Anthony Istrico, M.P.A. '04/M.A.D.I '04 is a diplomacy alumnus turned video producer. Over the past 13 years his passion for film and storytelling has evolved into his profession and, eventually, into a successful production company. His approach to film prioritizes an understanding for the viewpoints of others, while unearthing personal backgrounds and histories.
"I've traveled the world pretty extensively, and [my education in diplomacy] has made me realize you really need to let go of preconceived notions. Whether you're sitting down to meet with someone in a diplomatic, social, or [film-production] situation, you have to be as understanding as possible."
Istrico stumbled upon his passion for film while pursuing a much different professional path – a position with the Central Intelligence Agency. While waiting for his clearance, Istrico searched for jobs in the area to take in the interim, landing at Porter Novelli, communications agency in Washington D.C. "They were owned by Omnicom, which is a global agency with offices around the world" Istrico explains. "So I thought it was a good fit, I'd get to work with various people of different backgrounds and at the same time I'd be here in DC and be able to quickly respond if anything came up while I was going through my background investigation."
Sometime after moving to D.C., film went from a side project to a passion. "[Film] was always something I just did… it was something I enjoy doing, and a great way to keep me busy," explained Istrico, "But after seeing how exciting that part of the world was I thought 'you know what, this is where I'm going to stay.'" A few months later, when Istrico was finally cleared and offered a government job, he turned it down to stay at the agency.
Flash forward 12 years, Istrico has moved from the broadcasting department at Porter Novelli into the role of entrepreneur, as the owner of Istrico Productions.
Coming up on its seventh year, Istrico Productions has grown to a group of four full-time employees and four regularly employed freelancers dedicated to doing meaningful, thoughtful, and potentially life-changing film work. "At the end of the day, to me, a win is working with clients we're passionate about and believe in, to tell stories that represents them better than anything they could have imagined, and to get the people that need to see it to see it," explains Istrico. His clients include many health-based organizations including the CDC, USAID and Patients Like Me (an online network connecting patients to other patients, doctors, and potential treatments), for whom he's created public service announcements, advertisements, and instructional videos.
As a diplomacy student, Istrico found it fascinating how political and personal decisions could dually affect an individual and a nation as a whole. Istrico notes that his videos are a part of this process, communicating corporate, scientific, and political advancements to the public in creative and engaging ways in order to spread knowledge and advocate local change. "I joke that we're not saving the world here every day, but if we can impact someone's life, if someone can watch one of our pieces and be driven to say 'wow I need to do that' or 'that can help me' then that's awesome."
Recently, Istrico applied his passion for storytelling and background in diplomacy to the world of full-length documentaries. The journey began with a conversation with his longtime colleague Margot Carlson Delogne, who planned to visit the site where her father, a U.S. Air Force captain, fought and was killed in the Vietnam War. "She had worked with the Vietnam USA Society and had gotten in touch with other people who had lost their fathers in the war. She arranged for them to go to the sites where their fathers were killed," explained Istrico. Delogne also arranged to meet the "other side," Vietnamese kids who had also lost parents in the war. Istrico quickly partnered with the project, which was dubbed the 2 Sides Project as a reminder that "every war has two sides," and that both sides experience loss and pain.
A few months later, Istrico was on a flight to Vietnam, alongside videographer Jared Groneman and six Americans from Gold Star families. Over 11 days, the group traveled across the country, visiting sites where battles were fought and meeting Vietnamese people who were affected by the war. The team came back with 150 hours of footage. "[When we got back] I went to our head editor Nora [Kubach], and gave her a hard drive of the footage. She spent the next six months creating a two-hour feature length documentary," said Istrico, "We now submitted to about 40 film festivals, we're working with various networks to get this seen by as many people as possible. Because I think it's a story that makes people realize that no matter what you've gone through there's somebody on the other side, and sharing that experience brings people closer."
Much of Istrico's other work applies a documentary style approach to shorter, web-based or television pieces. Istrico and his team use this micro-documentary style as an opportunity to "put a face" and unscripted voice to an issue or product. "With these you take a person that actually had a better life because of [a product or service]" explains Istrico, emphasizing the storytelling aspect of these projects. "If we create a 90 second micro-documentary for the web we're going to spend like 2-3 days with someone and we're going to shadow them and really get to know them. People can make a real connection because they're connecting with a real person, not just the brand."
It is in these projects that Istrico is able to apply his diplomacy background, communicating effectively with clients and documentary subjects from different backgrounds and cultures. "Having a background in diplomacy is helpful because I think it gives me a willingness to listen and to understand. … It really is a small world and I think diplomacy shows you that while also acknowledging that we're in this global society. It helps you to understand that everyone has something to bring to the table."
While Istrico's journey hasn't brought him down the traditional path for a diplomacy major, he warrants much of his ability to work with others and understand differing backgrounds to what he learned from his Seton Hall professors. Thinking back to his Introduction to Diplomacy class, he speaks fondly of Dr. Courtney Smith, pausing to reminisce. "Everyone used to joke that Dr. Smith thought that we were the only class he had and that we had nothing else to do. …when you were in his class you were reading like 300 pages a week and journaling. … It was a ton of work, but it was awesome because it was truly full immersion. He had a great way of relating things to the students and he really was an awesome professor." Istrico also looks back to his classes with Ahmed Kamal, the former Pakistani ambassador to the US, Nicos Agathocleous, former Cypriot ambassador to the UN, and Clay Constantinou, former ambassador to Luxembourg, "That was amazing, these people were at the pinnacle of the field that I'm looking to get into. Here they are sitting and sharing their experiences with me and 25 of my fellow students. …No matter what you read in books and no matter what you see on the news it's not the same as hearing from the people that actually practice the craft."
As Istrico looks forward, he hopes to venture further into the world of full length documentary, while still keeping a foot in the world of corporate storytelling. As the director of Istrico Productions, he's always looking to balance the economic needs of the company with work that will inspire and excite his team. "My job is keeping everyone employed and at the same time giving everybody the chance to do work that we would call 'real work'. Something that you would be constantly proud of. Something that makes you say 'this is awesome.'" When asked what advice he would give fellow Seton Hall alumni, Istrico reflects on the past 13 years. "Do great work and be very kind to people. Because you never know what somebody is going though, and you never know what someone is capable of until you give them the opportunity."