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Ajay Kishore: “Run towards problems”

Storytelling can be massively impactful, even when it isn’t political in nature. How many of us learned about the Tulsa Massacres from HBO’s Watchmen, or reference Seinfeld when we think of New York City? The best example might be how TV procedurals have whitewashed and sugarcoated what policing is really like in America, making us […]

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Storytelling can be massively impactful, even when it isn’t political in nature. How many of us learned about the Tulsa Massacres from HBO’s Watchmen, or reference Seinfeld when we think of New York City? The best example might be how TV procedurals have whitewashed and sugarcoated what policing is really like in America, making us think that the justice system is working for everyone when it clearly isn’t. By elevating diverse voices, we make it clear that unknown narratives are being surfaced. We make it clear that those communities are important and have standing when it comes to influencing our national conversations.


As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ajay Kishore.

Ajay Kishore is the founder of Stareable, the largest community of web series creators and fans building the future of television. The platform gives artists a voice that is both seen and heard, and led to the creation of Stareable Fest. The annual premier web series and indie TV festival provides the opportunity for talented professionals to share the distinct narratives and untold perspectives that mainstream platforms are competing to share with viewers.

After successfully managing a 200M dollars equity fund, Ajay left Wall Street to pursue his dream of sharing the creativity and stories from talented web series and indie TV creators. Since founding Stareable, he has become a fellow at Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), the largest independent filmmaking non-profit in the U.S., served on the jury for Series Fest, one of the largest U.S. television festivals, and spoken at half a dozen web series and film festivals around the country.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

A Time Out New York article, “The Top 50 Web Series to Watch Right Now” sparked the idea. It occurred to my co-founders and me that amazing web series or “indie TV” were being created every day across user-generated streaming platforms like YouTube and Vimeo and new media companies like Vice and Refinery 29. However, creators needed help driving discovery and gaining real financial support. I started reaching out to creators and interviewing them, hoping to understand their problems and the broader landscape. I realized that there was a huge untapped opportunity.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I got to visit New Zealand for their web series festival, NZ Web Fest! While there, I took the opportunity to hike blue hot springs, see glow worms, tour wine country, and have an amazing time.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This is more of a lesson than a funny story — I tend not to need a lot of emotional support or encouragement, and it took me way too long to realize that others do, and that it was important to provide it. And that, without vocalizing what I thought of others’ work, good and bad, they had no idea what was going on in my head.

Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

Some of the best web series are coming out of communities that traditional Hollywood has left behind. Black and Brown creators, women filmmakers, the LGBTQ+ community, those addressing issues of mental health — all these stories that weren’t being told. It’s exciting and incredibly rewarding to try to elevate those storytellers so they can get the audience they deserve. We can make television a more inclusive, more representative medium.

At our 2019 festival, PBS made an offer for a show in the room after meeting them via Stareable Fest. Two months later, Issa Rae’s production company bought another of our award winners, made by a PoC creator and featuring a trans sex worker protagonist. For our 2020 event, AMC Networks has partnered with us to help them source female creators through Stareable Fest.

By creating structural gateways between under-represented communities and traditional institutions, we remove the excuse that mainstream Hollywood “doesn’t know where to look” for diverse new talent. And as we generate more success stories coming out of our festival, we are seeing huge demand from industry partners knocking on our door to demand access to our inclusive community of creators.

Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

Definitely the creators I mentioned in the answer just above. They participated in Stareable Fest and then were made offers by major networks and production companies. This is the exact reason why I created Stareable and the festival in the first place, to provide opportunities to creators who work hard and deserve them.

As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?

Storytelling can be massively impactful, even when it isn’t political in nature. How many of us learned about the Tulsa Massacres from HBO’s Watchmen, or reference Seinfeld when we think of New York City? The best example might be how TV procedurals have whitewashed and sugarcoated what policing is really like in America, making us think that the justice system is working for everyone when it clearly isn’t. By elevating diverse voices, we make it clear that unknown narratives are being surfaced. We make it clear that those communities are important and have standing when it comes to influencing our national conversations.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

There’s actual work involved in addressing diversity. If you go to the same old places, talk to the same old people, and work with the same old organizations, you’re not going to get better results. The Annenberg Institute at USC does some of the best work on representation in Hollywood. They put out their latest report this week and, to no one’s surprise, the trends remain poor. But when given the chance, female-led movies outperform at the box office, as do films with more diverse casts. Doing the work to make the industry more diverse is also good business.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Taking the limited resources you have and making magic out of them

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

This is going to be harder and take longer than you expect. Fall in love with the process, not the result.

Part of what’s hard is making people care about what you’re working on.

Messaging, externally to customers and partners, and internally to teammates, is incredibly important.

Run towards problems. The longer you wait, the worse they’ll get.

Keep things simple. The more surface area you have, the more maintenance and complications you have to deal with

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Especially right now, everyone could use a little more empathy. And part of what I love about our work is that storytelling can be a great catalyst for empathy, letting you walk a mile in another person’s shoes through your TV.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Nobody knows anything” — Academy Award-winning screenwriter William Golding

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

It would be Larry David but it’s a Catch 22 because Larry David would be insufferable on any sort of forced social outing.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Ajay on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ajayrkishore/

Stareable on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stareable

Stareable on Twitter: https://twitter.com/stareable

Stareable on Instagram: https://instagram.com/stareable

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