One of the great things about having a small business is you’re not on everyone’s radar when starting out, so you’re allowed to make more mistakes and learn from them.
Alicia Arinella is a film producer living and working in NYC. Alicia incorporated her film production company On the Leesh Productions, ten years ago to produce creative and inspiring film projects. To date, she has produced eleven short films, three popular web series and one feature film. Alicia also produces the critically acclaimed series What You Can Do which premiered on New York PBS affiliate WLIW in 2009. What You Can Do has teamed up with more than one hundred not for profit organizations to create hundreds of videos, empowering viewers to take small steps to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues, one minute at a time. Alicia’s credits also include: stage management for regional and New York theater, publicity and promotional work for Fine Line Features and New Line Cinema, editing and production coordinating for terraNOVA Collective, Asset Pictures and cineBlast!, associate producing for Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Noggin and Granada Kids, and producing projects for Little Airplane Productions, Playhouse Disney, New York Stage and Film and the Naked Angels Theater Company.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a web and TV series called What You Can Do. The show reveals how to help the world’s most pressing social and environmental issues in just one minute. This year we launched a video blog to complement What You Can Do called The Unstoppable Minute, allowing us to address our viewers in a casual format.
Where did the idea for What You Can Do come from?
So my sister, Jessica, and I lost our mother to cancer in 2005. As anyone who has been in that position knows, you look at the world differently after such a devastating loss. You ask these really big questions – Do I matter? What’s all this for? If all this ended, would I be happy? Needless to say, we felt pretty powerless and hopeless. At the time, we were watching a lot of documentaries, making Jess feel even more powerless by illuminating an issue but not giving us the steps to fix it. Then a light bulb went off for her one day, realizing she could help solve big problems with actionable steps. Jessica conceived of What You Can Do as a tool box for change for someone who wants to help. She came to me with her ideas, and What You Can Do was born out of our conversations.
What does your typical day look like?
One of the things I like about my job is it changes all the time, but in general – I get up and catch up on a little TV over breakfast. To start work, I meet with my staff to make sure we’re all on the same page, then return emails and phone calls. From there I edit a video or shoot an episode of What You Can Do or the Unstoppable Minute. I find some time to eat lunch – that’s a must as I’m a big foodie! Then I return more emails, take a phone call or two, head home, eat some more and do some reading before bed. I also try to watch at least one movie or play a week.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Sometimes an idea hits and I can see every component through to the end. Other times, I need to brainstorm the pieces for a while. Once I have the idea in place, I take my time with pre-production and plan out the production steps with my team. I make sure I have the best team on board to help bring the story to life. It’s all about surrounding yourself with the right people to get the job done.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m digging the trend of using digital devices to save paper and time. There are so many apps out now that allow you to scan a ticket or show a coupon. When millions of people make simple changes, we can really help reduce consumption of our natural resources.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I know this is crazy to say, but I don’t look at any of my jobs as “the worst” as I’ve been lucky to work in an industry I love. Even when I started as an assistant, I was still making movies, so there wasn’t much to complain about. I guess I learned the importance of reliability and promptness from being a Production Assistant. Even though it’s a small job, you’re part of the production, so people are depending on you. If you prove that you can be trusted, you’re polite and don’t talk back, people want to have you around. They’ll remember you. I’ve never forgotten that.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I’m not sure I would do anything differently. I view all of my “failures” as my most important lessons. One of the great things about having a small business is you’re not on everyone’s radar when starting out, so you’re allowed to make more mistakes and learn from them.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I really like to collaborate and trust people with what they’re good at. I have a core team of collaborators that I like to work with, but staff up when we get busy. Make sure you have a great team in place to call on if you need to get something done very quickly. I have found this invaluable and would highly recommend it to all entrepreneurs. Spend the time developing a team that can react in real time – this will save you money in the long run as well as set a more enjoyable work environment. If your company exploded overnight, who are the first three people you would call and how would they help assist you in maintaining that level of interest in your company? Your team is crucial.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I would say the biggest “mistake” I made was in agreeing to do too much in order to please people. When you’re starting out, it’s all about getting your foot in the door, and getting your word out there. So, I didn’t want to turn down any opportunity; however, once I sign on, I see things through. Overtime, I began to see that I was totally stressing myself out, missing sleep and enjoying work less. I’ve learned to say no unless I can really commit 100% and deliver at the best level that I can.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would say, stop talking about what you’re going to do and go out there and do it. Working in film has changed so much in the past ten years. There really is no excuse for not going out and making something. You have an iPhone? You can shoot a movie. You have an iPad? You can edit a movie. With YouTube and the hundreds of festivals out there, you can have a place to be heard. And guess what, now you’re a filmmaker as opposed to having a dream to be one.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Wow, that’s a big one. I guess if I got to pick it would be helping people feel less scared about our world’s biggest challenges. Since working on WYCD, we’ve talked to hundreds of people working on the front lines for their causes. They all say that there are simple and powerful one minute things that can be done to help, but the average person really doesn’t know how to make a difference in their everyday lives. I think most of us feel powerless and wonder what one person can do. We created What You Can Do to empower people to take small and immediate actions. We chose a minute because we’re all so busy, and a lot of people may want to help but just don’t feel that they have the time, but everybody has a minute. You may not think that one person can make an impact in one minute, but what if you inspire someone else’s one minute action? What if you inspire hundreds of people? Then you will see that you really do have the power to change the world.
Tell us a secret.
I can’t. Then it wouldn’t be a secret, but I will share a little known fact. I love teen lit and am a big fan of the Vampire Diaries.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
I use IMDB all the time. I used to be so frustrated sitting in a movie or watching a TV show and thinking – I know that guy, where have I seen that face before. It was so distracting that I couldn’t enjoy the content. Now I know I can check IMDB.com and all is right with the world.
SeafoodWatch is a tremendous program. It’s online at www.seafoodwatch.org and has an app for smart phones as well. I’ve always loved our oceans and one of the first things I got passionate about was protecting them. The Seafood Watch Program shows consumers which seafood is being over fished in your area (broken down by region) and suggests smarter choices for you and for the environment. I have downloaded this free app on so many friends’ phones with and without them knowing. They thanked me for it later.
Volunteer Match is another great resource. Sometimes you feel like you want to volunteer or help but you don’t know the places in your community that are looking for people. VolunteerMatch.org links your passion up with the place to give back.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Six Simple Rules for a Better Life by David J. Singer offers really great and practical tips on how to get out of your own way, so you can live your life to the fullest. It’s not filled with the same old self-help adages but rather gives you practical and attainable steps on how to make the most out of your life.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
Meredith Forbes. She has a blog called The Green, The Bad and The Ugly. She offers really practical tips for going green in a humorous way. Recently, she was trained by Al Gore in conjunction with his organization, The Climate Reality Project, so this girl knows her green.
Josh Zitomer. Josh is an amazing personal trainer who has built a really fantastic website that brings personal training into your living room through the web. His twitter feed is devoted to giving quick exercise tips for just about anybody – including those of us who are full of excuses.
Buick Audra. Buick is a super talented multi-hyphenate living in Nashville. She’s a tremendous musician as well as a talented artist who devotes much of her time to causes she cares about. Be sure to listen to her stuff. This girl’s got soul.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I love laughter and try to laugh at least once a day. It’s great for your stomach muscles and for endorphins. But there is one incident that really caught me off guard. We were working on this video with Rachel’s Challenge to promote kindness, and we filmed a variety of people for the video. We also had two people from overseas submit videos. I was sitting at my desk watching one of those videos and making some notes for my edit. She was telling a story of someone doing a kind thing for her when she was a child and how she carries her memory of it to this day. Her delivery was so spot on that I wound up doing a spit take with my coffee. I don’t usually have such witty and comedic submissions, so I was not prepared, but very pleasantly surprised.
Who is your hero?
I don’t have just one hero, but I’ll give you one in my personal life and one celebrity.
I may be biased, but I think my parents raised me and my sister very well. Not only did they provide and care for us, but they taught us at a very early age about the importance of giving back to your community. They both believed that it’s not about being the richest person in the cemetery but rather about making a difference while you’re here in any way that you can. Whether by donating items that you don’t use anymore, or making a contribution to a cause you care about or volunteering your time. I know that Jess’s drive to create What You Can Do was partially born out of these lessons, and they still influence me to this day.
In terms of celebrities, the late Paul Newman is someone I greatly admire. He wasn’t content to be a tremendously talented actor or just a pretty face. He wanted to give back to the world, to make it a little better for having been here. I mean look at his legacy with Newman’s Own, and The Hole in the Wall Gang. At a time when many people would slow down, he dove in head first to his next chapter. He never forgot where he came from, and was able to use that spark and passion to inspire so many people, myself included.
What advice would you offer someone who doesn’t know how to begin their project?
Since I tend to be hyper organized, I would say the best place to start is to break things down into achievable goals, so you don’t get too frustrated. Don’t make the entire pre-production and planning process happen in 24 hours. Spread it out over a week or a month to make sure you have everything in a row. I find that planning is the best way to save money. If you spend a little time brainstorming and thinking things through, you will save a lot of heartache in the long run. Make lists and break it down to a few tasks a day. Over time you’ll get there. Slow and steady.
Why did you get into filmmaking?
To be honest, I thought it would be fun! I also saw the power that movies hold over so many people. Knowing I could inspire or entertain someone was just too enticing. If I could help one person through their day, or feel a little less alone, than I thought it was a worthy career.
What You Can Do on Facebook – www.facebook.com/WhatYouCanDo
What You Can Do on Twitter – @whatyoucando
What You Can Do on YouTube – www.youtube.com/whatyoucando365
Unstoppable Minute on YouTube – www.youtube.com/unstoppableminute
What You Can Do on Blogspot – www.whatyoucandoseries.blogspot.com
Alicia Arinella on LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/in/aliciaarinella