Video Challenge: Helping the Sales Team Make Software Products Catchy

September 18, 2014

In a business world populated by countless organizations relying on seas of software programs to achieve unlimited goals, breaking through the competitive landscape with a new offering is a very difficult task. It requires a sales team with a belief in and knowledge about the product at hand, enthusiasm, persistence – and a tool kit. While the box of assistance is likely to contain virtual demo programs, its effectiveness initially requires a simple and easily comprehensible explanation about the unique uses and value of the software. This messaging and its presentation is the key to getting the potential buyer to stop, listen for a moment amidst the constant hum of information, and peek in at the opportunity. It is also a challenging task that recently landed on our doorstep.

Among its diverse offering of amenities designed to meet the ever-changing business world, our client Ricoh has been providing IT services to the legal industry for over 20 years, including comprehensive document resources. One of its recent software products in this department is called REDI (Ricoh Electronic Discovery Insight). When installed in a company’s server, REDI enables a user to retrieve information through a simple-to-use search system, saving the company a lot of time and money in completing discovery requests.

To reign in new customers, the REDI group wanted to begin the sales process with a short and catchy video, which brought our video production team into the discussion. After reviewing the department’s written materials and getting walked through a demonstration of the software, we were convinced that explanations of its uses and benefits recited on-camera by programmers, executive staff, or professional voiceover artists would be too wordy to be impactful. This was particularly so when the topic precluded visual imagery to sprinkle over their sound bites.

Instead, we opted for a high-energy, visually appealing, and originally created kinetic typography video. V&V worked with the REDI team to understand the software in its minutiae, then to translate that knowledge into short, easily comprehensible phrases. Integrating the simple text with Ricoh branding, REDI screen imagery, a catchy melody, and creative motion, the alluring end product is causing heads to turn in REDI’s direction.

And that is its objective. Once a prospective customer pays attention to the introduction, the door opens to a demonstration of the product. That, I am convinced, will sell itself to companies inclined to improving their litigation strategies and defending against overly burdensome legal discovery requests.

The Effectiveness of Testimonial Videos

August 18, 2014

Client headliner feedback: “The [first] video went over well at the convention! It definitely left the audience wanting more. We just did an email campaign around the [other two] videos … and our sales people love them!! The morning we launched the YouTube link announcement I got an email from a sales rep around lunch saying that it couldn’t have come at a better time because he played the videos in his presentation and they went over really well!!”

            — Marketing Manager Lauren Vellek, RICOH Americas

Beginning this summer we have been working with global technology company RICOH to produce a series of testimonial videos for their production print solutions — apparently with very promising immediate results. To fulfill the job requirements, we have been going to print shops that use RICOH production print systems to videotape owners’ feedback about the product.

Says the owner of a PIP Printing shop in northern New Jersey on camera: “When we tested the RICOH product, we brought some of our most complicated jobs. We were very, very pleasantly surprised that we got a lot more than we had anticipated with some of the extra features where we’ve been really able to put a lot more work, both black and white and color, than we ever have before because it’s just a much, much better product than we’ve had here in the past.

“… What came with it …was … a training program that didn’t only cover the uses of the equipment but also helped to foster a better business improvement program for things that we did here day in and day out for 20+ years.”

 

Says a metro Philadelphia area Sir Speedy shop owner: “The great thing with RICOH has been their service. We place a call and within in an hour or less, we get a phone call. I’m fortunate to have a fantastic technician that is assigned to this area and he goes above and beyond the call to help meet our needs and the needs of our customers.”

If these quotes stand out in written form, multiply that impression by many-fold when they appear in video. It is only common sense: seeing and listening to the sincerity and feeling behind impactful words spoken by an actual shop owner who was not obliged to make the comments goes a long way toward effectively making a sale or closing a deal.

Of course, this approach is not mutually exclusive of producing a more formal video ad for TV or online avenues using a script, actors and the type of sizable crew that such an effort requires. But in comparison to this more traditional commercial production, the budget entailed for short testimonial videos pales, and its results offer the promise of a resounding success.

Journeying through Flory’s Footsteps

June 15, 2014

The documentary Flory’s Flame we have produced through our nonprofit company JEMGLO is 95% finished, with a first, second, and third draft behind us. It is a story that weaves together music from Flory Jagoda’s Celebration Concert at the Library of Congress last September with clips from a series of interviews with Flory that tell the story of this National Heritage Fellow who has been widely called the “keeper of the flame” of ancient Sephardic musical traditions. The narrative begins in the Jewish community of Spain before the Inquisition and continues in Sarajevo and a small town nearby called Vlasenica, and it moves to Zagreb, Croatia. During World War II, the flight from the Nazis to safety brought Flory to places along the Adriatic Sea in Croatia, then to Italy, and finally to the USA, where her prowess as a composer and performer of the music on which she was raised took off.

Missing from the most recent cut of the documentary are clips of visuals that emit the feelings of the places that give important levels of depth to the story. Consequently, a couple of weeks ago director of photography Curt Fissel, our friend serving as associate producer Cathy Lawrence, and I (producer) set out on a b-roll trip to relevant locales in southeast Europe, carving out our own experiences as we captured footage that painted pictures we had imagined from Flory’s telling. With a day left to go, the pieces of the journey are beginning to gel in my mind.

The center square of Zagreb

The center square of Zagreb

 

Zagreb: beautiful, colorful, spotless city. We stayed at the impressive Esplanade Hotel, built in 1925. Once a stop along the Orient Express, the Esplanade retains its grandeur with walls built of marble, crystal chandeliers and the aroma of white lilies wafting through the lobby and adjoining sitting rooms. For dinner we drank delicious, complex Rose wine grown in the nearby Krauthaker vineyards; my very tasty entrée was a plate of pasta with mushrooms and real truffles, also found locally. Curt ate an Adriatic sea bass cooked in a blanket of salt that was peeled after being grilled. The stately Esplanade, located only a few blocks away from where Flory grew up, is a must stay for tourists to this beautiful city.

Lobby of the Esplanade Hotel in Zagreb

Lobby of the Esplanade Hotel in Zagreb

A modern city, we had to work to find apartments and schools that were representative of what Flory might have experienced. But old mixes with new in Zagreb just as our documentary winds story around concert, so we were able to recreate snippets of her teenage years. And the Esplanade gave us the prime room in the hotel with views out the window of the old city – a photographer’s dream.

From Zagreb we drove to the Adriatic Coast, stopping first in Split, the city to which Flory and her parents fled when the Germans took over Zagreb. There the local tourism board set us up with the city’s most knowledgeable guide, Dino Ivancic, a history professor who exudes European charm, elegance and a sense of humor. Dino, with whom we shared a wonderful day, brought Flory’s stories alive to us in the context of the history of this gorgeous coastal spot, the site of the palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian dating to the 3rd century.

Curt Fissel videotaping in Split

Curt Fissel videotaping in Split

A ferry brought us the next day to the island of Korcula, about which Flory says: “For us teenagers, it was a good time. No school, go swimming every day, all the time on the beach. …. I became an island accordionist and taught accordion….It made me alive.” In the heart of the ancient stone streets and buildings of the old city, sitting atop a hill that overlooked the transparent turquoise waters of the Adriatic, we could swear we heard the sounds of an accordion belting out harmonies that meshed with its beautiful surroundings. We fell in love with this island filled with friendly people, and we promised ourselves we’d return and stay for awhile sometime after we send our finished documentary out into the world.

The town of Korcula on the island of Korcula

The town of Korcula on the island of Korcula

Our chronological route was based on pragmatism, not a mirror of Flory’s timeline, so from Korcula we made our way to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was difficult to leave paradise and enter a city still suffering from the aftermath of the siege from 1992-95 in which 9,500 to 14,000 people – half civilians, including 521 children – were killed. Buildings throughout the city are still dotted with bullet holes, and residents readily talk about their experiences and the feeling of fear they have internalized. At a Friday night Shabbat dinner to which we were invited I asked one woman about whether she had hope for the future; she responded by saying there have been four wars in Bosnia in the last century, so how could she envision a time when violence would not raise its head every few decades?

Memorial to the children

Memorial to the children

 

It is our last day of filming today, and an historian named Eli Tauber, who is a friend of Flory’s, takes us to Vlasenica, a town that is two hours away and where Flory’s family lived for several hundred years. Appropriately, it is our first full day of rain and fog, shrouding the places of our protagonist’s beautiful childhood memories that the evil history of the Holocaust has fatally destroyed.

Tomorrow we close our circuitous road back in Zagreb, where we will meet with the folks who run the Zagreb Jewish Film Festival. Like so many others in this region, they know Flory, love her music, and can’t wait to see the finished documentary. My sentiments exactly!

 

 

An Italian Adventure to Produce a Video Profile of a Private Equity Portfolio Company

February 13, 2014

The opportunity to produce a video profile of a company in a portfolio of our global private equity client The Riverside Company often takes Curt (director of photography) and I (producer) on interesting adventures. Two weeks ago, for instance, we had the opportunity to spend a day in Verona, Italy filming Olympics and World Championship swimmers who endorse the racing swimwear of the brand Arena, a company in Riverside’s European fund.

As I watched Ruta Meilutyte (Lithuania, 16 years old) and Daniel Gyurta (Hungary, 24) fly through the lanes of the Olympics-sized pool while testing out the latest carbon technology that has been incorporated into their suits, I imagined them standing on a podium, gold medal in hand, filled with emotions as the national anthems of their home countries blasted into the ears of the world after their wins. They and their World Championship gold medal colleague Katinka Hosszu (Hungary, 24), who was also present in Verona, are international stars, revered by swimmers, athletes, and ordinary people who delight in the extraordinary talents of superpeople. During international events like the Olympics or the World Championships, they live in a bubble of fame surrounded by countless other swimmers and coaches, reporters and fans. But on the day we videotaped, there was almost no one around but the folks from Arena and us, and we were treated to a slice of time with these wonders of the world.

 

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Curt was excited to use a GoPro to capture them from the underwater perspective. Attaching the camera to the end of a long stick, he walked down the perimeter of the pool holding one end, ensuring that the camera at the other end stayed beneath the swimmers’ bellies as they glided effortlessly through the pool lanes adjacent to him. His footage highlighted their perfect underwater moves — as well as the brand name of the company they endorse. Adding to the value of the video, we also spent time interviewing the Olympians, a formality that was preceded and followed by normal conversation. I was excited to learn that Katinka – and her coach/husband Shane Tusup – went to USC, my daughter’s alma mater. Most impressively, all three of the swimmers were very humble, friendly people simply doing what they love to do and fortunate to be so successful at it.

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We spent that day in the closed confines of an indoor pool facility which could have been located anywhere in the world, but when we finished recording the interviews and b-roll, we had two free days until the next planned day of shooting. We spent a sunny morning at the Adriatic Sea, and another day driving on little roads that traverse tiny towns with stone buildings that have been standing for centuries. In these non-tourist locations, I ate the freshest and most delicious Italian veggie food I’ve ever tried. A special treat was stopping for lunch one day to meet our friend Ruth Ellen Gruber, an award-winning writer and journalist who lives near Todi. She gifted us with a can of oil pressed from olives she had picked in her garden. I’m quite sure I will never be able to enjoy store-bought olive oil again.

A couple of days later we were back under the Arena wing. Katinka stopped by the company’s headquarters in Tolentino to meet the staff and learn about new products. It was fun to see her surrounded by scores of staff asking for her autograph. She chatted with them, one at a time, writing personal messages on the postcards they handed her. We also enjoyed watching her delight in the panoply of Arena products that filled the company’s headquarters, examining the fabrics of swimsuits, trying on new goggles, and picking out her favorite sports bag.

As Cristiano Portas, the company’s CEO told us when we interviewed him later in the day: “We want to fully understand the needs, the wishes and even the dreams of the athletes and to transfer this knowledge into products which are delivering an outstanding performance. The concept is that all the people watching the competition and going to the shops to get the swimwear or a pair of goggles, they will see the champions and they want to wear the goggles and the swimsuits of the champions because if it is good for champions, it is good for me.”

Very cool to have such incredibly talented and down-to-earth folks as brand champions for millions of people to emulate in countries around the globe.

As for the video, we are having a very good time in the editing suite. We get to ooh and aah over footage of perfect strokes of several of the world’s most talented swimmers. We even get to act as surrogate coaches in a way, choosing where to start and stop each beautiful shot.  Editing this company profile (as all videos we produce), we are ever mindful of its ultimate audience – the Riverside investors and others interested in the firm’s portfolio of companies. I am certain they will be very pleased to be a part of such an exciting and successful venture.

 

 

 

New Year’s Acrostic-olutions

December 30, 2013

On the 2014 work agenda (some personal items too):

Aesolutions: Reading – maybe not AESOp’s Fables – but other great books that trigger the flow of creativity to many video projects.

Besolutions: Finishing the documentary Flory’s Flame, about 90-year old Sephardic musician, composer and performer Flory Jagoda, whose compositions in Ladino – an ancient Castilian Spanish language — harken back to pre-Inquisition Spain. “BESO” in Spanish (“bezo” in Ladino) means “kiss” – many of which are crucial to happiness in the coming year.

Cesolutions: While we don’t generally attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Curt Fissel in our office annually goes to the gigantic National Association of Broadcasters Show (April 5-10, 2014 in Las Vegas) where all the latest and greatest technology in the video production and broadcasting industry will be introduced and exhibited.

Desolutions: DESolate is what I plan NOT to be.

Esolutions: Helping our clients be ahead of the curve with regard to video and all its new arms as the electronic highway continues to expand, and finding E-SOLUTIONS to interesting issues that arise.

Fesolutions: FESsing up to gaps in my knowledge, filling them with deep dives into research, and supplementing weaknesses with the collaboration of colleagues strong in those arenas.

Gesolutions: Learning rather than GuESssing.

Hesolutions: As the female president of Voices & Visions, I’m all about “SHE –SOLUTIONS” (as compared to “HE-SOLUTIONS”), and I look forward to networking, brainstorming and collaborating with women executives.

Iesolutions: Exploring substantive topics calling for video production in their depths, then reducing the understandings reached to simple messages – the onscreen equivalent of the textual use of I.E.

Jesolutions: Like GESso used in artwork as a base before applying paint, continuing my commitment to thorough preparation before video shoots our company undertakes, which will ensure and preserve the quality of the final product.

Kesolutions: An English variant of “BESOlutions” (see above).

Lesolutions: Focusing on more solutions rather than LESs solutions.

Mesolutions: Always aiming to MESmerize with video productions we create.

Nesolutions: While the northeast (NE) is our home base, we now have an office in Dallas and we videotape on location internationally. Hoping to continue to expand our national and global work in the coming year.

Oesolutions: The US Bureau of “Oceans, Environment and Science” (OES) advances foreign policy regarding climate change, renewable energy, resource scarcity, infectious diseases, and related fields. In 2013 we videotaped the ways in which the farmers of the Fair Trade, interfaith Delicious Peace coffee cooperative in Uganda are trying to overcome the impact of climate change on their crops. We will continue to pursue producing video clips about this issue and otherwise helping the farmers.

Pesolutions: Had I been PESsimistic, I would never have taken the risk of running my own business. Optimism about everything – from small projects to the world economy – will dominate my thinking.

Quesolutions: QUEStions are beautiful; they prompt intellectual and emotional growth. I am grateful that I get to interview and ask unlimited questions to so many interesting people around the world in connection with producing corporate videos and documentaries. Looking forward to new questions and answers in 2014.

Resolutions: All of the above and below.

Sesolutions: Who “SAYS SO”? Our clients say so. I will listen to their goals, concerns, interests, and parameters and help them build tailored solutions.

Tesolutions: Marketing in 2014 will continue to TESt traditional vs. social media methodologies (including video) and with regard to the latter, how to measure ROI, the most effective combinations of approaches, and a host of other issues made possible by ever-expanding IT solutions. The question I will explore with clients is no longer whether to engage; rather, it is: What? Where? When? And how?

Uesolutions: YOU are the e-solution! Our We will rely on our partnerships with our clients to ensure our brains and talents work together to produce the best solutions.

Vesolutions: VES, Visual Effects Society, is an organization representing visual effects practitioners. From motion graphics in 2D and 3D to animations, audiences are growing accustomed to fabulous visual effects in videos. Looking forward to watching their growth in demand and providing clients with videos rich in a wide range of creative elements.

Wesolutions: WESOłych Świąt: Polish for “Happy holidays!” Since we have produced five documentaries in Poland, the culture and language are close to my heart. Early indications are pointing toward an event on the calendar in Poland in 2014.

Xesolutions: Having many opportunities to use XE, an online currency and foreign exchange tool, which helps calculate expenses when traveling to foreign countries. Italy, Spain, Bosnia, Croatia, France, Poland, and who-knows-where-else are on this year’s travel plans, so XE will come in handy.

Yesolutions: Saying “YES” much more than “no.”

Zesolutions: Tackling challenges big and small with ZESt as well as love for the opportunity to tell stories through video.

NYC Bar Association Panel: From Lawyer to Entrepreneur

December 19, 2013

One of the most fun aspects about being an entrepreneur is the opportunity to live in a number of different and challenging roles on a daily basis.

Some hours each day I am a producer of corporate video productions and documentaries, figuring out and implementing countless logistics of a broad range of projects. Other hours I am a writer, crafting the scripts and storyboards on which the productions are built. Sometimes I am a researcher, diving into the substance of clients’ businesses to ensure that the videos we are creating accurately reflect the nature of the organizations. Importantly, I am often the head of marketing and sales, seeking prospective clients to keep the business engine humming. Whenever I find a few free moments, I become the chief dreamer, configuring new ideas to improve or change my current businesses – or create new ones. And of course, I’m also the “baker and candlestick maker” (never a butcher – I’m a vegetarian!) for all the behind-the-scenes details that make the businesses run.

A break during a documentary shoot in Paris

Equally as exciting for me, last week I had the opportunity to put on my “entrepreneur” hat and speak on a panel at the NYC Bar Association (NYCBA) entitled “Lawyer to Entrepreneur.” The forum, organized by Emilia Roll of the NYCBA’s Career Advancement and Management Committee, was billed as an opportunity to “Come and learn from successful entrepreneurs about their paths from practicing law to running their own businesses and how they are using their ‘lawyer’ skills to advance.”

I am very lucky to love all the hats I wear, and the entrepreneurial one is at the top of the list. I have been a part of a number of entrepreneurial groups with different foci, and I almost always find that the commonalities between entrepreneurs outweigh huge differences in industries, markets, and strategies. There are unstated understandings, shared experiences and generous support systems that fuel the passion to take multiple business endeavors to the ever-next level.

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NYC Bar Association

That was certainly the experience for me on the panel last week. I was privileged to be joined by George Tsiatis of Group 113 and The Resolution Project, Rosena Sammi of Rosena Sammi Jewelry, Diana St. Louis of Bijte, Brian Trunzo of Carson Street Clothiers, and Suzie Scanlon of Bliss Lawyers. As I answered questions relating to the benefits of having a legal background as a jumping off point to becoming a businessperson/producer/writer/researcher/marketer/dreamer/baker/candlestick maker, it was inspirational to hear about my co-panelists’ paths, businesses, challenges, solutions, and ideas. It was also exciting to engage in discussions with an audience of lawyers poised on the verge of considering their business dreams. The experience was a reminder of the journey taken thus far, the never-ending possibilities offered by the entrepreneurial road, and the value of enjoying every step along the way.

Now back to a producer review of the latest draft video for a private equity client…

In Tokyo, sharing a real corporate video shoot with a fictional character

November 5, 2013

In one of the climax scenes of the novel 1Q84, the protagonist Aomame goes to Hotel Okura in Tokyo. She is moments away from a foreboding encounter to which an Alice in Wonderland series of events has been tensely building. Despite evidencing a personality that combines inner strength, courage, integrity, and selective sensitivity, Aomame feels an uncharacteristic apprehension, perceiving the unexpected presence of an undefined and potent hand of fate at work. She waits in the oversized, opulent lobby for an escort who will bring her to the room where her antagonist will be waiting.  Alone amidst a crowded diversity of people moving to the buzz of unlimited agendas, her mind skirts between its very rational and methodical proclivity and the nonsensical world that has somehow crept into her life.

I write this on an airplane, three hours away from landing in Japan’s Narita Airport for a corporate video shoot. I am here with Curt, my husband who is a director of photography for our company Voices & Visions Productions. This will be our second trip to Tokyo, so its sprawling urban landscape will not come as a surprise. On our last trip we had dinner one night on the top floor of our hotel and were seated at a table next to a large window overlooking the city. Actually, it was only a wedge of the city. Yet I remember thinking that the vision before us spread inescapably to the horizon, harboring within its dense mass infinite numbers of people and offices and stores and restaurants and everything. Like hotels.

When the logistics of this current trip to Tokyo were being planned, the office manager of our business client offered to reserve a room in the hotel where they have a corporate rate located a block away from their workplace. Eliminating for us the daunting task of choosing between countless hotels in the complex grid of Tokyo neighborhoods, we took them up on their kind gesture, then received the e-confirmation for a room at Hotel Okura.

lobby of Hotel Okura

lobby of Hotel Okura

 

I was reminded of Rick’s line about Ilsa in Casablanca: Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” Of all the thousands of hotels in Tokyo, our client booked us in the one where this pivotal moment in the best book I’ve read in years takes place.

I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami, the author of 1Q84, and especially of this particular book. It took me weeks to finish the 1,200-page odyssey since I am often working until after midnight, leaving me exhausted when I lay down in bed at night and open a book. For the first third or so, I read two chapters a night, but by the time I got to the middle of the book, my appetite for the plot grew voracious. Each night after I closed the book, the characters and plot danced through my dwindling consciousness into my dreams. They would fade into the paper of the book’s pages through most of the daytime hours when the real world of documentary and corporate video production would dominate my brain. In other words, like Aomame in that pivotal scene, the book transported me to a mental place of vacillation between the real world and the fictional world of Murakami.

It’s been a few months since I finished reading 1Q84, and some of its details have begun dissolving from my memory like the ending slate of a video we create. As the long United Airlines flight to Murakami’s city approaches our destination, my mind is transitioning into the concrete producer/writer roles in which I feel comfortable. But I confess that, immersed in the setting of Hotel Okura, I will not be able to avoid looking out for the imaginary Aomame and the ominous meeting she has in a room that may be located down the hall from the one where we will be camping out the next four days.

Fortunately the nature of our work is creative, so the influence of imagination in video storytelling – as much for a corporate marketing video as any other type – promises to be beneficial.

 

Flory Jagoda: The Celebration Concert

September 25, 2013

We are surrounded by music in our daily lives, but seldom are we transformed by its power.  The perfect combination of pitch, melody, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation, and texture – collectively infused with an all-encompassing breath of soul – is a rare occurrence. Such truly beautiful music has unrivaled power that causes the heart to soar, the mind to refresh, and the spirit to awaken in love.  It is ethereal, piercing, transformative, universal.  Its presence emanates like rays of sun touching our essence.

Getting swept up in one of these transcendent moments is a story worthwhile to share, and so I write today about the 90th birthday Celebration Concert of legendary musician Flory Jagoda that was held within the prestigious walls of the United States Library of Congress this past Saturday night. Long in the planning stage, the concert featured Flory and 25 others, including family members, colleagues, apprentices and students. Over decades of time, these associates have learned the songs that Flory has composed, taught and sung in her native Judeo-Spanish and Bosnian languages, all reflective of the Sephardic world of her childhood and of the generations that preceded her. A few days ago each of these very talented musicians honored their mentor by surrounding her on stage and chiming in with their voices and instruments –guitars, mandolins, violins, violas, cellos, bass, bongos, and bells –flawlessly weaving together melodies to which she gave life. The concert was presented under the auspices of the Homegrown Concert Series at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.

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Flory has long been known as “keeper of the flame” for preserving, perpetuating, and expanding Sephardic Jewish cultural tradition through music. She was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia in 1923, and she was raised singing melodies taught to her by her Nona (grandmother) and other family members. A recipient of the rarely bestowed National Heritage Fellowship presented by the National Endowment for the Arts, Flory has also served as a Master Artist in the Folklife Apprenticeship Program for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VfH). She has performed throughout the U.S. and internationally. Her solo voice, still miraculously close to perfection even at the age of 90, opened the sold-out auditorium housing almost 500 fans.  She sang the second song with her granddaughter Ariel Lowell, a 21-year old musician who inherited Flory’s complex and beautiful musical voice and is currently recording her first album. Their duet was followed by a few selections by Flory, Ariel, and three of Flory’s children – Betty Murphy, Elliot Jagoda, and Lori Lowell, Ariel’s mom. Halfway through their second song together, the side curtains of the stage opened and Flory’s colleagues, apprentices and students joined the Jagoda family’s chorus.

The songs that followed told stories that came from places and experiences that have defined Flory’s life. With a Jewish Sephardic family history that stretched back to Spain until the Inquisition at the end of the 15th century, then moved onto Turkey and spread out from there, Flory spent her early years living with her Nona, near her extended family in a small village in Bosnia called Vlasenica. She subsequently moved with her parents to Zagreb, Croatia. When World War II broke out and the Jews were forced to wear armbands with yellow stars, her parents sought refuge. They sent her ahead by herself to Split, Croatia, overcoming her 14-year old fears en route by playing her accordion in the train, which attracted the happy attention of other passengers and even ticket collectors. From Split the family escaped to the island of Korcula before ultimately arriving at a refugee camp in Bari, Italy, where she met the man who would become her husband – American soldier Harry Jagoda. After the war Flory learned that her entire extended family in Vlasenica, including her beloved Nona, had been murdered by the Ustase – the Croatian fascists who collaborated with the Nazis — and buried in a mass grave on the family property.  Devastated, Flory knew that only she remained to continue the centuries-old family traditions expressed through their music.

That cultural legacy is what the concert at the Library of Congress celebrated. Flory has succeeded in creating a litany of music that she has taught to and performed with extremely talented musicians over the past number of decades. Among them – and joining her on Saturday in addition to her family members – were her guitar accompanist Howard Bass and original apprentice through a program of the VfH Susan Gaeta, now both well known independently for their prowess in the Sephardic musical world. Two cantors with voices that made the heart stop accompanied Flory:  her longtime friend Ramon Tasat, president of Shalshelet: The Foundation for New Jewish Liturgical Music, and Aviva Chernick of Toronto, who frequently traverses the distance to Washington to be Flory’s current apprentice. And the magic that happens when Flory works with her two weekly students/colleagues Tiffani Ferrantelli and Zhenya Tochenaya was delightful to experience. Others who joined Flory on stage included Tina Chancey, David Shneyer, Betsy Cary, Alan Oresky, Larry Robinson, Theo Stone, Joel Leonard, Lynn Falk, Margie Jervis, Noah Taylor, Joanne Stefanick, Janet Dunkelberger, Heather Spence, Martha Halperin, and Cory Giacobbe.

From my perspective, Flory’s success goes beyond the compositions she has created, which have been performed and recorded by musicians around the world. Most significantly, through her songs she is able to transport her audience to the world of her Nona and the generations before. As a Croatian attendee said to me after the concert: “I am not Jewish and do not speak Spanish, yet in all the time I have been in the US, I never felt as close to home as I did tonight.”

Amazing, that Flory Jagoda, which is why she is the subject of a documentary JEMGLO is producing called Flory’s Flame, featuring a number of songs from the Celebration Concert.  Through the film many others will have the opportunity that hundreds of audience members experienced this past Saturday night of metaphorically flying to a warm and transcendent space in the universe.

On the Road Again…in Bonn, Germany

September 7, 2013

I don’t have favorites, never have. I’ve always found confusing questions like: “What is your favorite color?”  — I like all the colors of the rainbow and the hues in between. Same thing when people ask me my favorite places to travel. My husband Curt Fissel — who is a director of photography and my business partner – and I (a producer/writer) are constantly on the global go for corporate video production and documentary shoots, but I don’t have a favorite destination.  There are aspects of each place I appreciate, so I thought I would write some blogs from the road, elaborating on things that make me smile in different locales.

 

Last week we were in Germany, videotaping for a private equity client that had just sold a company in its European portfolio and wanted us to produce a video highlighting the corporation and its impressive success over the holding period. When we finished all the field production relevant to producing a top line video, we took a few days to ourselves, visiting close friends who live in Bonn.

 

Enjoying sunny days with temperatures in the mid-70s, everyone we met told us that the winter there had lasted until the end of July. In fact, the past year in northern Europe has been exceptionally and uncharacteristically cold, snowy and rainy – much worse than usual. Curt and I had been well aware of that. We’ve been working on a project in Normandy, France for the past few years, and Rouen is listed in his phone’s weather app. Every morning since last mid-September we have had the same conversation:

 

Curt (checking weather in various locations we frequent): “Rouen: 50 degrees and raining.”

 

Me: “OMG. I’d feel so depressed.”

 

Yet that was not the weather that greeted us in Bonn last week, after the late spring climate had finally arrived on the cusp of July meeting August, and we had the chance to frolic in a few of the country’s attractions.

 

One of my favorite activities in Bad Godesberg, the little hamlet where our friends live, is jogging on the pathway that contours the Rhine.  Settled into rising hilltops along this segment of the majestic river are ruins of once-imposing castles. The age-old strongholds still convey a bygone aura of feudal importance, overlooking through cataract-type vision the goings-on of the world at their feet. Sightseeing cruises and cargo ships pass me as I run, reminders that the countryside’s natural counterparts (e.g., the river) run timelessly.

 

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Later in the day we all hop on board a train that also travels along the Rhine’s path. Whisking us south about 35 km., we get out in the village of Ahrweiler to partake in a winefest. Yes, you read it correctly: A winefest in Germany. Formerly not known as a serious competitor in the world of quality wine, this region has joined many others worldwide in improving its reputation, with impressive results. The vineyards in the Ahr Valley – known for its red wines — sit on 45 degree angles sloping up the sides of the Rhine. The fruits of the vines were exhibited in booths lining Ahrweiler’s main square, which framed the festival and the events taking place inside. An old-fashioned German brass band blared music to the much-anticipated annual election of a Wine Queen. A few speeches later, the coronation took place, after which the new queen was greeted by throngs of happy villagers holding bottles of locally grown Pinots and Rieslings. The year was 2013, of course, but it could have been 1913 or 1713. Unlike the physical castle structures along my morning jogging path, these old customs have survived in tact.

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Of course, even traditions are affected by change over time. Prior to World War II Ahrweiler had a small Jewish community. Apparently, the town was known as Nazi-resistant, but its Jews could not escape the Holocaust’s engine of death. No survivors ever returned to Ahrweiler. Significantly, however, the town has preserved the old synagogue, which is today used for cultural events. Curt and I, who have produced a number of documentaries on Jewish-related subjects, always visit these sites of former Jewish life in Europe. In Ahrweiler, our friends accompanied us to the former synagogue. We spent a few moments meditating in the atmosphere, listening to the voices in the wind and in our hearts, pledging anew to work to stamp out evil somehow, and experiencing gratitude for the energy of good people who remember, confront and commemorate.

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The next evening we visit a biergarten, the classically German hangout for the classically German drink. It’s as fun today as it was decades ago to sit at the tables covered with red and white-checkered cloths, surrounded by people drinking tall glasses of amber-colored beer with impressive white foam tops, toasting and celebrating everything always. (But in my opinion, with all the delicious craft beers available in the US today, the opportunity to imbibe the German selections are no longer the highlight of the biergarten experience.)

 

Back in Santa Monica, CA, I am working with some friends on an emerging project, www.EnjoyYourCoffee.net, which aims to be a travel website for coffee lovers around the world. Our Coffee Travel page lists good spots for coffee and conversation, beneficial for travelers to the region. Our group is trying to bolster the list of places worldwide, so wherever I travel, I try to visit the most popular cafes and add them to the list. In Bad Godesberg, my friends’ son Lorenz brought me to Café Lindentraum. The cappuccino was high quality and the atmosphere was quaint, but the conversations at each of the small tables were quiet and private (i.e., not group conversational). That’s a reflection of the culture, Lorenz told me. The same was true when I jogged along the Rhine: In many places where I have been, joggers passing each other share waves and smiles. Sometimes there’s even a “hello” attached in one language or another. Not here. It would be unfair to call it UNfriendly; it’s just not the nature of the culture to open up to strangers. In contrast, at the dinner party our friends hosted one night, we enjoyed conversations that quickly dove into interesting analyses.

 

I felt sad the morning of our departure. We had an amazing time with our friends. Their street fair was to happen that day, everyone on the block was cooking up something special to contribute, and the sun promised to continue shining. Anticipating the day’s events based on past years’ experiences, we were told that the young kids would run around and play together and the elders among the group would regale newcomers with stories that stretch back over decades.

 

Past, present and future live side by side there and find a way to communicate through the ups and downs of nature, time, governments, and people. And industrial and technological advancements whisk us across nine time zones and back to Los Angeles in about 11 hours so we can enjoy our coffee with our friends in Santa Monica a few hours after the fair has been cleaned up on our friends’ street in Bad Godesberg.

 

Loving NYC

August 21, 2013

I have the best job in the world. I get to see nature as it twists itself into infinite manifestations adaptive to the climates that envelope our planet. I travel across continents and immerse myself in cultures, meeting people in conversations that dig into their psyches and their worlds. I visit a kaleidoscope of international businesses that reflect human creativity, invention and need. In other words, I live anthropology, all because of the value of the stories our company’s video cameras can capture and tell (with a little aid from us humans).

And yet, with the countless places I’ve visited on earth — the breathtaking land and seascapes, the fascinating range of activities that dot different urban streets – the one I can’t help but love the most is the city that has been my home (in a suburban sort of way) almost my entire life: New York, NY. Here’s why:

It is a warm summer night this evening, and I am walking 22 blocks from Penn Station to the East Village to meet my daughter for dinner at Souen, a macrobiotic restaurant that has been around since before I became a vegetarian in 1974. The streets are so crowded that I am momentarily annoyed at being jolted out of my peaceful day. Within a few blocks the throngs thin out into gentler waves of characters that my brain can process. That is when I fall in love with the city again, each time anew.

I see the soft blur effect between the people ending their business days, heads appearing stuck in issues that refuse to stay behind in their offices, and the people on their way to a fun evening – a date, a birthday dinner, a social gathering.  I chuckle at a group of tourists, all standing at a corner and taking the same photo of the Empire State Building. I strain my ears to hear two young men speaking so loudly in Polish that I can make out some words from across the busy street. I shop in a cute little kitchen store with all kinds of fun gadgets and buy a new coffee grinder at the same price as the department stores advertise. I pass a street where my daughter once bought an armoire that refused to slide into the back of my CRV, but no problem – this is New York! Within minutes we found a man with a van who whisked the armoire to her apartment.

Life here is animated, electric, like thousands of separate cartoon strips all interwoven into a fabric of people accustomed to and comfortable with the differences that surround them – cultural, linguistic, racial, religious, sexual, and sometimes just in terms of personality. “It’s all good,” as they say – as they all seem to say — here in New York.

I arrive at Souen before my daughter, and I wait at the counter that overlooks the street. Next to me is a woman eating her dinner with a literary companion in the form of an E-Reader. The letters are larger than 12-point font, and she turns the page with a swipe of her finger, as engrossed in the novel as she is in her dinner. Feet away, on the other side of the window, real live stories walk by. They don’t distract her, though the older gentleman with unsteady legs trying to sit in the open chair between her and me causes her head to turn with a concerned expression for a few seconds. She seemed poised to help if necessary, despite the draw of the characters on her electronic screen.

My daughter and I share a delicious macrobiotic, organic food dinner and interesting conversation. We say good bye as she goes to the #4 or 5 train and I begin my return 1.25 mile trek on foot to Penn Station. I could take the subway too, but that would require trading in my imaginary ticket to the greatest show on earth — the streets of New York — replete with countless moving parts that provide a never-ending source of inspiration.

That’s my New York: dinners with my kids and interesting friends, tasty veggie food at affordable prices, hearing every language on the planet spoken within a city block or two, observing non-judgmental people passing non-self-conscious people who are busy doing their “thing,” and reveling in the intelligence, creativity and happiness that seems to waft out of apartment windows opened wide on beautiful summer days.


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