A Day With…Mario Ashkar

People watching is my favorite pastime. Nothing gives me more pleasure than sitting with a cup of coffee and daydreaming about the lives of strangers walking past. I wonder about their clothes and the book bag they’re carrying. I wonder about their leg tattoos and their worried expressions. I wonder where they are going and why they are walking so fast. I wonder because I’m curious. I wonder because it is natural. Maybe all of this wondering about others gives me a better hold on my idea of self. Well, maybe that’s a stretch, but what I do know for sure is that all of this wondering gave me an idea for a new blog feature that I would like to introduce today. I call it “A Day With…”

Essentially, I will be stepping into the world of another. I will take you along with me as I shadow a creative individual who is following their dreams and passions. These will be people from a wide array of industries and disciplines — from filmmakers to yoga instructors. My goal is to immerse myself for a day (or a morning/afternoon/evening) in the life of an inspired and motivated individual. I want to spend some quality time with people who make shit happen and see what there is to be learned from them. And, most importantly,  I want to share this with you.

My goal is to pull back the curtain. I want to learn about the behind the scenes work, so to speak. I want to learn about the effort that goes into developing a dream. People say nothing worth having comes easy. But the work is half the fun, right? Well, that’s what I aim to find out. I hope you enjoy, and tell me what you think!

Today’s first subject is my beautiful friend, Mario Ashkar.

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I truly cannot say enough good things about Mario. He is one of those exceptional people who energize you to do more and be more. But he does it unknowingly and with such ease. Maybe it is his background as a ballroom dancer. He knows how to lead with a quiet confidence.

But first things first. Let’s get the basics straight.

Name: Mario Ashkar

Age: 25

Passion: Filmmaker, photographer

Location: Pittsburgh, PA

How we met: I only met Mario once before I asked him to be a part of this feature. It was at the Wexner Center (at Heirloom, to be exact). He asked to photograph me for a project he was doing on the way women wear scarves. (…to state the obvious: I was wearing a scarf). I agreed and we started chatting. Ever since, I’ve been following his creative ventures through Facebook. When I thought of this feature, he was the first person that came to mind.

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I traveled to Pittsburgh on August 10th to spend my Saturday night and Sunday with Mario. My Sunday began with absolutely delectable food (the foodie in me never wanted to leave). If you visit Mario (and his lovely roommates, Connor and Sara — had to give them a shout out), expect an abundance of creative flavor combinations.

{As a side note: Sara happens to be a talented Graphic Designer, check out her stuff here: http://www.saracoffeydesigns.com/}

My day started at 9:30 am with a ridiculously satisfying breakfast.

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After breakfast, the first thing on the agenda was a trip to Contemporary Craft to listen to a salon-style presentation hosted by Andromeda Quarterly, a local comics anthology.

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The guys behind this quarterly are pretty fantastic (check out two of them here: Andy Scott + Daniel McCloskey). Since the crowd was small, this presentation soon turned into an open discussion on creative entrepreneurship and leading a life led by a desire to make something new. Everyone was able to put in their two cents.

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Here are a few snippets from the conversation that stuck with me:

“If you’re gonna make something, you have to make it better, you have to make it the best thing in the world. But it only has to be the best thing in the world for a certain person at a certain time.”
“I wanna make some people hate and some people quiver.”
“Dreams and goals are always in flux but I always want to be doing things.”
“I need a dream to dream while I’m living the dream, so I’ve decided to be God because I’ll probably never get there.”

The discussion was full of lofty thoughts and hilarious moments that had me laughing out loud. It gave me a glimpse into why Mario loves Pittsburgh. The community seems to be especially welcoming for creative types. If you know where to look, it is easy to align your self with the movers and shakers.

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Next on the docket was a film shoot with Pearl Porter, founding artistic director of The Pillow Project.

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I was introduced to the Pillow Project the previous night when I attended the organization’s monthly Second Saturdays jazz happenings event with Mario and friends. Mario told me that one of the main reasons he moved to Pittsburgh was because of this event. With an endorsement like that, I knew I couldn’t miss it. And, unlike most things in life, this event lived up to the hype.

Second Saturdays is difficult to summarize in words. But I will take a stab. Essentially, it is a free-form meeting of jazz music, dance and art housed in The Space Upstairs, an open, industrial-style loft speckled with mismatched seating and quirky art. Walking into this event was like walking inside a hug. There were no pretentious vibes or uncomfortable feelings about where to stand or what to do,  just plenty of friendly people, sensual jazz music, improv experimental dancers, delicious baked goods, wine and live art creation. What more could you ask for?

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It was interesting to visit The Space Upstairs during the light of day while Mario and Pearl discussed the vision behind their project.

Pearl and Mario are collaborating on a film that plays with our perceptions of time.

Mario describes the concept much better than I could, so I’ll let him tell it in his own words:

“The idea behind pearl’s and my project is that you can be present in other spaces of time than the ‘pre-scripted’ notions we are fed; the manageable bites of information ranging from 30 second commercial spots to three four-minute narrative nuggets that loop together, some plug for a product the viewer needs to whole hour long productions of what else is needed to know to meaningless 8 hours of screens and 12 hours of sleep. We want to convey with the viewer instead of at the viewer and we want to show the viewer months and weeks and minutes wrapped differently, packaged independently. It is hard to package media and deliver to audiences without buying right into the television method but we’re trying to resist commercialization of ideas and just representing viewpoints, this time on time.”

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After meeting at The Space Upstairs to finalize the logistics, I followed Mario, Pearl and her friend Mark  out on location to a street nearby where they began shooting.

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The film centers around one simple interaction: an embrace.

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Things get interesting in how the embrace plays out. Pearl and Mark acted out the embrace in slow motion and performed it forwards as well as backwards.

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Mario directed the movements of Pearl and Mark by shouting out timing cues throughout the process. Each member of this team was dedicated to capturing the concept with precision but they all maintained a flexible mindset that allowed the idea to breathe.

The whole shoot took about an hour in total, and I think everyone was happy with the results.

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For the last item on the schedule, Mario and I headed back to his place to shoot a music video for the Moon Baby and his new album, Fool Fantasy. When we arrived, friends were already gathered to be extras in the video.

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Moon Baby is a local performer and musician with a distinctive voice and style (that you can check out here: https://soundcloud.com/themoonbaby).

Fool Fantasy is the debut EP of the Moon Baby’s band, Massage Parlour.  Mario and the Moon Baby envisioned a long-form music video encompassing the entire length of the album. The twist is that this video will be split-screen. On one side of the screen will be Moon Baby performing the songs and the other side will be a horror story. On the day I visited, they shot the Moon Baby’s performances.

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The lighting was beyond beautiful!

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I have to say that I was surprised by the voice that came out of the Moon Baby. It was not at all what I was expecting. The style was more subdued than her get-up suggests..

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And with that, the “work day” came to a close, and everything came full circle. The day ended like it began — there was an amazing meal and engaging conversation.

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Huge thanks to Mario and his amazing roommates, Sara and Connor, for hosting me. I left practically overflowing with inspiration and enthusiasm for life, as corny as it may sound.

Please, do yourself a favor, and check out Mario’s work through the links below:

His Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/user11626769

His Youtube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/Marioshkar/videos

His Facebook Page: http://on.fb.me/15cOKGr

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