USC Annenberg professor Dan Birman, along with two alumnae, are charting new territory in both content and platform.
It used to be that a business was about profit, no matter the cost to employees, community and environment. But, an upcoming hour-long documentary being produced by Birman and his team asks viewers to imagine a world where a different model operates.
Birman is shining the spotlight on conscious capitalism, the idea that companies can do things differently. “If a company starts with a purpose, then all other things start to fall in place,” Birman said.
Businesses that subscribe to this idea would choose to reduce the disparity in wages between their managements and employees, be more environment-friendly, and charge fairer prices. Thus, they build sustainability by gaining the trust of consumers and the community.
“It sounds utopian in some respects, but it’s a great model to at least discuss,” Birman said.
The traditional profit-driven capitalist model is still very much entrenched, but this groundbreaking concept is fast gaining ground, which make the time ripe to open the discussion on the subject.
Working with Birman on the project are Megan Chao (M.A. Broadcast Journalism ’08), who is also an adjunct professor, and Susy Garciasalas Barkley (B.A. Visual Anthropology and Broadcast Journalism ‘06). Birman conscientiously chose his team because of his belief in the quality of USC Annenberg training.
“I’ve been producing television my entire career,” Birman said. “I’ve worked with people in the industry from every imaginable corner of the business. How we tell the story is the most important thing we can do. That means I’m going to look for people who’re going to work with me with that value set.”
A professor of the program himself, Birman can attest to the value the school places on ethical, fair, and compassionate storytelling.
“Conscious Capitalism” is being produced for online streaming service CuriosityStream, a Netflix-type of service for documentaries. Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks founded the platform in 2015 in the hopes of tapping into a market hungry for non-fiction content. CuriosityStream is already available on Roku, Chromecast, Amazon and AppleTV.
"CuriosityStream offers documentary fans around the world an opportunity to instantly watch the best nonfiction content anytime, anywhere,” said Elizabeth Hendricks North, president of CuriosityStream. “We want to provide a platform for accomplished filmmakers like Dan Birman to showcase stories that spark curiosity and reignite conversations about subjects that matter.”
Birman said CuriosityStream represents an exciting development in non-fiction filmmaking. “We’re teaching our students to be platform agnostic,” Birman said. “This project is right in line with that.”
He explained that in television programming, impactful content is everything. In contrast, documentaries for theatrical release have to deal with big social impacts.
“What’s exciting about CuriosityStream is that their content becomes a collection of ideas. It’s not linear. Anyone that goes into the site can find a rainbow of ideas,” Birman said. “We can click on anything we want and we’re going to learn something. It also doesn’t have to be an hour-long piece. It can be five minutes or twelve minutes. That’s what digital has opened up for us.”