Naropa Magazine Spring 2014
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Michael Shaun Conaway

Author of His Own Creative Vision

by Lisa Birman, MFA

Michael Shaun Conaway (MFA, 1993) recalls that one of the first lessons he learned at Naropa's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics was there was never one right way to do things. While everyone had an opinion, he learned that ultimately his writing succeeded or failed because of his choices. "As a writer and author, I had to be very secure in my vision. More than learning to write at Naropa, I learned to become the owner of my own creative vision."

That confidence has served Michael Shaun throughout his career. Living in Los Angeles in the mid-90s, Michael Shaun launched his gaming and film career in the CD-ROM era. His first project was developing a game with the music of BB King. Gaming work translated into creating and directing television commercials, first animation, then live action. "If there's a theme to anything I've done in my career, it's that I've been completely willing, for better or worse, to jump in and say this is the way it's going to be."

A turning point came in 2000, when making the documentary Principles of Alignment in Science and Nature. This venture inspired Michael Shaun and his partner Alex Melnyk to look at what kind of business they wanted to be. After a sabbatical in Italy and Australia to work on screenplays, they returned to the States with a renewed focus on leadership development. "We started kicking around this notion of only doing products that are good for people and good for the planet. We're not puritanical about who we work with, but I've certainly come to the point where I only want to work on projects that express my purpose, harkening back to my early Buddhist days, of liberating people's greatness."

As they continued to work on leadership development through film, they noticed that they weren't seeing the outcomes they hoped for. They returned to gaming to create more interactive leadership training. Their first project was with Coca Cola, and internal metrics revealed that the program was a great success. This inspired the launch of NCite, a gaming platform devoted to bridging "that gap between 'understanding' and real and lasting behavior change." Currently, they are working on personal development gaming platforms, looking to extend their knowledge of human interaction beyond the corporate world and into everyday relationships.

In case that doesn't keep them busy enough, Michael Shaun and Alex also have a film company, Watermoon Films. With seven properties total, four in production, works range from documentary to dramatic feature films. They are also investigating interactive possibilities so that audience and filmmaker can engage in dialog.

Reflecting back on his Naropa days, Michael Shaun says, "There was such a quality of living in the clothes you work in. There was an integrated experience of what you were working on personally, what you were working on at school, and what you experienced ... My experience at Naropa showed me that in order to be fully expressed as an artist and creator, my work and philosophy had to be aligned."

Excited about the recent launch of a Film and Media Studies minor, Michael Shaun wants to see Naropa embracing cutting-edge paradigms of communications and providing more exposure to entrepreneurship training. More than anything, he hopes that anyone inspired by his story will see the same possibilities and more for themselves.

Check out Michael Shaun's work at Storyworks and NCite. You can also read about his filmwork and see a clip of the documentary Guardians of the Seed at Watermoon Films.