Michael Tringe co-founded CreatorUp to empower anyone to have the opportunity to tell their story through video and all forms of digital media. He loves helping people learn, and watching the impactful stories and videos they’ve created after learning with us has been incredibly rewarding.
As a teacher in Morocco, he started a film program, and was inspired by his students’ stories. For the first time, Mike could see the world through their eyes. That changed him, and inspired him to go to film school at USC. For Mike, films and videos are not just entertainment. They are a means to get to know each other and ourselves. A way to communicate new ideas in a powerful and exciting way.
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(this is an approximate transcript)
Mike Tringe co-founded CreatorUp to empower anyone to have the opportunity to tell their story through video and all forms of digital media. He loves helping people learn and watching the impactful stories and videos they’ve created after learning with CreatorUp has been incredibly rewarding.
As a teacher in Morocco, Michael started a film program and was inspired by his students’ stories. For the first time, he could see the world through their eyes. That changed him and inspired him to go to film school at USC. For him, films and videos are not just entertainment. They are means to get to know each other and ourselves, a way to communicate new ideas in a powerful and exciting way.
I am truly excited to have Michael Tringe on the podcast with us today. He’s a dear friend going all the way back to elementary school. We participated in a number of activities together throughout our school years and graduated together in stayed in contact since then.
Andrea: Mike, it is an honor to have you here with us.
Mike: Well, it is an honor to be joining this. So thank you so much for the opportunity.
Andrea: Now, before we get to CreatorUp and the work that you’re doing to empower people’s voices through video, I’d like to go back to where it sounds like this part of your story begin. How did you get from Harvard to teaching school in Morocco?
Mike: Well, I really wanted to travel and I knew that I was a little burned out from college, so I applied to a lot of different international schools. Harvard had something called, the Harvard overseas teaching program, and so many of those schools had relationships with the university. That meant that it just a little easier to apply, that didn’t mean that it’s easier to be a teacher.
So I applied to schools all over the world and the one that seemed most interested in me was the school in Morocco. And I think you can appreciate the story, but the last time that I had been to Morocco was on our band trip to Epcot Center and that’s where we had, I think, our first O’Doul’s.
So my memory of Morocco was like you know this little Moroccan hat or whatever who was in the Epcot Center. I was thinking “That sounds like a fun adventure.” But in all seriousness, I really was excited about the chance to try something completely new and different. And that’s why I really was gravitating towards Morocco, even more so than some of the programs that I applied to.
Andrea: You didn’t go to school for teaching right?
Mike: Well, I didn’t and I did. I always knew that I enjoyed teaching and I did take some classes in educational psychology and behavioral science, and so in some ways like it was in the back of my mind. But you’re right, I was premed and I thought I was definitely going to be a doctor and this was, you know, I’d taken [unclear 03:09], so this was my break year where I was going to go teach for a year and that turned into three years and the rest is history.
Andrea: So you went to teach English is that right?
Mike: I did.
Andrea: And I remember you told us a story about somebody that you’ve helped find their voice through writing.
Mike: Yeah I know, I could name; his name is Karim, and I’m really among all of the students remember him because he’s a very quiet student and someone who I knew was intelligent and knew had something important to say but he never spoke up. You know, it’s intimidating, you’re in high school and my classes weren’t huge and most of the students really did know each other quite well since it’s a small school. But for whatever reason, he seemed too uncomfortable talking in front of the class.
So we worked on his writing and I could see that he was starting to get better at articulating his thoughts and then I noticed when I opened up the film class that he was the first one to join. And I thought “Oh this is interesting.” He wasn’t my first thought of a candidate. And man, when he picked up the camera it was just like he was singing.
He was really just like in his element and I think that taught me that this is a medium for, you know, sometimes people who don’t know what to say or how to say it but they want to share their vision in a visual way. So it was just really revelatory for me as a teacher to discover that this is a different form of communication that really works better for some types of students.
Andrea: That’s really powerful. Do you tend to notice these people that have something to say but they just don’t seem to be saying it?
Mike: Yeah. I think every filmmaker I ever met has this kind of sort of background where even YouTube creators. I could say just like maybe they’re not so good at communicating in traditional ways but this [unclear 05:21] thought or vision or idea that they have has to come out on the screen, somehow. That’s the journey that a lot of filmmakers and visual creators I think are on. This is one of “Okay, this is in my head, how do I get it out?”
Andrea: I’m curious. Did you always know that you were going to start a film course in Morocco, or it that something that developed overtime?
Mike: No. No, totally overtime. I had brought my own camera to Morocco and had been filming my own stories. That was really enjoyable for me and it was very natural extension as I was asked to teach a photography class or to coach track or whatever to say “Hey, you know, I have this camera, why don’t we start a film class, you know.” It seems like a natural thing I want to do.
The headmaster was very supportive. And he was a very special person because he started working at the school 40 years into his time there and I came in after he’d already been there for 40 years. He had done a theater program and he had this very famous plays produced. He had people like Tennessee Williams and Oliver Stone coming to this place [unclear 06:43]. And I was like “Who is this person?”
But he was from the Deep South and very connected to literature and plays, and so he was very supportive of the film program when it started even when we were getting this max with 4 gigabytes and one camera that cost $4,000 or whatever.
Andrea: Just for context, approximately how long ago was this?
Mike: 2001, so it’s 16 years ago.
Andrea: So video and using video anywhere outside of your home videos, I think was still really a new idea, right?
Mike: Yeah for sure. It wasn’t really even until, I would say platforms like YouTube came along later when it really became a thing because if you’re going to do more with other than like send it off to festival or share with your family like a slide show.
Andrea: Yeah and the barrier to entry who’s just starting something like that is so much [crosstalk]. You said that you had this sort of revelation in Morocco that film was a big deal, when did that translate into your own personal like “I want to learn how to do this better?”
Mike: I think it’s a very deep question but I think that most of what I realized when I was there was there was I was pretty frustrated with my ability to communicate. I spoke English. I never know how to speak Arabic and so part of it was like “Wow!” And for three years I’m not able to express myself outside of the classroom, and so I have gone better with my Spanish. They spoke Spanish there and I studied French and studied some Arabic.
So I really worked very hard at my capabilities for any language. And I still felt really limited and I was like “Hmm, there’s something about video which is very universal.” I mean you can watch it and see it and experience it, and sometimes there are subtitles and sometimes there are not. But to me, I really saw it as a universal communication tool and one which allowed me to access through the eyes of my students. They’re used of their culture and for my own perspective; I was able to share how I saw the world. And so, I think for me, it was like that desire to really learn another language or visual language.
So I started going to festivals more and sort of experiencing the world of film festivals and people telling stories. And I really feel, they just fell in love with that because I think [unclear 09:39] you than anyone. I feel the same sort of need than I do to kind of deeply communicate with people. And really we are most vulnerable when we’re making films or telling stories for others to see. So for me, I was just really attracted to that as a communication medium and a tool and experience.
Andrea: I’m curious about what you said, “I’m most vulnerable when making something for somebody else to see.” What do you mean by that? Vulnerable because why?
Mike: Well, it’s the artists’ dilemma, right? Which is you’re sharing ideas that you might not normally be able to share in conversation or think about when you’re writing down your deepest thoughts and then you translate those into stories. And then you have a team of people that comes in and helps you tell that story because filmmaking involves other people. And then it goes on to spreading somewhere or out into the world.
So I can see how it’s scary. You know, it’s very scary especially in today’s day and age where media is pervasive and things [unclear 10:55] and I was like “Oh my God, can I really do this? What’s gonna happen? Where it’s gonna go? What are people gonna think?” And all these thoughts and I remember going in festivals and hearing people talked about my films afterwards. And being both like on the edge of seat wanting to know what they said and so being like “Don’t say anything bad about it,” you know, which inevitably happens, some people like it and some people don’t.
Andrea: You know, I haven’t thought quite like this before but I haven’t really done a lot with video myself yet. I think someday I’d like to, but I’ve just been trying my voice in writing and audio. And what I have not done is other than my editor for a book, I have not really submitted myself to somebody else’s win as far as, not their win but maybe their artistic expression of what I’m trying to create.
So I can imagine what it’s like to pull a team together around your own story, around the idea that you’ve developed and then somehow trusting. I mean, I know that you’ve done directing but is that part of the vulnerability too, also just like putting other people and giving them that power?
Mike: Oh for sure, absolutely! And I love being in film’s school because it was very supportive and I think that’s why people go because you really do feel like you’re on the Island of Misfit Toys. It’s like everyone’s there to do something and say something and you want to help them to that because they want to help you do that. So in a lot of ways that’s what you’re paying for to be a part of this community of supporters where’s there’s no judgment and there’s really an openness, yet finding people who are going to get it is hard or it can be.
Andrea: So we’ve kind of moved on to film school then you went to USC, and do you want to share anything about your experience there?
Mike: From an academic perspective, I was all in. I mean, I loved every class and learned so much and I was excited about learning about the entertainment industry, meeting new people, and met some really incredibly talented people. It was like a challenging period though because, on the hand, I was going to school. And on the other hand, I was making films with friends on my own for homework on nights and weekends. And then I was working two or three jobs, so all in student’s paycheck.
So for three or four years, I was really sort of subsisting and I know that’s kind of like whatever grad student says but I was surprised by how hard it was. And I think a lot of people were like “Oh film school that sounds so funny, sounds so easy.” It’s like “No, you’re driving and unloading 2-ton [unclear] trucks and there’s a lot of like physical-ness to it and emotional-ness to it.” And probably one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done you know and it just last a long time.
But having said all of that, it was cathartic in a lot of ways because I was able to write stories that I’d never been able to write and have some success with what I was doing. I had films start to get into the festivals and people started to recognize my talent as a writer, as a director, as a producer, and all of that was really made it all worth it. You really don’t think about the long hours with a low pay. It was more about “Wow, this is really exciting!” The shocking part came at the end when it was like “Okay now, we’re moving into this exciting industry.” And then the industry all changed and all the rules have changed and it’s just kind of like starting all over again but not in a bad way.
Andrea: So when you say the industry changed, was that something that was happening from your experience going from grad school to the industry or was that in general a big change that was happening in the industry?
Mike: It was in general, it wasn’t just my experience. I mean, the digital revolution has happened. This is a sort of the reason I started this company. But in general, the business models were changing; who they hired to do things was changing because the business models were changing. So it used to be okay, well you “break into Hollywood and you get discovered and hired in the other group.” That make it sounds a little easy but at least it was kind of like a system for 30 years you know.
Andrea: And you go into film school thinking that’s their system that you’re going in to.
Mike: That’s a system, yeah that’s the system. I think every industries kind of been disrupted in one way or the other, so that system have changed. Basically, the rules forced you to move into [unclear 16:03] models a little faster. So in order to get funding to do anything, and in that we’re talking about crowdfunding more than getting a production company, to invest in you because original stories are not what studios were looking for. I mean, the big realization for me was like “Wow, what of superhero movies going on?”
Yeah, because the studios were like “Yeah, we’re not just taking risk anymore.” They fired all of the studio heads and they replaced them with marketing directors and that was just a thing because all the studios were required by conglomerates. So no longer was art as important as it once was to the system. Luckily, YouTube happens, Instagram, and Facebook so people have these other outlets, right and crowdfunding happened.
Mike: But in that netherworld from 2008 to 2012, which is when I was working. After I graduated, all these shifts were happening. And I think all of us were really like grasping for what’s the pathway here. You know, one student asked “What what do I do with that?” “I don’t want to take that and make it a thing,” so…
Andrea: It’s so amazing that you were in it right in that time and those things were changing, you were trying to figure out what to do then that eventually led to the new steps that you were going to take. So what was it about industry then that led you to move towards starting CreatorUp?
Mike: Well, it was hindsight. I think looking back at what I saw and experienced in wanting to change things. I didn’t like a lot of things that I saw. And I think you know me well and you know that I’m very principled person when it comes to making things feel right. I saw a lot of privileged in the system in terms of who was given access and why, and I thought back to my personal story, a gay person who had come out and was making and telling gay stories and realizing “Well, that’s not really marketable.”
I mean, it was in some ways starting to break out with things like Brokeback Mountain. And then I think with Moonlight winning an Oscar, it has come to kind of full circle. But at that time, I just realized that for me and other minorities or other voices of people who don’t have as much money or access, what happens to them? And always, those were the stories that need to be heard.
So for me, it was a mission about how can I take the knowledge that I have learned in four years in film school as I was interning and working? Or maybe closer to 10 years in the industry, how do I take that and give it away and make it accessible and give people tools? And so for me that became more important even in telling my own story was “How do I help other people tell their stories?” Because I feel like I have told my story, you know, I have said what I wanted to say and will continue to do that but how do I help other people do that.
Andrea: When you think about the minorities’ story that ideally you were just sharing that does the story that you really need to hear, why is it so important to make sure that those stories are told?
Mike: It’s so, so important. It’s about representation. We go up in Nebraska and we knew what we could see that was that, right? Whatever was in front of or you could read about, but I think especially at this time in our nation, in our society, we need to see more. And if we’re not able to see and hear those other stories then out of sight, out of mind. It’s almost like those other people don’t exist because we’ve never heard about them. We don’t know about them and maybe the reason we don’t know about them is because they’ve never been given that opportunity to share who they are.
Andrea: You know, I also think that empathy…that’s one of the things that were given when we can really experience somebody else’s story through video, especially…
Mike: Oh for sure.
Andrea: I’m more able to really understand somebody else and their perspective and what they’re experiencing and I’m seeing their facial expressions and I’m hearing the tone of their voice. And seeing their perspective I guess to film in a way that even writing doesn’t really quite allow.
Mike: Absolutely! I mean that was like Directing 101 for me in the first semester of film school was that like this emotional element. And this empathetic element is the thing that sort of makes this medium different.
Andrea: You know, respectful dialogue is one of my core principles that I’m longing to promote and get people behind, because obviously there’s demonization of other people all the time. And it’s very difficult to move forward in any kind of way when we can even be respectful to one another.
So empathy and being able to understand other people what’s going on with them, what’s going inside of them and they’re real people. The other people are real people and not just…I think it seems to help me when I think of myself and my experience of film, it helps me get in touch with my own humanity in a lot of ways and what I feel and what I’m thinking. It makes me think more about that.
Mike: On that note, I have to just mention because a friend of mine was involved in this project. There’s a project called Project Empathy, and it’s actually uses virtual reality to help you experience…I mean their tagline is Help us see the world through the eyes of another. So it might just be, you know, I know virtual reality as well is starting to be an extension of filming video in terms of what we’re able to experience in terms of other people’s perspectives.
Andrea: Yeah. So let’s move on to how CreatorUp got started?
Mike: Okay. Well, I think I can give you the idea side of it and I can tell you the people side of it. So from an idea perspective, it was about…I mean, looking back at my time as a teacher and knowing I enjoyed that and knowing I enjoyed film school and wanting to continue that and have that be something anyone could do. I think I mentioned this before but I worked in the admission office at USC. And I remember this, they were rejecting everybody maybe because there were such a limited number of slots or you know…
Andrea: That’s interesting.
Mike: I was like “Hmm, okay…well, a lot of people wanna go to film school, not everyone can get in and it’s so expensive because we all owed over $100,000.” So how can we change that a little bit? And at that time, other interesting shift that was happening was that education models were changing, right? So these massive open online courses were becoming popular. Salman Khan has started the Khan Academy and so our reaction in making things accessible was to start filming ourselves.
So we gather our friends together and said “Hi, you know about cinematography and you know about editing and started making courses and putting money in the internet, 25 bucks a month, all [unclear 24:45].” And that’s literally how it started. So we started as a consumer-focused website that had online courses around storytelling production, marketing, or crowdfunding.
And then as we were going along, we realized “Well, how we can make this even more impactful and more meaningful?” And so we expanded our online offerings to live classes and that soon became something companies wanted as well. So right now, we’ve gone from one, two, three people to 11 or 12 people working here. And we serve primarily schools and companies, but we also serve individuals. And we help people tell their story and use media to reach people with their ideas. That’s what we do.
Andrea: So when you’re doing you have companies, are you doing production work for them or are you teaching them how to produce?
Mike: Both. So I think you know, the people inside of those companies who need a lot of their staff who are working and most of them in the marketing department. So oftentimes, we are working directly with marketing departments to train them around best practices for next generation communication. The big industry trend that I just shared with you is that people are not watching as much TV and they refused to watch commercials.
So what do you do with that? Well, you actually have to make a change. You have to create content that people want to watch and that is the new method by which you reach people, you create value. You create education and you create entertainment. You create inspiration, so those three tenants or some of the tenants behind. But types of content happen to work well on YouTube, which by the way, is now being watched with a rate of 1 billion hours every day. So it’s a thing. It’s a real thing.
Andrea: Wow! How does one even bother getting started? How do you get over the hump of thinking, how do I do that?
Mike: Here’s a dirty little secret, everybody started somewhere and there is so much opportunity around who you are and what you know. And it’s the same thing your grandma told you, “You’re special.” You are, you’re a special person and other people will appreciate that specialness about you because you’re unique and that’s like an easy way of saying that every voice has an audience, every voice has a niche that they’re feeling.
So that’s the beauty of the diverse stories out in the world. We have been living in a broadcast world for a hundred years where it was really like a few channels and one distribution pathway and that has been revolutionaries and that’s great. That’s good for us.
Andrea: One of my mantras is your voice matters, but you can make it matter more.
Mike: Right. I see where you’re going. So the medium allows to amplify that and platforms across social media are one distribution mechanisms. They’re not the only ones, but technically it gets started because this is a technical medium and a lot of people are afraid of that technical element. I think that…yes, it has a small investment whether that’s educating yourself and some equipment or borrowing equipment.
So to get practical about it, you need to identify basically your process and your tools. So from the process perspective, it’s just about mapping out your ideas. I can recommend Evernote for doing that and not necessarily writing all the scripts down or thinking what’s going to be in every video. It’s some of the bullets around you know “What do you wanna say from a big picture perspective? What’s the mission behind your message?”
And then bullet out, what are the topics underneath that that you would want to talk about for let say 10 videos? Once you have those things then it’s about “Okay, well let’s get a camera that works.” DSLR camera or an iPhone could work with a road microphone or something that put into it so that your audio quality is good as well, and editing software which is really just kind of your visual storytelling tool.
You don’t want to do that directly through Instagram stories or Facebook Live with live audience just stream directly which is another medium. But if you want to kind of have that editing element into it, Adobe Premiere is a good tool.
Andrea: Adobe Premiere for both Mac and PC?
Mike: I think it’s probably the best one, the easiest one.
Mike: Yeah, the other element that I want to talk about in getting started this is just more about making time, finding a way signing a way that kick start what you’re doing. And what I found with anything new they’ve ever done is that requires help that requires other people. You know, they say when you go diving, you need a dive buddy?
Mike: I think need a buddy to keep you accountable and maybe to help in areas where you might not make it so good. Maybe there’s some compliment or skills that’s there around and somebody is good at organization and the other person is good at ideas. I don’t know but I think that’s helpful and I think getting involve in your local filmmaking community. That might not so far as you think.
I mean, a lot of towns and schools and cities will have film festivals and film organizations and you’ll be surprised really how accessible they are if you just walk in. In Nebraska, I know the Omaha Film Festival has a really great community, and I think there are festivals all over the state at this point.
Andrea: It seems like I’ve read some place or saw some place that you were doing some work with helping schools get into film a little bit or start a film program in their own schools. I mean, is that something that CreatorUp is involved to it?
Mike: Yeah, we do. That’s one of my favorite parts of what we do. So our course library can be made accessible, video textbooks about everything from cinematography to editing and writing. A lot of schools work with us to provide our curriculum in those materials to their schools.
And so at a base level, schools that don’t even have a program can literally plug in CreatorUp and we can have their instructors, their teachers whether they’re be English teachers or enthusiast teaching this as an extracurricular program, very similar to the type of program that I would have thought when I started high school when I was teaching.
So for that, we are literally plug-in-play solution for any school that does not have a program to have a program and that is one of the things that I want to emphasize is like “This is why we started the company to make this more accessible.”
Andrea: What is that someone needs to do to get started if they’re interested in using CreatorUp in their schools? And who would it be for? I mean, surely anybody could participate but it seems like this is really ideal for students, who, like you mentioned before might have something to say but aren’t sure how to express it. They might be in accelerated learning program but they might not. They might be somebody who just doesn’t know how to express themselves.
Mike: To answer your second question around, who is it for? Is it for teachers; is it for students and what type of students? I mean, it’s for both so we actually offer professional development training for teachers as well. And I really do believe that it’s critical for teachers to teach themselves how to use these mediums because they need to be creating more dynamic materials for the classroom. They need to be empowering their students to create video essays to get into college as an alternative method to turn in homework, whether it’s history or English or math or you name it. It’s another engagement tool for teachers to take their classroom to the next level.
And then on the student’s side, video and media making should be viewed in the same way that other critical skills are. Some people might say that coding is now a critical skill that students must have. But in addition to start learning a language or learning math, to me video should be right in the next. And I think it really just kind of gets either overlooked or people think it’s too artsy or this or that. But I think you and I both know the importance of this type of program, I mean with music or art that it has an emotional development of a student which is so important of that stage of your life.
Andrea: Absolutely! I know and another one as you go through life and just that ability to be able to express yourself in various ways. It seems like film is just a video or is just becoming more and more important culture in our social media [unclear].
Mike: Yeah, yeah and I think a lot of times people look at they’re like “Oh it somebody’s obsessed with the camera,” or something like that. But they don’t see that media and storytelling is also a community-building opportunity, because you’re starting to bring people together in ways that they’ve not been brought together before to think and talk about things that are uncomfortable sometimes. Or if not uncomfortable that are celebratory you know. So it’s just a really, really lovely nice medium to be able to bring people together as well.
Andrea: Great! Thank you for what you’re offering. I think it’s really powerful. And so if somebody wanted to get in touch with you or somehow use CreatorUp, do you just suggest they just go to your website? What’s the best…
Mike: Yeah, go to our website or you can have them email me directly. I’m in charge of a lot of these partnerships, and so just firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to start talking.
Andrea: Awesome! Alright, one last question, the aspiring filmmakers out there, somebody who might be a little bit more interested in actually utilizing film or video as their job, what would you recommend? Do you recommend going to some place like film school or where do you suggest they start?
Mike: You know, I think classes are good. I think classes are helpful to create structures and timeline and deadlines and get you to create projects. So whether that’s school or whether that’s something we’re doing or whether that’s filmmaking buddy, you really just have to start making things and showing them to people and getting feedback.
I think the best part about having a small community whether it’s in a school or outside the school is that you can improve. You can get better in a safe place because no one starts out perfect. You’re always going to make mistakes and you kind of have to be open to overcoming some of those challenges if you’re going to get started.
But once you have some videos whether those are promotional for a business or just your ideas, you can put them on Vimeo and then put your Vimeo links on your website and show people you’re real. And that’s when they’re going to hire you and pay you to do the work. So it’s as easy as that if that’s your video or resume but you have something to show.
Andrea: Thank you so much for sharing your story and your passion for video and giving people voice through video. Mike, I really appreciate the time you spent with us today and I’m looking forward to seeing more videos popped up because of CreatorUp. This is fun!
Mike: Thank you so much Andrea! I’m loving what you’re doing and thanks so much for having me be part of it.