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How I built a truly diverse and global team \ Aalok Rathod


My process of building a diverse team began in the Summer of 2016. I was taking a course in Quantitative Economics and Mergers & Acquisitions at Harvard University. It had roughly been a year since I established a theater group which later turned into a full-fledged media production company. I was contemplating the idea of having a separate division focused solely on short films. It would be an amazing opportunity to tell interesting stories in a bite-sized format.

I had always been an introvert growing up. It was difficult for me to talk to people. While I was in college, I took up dancing to express my emotions and vent out all the negativity. I trained in Hip-Hop, Salsa, and Contemporary for 3 years. I was pretty clueless going into making short films. I hadn’t studied the art or had any connection with the industry. But I had the desire to tell good stories. Those stories that are always happening around you but don’t command your attention. Also, I wanted to showcase the beauty and diversity of a multicultural perspective. Thus, I also wrote stories that came from my experiences and understanding of different cultures through my friends at Harvard.

Those dancing lessons gave me the opportunity to perform a lot on stage, and because of them, I understood what it takes to put on a good show and how to build a narrative into performance. Thus, when I decided to develop my first startup, performing arts was on the top of the list. I used my stage sensibilities to understand the psychology behind film making. I adapted my narrative style to suit the format of film making. I began my film making career with producing YouTube comedy sketches.

With absolutely no background or training in film-making whatsoever, I set out to produce and direct a short film set in 2025 that had the elements of the prison system and a murder mystery. In my search for the actors for the films, I met a German filmmaker named Nora Jaenicke. Nora is a proper filmmaker in the sense that she went to a film school to learn filmmaking. Though Nora found the idea of my short film interesting, she wasn’t keen on acting in it. However, she did connect me to her Italian friend who had acted in few Italian movies. I was surprised that she agreed to play the central character.

Needless to say, I quickly ran into production issues such as permissions, talent management, budget and time constraints. The logistics involved in making that film were quite complex, and since I was having difficulty managing people on the movie set, the movie got shelved. It was disastrous on multiple levels. I learned my lesson and realized that film making is an incredibly complex and collaborative process. I also learned that I was facing difficulty handling actors since they each came from different cultures. I had little time to build rapport with them, so there were a lot of creative differences. When I started this process, I never thought it would teach me such valuable lessons: I learned to get to know myself and my abilities, and most importantly, my weaknesses. Jumping in with both feet might not have been successful on paper, but it created a gateway for me that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Nora suggested that I begin by producing a short film as it would allow me to understand the process without being overwhelmed by it. Nora was looking for producers for her short film, and she pitched me the idea. I loved the script and setting of the film. And just like that, I was the producer of “Between Seconds.” A short film based on two people in New York who eventually find meaning and love in their life.

“Between Seconds” allowed me to experience film making first hand. I understood the sets, lights, costumes, camera, makeup, editing, marketing and PR involved in a typical film. Also, I understood the importance of planning and organization in a film project. The experience allowed me to gain deep insights into the intricacies of filmmaking and enabled me to grow as a creative director for my media company.

In addition to learning the process of film making on the sets of the movie, it also taught me an important thing about human behavior. I observed that across the world, everyone follows the same basic routine. People wake up, go to work/school, spend time with loved ones, eat food, and sleep. However, everyone does it in a slightly different manner. This variation in how everyone follows their basic routine adds color to our experiences, and that’s where the beauty of each culture lies. This revelation convinced me that the unique selling point of my short films should be the stories that manifest from different cultures. I realized that bringing people together through the art of storytelling is one of the most enriching experience I could have as a human being.

With this renewed confidence and understanding, I took an initiative to develop a separate division called Uncia Films, which would be solely focused on producing short films. It’s been a year since I met Nora and “Between Seconds” has gone on to win numerous Best Short Film awards at multiple festivals across the world.

I think there are two reasons why we were successful. One, we focused on telling stories that were deeply rooted in human emotions. We focused on stories that are often overlooked but are very interesting when explored through the lens of filmmaking. Second, we were able to bring together people from all over the world. This gave us wider reach and universal appeal. “Between Seconds” is a perfect example of it. The movie is made by a German filmmaker, produced by an Indian, was filmed in New York and had British and Middle Eastern actors. Because the stories are unconventional and the international crew brings their cultural perspectives to each story, we can entertain the audience in a unique way.

 

Uncia Films is currently producing a short film based on a real-life story of two Japanese musicians. The script was written by a Chinese writer and the film is currently being shot in Boston with an international crew that consists of technicians from USA, South Korea, India, and Russia. This project allowed me to bring together everything that I had learned on the sets of “Between Seconds”. Through multiple failures and intensive learning, I built a truly global and diverse team.

 

About the author:

I’m an entrepreneur based in Mumbai. I have co-founded 2 startups since November 2014. One is in Media Production and the other is in Micro-finance. I recently completed HBX Disruptive Strategy. I’m currently pursuing Economics of Emerging Economies and Judgement & Decision Making at Harvard University.

 

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