some stuff that’s tied into their story or their region or the country. In Panama, they’ll look for some Panamanian music that’s royalty-free and pull that in as part of the storyline. And for a lot of them, the one thing we do guide them at the beginning is, you may just have a very distinct visual story in your mind. But for some folks, sometimes music drives a story. There’s a piece of music that kind of drives the narrative of what they’re trying to put together and all kinds of different perspectives. It’s been wonderful to see all these manufacturers from small to big. Once you tell them what you’re doing, their response is universally “what can we do?” There is no “hey, let’s put this through some process and bureaucracy.” The response is all, “Hey, what can we do? We want to help.” I think it shows if you put something in front of people who generally want to help, you can be really sure of their help in getting to the right people. And the beauty of these workshops is at the very end. We have short films to screen online. So there’s something tangible in the end that they can take a look at and go oh, look at all this stuff we’re helping with, and it ends up coming out as something, it’s not just going into a bit of a black hole.

I’m a huge supporter of both We Make Movies and Smartphones Studio just in terms of what they do. We recently came to Rancho Bernardo and taught elementary school and middle school kids shooting on iPhones and the whole package like you were just describing. I was amazed at how at such a young age, the kids were not afraid of technology. They just are like sponges. And then when you combine that with the ability to tell a story, like you’re saying, put the short film together that tells something that means something to them personally. I think it’s really important to tell stories, to tell family stories, local stories because there’s no record of that if you travel around the country. Where do you find those little microcosms of stories about grandma and grandpa, or something that matters to them in their community? And it’s important, right?

OL: It’s super important work. And it’s beautiful because it’s so personal. I know Sam has a long history on the west coast kind of working in various aspects of Hollywood. And I think this is why he came to this. He found the stories he was participating in and was not particularly interesting to him. Personally, he wanted to know about these stories of what’s going on in the community, these things we can’t even imagine. I mean, how many times have you seen a short film or even maybe something that makes it to an indie film that’s a very personal story, that there’s no way you could have made that up. It’s somebody’s life experience kind of put on film and to be able to help these kids with that is just wonderful to be any part of it.

So you’re providing the orphanages with the camera, the sound, the lights, do you provide the lights as well?

OL: Yeah, Aputure has been sending us some lighting. I think we’ve gotten some stuff from other manufacturers, but yeah, we supply lighting.

So they have a whole kit like you said?

OL: Yeah, it’s literally a traveling kit. And then we apply instructions, but it’s a little bit different than I think what traditional education does. First of all, we have to be flexible, have three days somewhere, or maybe we have five or two weeks, or maybe we have a whole semester. But generally, it’s a smaller amount of time where we can put resources together. So supplying the instruction is really important, but I almost view it more like mentoring than instruction. It kind of flip flops the traditional methodology for training, which has been, “Hey, let’s teach you a lot of theory. Then we’ll teach you some more theory, and then you’ll go do it.” This reverses it. On day one, they’re already shooting. 

Yeah, that’s great.

OL: They’re already getting shots done by day two. They’re editing, sometimes they’re doing multi-cam editing, or they’re taking multiple camera feeds. And one of the things we found is the beauty of it. When you put this technology in front of these kids, if you don’t tell them that this is hard stuff to do, they don’t know it’s hard stuff. They just start how to speed ramp or slow-mo a video in which there are entire courses and long YouTube videos on how to do it. And you teach them for 10 minutes, and they play around with the tool for 10 minutes, and the next thing you know, they’re coming up with stuff and just seeing that seed planted. And all of a sudden, they’re just going in, and you’re going Oh, wow.

Whenever you present a piece of technology to kids you don’t want to tell them it’s hard stuff. They wouldn’t automatically think it’s difficult stuff.

Yeah, I’m flashing back to this one little kid who just wanted to speed up these kids walking across a little bridge, he goes “Where’s the button? Where do I click?” and you show them, and next thing you know he’s speeding up, he’s slowing down, and he’s working on Final Cut, and he’s in elementary school.

OL: The beauty of this training is that not everybody is going to become necessarily a filmmaker, then that’s not the point, but it gives them tangible skills. If they’re getting out of these programs, they can go to university, if they’re looking for jobs. One of the things Sam is trying to do that we, as well as the foundation, are helping him with, is aligning these kids with jobs in social media. We’re teaching them to produce social media content for organizations, and getting these organizations involved in the workshops just from an altruistic perspective. But also with the possibility of hey, these kids are going to be the TikTokers of the future. And they’re going to be creating who knows what, and whatever platform is emerging that most organizations are really behind on. It’s gonna give them a nice set of skills that maybe they can plug into these organizations and get jobs right away.

Well, I don’t have the numbers in front of me. Still, I know that recent studies have shown that a major percentage, it’s like over 75%, just in the US alone, of all the US companies plan on spending the bulk of their advertising dollars on video. Everybody’s using video. So it’s not just telling your stories, but it’s also, like you said, creating jobs for these kids. I also believe that our creativity is tied directly to our brain, right? It’s tied to our brain if we can reinforce creativity and have these young people find joy in what they do. Just watching the transformation that can occur is amazing. It’s just amazing because it’s giving them something tangible, something that they can say, I know how to do this, I’m really good at it. And it makes them feel like they have a real place in the world, and some don’t feel that. Yeah, I think I’m a convert to this too.

OL: From a creative perspective, cognitively, we tend to look at creativity from the lens of the artistic lens, the filmmaker, the painter. And the reality is you look at folks creating apps or coding. They’re doing whatever amount of creativity or industrial design. There are so many areas when you get the brain ticking in that direction of the creative process and iterating, all that applies to so many other things. And again, they’re gonna fall in love. Some of them might fall in love with the tech and go, Hey, I really love that technology, and you’ll have others go, I’m just all about the storytelling, and that’s great. We don’t go in there with a lot of preconceived ideas. We want it to be a really open platform, even the storytelling itself. We give it some basic structure for what they’re doing, as we’re kind of mentoring them. But we do not curate the ideas. These are the ideas that are coming from the kids. We just help them along the way.

That’s awesome. So are there videos up somewhere that we can already see?

OL: Yeah, if you go to the We Make Movies website, I think it’s wemakemovies.org, there are quite a few videos already posted with the results, and you can kind of take a look at it there. Some of these films, you’re just like, your jaw dropped out the story. Its purpose is not to pretend that going out with an iPhone and some very basic kid in a three-day workshop where nobody has been exposed to technology is going to produce Hollywood-level films. But that’s not what storytelling is about. I mean, how many times have you watched a story and engulfed in that story? And it’s about the story, and the minute it’s a great story you don’t worry too much about maybe the color grading, or the look of the work, or whether the edit is perfect. You’re just immersed in that story, and ultimately the story trumps everything else. And to have that accomplishment where now they’ve completed something, it’s up online. It can be shared at the organization level. It can be shared across social media. All the kids’ eyes opened up, what do you mean, I can post something on Instagram, and it’s going to be seen by as many people that want to see it? And it’s like, Yeah. And a lot of their thought processes don’t start from there. They’re so often told about what they can’t see versus what they can see, or what they can’t do versus what they can’t do. To just open the door and say, doesn’t matter where you’re from, who you are, the story stands on its own.

What’s the median age here? Because I’ve seen Smartphone Studios work with adults too. We took Smartphone Studios to PBS in Duluth, Minnesota.

OL: Sam’s organization has done In Reservation, PBS. It can go across all demographics with the orphanages. They tend to be all the way from six to seven-year-olds all the way up to 14, 15, 16-year-olds, ready to get out. And they work well together. You’d be surprised. But I could see us doing this in senior facilities. I can see us doing this wherever there’s a need. We’ve been talking about doing it for a Veterans Administration Association of Filmmakers. These folks want to get into filmmaking, not the ones that are already doing it. But again, folks that have the interests and just want to get started doing something right away. 

When you put traditional training in front of them and start looking at it, they’re like, “Oh, well, I’ll go to a couple of semesters of theory.” In many film schools, you don’t touch a piece of equipment during the freshman year. You read about it, you study it, and there’s value in that. I’m not discounting that completely, but in this fast-paced world, we’re living in. It’s possible to just get your hands on stuff. And if you are really in love and have a passion for this stuff, a lot of people will go back and start digging in. I mean, I came from a still photography background. When I started moving into the film world, this is not what I studied. I just immersed myself in theory, but really after I was already doing it for a living.

Some of the best people making films started in stills. Oh, I think what you’re doing with this as you’re bringing everything in that they need, you’re turning on the light. You’re winding them up and letting them go and helping them kind of directing them and helping them with what they need to know more about to tell their stories. I think it’s wonderful. How do you pick where you go, and how many kids have you helped so far?

OL: Well, we’ve done a couple of locations up till now. In a way, we’re getting started. I think we’ve done two workshops at the orphanages, we kind of leave that to Andy. Andy knows a lot of the logistics. The two we’ve done it, I’ve been in the US, part of one of the reasons I also joined is, I speak Spanish, so I’d like to definitely expand it to Latin America as quickly as possible. So in picking the places we work together with Andy because obviously, he knows the centers. We will try to group together, like someplace like Panama, which is our first plan location in Latin America. We will take three or four centers and group some of the kids from a variety of skill sets. Whoever we train, something I didn’t mention before, this is not about showing up and then kind of saying, “Hey, great, we did this, and let’s go away and good luck.” I did use the word mentor because we expect to like the top kids are going to become the mentors and continue what we’re doing. We’ll continue to interact with them over time.

So we want to isolate those folks from multiple centers so they can go back in and mimic what we’re doing. One of the things we’re working on is certainly getting in right now, getting kits in, but we’re working on getting permanent equipment donations so that we can leave equipment behind when possible. They’ve already got a small ecosystem of technology, but it doesn’t tend to be kind of media-oriented. So we’re working on that part of it right now. As you can imagine, for an organization like Starfish going through this Coronavirus quarantining that we’re having, it makes it pretty difficult to fundraise. A lot of their fundraising has been traditionally galas and events. They have to figure out a way to handle fundraising, and we’re also having to figure out a way of well, we don’t know how long this is going to last. So we need to figure out a way to remotely interact with these kids and do these remote workshops remotely. And that, of course, depends a lot on the logistics of where the internet logistics.

Because in some of these outlying areas, they don’t even have the internet as I travel around the world shooting for clients, there’s a lot of places I go where you don’t have internet.

OL: Andy has done a really good job of the centers he’s worked with or getting them some rudimentary internet and a lot of them oddly enough. Some of them have decent speed because some of the centers are on the outlying parts of a city. And occasionally, they’re on like the fiber optics runs going into the city and they have like this ridiculously spectacular internet that I’m just really jealous of. But that’s a minority of them. That in itself is a challenge in trying to figure out how to handle that. We’re working on things like, Okay, well, maybe we can send out recorded versions of something followed up by training. So kind of a mixed match of some short recorded training, mentoring, followed by projects, followed by maybe interactive reviews, whatever we can figure out.

Yeah, I think it’d be great to let them learn at their speed too if you had those recorded demos of how to use the equipment and put it all together in stages. That’s a great idea.

OL: And the software donation has helped too, between Luma Touch, now Final cut is available for 90 days. Within 90 days, you can definitely do a lot of stuff and then do a lot of training. 

Yeah, I think this is wonderful. So you were talking about fundraising and how difficult it is in the times of the virus? Where do people go to find out how they might donate. I mean, I think some people don’t need to go to a gala. They’ll just take the money and send it to you, right? Where do they go?

OL: Yeah. You can read about Andy’s background if you go to osf.org, which is the URL for the Orphaned Starfish Foundation. You can look at videos and look at the company charter, even the story behind the name, which I thought was a pretty cool story. The starfish name comes from a story of an older man walking on the beach. I don’t know, I haven’t talked to Andy about this, so I have no idea where this comes from. But it’s an older man walking down the beach, and he sees a lot of starfish, kind of low tide. And he thinks to himself, “well, I can maybe put the starfish back in the water, but there’s too many of them. What good is it gonna do?” He keeps walking, and he sees a boy who’s frantically picking up starfish and throwing them in one by one. And he asked the boy, “Hey, why are you throwing all these starfish in the water? You’re kind of wasting your time, why does it matter? You’re not going to be able to save them all.” And he’s holding one starfish in his hand. And the boy says, “Well, it matters to this starfish.” 

When you have a great story, you don’t need to worry too much about the color grading or whether the edit is perfect. People get immersed. Ultimately the story trumps everything else.

I thought that was just such a heartwarming reason to say that because realistically, you want to scale things. But I met some of these kids, and sometimes we get caught up in numbers and heck, we’re in a time where we have all this data that’s a number being thrown at us, but these are individuals, and they’re amazing. If you save just one child, their world, you can make a case that that’s enough. Of course, we’re trying to do a lot more. But these are pretty breathtaking stories, even when you talk to somebody one on one. I don’t know what year he went full time. He kind of did it part-time. Fortunately, he was in such a good position with his job. In the first few years, he would tell anybody that wanted to hire him. He used to fly like 400,000-500,000 miles a year-talk about frequent flyer miles. I’ve been a frequent flyer, but never at that level. He would tell them, “if you want my services, you’ve got to get me into a couple of orphanages and put in two extra days, three extra days.” And because they loved him so much for how good he was at his job. That became how he started it and how he kind of expanded it early on until he was able to just say, hey, I want to do this full time.

I was looking at the statistics and the numbers on the website, and only 10% of the money that’s donated goes towards administration. I think that’s pretty wonderful. So you don’t have like in some charities, nonprofits. You don’t have people that are making hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and not using the programs to benefit those you’re trying to help.

OL: Yeah, him coming from finance is such an advantage because he knows how to finance a company, how to finance a project. But he also knows there’s a need for transparency. You can dig down through the website and even find out exactly how much they’re spending per child.

Yes, I saw that. It’s like $120 a child as of right now. Also, I was very impressed that about 60% of those kids go to college, and another 22% ends up with full-time employment right after that, and others are part-time employment. I just think it’s great. It makes you feel good to be helping kids and building something for the future because you’re not just affecting one starfish at a time but also affecting their families.

OL: I mentioned the girls could fall into prostitution because they don’t have a choice, or gangs, depending on the region of the world. The same thing with the boys, they tend to basically have a life of crime in front of them because they don’t have much choice. And you could say, it’s very easy to be idealistic and say, Hey, everybody has a choice, but not until you walk in their shoes. So to be able to give them that avenue, it’s just special. When I was with Andy in Panama, we had lunch with one of his first students who was like four or five, and she’s just a glowing ball of joy. And then he gave me his backstory, and it was just like, wow, amazing. And then another girl, we met with another one of his first students. She’s now in her late 20s and just finished her bachelor’s degree, all while having three kids and juggling all kinds of things around just story after story. 

That you’re just like, “oh, I want these stories on film.” Just being around what they’re able to achieve, and they don’t look at this as like, they’re overcoming something. This is their life, and they started with a certain cliche. They had a certain hand dealt with, and they are not dwelling on that hand, they’re just kind of moving forward.

Isn’t it great when the technology that we love so much can be used for good?

OL: Yeah, and ultimately, that’s why I got involved in this because I think I mentioned earlier I think a lot of people want to do something good or something special. But when you can apply a skill set you have, and someone else is benefiting from it, that’s when everything aligns. I started at Apple in the photo group with an old app called Aputure and then was heavily involved in the Final Cut Pro stuff. And to be able to now go there and teach some kids about it and apply that skill set of training and knowledge of whatever I can help with is just a gift. Sam’s given me a gift to be involved in this as well as Andy.

That’s really nice. What does the organization need right now that we can tell people to put in their minds what they need?

OL: Right now, they need funding. Going forward, as we start to expand these workshops, the workshop’s scope is to involve locals. So wherever we go, we want local educators, local filmmakers, local technology people to be involved. We’ll often divide the kids into small groups on the first day to go out or the second day to shoot some film. We’ll have somebody go along with them and mentor them. Then maybe we’ll have somebody mentor them during the editing process. There are so many things you could do so you can physically get involved down the road. And as we figure out how to approach them from an online perspective, I think there’ll be some things we could use to help. But obviously, it starts with funding. If you look at the website, take a look at these kids, take a look at these stories and if you think it’s something to be involved with, by all means, give what you can.

While we’re talking about people going to the website and checking out how they can donate, there’s also an opportunity for large corporations to sponsor this and come in on a different level like Luma Touch has done, right? And other corporations like all the companies that are donating equipment, there are companies out there that I’m sure would find this very appealing. Can you talk about that for a minute?

OL: Definitely, if you’re involved in any of the media creation industries, you can become involved either in donating gear or donating time or money, and that’s incredibly helpful. You’ll find the actual field use of the gear is a great story in itself, and that’s something that can be leveraged. But even if you’re not involved in media, we have all these organizations that usually a lot of their marketing is very product-focused. They’ll give you the speed and feeds or what’s going on with a product. Usually, these organizations have a charitable or altruistic kind of group. Combining those, putting the finance hat on actually gives them great ROI, because people watching how an organization is participating in something altruistic is fantastic marketing for an organization. Folks I think are getting inundated now with products and now online even more so. Imagine how different it would be, as a big organization or small organization to say, “Hey, we’re involved in these workshops or with this foundation, and here’s the story that we helped sponsor.” I think people are missing opportunities if they don’t do that. And I think we’re going to see that over time that people are going to start taking advantage of this.

AS: What I’m most proud of are the students themselves. These are girls and boys who were destined for lives of prostitution, gangs, or living on the streets, who have now overcome their horrendous abuse, abandonment, all types of things that would make you sit in the corner and curl up in a ball. They’ve instead overcome these with the aid of the education and support that we give them. Now they’ve become bank tellers, owners of hair salons, doctors and nurses. They have families of their own, and all those cycles of abuse and poverty are cut. And they are now inspirations not only for us in Starfish but also for the other orphans and victims of abuse that they inspire as well.

I urge everybody to go to osf.org check it out. See how you can help. I’m speaking with Orlando Luna who is a producer and a benefactor of the organization and somebody that’s been involved in technology directly for many years, and helping to put this whole thing together along with the good folks that we make movies and the Smartphone Studio. Orlando, I know that this time of the COVID-19 is difficult for everyone, and you’re very busy. So thank you for taking the time to talk to us about this. I think it’s very important.

OL: Thanks, Cirina, and I look forward, maybe when this all starts to pan out. We get back out on the road. It’d be great to do another one of these and kind of give an update to everybody and maybe we’ll have some more things to show because I think that would be a lot of fun.

Yeah, let’s show some more video of the transformation that happens, it’s wonderful to watch. I do want to thank OWC too, for sponsoring OWC Radio and for allowing me to do this. They’re totally on the side of all of the creatives out there, so thanks to Larry O’Connor and the team at OWC, if it weren’t for you, Orlando and I wouldn’t be talking. Alright, well, you have a great day. Regards to the family, and hang in there, and thanks for doing this. Take care. Have a wonderful day, and thanks for listening.


Important Links


Checklist

  1. Aim to lead an altruistic life. Develop a sense of community and have a genuine concern for those who aren’t fortunate enough to have what you’re privileged enough to have. A little help goes a long way. 
  2. Keep pursuing education and training for all. When people in challenging circumstances have education, they have a better chance of finding a way out of poverty or negative situations. 
  3. Take things one step at a time. Helping the entire world is impossible. When you start helping your neighbors, it eventually can gain momentum quickly. 
  4. Cope through hardships with art. Help spark someone’s creativity by giving them resources to produce something beautiful and meaningful.
  5. Be resourceful especially in times of scarcity. Think outside of the box. Sometimes you don’t have to spend a lot to learn and have fun. 
  6. Give the people you teach the freedom to explore things on their own. Don’t teach everything all at once. Leave them room for discovery.
  7. Donate and/or volunteer. There’s a lot of people out there who need help. If there’s anything you can offer, it could change someone else’s life. 
  8. Pay it forward. Keep spreading light and encourage others to do the same as well. Kindness is contagious. 
  9. Teach kids early and start them young. When they spark an interest in something, become an instrument in their development and help them realize their potential.
  10. Get involved. Check out The Orphaned Starfish Foundation’s website to learn more about their advocacy and how to help.

ABOUT OWC

If you work in tech and haven’t heard about Other World Computing (OWC),  you’ve may have had your head in the sand. OWC, under the leadership of Larry O’Connor since he was 15 years old, has expanded to all corners of the world and works every day to create hardware that makes the lives of creatives and business-oriented companies faster, more efficient and more stable.  Go to OWCDigital.com for more information.

Here’s the company’s official mission statement:

At OWC, we’re committed to constant innovation, exemplary customer service, and American design. 

For more than 25 Years, OWC has had a simple goal. To create innovative DIY solutions to give you the most from your technology.  

Beginning with 100% compatible memory upgrades, reliably exceeding Apple’s maximum RAM specs, OWC’s product offering has grown to encompass the entire spectrum of upgrade and expansion possibilities, all with a focus on easy, DIY setup and installation. 

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For us, it’s as much about building exceptional relationships, as it is about building exceptional products.

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