James Milward, Robin Benty, Noam Dromi, Jay Williams
Interviewing Carl Reiner
Noam Dromi with Barbara Baral
Interviewing Risa Igelfeld
Reiner, 98, spoke candidly with Dromi for an episode of Dispatches from Quarantine, a series of interviews that chronicles the stay-at-home lives of TV legends during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The episode aired June 1; Reiner died June 29 at his home.
"I awoke that morning to 30 texts from friends and colleagues offering condolences to me," Dromi recalls. "I didn't know the guy - I just spent a lovely 40, 45 minutes with him - but I'm not going to lie, I cried."
Noam Dromi on Carl Reiner: "It's a loss, the man lived a very full life - he's an absolute titan of the industry. What a privilege that mankind has had that there are people like that.
"It's a loss, the man lived a very full life - he's an absolute titan of the industry," he adds. "What a privilege that mankind has had that there are people like that."
Dromi is a veteran writer/producer, marketing executive and digital strategist, specializing in creative content, media production and brand development for entertainment companies, corporations, consumer brands and nonprofits. He is a consultant and adviser for a portfolio of start-ups at the intersection of technology and storytelling.
He describes Dispatches as a form of "intergenerational oral history" celebrating "the voices and stories of older people."
To begin the series, he and co-creator Tiffany Woolf interviewed several celebrities - besides Reiner, the first season featured Larry King, Norman Lear, Ellen Burstyn, Marion Ross and Tommy Chong - in a format they hope encourages other people "to engage with their older loved ones" and listen to their stories.
In fact, he says, people are submitting their own interviews with relatives, some of which will be used in the next season.
"We probably have about three dozen people all around the country who were inspired by what we did and filmed an elder loved one and shared it with us," Dromi says. "This seems to be a show concept that really resonated with people. We're incredibly excited about integrating them into upcoming episodes."
Featured celebrities in the next season will include John Amos (best known for Good Times) and Marla Gibbs (The Jeffersons). They've issued invitations to President Jimmy Carter and Dr. Anthony Fauci ... but Dromi says they haven't yet gotten approval to move forward.
Dromi is managing director of Reboot, which funded the project through Silver Screen Studios.
"It's a Jewish organization, so we look at Jewish values and human values - Christian values, too - as intertwined," he says.
According to its website, Reboot "is an arts and culture nonprofit that reimagines, reinvents and reinforces Jewish thought and traditions. As a premier R&D platform for the Jewish world, we catalyze our Reboot Network of preeminent creators, artists, entrepreneurs and activists to produce experiences and products that evolve the Jewish conversation and transform society."
Silver Screen "gives amazing seniors their moment in the spotlight," according to the studio website, through "a series of documentary shorts, to inspire audiences - to live a meaningful last act of our lives - with creativity, wisdom, wit, and candor.
"At any age, we can learn about the past directly from the people who lived it, creating space for an intergenerational dialogue that empowers, informs and entertains."
One of their projects was an experimental series called Coming of Age which, Dromi says, is a series of short features about "amazing seniors" who are thriving, rather than fading away.
Noam Dromi: We live in a culture that doesn't celebrate our elders. We put them out to pasture ... or they're rendered into obsolesce.
"We live in a culture that doesn't celebrate our elders," he explains. "We put them out to pasture ... or they're rendered into obsolesce."
But that project, and plans for a "silver carpet" premier event, faltered because of COVID-19. And that, Dromi says, led to Dispatches from Quarantine.
"We approached this philosophically," Dromi says. "What can we learn? This all feels so overwhelming for people right now. They're worried about their health, their finances, their families."
The subjects of the interviews, he says, "are people, many of whom were born before World War II, who've seen the best of people, the worst of people. They have a lot to tell us."
He wonders: "What are we going to be like when we're in our 90s and telling our grandchildren and great-grandchildren about 2020 when the world shut down?"
Several moments in the series' first six episodes stand out for Dromi, such as Lear - also 98 years old, and "obviously one of the most prolific television producers of all time" - talked about gratitude.
"He said he was grateful just to be doing the interview. He's grateful to get up in the morning and have his tangerine juice and coffee," Dromi says. "Every living, breathing moment, he's grateful. Honestly, it sounds so simple, but that's a struggle ... just to be grateful."
Burstyn, Dromi says, spoke about Sufism, her passion for nature, and using the quarantine period "as a chance to reset our connection with the world." Chong spoke frankly about a stint in federal prison for selling bongs and water pipes.
"He approached his nine months in jail as a storyteller," Dromi says. "He approached it as research for a role ... and he gained a new perspective toward overcoming adversity, and thriving in it."
As for Reiner, Dromi says he was very happy to film the episode.
"I have to imagine he had some sense that he didn't have that much time left in the world," Dromi says. "But from the moment he got on, the humor was there, the gregariousness was there. ... That he was even willing to do it was such a blessing."
Once the episode was edited, Dromi says they sent a copy to Reiner's business partner, Lawrence O'Flahavan, who runs Reiner's publishing imprint Random Content and who was with him during filming.
The message he got back was touching.
"You put the biggest smile on Carl's face," Dromi recalls O'Flahavan saying. "He loved what you did. He and Mel" - meaning Mel Brooks, Dromi notes - "are going to watch the episode together tomorrow night after they watch Jeopardy."
Since then, the interview has been referenced in numerous articles about Reiner's passing. Dromi holds onto that feeling, saying that "giving this titan of television a moment of joy is one of the greatest feelings in the world."
The interview was a memorable one, Dromi says - in it, Reiner discusses his love of comedy, meeting his wife and having kids, meeting Mel Brooks for the first time on Your Show of Shows and their enduring friendship, and creating the Dick Van Dyke Show, which he calls "my best work."
"It was a reminder of all the great things that he accomplished professionally in life," Dromi says. "But he reiterated that nothing is more important than the people you bring into the world - and ensuring that they are nontoxic."
He also discussed his faith, which he described as "Jewish atheist."
"He talked a lot about God, his notion of God and why he believes man created God," Dromi says. "We're all entitled to our own perspective on the subject, but he spoke eloquently on it."
The interview, he says, "was funny, it was deep, it was interesting.
"I would much rather the man be alive, but what a blessing he gave us to allow his warmth and generosity to permeate what he did, and to have that be the last message he gave to the world."
The Dispatches from Quarantine series isn't all that's keeping Reboot busy during the pandemic. According to Dromi, the nonprofit studio is busy supporting the work of creative people at a time when many of their usual outlets have been cut off.
Reboot, he says, "has managed to bring forth a number of different projects, taking Jewish values and applying them to the modern world."
Among them, he says, is the National Day of Unplugging, which for more than a decade has encouraged people to step away from their electronic devices for a day, and Sukkah City, a public art project in Union Square, New York.
Since the pandemic began, Dromi has been producing podcasts such as In Quarantine, in which Emmy-winning former Daily Show executive producer Steve Bodow talks about the ways in which "creative people are living, personally and professionally, in this very weird time," and The Joy of Quarantine, in which comedian and filmmaker Jena Friedman turns "to the one necessary and time-consuming distraction - cooking."
Dawn, Dromi notes, was an 11-hour livestream tied to the Jewish holiday Shavuot.
It's all part of Reboot's mission, he explains, which reminds people that the arts, "which often are given short shrift in schools and communities, are our gateway into ourselves and our culture, and a great reflection of the time in which we live. What a privilege it is to work with creative people this way."
Among his other credits, Dromi co-wrote the 2011 film Dolphin Tale, starring Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Kris Kristofferson, which grossed $100 million at the worldwide box office, and he produced TV series such as Black and Tainted Love.
He was a co-founder and formerly the president of Legion of Creatives, a multimedia entertainment studio specializing in digital first programming that targeted under-served audiences.
He oversaw development of the company's film, television, publishing and digital programming slate in addition to heading up business development opportunities in brand partnerships and live events.
He has served as a digital media and creative marketing consultant for a range of entertainment companies including Alcon Entertainment, IFC and Millennium Films.
He is an active member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and says being recognized by the Academy - as he was in 2015 when he shared the Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media for the Sleepy Hollow Virtual Reality Experience, and again in 2018, when he was nominated for his work as executive producer of the AMC digital series The Walking Dead: Red Machete - is "the most important honor in our industry."
"It's about the network," he explains. "It's about the realization that we can all get myopic, head down and focused on the work. We can forget we're a community of creatives ... and the incredible networking opportunities, the incredible educational opportunities. It's a great group, and I'm privileged to be a part of it."
He lends a hand where he can, Dromi says, because "every good thing that has ever happened to me in my professional life is because of mentors ... who gave me a shot. It would be irresponsible for me not to do the same."
He's also a member of the Academy's Interactive Media Peer Group, which "represents members who have an impact on interactive television programs that enable the audience to view and participate, alter, interact, and immerse in the program," the website says. "At least 75% of work must be in interactive, immersive or experiential, and nationally distributed, programming experiences."
The Academy, Dromi says, has been redefining what it means to be interactive entertainment since Frank Scherma was elected chairman and CEO of its board of governors.
Noam Dromi on the Television Academy: What resonates for me, as a mandate as an organization, is the recognition that the business of telling stories has evolved
"What resonates for me, as a mandate as an organization, is the recognition that the business of telling stories has evolved," Dromi says. "With these new and emerging platforms, it's possible to be immersed in the narrative in ways we haven't seen before."
It includes, but isn't limited to, the relatively new realms of VR, AR and XR, Dromi says - that's virtual reality, augmented reality and XR, which is a general term encompassing various "mixed reality" technologies.
"We're talking about a new entry point for how consumers can engage in worlds in a way that a more passive viewing experience hasn't been able to do," he says.
It's not just using social media to direct viewers to a website, he stresses.
"Are the creatives using technology in a way that's forward thinking, in a way that breaks new ground? These are new frontiers in storytelling, new frontiers in how we engage with our audience.
"We can get you to think about things in a way you've never thought about them before - and that's what's exciting about the future. We're pushing the boundaries of storytelling in ways that challenge the assumptions of its audience and user base. Done well, it's completely unique to the medium.
"Has interactive media had its Citizen Kane moment, the thing that really shifted the landscape? I don't know. It's still an evolving medium."
The age of COVID has without question changed the face of theater, Dromi says.
"I think we're dealing with some interesting roads that we need to navigate. How will audiences change? Even when the stay-at-home orders lift, are we going to be comfortable sitting in a crowded theater with strangers?"
Now, he says, is the time for on-demand and interactive media to shine. Back at the beginning of the year, for instance, relatively few people even knew what Zoom was. "And now it's a verb."
"This era is going to be a renaissance of new ways to tell stories," Dromi says. "There are a million ways to still be active and reach audiences."
The entertainment industry has established beyond a doubt that there are vibrant methods of engaging an audience "without them physically being in the same place." As an example, he says, compare the number of people who saw Hamilton on Broadway to the number who "gobbled it up" on Disney+.
"We're going to see new business models, new relationships between content creators and audiences," Dromi says. "We are going to see changes in all those things. How it works? I don't know. But there's a lot there."
"What's exciting for me is being at the table to innovate and create with the people who are leading the charge," he adds. "Right now, COVID is still too raw for us, but great stuff is going to come out of this, and I can't wait to see it. Hopefully, I get to be a part of it."