Michael Skolnik Talks Leaving Film for Social Activism

It was brick cold outside. We had spent all day interviewing a scientist for a documentary I was co-directing...

It was brick cold outside. We had spent all day interviewing a scientist for a documentary I was co-directing about genetically modified food. Before Twitter was hot. Before Instagram existed. Before you checked your Facebook timeline 10 times a day. The day was November 4th. The year, 2008. People were lining up around the country, casting their ballots to determine who would become the next President of the United States…and I was in Canada. And it was ice cold in the city of Ottawa. I struggled obtaining information about exit polling or pundits’ opinions on cable news shows because I was knee deep in one of the most important shoots of our film. When I finally got back to my hotel room, I cuddled in my bed and my eyes were fixated on the small television in my small, temporary living quarters.

I watched for hours as voting ended in dozens of states across the country. By the end of night, tears rolled down my face, in utter disbelief, when the networks called the race. Done. Over. Finalmente. A New America. A path forward to perfect our union. And Barack Obama would lead the way.

So, what to do after such a victorious election night? Well…I woke up the next day and decided to retire. I was only 30 years old and retirement sounded much cooler than a career change. If Jordan could leave basketball, I could leave the movie business. I called my agent and told the Hollywood studio I had just signed a three-picture deal with that I was moving on. They weren’t the only ones who thought I was absolutely insane, but this was a moment that I had been waiting for since I was a kid. A moment our nation had never experienced before. A moment my generation thought would never come.

An America that celebrated compassion, tolerance and generosity with a foundation rooted in equality. A presidential campaign that pushed forward these ideals. I thought that America, actually one day, could become as beautiful as she had been promised. So, ever since that moment on that cold, crisp autumn day in Chicago, Illinois, I followed my heart and went solo.

I happened to have co-directed a film about Russell Simmons, the hip-hop impresario, during my tenure behind the camera, so I knew a few people. And it turns out that he was looking for someone to hire as his political director; the timing seemed perfect. I was a kid who grew up on the rhymes of “Peter Piper” by Run-D.M.C. and The Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere,” so to rock with the godfather of hip-hop during the age of Obama was a dream come true. And oh by the way, could I also run a company for Russell as well?, he asked. Of course, I said yes and ever since then we have built a strong company with GlobalGrind.com and done everything we can to uplift this country and the world.

A lot of people have asked me if I miss making movies? The truth of the matter is that not much has changed in my life. Although the way in which I tell stories now is different, the mission is still the same. Everyday, I jump out of bed and go to work for my generation.

Whether fighting on the issues of gun violence, gay marriage rights, immigration policy or child hunger, the work I have done for the past five years has never been about me. It has been about making sure that everyone in this country can enjoy the same rights, freedoms and liberties I have been privileged to experience simply because my gender, the color of my skin, and the zip code I was born in. So, whether it was making movies or supporting families who have lost their children to the bullets of guns or running an entertainment website, the work continues.

I certainly miss the film business. I miss the time to sit still for an hour and just think without any pressure of delivering on someone else’s timeframe. I miss the moments of collaboration with brilliant, creative minds. I miss working on something for four, five, six years and never finishing until the film is ready. These are gifts that I will forever be grateful for receiving. However, the mission has never changed. The purpose of the work has never gone off track. The drive to create has never wavered. Although I miss making films, I feel like I am able to make more impact in the work that I do now. There is something beautiful about being able to be ahead of the curve and not constantly worrying about it passing you by because your project is taking too long. With the acceleration of the internet and social communication, I go to work everyday with excitement that we can make an impact at any moment. That is the difference between my old life and new one, and that is what motivates me to always be present, because you never know what the day will bring.

Michael Skolnik is the President and Editor-in-Chief of GlobalGrind.com and the Political Director to Russell Simmons. Prior to his work with Mr. Simmons, Michael was an award-winning film director and producer. His most notable work was On The Outs, Hooked: The Legend Of Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell and Entre Nos.