WILL YOU AND STEVEN SPIELBERG - SAVE LIVES WITH US?
by Lauren Finkelstein
My dream died the moment she said it. “You took too much time off from work.” I was just returning from the week of shiva, the seven day period of ritual Jewish mourning, after my best friend and rock in my life, my father, suddenly died of a heart attack. His death felt like my foundation had been pulled out from under me. My center was completely off and my world was in a daze. I had been living my dream working at a big media company doing TV promos, but with that simple statement of my boss, my passion for commercial television died, as well. The excitement of creating that I had felt for so many years came to an abrupt end as I came face to face with the heartless, soulless industry of corporate TV that valued losing money over the precious loss of life of a loved one. It was the end of an era for me. When I was a kid, I did not want to be a movie star. I did not want to be on the big screen. My ambition was to be like Steven Spielberg and be the one making the movies for the big screen. I was fascinated and amazed at what he produced and created on film.
So, in high school, I took some film classes and got involved with the school’s cable channel. My big coup came at 16 when I scored an interview with Chip Hobart, a DJ from WPLJ, a radio station in New York. I was elated as I took a crew and interviewed my first celebrity. What a high that was for me as a teenager. As I was finishing high school, my interest in TV and video remained strong. I ended up going to the University of Miami, where I entered the Telecommunications program and minored in drama. I got involved with the cable station there, as well, and enjoyed taking my camera and crew to shoot local stories. We covered a wide range of pieces, from academically related ones, like why U of M was not the biggest party school, to a Valentine's Day news piece featuring our oldest student who was 100 years old, to a variety of other human interest stories. I immersed myself in the exploration of the television industry during those early adulthood years. However, I still wasn’t sure of my future in the field until my father's girlfriend suggested I sign off my news reports as just “Lauren.” It got me thinking, “If Madonna could have just one name, why couldn't I have one name, as well?” This solidified my ambitions and my confidence grew.
My journey went to the next level when I took an internship at Independent Network News in Miami. I shadowed a local reporter in Miami who covered many different kinds of stories: from news about the Pope to drug raids and celebrity pieces. One day, it hit me that I really wanted to apply for an internship with MTV or David Letterman, since I loved the entertainment side of television. However, I was informed by the school that I could not have two internships. I called up my rock of support, my dad, to ask for advice on which to choose. I knew that if I continued with this news internship in Miami, I wouldn't even have a shot at MTV or Letterman in New York. It was a risk to leave what I had going when the ones I desired were highly selective about hiring interns. My dad voiced my inner concerns when he said, “What are you, crazy? You already have an internship, so stick with it. You'll never get an internship with MTV. Do you know your competition!?” After a lot of tears and frustration, I went against his advice, and my own doubts, and just followed my gut. I quit the internship in Miami and to my absolute delight, MTV accepted me as an intern for the following year in New York.
My MTV years were a blast. I loved everything— from bumping into Steven Tyler in the hallways of MTV, to working on a Who documentary, to bartending at the MTV New Year’s Eve Party, to doing cue cards for Downtown Julie Brown. Being a part of the MTV crew was like being part of an exclusive club of hipsters who were changing the world to cool. But reality soon set in after graduation and a couple of years at MTV. I realized that I needed a regular paycheck. This lead me to working with Court TV for four solid years, and then into the freelance world of producing TV promos at large corporate media companies, including: CNBC, WABC, WNBC, and King World. I loved the creative process of producing promos. I was able to take an idea from its inception in my mind to when it came to life visually on the television screen for millions of people to see. Each promo project felt like my baby. I gestated it, nurtured it, shaped it, and birthed it into existence. My promos were my artwork showcased to the world. Nothing was more fulfilling.
Little did I know at the time that my direction in life would soon dramatically change. In addition to my dad’s death, two other life-altering experiences, just weeks apart, caused me to seek deeper meaning in life. In 2001, I was almost a victim of the infamous Sbarro pizzeria suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 18 people. About a month later, I also directly witnessed the tragic events of September 11th as I was living in New York. It was then that I was guided by a spiritual mentor, Rabbi Simon Jacobson, to begin my life's true mission of using my television skills to help others, and I created Save 1 Person. The initial idea for Save 1 Person came from recalling the times I had lamented at how stupid and ultimately meaningless some celebrity TV promotions were. I distinctly remembered thinking, “That air time could have been used for something so much more important and meaningful, instead of for such ridiculousness.” That’s when the idea came to me. “Wouldn't it be great to showcase someone who was dying on the air in those thirty seconds and ask the world to help?” At the time, I did nothing with that thought. It was only years later after having personally faced so much loss of human life that I finally felt ready to undertake this humanitarian cause.