storyteller || founder @withcliffco || based in San Diego
"My goal was simple — if one story I created could impact one person the way my life was impacted, everything was worth it."
Tells us about yourself! Where are you from? What do you do? Why do you do it?
I was born and raised in the lovely (and very cold) Grand Rapids, Michigan. I migrated West seven years ago and call San Diego home. I run an impact storytelling agency called Cliff Co. We tell stories for NGOs and cause-driven businesses. We do this because we believe in the capacity of story. Story is the most powerful tool we have to change the way people think, which changes the way people feel, which in turn changes the way people act.
What was it that drew you to 100cameras?
We have a lot to learn from one another, and fostering creativity and curiosity at a young age tees us all up for success. Empowering children to ask questions, listen, see the world in a different and bold way, and believe they can create change — sign me up.
How has the power of storytelling impacted your life?
One story entirely changed the course of my life. When I was in college and just beginning my journey as a filmmaker, I watched a documentary made by an NGO called Invisible Children. It was their first film, “The Rough Cut.” It was also the first time I had been exposed to a global issue of such devastation and urgency. In that moment, my intention of becoming an on-air reporter entirely changed. I wanted to step behind the lens. The camera became a tool for advocacy and change. I went on to work for Invisible Children for six years creating long and short-form documentaries. One film, one story, completely changed my career path and life. I worked alongside the most talented and committed people I have ever met. My goal was simple — if one story I created could impact one person the way my life was impacted, everything was worth it.
Tell us one fun fact about you... go!
I have a chug named Cliff. Read: half chihuahua-half pug. He has a cleft-palate. We are one another’s shadow.
What advice would you give to other artists and creatives that are hoping to live out their passions and change the world?
Reach out to people you admire and ask for 15 minutes of their time. Be a sponge. Ask a lot of questions. Learn as much as possible. Start applying that knowledge. Get yourself out there, try new things and make mistakes. You won’t get very far by talking about the work you want to do or the change you want to make, you must get out there and do it. I am a big advocate for building the plane as you fly.
What inspires you and your work?
A lot of things! At Cliff Co. we partner with amazing humanitarian organizations. We say we work with giants aka people who are on the forefront of creating incredible change in some of the toughest parts of the world. Knowing that a better tomorrow is possible and that we live in a world that wants to stand up and protect one another, pushes me to tell the best stories possible. I am also obsessed with every person’s individual life journey. There might be thousands of miles, cultural beliefs, languages (the list could go on and on) that separate us. However, I push against that mentality with story. We all know what it is like to be happy, sad, afraid… I love showing what binds us together rather than separates us.
Tell us one tip of your trade.
Listen. If you aren’t a good listener, try your hardest to become one. Don’t feel like you have to speak at all times. Listening well will allow you to really tell stories in an authentic manner, it will help your clients feel validated, and it will make your team stronger.
If you could launch a 100cameras project anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I would work with Syrian refugees seeking safety in host countries around the world. When a photograph captures imagery, the subject matter is no longer hidden. The truth is brought into the light. In a media arena that is full of misinformation and misrepresentation, Syrian refugees need to be empowered to tell their own story and portray the truth for themselves. Once youth are able to harness their voices, there will be amazing ripple effects in equality, awareness and empathy.
What does being on the Board of Creatives mean to you?
My favorite saying is a rising tide lifts all boats. When we look to one another and push into our strengths and weaknesses, great things happen. I am honored to be a part of a team of creatives who dream big and truly believe in empowering one another and the next generation of storytellers. Children in particular have unfiltered perspectives that are unique and unhardened to a world full of critics. Teaching kids at an early age their voice matters is a lesson that cannot happen soon enough.