April 30, 2014

Floating on a Balloon of Books: An Inside Look at Black Balloon Publishing

by Britt Gettys

"The recipes function as a sort of found poetry,
if you will, a jumping-off point for a
consideration of how sound relates to flavor." - Esquire
Tucked away in the corner of an office building in Lower Manhattan sits Black Balloon Publishing, a small indie press dedicated to publishing the strange and unique.  Despite their small stature -- Black Balloon has only ten full-time employees and a handful of freelancers to it’s name -- it’s clear early on that this company is one of both heart and ambition.

Barbara Clevland Bourland, Black Balloon’s Digital Director, welcomed Pratt Students into one of the warmly lit conference rooms,  where doughnuts and stacks of books decorated the table.  She then proceeded to tell students about Black Balloon’s mission and way of business.  “We were founded back in 2010 by Elizabeth Koch, who you may know as the co-founder of Literary Death Match, and Leigh Newman, the deputy editor of Oprah Magazine.  We only published one book that year,The Recipe Project: A Delectable Extravaganza of Food and Music, which is basically a bunch of recipes by celebrity chefs, which we then turned into songs.  So a CD is included with the book.”  From there they expanded to publish two more books in 2012, and then even more in 2013.  With books featured in Publisher’s Weekly, and The New York Times, this independent publisher is only just beginning to grow.   

“Our first location was in a basement, which really wasn’t ideal for a press for a variety of reasons.  Now we have this little space, which is a part of We Work.”  We Work itself is a unique venture, and a perfect fit for a small company such as Black Balloon.  We Work is a collaborative community platform, which works to connect small businesses with each other by housing them in a communal office space.  But We Work offers so much more than a simple office space -- if spaces which include fully stocked kitchens, exotic conference rooms, and theaters can be considered simple, they are dedicated to providing start-ups with the resources and amenities necessary for success such as: health care, worker’s compensation, web hosting, marketing, travel, entertainment, and more.  Bourland states that, when Black Balloon was looking for a more permanent space, their only concern was cost: “can we afford to do what we need to do here?”  When faced with We Work, the answer was yes.     

"Robert Perisic is a light bright with intelligence and twinkling with irony, f
lashing us the news that postwar Croatia not only endures but matters."
- Jonathan Franzen
Aside telling us about what Black Balloon looks for in a manuscript and the premise of their upcoming novel, which centers on the personification of a few well known bombs, Bourland also encouraged students to seek out internships as a way of getting their foot in the door.  “We are always hiring interns, and what I personally try to do, as do other members of our team, is get them actual jobs in the industry when they graduate.  We’ve promoted one of our interns to a full time position here, and other’s I’ve set up with jobs in a variety of other publications.  Part of being a small press is that we have a more personal connection with our employees, and as a result have more of an ability to care for those employees. We have the time to focus on our interns and freelancers, more so than larger publishers, because our operation is relatively small." This is perhaps one of the biggest differences between independent presses and larger publishers, such as The Big Five -- the five major trade book publishers, all of which have headquarters in New York: Hachette Books, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster.
Upon showing students Black Balloon’s actual office space, which consists of a corner, office with wall to floor glass ceilings, and enough desk space to maybe accommodate five employees at a time -- most of their square footage goes towards housing books -- Bourland also encouraged students to pitch story ideas to their blog: The Airship.  “One of the best ways for a writer to jumpstart their career is by freelancing.  All that means is pitching article ideas to magazines and various media outlets, and if they like your idea they’ll tell you to write it for them and boom, you’ve been paid and got a byline.”  
"This illustrated novel about growing up poor near the swamps of South Florida has a lurid vibrancy. Its prose is lit from below, like a vaguely scummy in-ground swimming pool, and the author’s photographs — of ranch houses, randy adolescents, alligators, drug paraphernalia, fishing tackle, convenience stores — are what you might get if you combined William Eggleston’s talents with Terry Richardson’s." — Dwight Garner, The New York Times

As the tour drew to a close, Bourland was quick to give everyone her card, as well as the card of The Airship’s managing editor, and said “If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to email me!”  We all thanked her for showing us around, and as we were herded into the elevator, she waved us off with a cheerful wink.     

by Britt Gettys
April 30, 2014

April 23, 2014

You'll Get a Kick Out of This: An Inside Look at Kickstarter

Kickstarters in-house theater sits fifty
and is dedicated to the showing of various
kickstarter projects.
For the headquarters of the biggest crowdfunding website in the world, Kickstarter’s front door in Greenpoint, Brooklyn was disarmingly small and unassuming. Behind that plain wooden door is an international operation run by eighty-one employees divided into the following departments: Marketing, Design, Engineering, Community Services, Finance, Management, and Product Design.  This tour of Kickstarter was part of Pratt Success’s Gotham Tours, an extension of the Center of Career and Professional Development (CCPD).

As Pratt students, we came to Kickstarter to make connections and discover the behind-the-scenes magic that makes Kickstarter’s net worth close to eight billion USD. “This building was once an abandoned pencil factory”, says Victoria, a member of Kickstarter’s Outreach team. There are just three floors. The walls are a combination of wooden beams, unfinished concrete walls, and the smooth painted variety. Several windows overlook a Japanese garden in the center of the complex, making the space airy and open. Everyone looked productive and relaxed. Even some of the people who walked by gave us a smile, including Kickstarter’s Founder and CEO Yancey Strickler.

The high point was when someone asked if there was any particular major that Kickstarter favored when selecting candidates, because Victoria replied, “Just send us an email at jobs@kickstarter.com with your resume and portfolio along with a cover letter telling us why you’re interested in working with us”. Victoria went on to mention that the type of degree, if any at all, doesn’t matter. For a list of Kickstarter’s current job openings, Victoria told us to visit kickstarter.com/jobs.
Victoria (far left), tells students all about Kickstarter's small, but ambitious operation.
After the tour, Victoria insisted on shaking each one of our hands. We thanked her for showing us around the headquarters and headed out the door. As the wooden front door closed behind us, I caught one last glimpse of Kickstarter before it vanished behind that inconspicuous wooden door. 

Check out more images of the Kickstarter tour:

Kickstarter's main office space is nothing more than a long hall of large tables
where employees gather together each day to share ideas and projects.  

Don't feel like working in the main space, then move to Kickstarter's own little library for some scholarly quiet.  
This space is filled with quiet nooks where employees can plop down and get to work.

Victoria (far left) tells students all about the future rooftop parties Kickstarter is looking forward to hosting,
as a means of promoting croundfunding projects and the business itself.

At the center of Kickstarter's HQ is a courtyard garden, bordered by high glass walls,
which employees can look down on from nearly every room in the building.

A rooftop garden with a view.

by Adrienne Arthur
photos by Britt Gettys

January 29, 2014

Students @ Work with Sam Centore

Last Semester, Pratt Success Contributor Craig Alexander Hartl, met up with Sam Centore, a Pratt Film major who's project, Passing Ellenville, has been gaining national media attention.  A collaboration between Sam Centore and Gene Fischer, Passing Ellenville is an indie documentary which focuses on the lives of two transgendered youths, living in upstate New York, as they undergo the process of gender transition.

With major cable networks and media outlets like The Huffington Post already in support of the project, Pratt Success and Sam Centore discuss what what led Sam to explore the nature of transgender identity, as well as what it's been like for him to juggle working on an indie film and his Pratt career.

What’s your major?  Where are you from?

I’m a film major in my senior year at Pratt.  I’m from Manlius, NY originally, which is about four hours from the city.

Why did you come to Pratt?

I originally grew up liking films, like classic cinema, Alfred Hitchcock movies.  Then I became more interested in photography and drawing.  I won the National Scholastic Art & Writing Award in 2009, and everything seemed to be pointing towards fine art.  So Pratt was like a hybrid between film school and an art school.  I guess that’s the reason.

What professional projects or jobs do you have outside of Pratt?

Well, I spent a lot of time at Pratt working at a website called Swagger New York, and that kind of led to a few other blogs that I was making videos for.  I interned for a production company, Smuggler Film.  Then I started doing this project; it actually started as a school project, Passing Ellenville.  And then in the past, maybe, six months I’ve been making all this other material.

How did you come upon Ellenville, of all places?  More generally how did you get involved in this project?

I have a friend of a friend, his name is Dustin Lance Black.  He’s a screenwriter, and he was giving this talk at Rubin Museum of Art, Brainwave: Illusion.  I didn’t really know who he was, but I have this mutual friend with him so I went.  

Lance was giving this talk on personal narrative in history.  Gene, one of the guys I went with, was doing this photo series of these two kids in Ellenville, New York, and so I was like, “Oh my gosh, yeah, that totally ties in” to the lecture we were at: all about personal narrative, telling history and stuff.  And Gene’s like, “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing with the photo series,” so yeah.  It’s just kind of grown since then.  It’s just been observing these two people, three people now, in Ellenville.

Ok, so you’ve had a pretty successful Kickstarter campaign.  (At the close, Sam and Gene raised $15,770 of their campaign’s $5,000 goal.)  How did you guys come upon using Kickstarter?  What has your experience with it been?

We started to use Kickstarter because it’s been just the two of us with the project, paying for equipment, and in order to to make this project go anywhere, to distribute film and stuff (you know, their fees for submissions for festivals), and if we wanted to extend the project, funding was necessary.  So we started this Kickstarter to spread the word.  

I feel like with a film like this, where we’re telling these peoples stories in hope of inspiring other people, it’s all about getting the word out there.  There’s no point in making it if it’s just you and your friends who are going to see it in the end, you know?

So the whole goal of the Kickstarter was to make this project something we could expand upon.

With Kickstarter you only get the money people give if you raise your entire goal (or more).  Did you expect to have success with the Kickstarter, or were you just doing it more as a promotional thing?

I have friends who are filmmakers, and they set a “low” goal of raising ten thousand dollars.  I’ve never made a film before, so I thought five thousand dollars was high.  I really didn’t think I was going to make that.

Now it’s over double that!  

It’s been a lot of Gene and me reaching out to people: friends and family members, and then spreading out from there.  I wasn’t sure how Kickstarter worked originally.  I thought you just put it out there, you know?  And then people would donate money!  But it’s not like that.  You have to constantly keep working on it.

Of course, it’s not just about raising money but really spreading the word.   In the media there aren’t that many people who are covering queer issues like this in the news, who are discussing people transitioning [between genders].  I mean, it’s kind of, some Zeitgeist thing.  But it’s cool because I was able to share this information directly with people.

Out of everything you’ve done professionally, what are you most proud of?

I think it’s probably what I just described.  I mean, there is the, “Oh, cool, I’m producing a real film.”  But also, with promoting the Kickstarter campaign, it’s given me the excuse to shove it in people’s faces, people who might not normally listen.  On a personal level, that’s really, really nice.

By “it” do you mean trans issues?

Yeah, trans issues.  I just find, if you don’t know anyone who’s transgender and the only person you’re seeing is maybe on a Katie Couric episode…  It’s just like, this is just another person who just so happens to be transitioning.

Not like Tyra’s Fifteen Trans Women of the day or whatever the case may be?

Right!  I think the other thing the people I talked to in the movie were really angry about was this whole thing about being grouped in with drag queens, and the idea of this clown figure.  That’s what people go to, because the only person they know is RuPaul.  So it’s cool to break through that.

Does Passing Ellenville talk about the relationship between the drag community and the trans community?

Not specifically, there’s no one we interviewed in the film who’s a drag queen.  But the characters touch on it, just with their frustration with.  We’re asking them about how they’re treated.

We actually had this really interesting thing happen.  Ashlee, one of the main characters in the movie, was walking down the street and somebody who bullied her in the past, with his group of friends, came up to her and actually said, “Oh, we saw this video of you on YouTube and we had no idea that that’s what it was all about.”  And one of them was like, “I’m almost jealous that you have this life path that you’re on.”  They had this larger understanding of her from seeing that video and that felt really good.

It seems like you’re saying that you’re glad that by establishing a professional identity, you’ve been able to have resonance in the entertainment and larger cultural spectrum.  Is that true?

Yeah.  I feel like I’m learning professionally that it’s good to have different ideas about what I’d like to affect, and then realizing the actual steps, like a Kickstarter, that I can take in order to spread a message that I think is important.

Or another thing was we showed part of the video in a gallery show.  Gene had his photos and I had my video in this gallery called Smart Clothes Gallery.  It was up last month, and that was another thing: it’s good to make the video, but it was also really importantly I felt I was a part of this show with other artists. It was important to share in the community.  It was transgender, it was LGBTQ.

So you’re in your senior year at Pratt and finishing up, but right now you’re still a student.  What has your experience been with balancing academic and professional commitments?

I’m actually better off now, and I’m busier.  Before, I was doing jobs, they were necessary jobs (for the blogs and stuff) but I didn’t necessarily want to do that.  I was telling myself, “Oh, this is what I want to to…” because it was music and fashion and stuff that I was filming, but I don’t think it really interested me.  The cool thing is this topic really interests me, and the documentary project that I’m working on outside of school is feeding into my thesis project, so it’s actually working out.  It makes me feel like it’s a more valid, you know?  So it’s actually helping me, it’s not crowding my schedule or anything.

I feel like I’m really excited about my thesis now because it’s a part of this larger idea that I’ve been working off of.  It’s not just something that I’m really in my head about and trying to come up with.

Do you feel like doing this professional project has taken away some of the anxiety of your senior year?  Many people’s senior theses are how they sell themselves to the professional world, but your project already exists in the context of the professional world.

Absolutely.  It feels less precious, because I already made one video, and this is coming out of that video.  They talk a lot in the film department about how this doesn’t have to be-- and maybe this is getting too much into the specifics of film, but it doesn’t have to be your “grand masterpiece”.  You’re like, “Oh I’m going to make Citizen Cane for my senior thesis,” you know? But we’re making a short film, that’s what we’re being trained to do, we’re not trained to do feature film.  So to think about it as making a glimpse of this character in a short film, of knowing the limit of a short film form, not as something that’s at all hindering me; but knowing the limit of what a senior thesis can be, in the timeframe I have, with the resources I have, is actually really, super helpful.  It’s like I know the tools I have to use.

Interviewed by Craig Hartl, October 2013

December 10, 2013

The Pratt Sketchbook Biennial

The semester's winding down, projects and papers are being finished up, and we're feeling like our creative juices have been depleted.  Perhaps now, more than any other time of the school year, it's imperative that we creative types find an outlet void of pressure, yet filled with inspiration.  The Pratt Sketchbook Biennial is exactly that.    

In October 2013, Pratt's Center for Career and Professional Development launched the 2nd Pratt Sketchbook Biennial, a project focused on community and art. But this year's theme has a twist.  From now until the end of Spring the Pratt Sketchbook will function as a sketchbook relay, where groups of artists, writers, designers, and creatives from the Pratt Community come together and collaborate to fill sketchbooks generously donated by Strathmore Artist Papers.  Participants check out sketchbooks in 2 week intervals, fill them with anything they'd like, from collage to notes to sketches, and then return the sketchbook for another participant to check out.  Participants can sign up with a predetermined team, or work in a random sketchbook that will be passed around throughout the course of the project.    

The following are examples of work students and faculty members have already contributed.

Associate Director, Center for Career and Professional Development, Pratt Institute

Carolina Walters, Architecture, 2017

Carolina Walters, Architecture, 2017

Haele Wolfe, Writing, 2014

Haele Wolfe, Writing, 2014

Check out the Pratt Sketchbook tumblr to see more work.  If you are interested in participating in the project, learn more here, or drop by the Center for Career and Professional Development, on Pratt's Main Campus, East Hall 001.  

The Pratt Sketchbook Biennial will come to a close in Spring 2014.  All of the sketchbooks will then be put on exhibition at the Center for Career and Professional Development.