While some of us may bemoan the technological advances that threaten to permanently cast our beloved cassette players and corded landlines into the baskets of nostalgia, Max Lugavere sees positive potential for worthwhile social innovation on the horizon. The young, self-described ‘wonder junkie’ became the face of Current TV (founded by Al Gore) straight out of college after Textures of Selfhood, a film he made with Jason Silva in his final semester, garnered buzz in the media world. Since that initial jump into television, Lugavere has co-hosted two shows while at Current, founded the philanthropic global music event Rockdrive, and co-hosted the globally broadcasted film event Pangea Day. He also curates his website, Wonderjunkie, an odditorium of articles and bites of knowledge ranging from subjects as diverse as lucid dreaming, 3D printing, video footage of a giant squid in the North Pacific Ocean, the Alzheimer gene, and an orgasm inducing nasal spray. He just launched his new digital series, Acting Disruptive, executive produced by Tribeca Enterprises, which premiered on AOL On last week. Lugavere provides us with an insight into the lives of the celebrity multi-hyphenates – those who use their visibility and resources to put cutting-edge, disruptive ideas into motion through entrepreneurial start-ups and organizations. Lugavere is committed to a career in, as he puts it, ‘connecting the dots’ between ideas and subjects. Lugavere explains his philosophy of ‘connecting the dots’ and how being ‘wonder junkie’ is an inescapable fate.
You just launched your new series, Acting Disruptive. What can you tell me about it?
Acting Disruptive brings together the world of entertainment and entrepreneurship. I like to make content that compels, that is buzz-worthy, but that is also meaningful and makes people question the status quo. We’re at a unique time where digital video is getting resources comparable to what a TV show would get. With television, there are so many cooks in the kitchen with anything you do, so it’s nice to do a digital series and call the shots. Acting Disruptive is a project that I came up with when Tribeca approached me about wanting to create more original content. They spent a few months looking for a sponsor and I was thrilled when they landed AOL. AOL is sort of the HBO of digital content these days, and 2nd only to YouTube in video views online, so I know it’s going to be seen by a lot of people, which is exciting.
What happens in the series?
I love disruptive ideas, innovation and technology. My role in the entertainment industry has always been to create content that informs, so I thought a good way to talk about these ideas that is approachable by a mainstream was to involve well known people like Jessica Alba, Rainn Wilson, and more. We’re at a time right now where technology is disrupting a lot of industries and LA has quickly become a hub for that. Part of why that is has to do with the fact that there are so many creatives there. The imagination capital there is so high. It really is a perfect place to birth new technologies, new initiatives, new start-ups. So we’re focusing on the multi hyphenates – entertainers who are also entrepreneurs.
Who did you first think of when you were first coming up with the project?
I met Adrian Grenier who has a company called SHFT. Adrian is actually in the first episode. I saw that there is sort of a pattern. There are plenty of people in Hollywood who are just famous and get shot by paparazzi almost professionally and don’t do anything with their fame. On the other end of the spectrum, you have people who are using their visibility for good and Adrian is one of those guys.
Where do you see television going next?
It’s going somewhere, right? Its not going to remain in its current state for much longer when you have companies like Netflix that are not beholden to the cable conglomerates producing really premium, cinematic content, and can distribute a la carte on whatever device they want. What’s happening with TV is that the distribution platforms will eventually dissolve, and it’s going to be content on screens, which will be everywhere. That really puts the onus on the content to be good. The whole problem with television is that it needs a mass audience to survive, at least in its current state. That’s why content on television is traditionally somewhere in the middle between high-brow and low-brow, because that’s what most people want to watch most of the time. It’s the bell curve. Going forward, I think we’re going to realize the importance of catering to niche audiences. Niche audiences are far more engaged, and I think it’s a question of not if but when advertisers are going to become comfortable with making ad buys into niche audiences.
What was your experience at Current TV like?
As far my experience with Current went, I couldn’t have asked for a better job. It was like hitting the lottery to become the face of a network as your first job out of college. I learned a ton and I got to really hone my skills as a communicator. Plus learned the value of short-form filmmaking even before it was cool.
It was the film that you made in college, Textures of Selfhood that more or less launched your career, right?
Textures of Selfhood was about bringing together opposing extremes – hedonism and spirituality. How to have your cake and eat it too. How to have a good time, as you should while you’re alive, but also reconcile being a thinker, being into heady things. And so it was like a really irreverent student film that got us noticed, which was pretty wild.
I also was reading that you’re really into science.
Science and technology, yeah. I call myself a wonder junkie because I think it’s impossible to be a curious and interested person today and do only one thing, because technology enables us to seek out things that we like. I started college wanting to be a doctor and I ended up in Hollywood. Still today, my passions are in communicating big ideas, whether they’re science or technology. Things you usually hear being talked about by people in lab coats, I like to talk about wearing t-shirts. I think that makes headier topics a little more relatable.
Isn’t Wonderjunkie the title of your website? You have a lot of things all going on at once on there.
It’s a big passion. My hope is to do a show eventually called ‘Wonderjunkie’. ‘Wonder junkie’ is a term that originated from Carl Sagan’s novel Contact. The website, well it’s just a Tumblr for now, is just my way of curating things that I find interesting, and I tend to find that interesting things are at the intersection of art and science. Connecting the dots. Connecting the dots is the mark of any creative I think. What we do as creatives is we connect dots. We live at the intersection.
How long have you been playing music for?
I started when I was at Current, and it’s been five or six years already. It’s my moonlighting thing. I enjoy the process of it more than anything. I love singing and writing songs. I’m happy if three people are in the audience, and I have played to three people in the audience. Music for me is a way for me to challenge myself. I didn’t grow up musical. It just developed in the hours that I wasn’t working on other things.
Well then, maybe there’s hope for me too.
Music is an amazing thing! It’s good to have a sense of creative entitlement. Somewhere along the line, I realized that I couldn’t live without trying. So that’s what I’ve sort of done. I’m testing Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of 10,000 hours. I’ve put out an EP that I’m incredibly proud of, I’ve played some amazing shows and I’ve toured with some really talented people. As an outlet, it’s great. There’s something very yogic about singing. You know how a lot of people decompress by doing yoga? Singing is a really powerful way to decompress. It’s so intricately connected to your physiology, to your breath. There’s this idea that you’re either born a singer or not. You’re born with your tone, you’re born with your resonating chamber, but singing is something that anybody can do. It’s all about breathing and having a growth mindset.
So are you working on another album?
I’m slowly writing songs for the next EP, but really focusing right now Acting Disruptive and on a few exciting opportunities that have bubbled up.
It’s interesting that you’ve been involved with two projects that use art, or music, as a vehicle for social change – Pangea Day, and Rockdrive.
I think that art and narrative are the most powerful means to social change. Pangea Day was a huge thing that TED put on in 2008 about using film to unite the world. How could you not want to get involved in something like that? I’m sad that it didn’t happen again. I think the world needed something like that. Regardless, it was a career milestone for me, an awesome privilege. Rockdrive is a charity series that I launched four or five years ago. My hope for Rockdrive is for it to become a self-sustaining means by which people ignite the conversation surrounding music and philanthropy, sort of a grass roots music festival that happens, and that people feel inspired to take the brand and run with it. Like what people do with TEDx. We’ve had a pretty successful couple of years. It’s not totally self-sustaining but we did have two independent Rockdrives in 2011. One was in Miami and one was in Nashville. People actually did that, which was mind blowing to me!
Where would you like to go next? Right now you’re at this intersection. Do you feel like you might end up leaning one direction more than the other?
My hope is to continue to tell stories. I’m indifferent to the medium. Television is great, and the Internet becoming greater. I’m excited for Acting Disruptive, I think that it’s going to really resonate. I want to continue to tell impactful stories about science, technology and innovation with humor and irreverence. So, yeah, telling stories, shaking things up, challenging the status quo. Living at the intersection.