Piece Movement

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Not so long ago, Scott Thrift and Ari Kuschnir swore they would stop making movies. After collaborating on student films at Florida tech mecca Full Sail University, they parted ways. Thrift went to L.A. and worked as an assistant director on commercials and music videos. Kuschnir moved to Atlanta and became an editor at CNN. Later, they reunited to produce a 30-minute narrative short, which Thrift inelegantly describes as "a total disaster."

"We vowed to never make a film again until we were 30," he says. While they are both still two years away from the big 3-0, Thrift estimates that they've shot 185 short films—most of them short-form documentaries—in the last two and half years. "We've kind of found ourselves over the past two years being journalists without really asking for it," he explains. What coaxed them out of premature retirement was, in part, the introduction of the video iPod in 2005. That year, operating as m ss ng p eces, the pair—who had been positioning themselves as "professional integrators"—started producing documentary vignettes about interesting, creative characters for the popular blog coolhunting.com. "We basically turned a website into a television station, is the way we thought of it," says Thrift, who serves as the shop's creative director. Cool Hunting Video was among the first video podcasts available on iTunes—the series, for which m ss ng p eces shot 100 episodes, won a Webby in 2007—and clients came calling. Armed with a native understanding of online video, the pair went on to shoot shorts for the environmentalist blog TreeHugger, the nightlife guide FlavorPill, and creative commons crusader Lawrence Lessig, among others.

"It's about creating original programming for the internet that fits the format," says Kuschnir, who is in charge of production and business development. "It is a short form thing. It has to be because of the way the format works and your relationship to the screen and how you get it —how you experience it."

Now based in a spacious (if somewhat rustic) studio in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood, Kuschnir and Thrift have created the official video recaps of the tech-sexy TED conference for the last two years. Their short doc Moving Windmills—which tells the story of William Kamkwamba, a teenager in Malawi who taught himself to build windmills—was also screened as part of this year's Pangea Day film festival, an event founded by Control Room director and former TED Prize recipient Jehane Noujaim. They have collaborated with Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners on content for Tequila Don Julio, and with Swedish digital agency Farfar to deliver boxes and boxes of "not sexy" underwear to George W. Bush on behalf of Björn Borg's fashion line. Recently, entrepreneur Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records and Palm Pictures, hired the company for projects in conjunction with his latest ventures, including the Goldeneye resort in Jamaica and a new liquor. Thrift, meanwhile, is at work on a series of twelve 90-second shorts—collectively dubbed Reset—for the Sundance Channel.

And as young filmmakers who grew up on the web, they are well-attuned, not just to the aesthetics and mechanics, but to the economics of web video production. They even have a name for it: micro-production. "We're getting a $50,000 to $60,000 dollar budget and delivering," says Thrift. "It can happen if you love it enough." The shop itself boasts a lean setup, with a core team of about six to eight regular freelancers who work on editing, directing, production and music.

As for the unusual name, m ss ng p eces, they borrowed it from one of Thrift's art projects, but it has come to make a lot of sense. "We just make little pieces here and there; that's what we do," Thrift says. "I think that was always the mission: to put ourselves in a position where we were learning and getting paid and enjoying ourselves."

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