Today brands and media outlets have to push further and further to cut through the saturated digital market. In order to really reach and move audiences, it’s necessary to develop striking content that encapsulates imagery, sound, and story all in one, something digital content producer and director Ishita Srivastava is a proverbial genius at achieving.
A creative powerhouse full of brilliant ideas on how to spread stories and messages in a way that catches the public eye, Ishita tackles complex issues in a way that inspires her audience to not only care but to become agents of change. Ishita’s eye for digital storytelling goes back to her childhood when she was first surrounded by visual media through the photographic image. Ishita’s innate visual style and intuition for storytelling stem from her mother who started and ran the first ever photography archive in India. Although she joined a theater group at the age of 9, it was in college that Ishita discovered that she was far better at directing scenes than performing them.
“When I was in college in India, I ended up directing a play for the first time, mostly by accident, and realized that I had a much stronger instinct for directing than I ever had for acting. But whether it was from photographs my mother dealt with, theater I watched and directed, or all the movies I watched, the common thread that engaged me was visual storytelling that had the power to move people,” Ishita said.
With a passion for storytelling, Ishita paved the way for her own inspirational story by first immersing herself in a liberal arts education. After graduating from college in India with a degree in literature, Ishita decided to get a second undergraduate degree at Goldsmiths College in London where she studied media and communication. But it was crossing the pond to New York that shaped Ishita’s craft. In 2009, Ishita received her masters at Tisch, New York University in cinema studies and documentary production.
“After taking courses in photography, journalism, radio, fiction and documentary film, I realized that my heart lay with the genre of documentary and nonfiction storytelling. I was, and still am, deeply interested in people and culture, and the ways in which culture holds and facilitates social change and social movements,” Ishita said.
Ishita has dedicated her life to raising social awareness about injustices and marginalized communities around the world. Her work in producing and directing documentaries, short films, and interactive story campaigns has no doubt had an impact in the United States. Her talent may be the cause for such influence but her desire to craft stories that evoke empathy for issues like racism, gender inequality, domestic abuse, shines through. Years of creating thought-provoking content has made Ishita a master strategist and storyteller in her field.
This storyteller, cultural strategists, and warrior for social justice has only continued to open more avenues and spaces where artists, advocates, and organizations can collaborate. Most recently, as part of her role at Caring Across Generations, an organization focused on supporting caregivers and those who need care, Ishita has involved herself in creating a groundbreaking collective called Storyline Partners. As one of the founding members, Ishita has spearheaded the shaping of this new collective of social justice organizations that are working with Hollywood---writers, showrunners, and producer---to increase tv and film storylines about communities that have been traditionally been misrepresented, underrepresented or excluded from entertainment media.
“A group of us culture change strategists were brought together in October 2017 to share stories, experiences and lessons from working with writers and showrunners in the entertainment industry to ensure visibility and authentic, nuanced storytelling about the communities and issues that are the most vulnerable. At the end of that two-day retreat, we decided that we wanted to come together and form a semi-formal entity called Storyline Partners, through which we could pool our expertise and work with the entertainment industry to bring more stories about the communities and issues we represent into mainstream TV and film,” Ishita explains.
Creating a space that fosters dynamic, authentic and dignified stories, Storyline Partners’ members include organizations like Define American, the ACLU, Color of Change, and Harness led by America Ferrera. With more political, cultural and social awareness comes the rise of collectives such as this where constructive and strategic collaboration can lead to better representation, and better narratives. Storyline Partners members work with writers rooms of TV shows, reading and giving feedback on film and TV scripts. Ishita has played a leading role as they have hosted events for Hollywood creatives, that help raise awareness and generate interest in this kind of work. For instance, on March 5th, 2018 Storyline Partners and Writers Guild of America co-hosted an event at the Standard Hotel in Los Angeles that brought people from the social justice community and Hollywood together to bring more diversity and authenticity to the screens.
“We were all already doing this in some capacity, but felt that if we came together, we could do more to institutionalize and formalize this relationship between the social justice world and the entertainment industry and have greater impact and reach while doing what we were already doing, “ said Ishita about the power of Storyline Partners.
In addition to this, in Ishita is continuing to produce multimedia projects that move hearts and minds in her role as director of cultural change at Caring Across Generations. This work is building on her decade-long experience producing multimedia work across genres spotlighting immigration laws, gender inequality and violence against women--work that has made her an asset to the culture change field. Caring Across Generations advocates for caregivers and their families to live well and age with dignity Her most recent campaign for them is called #WeKnowYouCare.
“The #WeKnowYouCare campaign is asking men to join this movement to build a culture of care: a culture in which care is considered a strength--part of an updated, healthy sense of masculinity; and where the work of care is no longer invisible and under-valued. Beyond that, it is calling on people to see caregiving as everyone’s issue, a collective, social requires responsibility that needs a collective solution,” Ishita explains.
Exposing these heavy and depressing topics is not always easy. which is why Ishita is also working on a different approach. In an era where most people prefer to engage with light-hearted content, Ishita is working with comedians to explore using comedy for social change. She understands that to grab the audience's attention in this digital age means combining humor with the serious topics that are not easy to hear. Her new role at Caring Across Generations allows her to experiment in this space.
“I believe that in order to create social change, in addition to being moved by what are often sad stories, we must also be creatively inspired, and able to see a positive vision for the future we want to live in. Humor allows people the chance to look at an otherwise complicated and heavy issue with some lightness; it invites them into a more open conversation rather than have them enter into the issue with preconceived notions, political ideology, and often defensive ideas,” Ishita explains.
For the past year and a half, Ishita has collaborated with foremost comedy club and school, Second City, working with Kelly Leonard, the executive vice president of Second City, and his wife Anne Libera, director of comedy studies at Second City. Together they have developed an improv comedy workshop for caregivers. They also worked on a program called Brandstage , a live theater event that marries Second City’s improv-based content creation techniques with their expertise in leveraging human understanding and research in order to understand which specific narrative ideas about caregiving and aging would reach that audiences that Ishita wants to reach.
Another act in the works is a collaboration with comedian, Bethany Hall at the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University. They are developing a web series, Wrinkles & Time, a fictional, short-form web series of hilarious and compelling interviews between elders and their caregivers, that leverages humor to bring audiences into conversations about aging, caregiving, and intergenerational relationships. The goal is to encourage sharing, increase empathy and shift attitudes about these confrontational topics in media.
“I care a lot about reaching the mainstream and inspiring them to care about social justice issues. And I’m very aware that people today are very savvy, and used to tuning out and off when they think they are being preached to. So it is important for me to challenge myself by using innovative, creative digital techniques, that take people by surprise, and get them to pay attention,” Ishita said.
Not every content creator understands the deep impact and power storytelling carries. It takes a person with intuition, creativity, and more importantly, empathy to approach each project with great care, passion, and responsibility. This is what Ishita embodies.
“Stories help make sense of experiences and show how our challenges are often not universal. Stories allow people to process their experiences and heal; they help form community; and in the right context, stories can empower people into becomes agents of change.”