Looking Back On Our First Year In Business

It’s been over a month since our last blog post and this has been intentional. The election in November shocked us deeply as women, as citizens, and as a company. We took time to reflect on what tangible impacts it might have on FLOWSTATE and how we shape our business in 2017.

The question we asked ourselves was, what can we now do to make the biggest impact to promote and give voice to issues we care about? How can we further promote racial, economic, and social justice as media makers? This has always been at the center of what drives us as a company and in the films we make, but the election reminded us of the fragility of sustaining these core values in our society and we will be exploring and actively inviting collaboration with others with the same intentions moving forward. 

As we come to the end of this year, we are also  reflecting  on our first full year in business and want to share the major lessons we have learned along the way. 

#1 A Solid Operating Agreement

We spent a few months before we formalized the business talking about our goals, expectations, and the realities of our lives.  We each had outside business projects and personal demands that impacted our availability to work entirely on starting up the new business. By talking through our individual levels of capacity openly we were able have realistic expectations on each other and avoid some of the resentment that could have emerged if some partners had more time to give than others. We also made sure to have honest conversations about our financial needs and therefore our financial expectations on the business. Working through potential disagreements and how to solve them in the beginning has made on-going decision-making much easier.  

#2 Candid and Honest Reflection

As three creative and passionate people, we each have strong opinions about our work, the company, and our creative output.  There is no creative hierarchy among us.  Instead, we are highly collaborative.  But, this can lead to heated creative disagreements where our feelings are at stake.  Over the last year or so there have been conversations and disagreements about how to collaborate.  While we are still navigating this, we have learned that openly talking through our process and how we like to receive feedback has proven key.  By knowing how someone prefers to receive feedback on their creative work we end up helping each other grow while communicating more effectively.  

#3 Staying True To Our Mission

Looking back on the bulk of our work in 2016 a pattern emerged - much of our work has been exploring individuals and organizations who contribute to making their communities a better place; whether that’s profiling innovative faculty at George Washington University, exploring the contributions of African American diplomats during the cold war, or celebrating great acts of charitable giving. These stories inspire us on many levels, but, they have also proven that by making films for and about individuals, companies and organizations that we admire, we continue to see new doors open for similar projects.

#4 Our Friendship Is Imperative

At the end of the day, we were friends before FLOWSTATE Films started and want to stay that way. By relying on radically honest conversations, self-reflection, and just being friends to one another, we are building a business that we all want. One that is allowing us more freedom and control over this phase of our careers, the ability to cultivate projects we enjoy, work-family balance, and a creative partnership that builds each other up.  

We are excited for 2017 and what lies ahead for FLOWSTATE Films as we continue the process of building a sustainable business and creating media that has impact.  

Thank you to all who have been reading the blog this year and for the many friends, family, colleagues and clients who have encouraged and supported us this year! Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017!     Leola, Kiley & Rachell  

Thank you to all who have been reading the blog this year and for the many friends, family, colleagues and clients who have encouraged and supported us this year! Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017! 

Leola, Kiley & Rachell  

Some Free Advice On How To Ask For Free Advice, Five Tips

After I completed my first independent film and started giving talks on filmmaking, I noticed that I started receiving requests for advice from other first-time filmmakers and others looking to work in production more broadly.  While I have always been the type of person to happily give career advice, as I get older, and my time is more compressed by work and family commitments, these requests can feel like a one-way street.  I have compiled a list of few suggestions and etiquette to think about for anyone approaching another person for advice.

#1 Do Your Research First

I’m not the type of person to ask for a lot of free advice, I like to learn the hard way. I’m sure this is generational.  When I need to learn something, I tend to learn it either by figuring it out myself, learning on the job, or paying for the advice/schooling. Before asking another person for advice, think first how you might approach the decision and include that in your ask for advice, “Here’s what I was thinking, what do you think?”  

#2 Be Flexible    

Entrepreneurs work for themselves so whether it’s taking a vacation, a sick day, or an hour to give advice it represents time away from earning money.  In my case, I am also a mom, so I’m juggling multiple hats for my business and family.  This often leads me to waking up very early in the morning to work so I can be finished with my work day when my son comes home from school. Thus, I will often suggest that the person call me at or before 9AM so that my workday isn’t too interrupted. And yet, it’s very rare that someone who wants something for free is able to do that.  I assume most people have to work after 9am, so it surprises me someone can’t manage to make a call at a time that should seemingly be more convenient.  If this time is truly impossible, offer several different suggestions of when you can talk as going back and forth on email to set up a meeting is a huge waste of time.  

Even better don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and cold call the person to set up a time to talk. It’s much easier to schedule a meeting on the phone than email.  Phones still work! And, you might find you've caught them at a moment when they could speak right then and there. 

#3 Meeting in Person Is Optional

When you ask someone to go to lunch or meet for coffee, you are asking them to take a few hours out of their day. A phone call or Skype call can usually suffice. Or, if you really want to meet in person, offer a location convenient for them and certainly offer to pay.

#4 Get Approval Before Making An Introduction

I often get emails from someone I know introducing me to a job seeker or someone looking for industry advice.  I recently heard a great piece of advice on a podcast, that introductions should be approved by both parties in advance.  I love this, as it is respectful of the person’s time and doesn’t create an unsolicited obligation. I’ve found that this gives me the chance to set some boundaries out of the gate such as the reality that I am really slammed at the moment and not readily available, or, that the information that person is seeking from me is proprietary and I can’t share it.  This helps manage expectations for everyone.  

#5 Give Credit Where Credit is Due  

If you take advice and you A. Make money, B. Find success, C. Were saved from from making a huge mistake, please let the person know.  This isn’t just about a thank you note (although that is nice too); it’s about acknowledging how the advice was useful.  Likewise, if you take advice and learn something different that could help the person who gave you advice, please also let them know, as we all like to learn too. Lastly, if you find you are repeatedly asking the same person for advice, consider acknowledging them in a more formal way either as a paid consultant or as an advisor. This allows this advice-giver to be properly recognized for their contributions. 

Kiley Kraskouskas is a producer and writer who does enjoy offering advice and sharing her experiences. She is available for talks as well as consulting through FLOWSTATE FILMS.  

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8 Things Every Indie Director Should Bring on a Film Set

Recently Filmmaker Magazine posted an article about what women filmmakers wear to set. Think about that for a second. Why is there an article written about what female filmmakers wear to set? Is there a similar article detailing what the style choices are of male directors and what they wear on set? Of course not. To be fair, the Filmmaker Magazine article was in part a parody response to Refinery 29’s post about what different women should wear to dress for the job they want. One of those jobs was “film director.” Their idea of what dressing for success for a female filmmaker included; “you'll likely be on your feet for long days on set, but still don't want to look sloppy, so opt for a thick "grandma"-style heel that can last you the whole day.”

Rachell Shapiro with the cast and crew from her film,  From Hell to Here.

Rachell Shapiro with the cast and crew from her film, From Hell to Here.

Um, right. If the people writing the Refinery 29 article knew anything about the business of actually making a film they would know heels would be the last thing most women would think to wear on set – grandma or otherwise. But that’s beside the point because what women filmmakers wear on set is irrelevant. Unless someone wants to write an article interviewing both men and women and what they both wear on set then this type of article has no place in either online magazine.

So, in response to this I’ve decided to make a list of eight things, some non-traditional and in no particular order, that we at FLOWSTATE Films think might actually be helpful for anyone who is making an indie film to bring to set:

  1. A Good Attitude – This before anything else can make or break a production day. If you’re in charge on set, you set the tone. If you have a bad attitude no one is going to respond with their best work. Conversely, if you have a great attitude and project that on set – you’ll create an atmosphere where everyone wants to work their hardest and do their best.
  2. Detailed Shot list – this seems obvious but not every producer/director does this. Some like to go in with just a general outline or loose idea of what they want to capture. Occasionally that might work. But if you want to be efficient and make your day, plan, plan, plan. And then if you have to change your plan (which inevitably you will) you’ll be OK because the work-around will be obvious with all of your up-front planning.
  3. Call Sheet – Bring your call sheet to set and put it in your production binder. It's your catch-all for info. If someone’s late – go to your call sheet. If you can’t remember the name of your grip – go to your call sheet. What time is lunch – call sheet. And bring extras, that way when actors or other crew come up to you and ask you questions that you don’t have time to answer, you can tell them to check their call sheet and if they don’t have it, give them another copy.
  4. Water/Coffee – Hydration is KEY for lasting a long day on a set. If you’re lucky enough to be on a set with craft services than great, you don’t have to worry about getting water or coffee because they’ll have it. If you’re on a super low budget indie where you are responsible for pretty much everything, BRING WATER for your crew and cast. It’s a must. And if you bring coffee it will make everyone your best friend.
  5. An Extra Pair of Socks/Shoes – Sometimes shoots call for 12hr days standing on incredibly hard surfaces with little to no time to sit down. I learned this trick from a gaffer on a shoot in Indianapolis - if you change your shoes or socks half way through the day you almost feel like you had a little foot massage. It’s pretty incredible how refreshed you will feel.
  6. Deodorant – Whether you’re inside or outside and whether it’s cold or hot. Most likely you’re going to be moving constantly over 10-12hrs and after about 4-5 of them you’ll notice you don’t smell as fresh as you did in the morning. And when you have to cram into a corner with your DP, AC, Audio Tech and Gaffer – you’ll appreciate that everyone threw their deodorant into their set bag in morning.
  7. A Sense of Humor – Production days are long and usually hard and stressful. As much as you can as the leader of the set, keep it light and have a sense of humor. The more people enjoy themselves on set the better performances you’ll get out of everyone. And they’ll love working with you and want to work with you again. Which is key in this business.
  8. Confidence – When you are running a set you’ll probably be working with a crew and cast of mixed experience. You’ll likely be working with men and women who have been doing this for more years than you – and there will be skeptics about your ability. But as long as you are confident in your vision, plan well, speak with authority and don’t take BS if someone tries to dish it out – you’ll earn respect quickly. The respect of your crew and talent can make for a smooth or turbulent production.

So, when making your set check list think about being prepared for more than just what you have to shoot. What do you need to keep yourself sane and happy throughout the day? What would your crew need to stay sane and happy - from your AD down to your PA (if you’re lucky enough to have one.)

Overall, be kind, be prepared, have fun…and leave the grandma heels at home.


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Meet the Advisor: Dr. Carol Anderson, Author of White Rage

          Dr. Carol Anderson

          Dr. Carol Anderson

When preparing a grant proposal for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), it’s critical that you have a strong, well-informed core group of humanities scholars at the top of their fields as part of your advisory team. It’s really their insight and knowledge that keeps your project solid in its scholarship and relevant to the humanities themes the NEH wants to see woven throughout your film’s narrative arc. After Dr. Michael Krenn, the author of the book Black Diplomacyagreed to join our project as an advisor, it was time for me to reach out to other scholars whose work was reflected in the themes of the film. I asked Dr. Krenn for his suggestions on scholars who could contribute to this conversation and without hesitation he said, Dr. Carol Anderson. The word he used to describe her was “dynamic” and after my first conversation with her, I knew he was right.

Dr. Carol Anderson is a professor of African American Studies at Emory University and her research centers on the interconnectedness of the American civil rights movement and decolonization. I knew immediately I wanted her as part of our team because her work really gives context to our film’s story. During the time our main protagonists were breaking down barriers in the State Department, African American leaders were making connections between the struggle for freedom at home with the struggle for freedom abroad, and organizations like the NAACP were actively seeking more representation in the State Department and other institutions so that black voices and interests could be put on the agenda. But it’s not only Dr. Anderson’s work that intrigued me; she is sharp, engaging, and can tell a good story. I knew we needed to get her in front of a camera. It’s no surprise she was recently named as one of the Politico 50, or that her contribution to Jesmyn Ward’s The Fire This Time and her most recent book, White Rage, have garnered such wonderful critical acclaim. Lucky for us, she wanted to be part of the team.

1. Much of your research looks at the NAACP and the work it did to link the international movements for independence and self-determination with the domestic civil rights struggle. What inspired you to pursue this research?

Several factors came into play.  The first book, Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955 (Cambridge: 2003)began as a research paper in a graduate seminar.  I was intrigued how scholars of civil rights, decolonization, and the Cold War barely referenced each other.  It just didn’t seem logical that the same people kept popping up in these disparate stories occurring at roughly the same time but without the knowledge of their engagement in these other realms.

On a more personal level, I wanted to understand how my neighborhood, with so many God-fearing, hardworking people devolved into the ‘hood’ – high unemployment, drugs, no grocery stores, no significant businesses, resource-starved schools -- especially in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and its achievements.  I came across Malcolm X’s saying on human rights, which was heralded at the time, and was intrigued.  But, as I began my research, I realized that the NAACP with W.E.B. Du Bois had actually conceptualized the black freedom struggle as a human rights issue in the 1940s (two decades before Malcolm!).  The Association asserted that black equality, given hundreds of years of slavery and Jim Crow, would require not only the right to vote, the right to a fair trial, freedom of speech, etc., but also the right to education, housing, employment, etc.  Then my question became, if the NAACP saw the importance of human rights in the early 1940s and fought for it, why were so many people applauding Malcolm like it was the first time it had ever been said?  What could be powerful enough to create that depth of amnesia, in less than twenty years, between the NAACP and Malcolm’s human rights activism?  The answer began to unfold in the archives.  The Cold War and anti-communism led conservatives, the Southern Democrats, the State Department, and many white liberals to link human rights with the Soviet Union.   For example, the basic right to health care became demonized as “socialized medicine.”

Bourgeois Radicals: The NAACP and the Struggle for Colonial Liberation, 1941-1960 (Cambridge, 2014) also emerged out of the archives.  Nearly 40 years of scholarship asserted that because of the Cold War and President Truman throwing some civil rights crumbs to the Association, the NAACP turned its back on anti-colonial movements.  That story had been repeated so often, it was just taken as fact.  Gospel.  Well, when I was finishing up Eyes Off the Prize, I made one last run through the NAACP Papers at the Library of Congress, to ensure that I hadn’t missed anything.  I looked at the finding aid again, but for the first time really saw it.  There were all of these boxes marked “Africa”!  If the NAACP turned its back, I thought, what was it doing with all of this correspondence that took up box after box after box?  I was curious (nice word for “nosy”) and peeked in one of the boxes although it was not on my research agenda for that week.  There was this letter, dated 1949, two years after the NAACP had supposedly abandoned colonial people struggling to be free.  The note was from Abdullahi Issa, the head of the Somali Youth League, thanking the Association for all of its help in the United Nations to keep Italy from regaining control of that colony.  I was stunned.  This wasn’t supposed to be.  The NAACP was not supposed to be engaged in this at all; everybody said so.  Once I put Eyes Off the Prize to bed, I began work to uncover what the Association was doing.

It turns out they were “inside” fighters; working the halls of power and in the bureaucracies to delegitimize colonialism and empires.  They systematically maneuvered to change what had been a source of status and power into something with so much baggage and opprobrium the European powers were forced to eventually jettison. (Note it wasn’t as smooth and glib as that sentence, but increasingly in the UN, Britain, France, Belgium & co. were on the defensive.)

2. The NAACP was very persistent in lobbying the State Department for more representation and inclusion in the Foreign Service. In fact, Edward R. Dudley, the first African American ambassador, was tapped by Walter White, the head of the NAACP at the time, to represent the U.S. in Liberia. How important was the NAACP in getting more representation in the State Department?

Ambassador Edward R. Dudley                 Photo Credit:                    Amistad Research Center

Ambassador Edward R. Dudley

               Photo Credit:                    Amistad Research Center

The NAACP asked out loud and repeatedly how the United States, in taking on the Soviets, could strut across the global stage as the Jim Crow Leader of the Free World?  It was an oxymoron.  If the United States wanted to model what a thriving democracy looked like, particularly to a world that was overwhelming comprised of people of color, then the Foreign Service could not be hampered by racial discrimination. In short, the nation’s representatives needed to be representative of the nation. That was easier said than done, which gives some indication of how entrenched racism was – even in the face of a national security imperative.  As Michael Krenn so beautifully laid out, the State Department had its own version of the chitlins’ circuit, which were the limited number of nations where African Americans could be posted.  Liberia was one of those nations.  

3. The racial violence and segregation between the 40's and 60's really called into question the legitimacy of American democracy and freedom. Do you think this crisis of legitimacy is still relevant today?

           Photo Credit: Nation of Change

           Photo Credit: Nation of Change

Absolutely.  While the military and economic might of the United States are not to be discounted, what makes those more fungible is the nation’s soft power – the notion of a city on a hill, of the Land of Opportunity, of a rights-based society.  Yet, one dead black body after the next – Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Aiyanna Stanley-Jones, Kathryn Johnston, Michael Brown, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorsimond, Jonathan Ferrell, Sean Bell, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, Walter Scott . . . . . . Has led the British newspaper, Guardianto begin to document the number of deaths at the hands of the police in the United States.  And even though his hands are blood-drenched, President Rodrigo Duterte pointed to all of the African Americans slain by the police and dared President Obama to even broach the subject of the killings in the Philippines. 

The multiple deaths, the overwhelming refusal of the justice system to indict or find guilty, and the racial violence at rallies for Donald Trump, have caused many in the international community to question what is happening in the United States. 

4. Why do you think it's important to tell these stories?

The National Museum of African American History opened this weekend. On stage with the president was the daughter of a man who had once been enslaved.  We are still in living memory of chattel slavery.  The stories of struggle, hardship, achievement, honor, and victory are the threads that weave together this tapestry of America.  Without these stories, the fabric is weakened, there are holes, and the margins are frayed and become even more tattered.  A nation’s history is silenced without these stories.

5. What are your current projects?

I have a shorter piece on the politics of respectability.  I’m starting a new book project on African Americans and Haiti, Congo, and Nigeria in the 1960s.  I’m also finishing up an article on the collaboration between the NAACP and the African National Congress to take down a series of World Bank loans to apartheid South Africa in the early 1950s (well before the divestment movement).

6. Since we are making a documentary, we can't end the interview without asking this central question: What is your favorite documentary film and why?

Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Here you see the power of the seemingly powerless non-violently topple a corrupt, blood-thirsty regime.  Women, undaunted by educational or religious differences, banded together to stop the civil war in Liberia and oust President Charles Taylor. 


Carol Anderson is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of African American Studies at Emory University.

You can find her work here.

Look for more Meet the Advisors posts in future FLOWSTATE Stories.

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Writing Doesn't Have to be a Blood Sport

When I was 23, I began a PhD program in Sociology at New York University.  I had loved every second of my undergraduate experience and thrived in my social science classes.  The logical step seemed to be to just stay in school forever.

It started the first semester. Assignments for seminar papers due the end of the semester rolled in and I began to panic. While I attended every class, threw myself into the culture of the department and tried my best to keep up with reading three to four academic books a week, I froze when trying to write a graduate school paper.

Today, I write for a living. I draft scripts for a range of film and interactive projects, as well as business and fundraising proposals, website copy, and now for this blog.  I now find joy in the writing process and I love it when a good editor digs deep into a piece and makes it tighter.  I never fear feedback.  I appreciate it. 

The revised script outline for documentary,  The Last Song Before the War,  which I directed, co-wrote and produced with Leola Calzolai-Stewart and Andrea Papitto. 

The revised script outline for documentary, The Last Song Before the War, which I directed, co-wrote and produced with Leola Calzolai-Stewart and Andrea Papitto. 

I reflect from time on time on who am I am now as a writer and who I was 15 years ago in graduate school.  While I managed to eventually get those papers out, I typically didn’t even read the faculty feedback out of embarrassment.   Ultimately, the experience became so unpleasant to me that I left the program four years in and just shy of finishing my dissertation proposal.  I had fallen in love with producing for film and knew this was the career for me. The thought of struggling alone over a dissertation for several more years felt like a pathway to anti-depressants.

I see now that the biggest hurdle in my success as a scholarly writer did not have so much to do with intellect or attention span as I started to believe in graduate school, but rather that I didn’t understand what the final product should look like. Nor did I know what the point of the assignment was.   Was I expected to come up with some brilliant thesis about everything we learned that semester?  Was this just a way for the professor to know I had read the material? To this day, I question if a twenty-page paper is the best way to learn. What if students were required to write reviews of each book they read, or take an exam at the end which required more intellectual synthesizing of ideas than regurgitation in a long paper.  What if we learned how to write journal articles and op-eds? In the real world, good writing is praised for its purpose and brevity rather than length.

When I was in undergrad at the University of Denver, I had a fantastic sociology professor who would leave, in the library, three to four of the best examples of  class assignments from former students.  I would study these and use the structure and writing style to help me formulate my thinking.  In graduate school, there were no examples that I knew of.  When all your classmates and faculty are the smartest of the smart kids, asking for help feels like a sign of weakness or worse, inability.   Clear expectations can remove a lot of unnecessary anxiety. 

What I love about writing for film and video is exactly that -- there are templates, structures, goals and distinct audiences in mind. You know that one page equals about a minute on screen.  Early in my producing career, I was lucky to have mentors, bosses, and colleagues who coached me in the process of writing for film.  Every piece is different, but my process is now the same -- I do my research – sometimes it’s reading books and articles, other times it’s conducting interviews. Listening to  music for the piece can jog ideas. I then think and sleep on the topic for a day or two.  The best advice I ever got was to visualize the experience first, then write. The visualization is the best part and most effective.  The actual writing doesn’t take much time. It’s the pre-writing, imagining, and researching that make the words flow.   When it works on paper, it works on screen and that is deeply satisfying. 

One of the things I am most proud of here at FLOWSTATE Films is the time we spent creating a transparent process for working with our clients.  Before we ever deliver a script, special attention is spent understanding how they see themselves, what their expectations are for a video, and creating a dynamic where we are working together to create the best product.   After all, writing is a collaborative sport.

To learn more about our collaborative process visit the OUR PROCESS page of our website.

FLOWSTATE STORIES is a bi-weekly blog about the creative process behind filmmaking, finding flow, and an honest look at female entrepreneurship.  

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7 Reasons Why I Meditate

I suffer from mild anxiety. I’ve been dealing with it for years. Induced by work, relationships, health, and random spells of I-have-no-idea-why. I’ve occasionally treated it with doctor prescribed medications but the most effective medicine for my anxiety has been -  meditation.

When I got pregnant in 2015 and had to stop taking any anxiety medications I recognized the immediate need to get it under control. That’s when I started focusing more on meditation and mindfulness. It was difficult at first, five minutes of meditation would feel like twenty. My mind wandered all over the place and I would want to open my eyes every 30 seconds. But with persistence and forcing myself to do it regularly (every day) it became easier and I’ve become a true believer in its benefits.

I now meditate every morning for anywhere from 10-25 min. I use two meditation apps Insight Timer and Headspace. I alternate from guided meditations (where someone talks you through the meditation) to self-guided with just music or nature sounds. It has helped me in all aspects of life including how I approach, think about, and communicate in my business.

Below are 7 key ways in which meditation has helped me in both my business and personal life.

1. I am more motivated.

I meditate around the same time every morning. It’s become part of my morning routine, just like washing my face. When I’m done, I’m ready to face the rest of the day. It’s the last thing I do before I start my work day so it helps me put things in perspective and prioritize what I need to get done. I feel an energy that I’ve gotten from being still and giving myself the head space to deal with whatever anxieties, concerns, or obstacles that may lay in front of me that day. It makes the things on my to-do list more approachable.

2. I am more calm.

Learning to focus on my breathing has done wonders for my ability to calm myself when I’m feeling any type of overwhelming emotion – anger, sadness, anxiety, frustration. If in the midst of that strong emotion I can take a few long, deep, slow breaths, nine times out of ten I can get through the peak of that emotion faster, with much less intensity and alter my reaction to that emotion.

3. I sleep better.

I used to have insomnia. I would wake up and stay awake for hours because my mind raced. Now, because I am learning how to calm my mind through meditation I fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and average 7 hours a night. (I’m also lucky enough to have an awesome 4-month old who sleeps through the night!)

4. I am more focused.

Meditation allows me to have more clarity in my goals both daily and long-term. In those 10-20 min in the morning it gives me an opportunity to step outside of whatever is holding on to my thoughts and attention and causing me to overthink. It slows me down and allows me to see more clearly.

5. My relationships benefit.

From my relationship with my husband, daughter, parents and business partners. All my relationships are benefiting because I’m learning how to react less and listen more and to understand how my own reactions influence and affect others.

6. I’m happier.

Meditation is the practice of mindfulness. Being more mindful allows me to appreciate things and have perspective on situations that I might have been blind to before because I was lost in the “what-comes-next” mindset. Always waiting on or anticipating the next thing instead of being in the moment. Mindfulness reminds me that “now” is happiness. Now, in work, now in my family and now in my friendships.

7. It gets me to a state of Flow faster.

Since I started meditating regularly it’s much easier to get myself to a creatively motivated and calm, focused state of mind. I feel that sense of excitement and drive that pushes me forward more regularly than I did before. That in and of itself is exciting and keeps me coming back to it every morning. This type of feeling is what I need to get into my own personal flow state of mind.

When I finally got over the hump of pushing myself to meditate every day (which took about 2 weeks of everyday practice) I was hooked. This doesn’t mean I don’t still have an angry outburst, get frustrated, have an emotional overreaction or get stressed. I’m far from monk status! But I am slowly teaching myself the tools to have less of those reactions, to have more productive and thoughtful interactions and to focus as much as possible on being present and mindful in my day-to-day life.


Rachell Shapiro

If you are interested in starting meditation but think it might be too hard or aren’t sure where to start, I recommend just starting with setting a reminder on your phone three times a day to stop what you are doing, close your eyes and take five slow, deep, diaphragmatic breaths. This is the basic foundation of meditating, and that alone can help reset you in the moment and calm you down. Once you master deep breathing, starting to meditate for two to five minutes a day might seem more approachable. 

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Meet the Advisor: Michael Krenn, Author of Black Diplomacy

Director, Leola Calzolai-Stewart, traveling in Florence, Italy. Leola and her family have lived in Belgium for the past three years.

Director, Leola Calzolai-Stewart, traveling in Florence, Italy. Leola and her family have lived in Belgium for the past three years.

The original idea for Black Diplomacy came up a few years ago when I was having a discussion with my husband, a Foreign Service Officer for over 15 years, about the contributions of black diplomats in the State Department. He knew that the African American men and women who served during the the early days of the Cold War paved the way for black Foreign Service Officers like himself to be of part of a very elite and closed off profession.

These early diplomats, like those featured in Black Diplomacy, faced higher barriers to admittance into the Service, limited career possibilities, and outright racism in the workplace. My husband was afraid their stories, their contributions, and their experiences would be lost as time went on and these diplomats began to pass away. He kept saying, “Leola, this would make a great film.” He handed me Michael Krenn’s book, Black Diplomacy: African Americans and the State Department, 1945-1969. I became immediately fascinated by the early culture of the Foreign Service--its elitism and how that elitism worked to subtly and not so subtly keep African Americans out. This led me to learn more about the lives of Edward R. Dudley, Terrence Todman, and Carl Rowan--how they navigated that world, and, eventually, conquered it. My husband was right. Telling these stories would make a great film.

While our project uses Black Diplomacy as a working title, it owes its genesis to Krenn and his research. Michael has been one of the project’s earliest and most ardent supporters, always offering to help and always game for a last minute insight or quote when I was up against a funding application deadline. When it was announced last week that the project received scripting support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), I decided this was a good time to start introducing the advisory team behind the project, a small group of scholars at the top of their field, researching the intersection of race, international relations, and civil rights. This team was critical to our success with NEH. I thought it would be appropriate to begin with introducing Michael whose work helped shed light on the little known history of African Americans in the Foreign Service.

Professor, Michael Krenn, Author, Black Diplomacy

Professor, Michael Krenn, Author, Black Diplomacy

Q. I remember during our first conversation you described the start of your research for Black Diplomacy as almost being an accident. What led you to write Black Diplomacy exploring the history of African Americans in the State Department?

I came across the topic for Black Diplomacy quite by accident.  While I was doing research on another book at the Eisenhower Library I came across a State Department memorandum from 1949 entitled, “Countries to which an Outstanding Negro might Appropriately be sent as Ambassador.”  It was certainly an eye-opening document:  the only “outstanding Negro” that could be found was Ralph Bunche; “appropriate countries” were also in short supply. Since I always had an interest in the impact of race on U.S. foreign policy I decided to write up a brief research note on the African American presence in the Department of State since World War II.  I ended that piece by saying that I hoped it would serve as a “spur to further research”—and then decided that maybe it should spur me!

Edward R. Dudley

Edward R. Dudley

Q. You had the opportunity to do one of the last interviews with Edward R. Dudley before his passing in 2005. What was compelling about Dudley and what do you see as his impact on the State Department?

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to do one of the last interviews with Edward R Dudley.  He was a fascinating individual, even aside from the fact that he was the first African American ambassador in the history of the United States.  Prior to meeting with him I had already done an immense amount of archival research on his time with the Department of State and discovered that not only was he an extremely effective American representative to Liberia, but that he was instrumental in breaking up what was known as the “Negro Circuit”—the extremely limited number of posts to which African American diplomats were confined prior to World War II.  Without his forceful efforts, it is doubtful that much would have been done to alleviate the problem.  What was most striking about Dudley was his self-effacing attitude about his role—he simply viewed it as something that needed to be done and, so, he did it.  I think, too, that while he was justifiably proud of his work as a diplomat he viewed it as just one of many accomplishments during a lifetime of noteworthy effort.

Carl T. Rowan with President John F. Kennedy (Credit: JFK Library)

Carl T. Rowan with President John F. Kennedy (Credit: JFK Library)

Q. Why is this history relevant today?

I think that the history of African Americans in the Department of State is important on several levels. First, it adds another layer—and one that is often overlooked—to the overall history of the struggle for civil rights and equal opportunity.  People such as Dudley were, in fact, pioneers in an inhospitable work environment and their story deserves to be heard.  Second, examining the role of African Americans in the Department of State, particularly during the Cold War, adds an important new level of understanding about how America’s civil rights problem became an international issue.  Finally, given the world in which we live today, it is important for us to understand that issues of race and ethnicity did not suddenly arise after 9/11 and that they continue to impact America’s relations with the world.

Q. What is your current research?

I am currently finishing up a book on the history of U.S. cultural diplomacy from the time of Thomas Jefferson to the use of what is being called “hip hop diplomacy” today.  I’m also working on a historiographical piece on race and U.S. diplomacy.

Q. Since we're working on a documentary, this question seems imperative: What's your favorite documentary?

I’m fairly eclectic in terms of “favorite documentary.”  I use the old PBS documentary, “Chicago 1968” every time I teach my course on the Vietnam War (and its portrayal of the fraying and rending of the American political system seems quite timely for today’s students).  But I also enjoy those documentaries that focus on U.S. culture, such as the recent one (also shown on PBS) dealing with Orson Welles’s famous (or infamous) “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast from 1938.

Michael Krenn is a Professor in the Department of History at Appalachian State University.  You can find his work here.

Look for more Meet the Advisor interviews in future FLOWSTATE Stories posts.

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Six Podcasts For Creative Entrepreneurs

About two years ago, I, along with the rest of the country, caught the podcast bug. I couldn’t stop listening to long-form content in the car, washing dishes, walking my dog, any chance I could, I had ear buds in my ears.

I also consider myself to be in a constant state of non-stop learning – I’m always seeking out books that will improve my skills in a range of topics from, health, leadership, business acumen, filmmaking, parenting. So when I found that I could listen to these topics at a much faster rate than reading, I became obsessed.  Much of this obsession coincided with the creation of FLOWSTATE Films. Which led me to seek out podcasts focused on my two passions: entrepreneurship and non-fiction storytelling.  Anyone starting a business knows that you need a lot of advice and inspiration, so I decided to share some of my favorites.

Author of "The Four-Hour Work Week", "The Four-Hour Chef", and the "Four-Hour Body", Tim Ferris has long influenced my thinking around productivity, lifestyle design, and learning how to learn. His long-form interviews focus on people who are at the top of their field.  My one critique is that 90% of the interviews are with white men in business/tech. And yet some of his best interviews are those that deviates from that norm -- such as the episode with Jamie Foxx who talks poignantly about breaking racial barriers through music as well as his incredible life story being raised by his grandmother, or, the episode with Whitney Cummings who gets extremely vulnerable and opens up about pain in her past, working through co-dependency issues and using all of it to make HBO-worthy stand up comedy.

Tim extensively prepares for each interview and delves deep into the process of becoming excellent, such as: dissecting how chess prodigy Josh Watkins improved his skills by playing multiple chess matches at the same time; how to become a great leader through the eyes of combat veteran and highly-decorated Navy SEAL Jocko Willink and how Jon Favreau excels as a Hollywood director by meditating when conceiving of his next film idea, but then improvises on a movie set as big as Iron Man.  For freelancing artists, Chase Jarvis, CEO of Creative Live gives his advice on how to price and negotiate your work. Also check the interview with Neil Strauss on writing non-fiction, especially of the most personal kind. This is one of the few Tim Ferris episodes I listened to multiple times.

James is another entrepreneur-focused podcast. But, as opposed to Tim Ferris’ examination of excellence, James is radically honest about his own failures as well as his guests. He’s made and lost millions.  What you learn through his interviews and own story is that entrepreneurship is risk, loss, re-adjustment and eventually success.  I’ve taken a lot of risks in my career, and made several pivots along the way, and James Altucher helped me to see these changes were not mistakes to feel embarrassed about, but experiments that keep leading me on the right path.

One of my favorite episodes is his interview with Dave Asprey former tech executive turned health entrepreneur and creator of the Bulletproof Diet. Through this one interview, I began thinking about food as feeding my brain rather than my stomach and I completely transformed my overall health and well-being; pushing me further into working towards a flow state I could talk about the positive impacts of healthy fats and the negative effects of bad lighting and neurotoxins for hours that I've since learned from Dave Asprey, but this one episode out of every single podcast episode I have ever heard had the most definitive impact on changing my behavior and life.  I thank Jamest Altucher for that.

Also, check out his audio book, “The Power of No” about how and why to say no to the things you don’t want to do so that you can say yes to the things you really want.  Also a game changer for me, since I had a chronic habit of saying yes to everything and feeling overwhelmed and resentful. 

Founder of the NastyGal! retail empire, Sophia Amouruso combines a hilarious opening 5-10 minutes with comedian Liz Carey before interviewing some of the most successful women in business, media, non-profit leadership, advocacy, and government.  Most recently she interviewed Barak Obama’s Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco who quickly realized she had a knack for operations and logistics and worked her tail off starting as an intern for Bernie Sanders, then as a staffer for John Kerry, before then quickly making her way to the staff of a junior senator for Illinois.  She was 33 years old when she became Obama's Chief of Staff.  While I believe young people must learn from working at the bottom, this interview shows how you tackle entry-level work and self-initiate in order to earn more and more responsibility. There’s a great anecdote about how her boss, then Presidential-candidate Barak Obama, treated her when she made a huge mistake, another great lesson on leadership.  But check out all the episodes, especially if you are a #girlboss.

As a non-fiction storyteller, these podcasts below, for me, set the gold standard in how to tell a great true story.   

Ok, admittedly this is another business-themed podcast. What can I say, I love stories of entrepreneurs.  If you haven’t listened to it, Start-Up Season 1 is the behind-the-scenes account of the creation of a podcasting Network – Gimlet Media.  Every single vignette in the creation of their startup is something I and probably every entrepreneur have experienced. From awkwardly negotiating ownership percentages with your partners, to taking your best advice secretly from your spouse, to the biggest decision of all – what to name the business, Startup boldly goes into all the awkward moments of realizing your dream.  Since the whole program is produced by former “This American Life” producer Alex Blumberg the storytelling is deeply personal, honest, and funny.  Season 2 and 3 are also good, but Season 1 is the truest representation I’ve heard of starting a business.

Complete story-telling perfection. Starlee Kline sets out to solve everyday mysteries like, “How Tall is Jake Gyllenhall” and along the way takes you on magical mystery rides where she charmingly interviews strangers, friends, and experts to discover philosophical insights on the human condition much deeper than the original mystery suggests.  The best part is the enormous satisfaction she manages to gift to you when she solves the mystery. Also check out the episode, "Britney"

Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably know all there is to know about Serial.  If not, you’re welcome.

And then there was that one time that the Zach and Zack podcast invited me to be on their show!!! A huge dream come true for a podcast nerd. If you want to hear me talk about indie filmmaking, starting a business and crowdfunding tips, check it out!

I’m always looking for great new podcasts, and curious if you agree or disagree so hit me up on twitter @kileykraskouska and let me know what you are listening to and if you would listen to a Flowstate Films podcast? 

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