Close Quarters: When Tech Companies and an Indie Film Studio Share a Workspace

Posted by Tiffany Shlain

In 2010, when a friend invited me to move my film studio to a funky refurbished pier in San Francisco with a gaggle of other tech start-ups, I responded with, “You had me at funky.” You see, tech is in my DNA. I founded The Webby Awards and love experimenting with new technologies to make the films that my team and I make in our studio. I had no idea exactly what would come from this new neighborhood floating on the water, but knew it would be good. As soon as we moved in it felt like we were all pirates inhabiting a space that was in some city loophole, where we all had ridiculous views of the water, but were paying a meager rent. We held rough cut screenings and invited all the other companies over for feedback—we watched our neighbor Instagram get bought by Facebook for 1 billion dollars (I am pointing my pinky at my chin), and we borrowed hard drives and projectors instead of sugar.
 
Matt Ridley wrote a great book called “The Rational Optimist,” where he talked about how innovation usually occurs in cities because people from different perspectives would be in such close quarters that they would bump up against each other and then come together to solve problems. That was like our fabulous Pier 38. But then the America’s Cup boating competition came blowing into San Francisco, and our little funky island of innovation was served eviction notices with what I believe was not sufficient cause to make room for the boats. We all felt like the city did not understand what was happening on our pier—that we were combusting ideas by bumping up against each other in the hallways, in the parking lot, at app demonstrations and rough cut screenings.  In any other normal time in my life, an unfounded eviction would have made me take to the streets and to city hall, but our feature film Connected was opening in theaters that same weekend. I was stretched beyond my capacity—like one of those fine sails on the America’s Cup boats.
 
Fortunately, our fearless building manager came to the rescue and had secured another unbelievably surreal office situation for us at the Moxie Institute and our whole motley crew of tech companies. Now we take the elevator up the fifth floor of a beautiful office space looking at the piers and the Bay Bridge. There are new companies that have been added to the mix, like Mashable, Etsy, Grammarly, and Skimlinks. We continue to watch start-ups move in, and then move out once they grow too big. We read articles daily about the next great innovator, and smile at the fact that they’re right down the hall.
 
Our work has benefitted greatly from this cross-pollination of ideas and from the shared passion, energy and excitement that filled our common space.
 
Neighborhoods, whether where you live or where you work, make life better. I just read a quote from Stephen King on writing: "Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” I feel like being able to be in this neighborhood of companies with open doors has inspired a lot of new ideas, rewrites and better work for all of us.


Hang out with your neighbors on the last Saturday of April (a day we're calling "Neighborday"). Click here to say you'll Do It, and here to download GOOD's Neighborday Toolkit and a bunch of other fun stuff