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Daily Inspiration: Maia Stern

April 19, 2013

Maia Stern has been an important force behind the scenes at The FADER for years, helping bring to life the musicians, artists and designers we love as a producer of FADER TV. On her last day in the office, we honor her in video and song.

Maia Stern, Eel Murder

Maia made a video called "Eel Murder." I found it about a year ago on her Vimeo page. It starts on a dock in Greenport, Long Island, where an unidentified group of young people are nervously excited that they have trapped an eel. Someone's dad comes into the frame to help. He's got big gloves and a steady hand and they wrap it in a towel and toss it in a bucket. There's a giggly trip back down the pier to the shore, where the rest of the video unfolds. It's mostly crisp closeups of the dad's hands as he methodically cuts off the eel's head and then skins it. Both the decapitated head and the headless body continue to twitch. It's a pretty gross video. Off camera, though, you hear the voices of a few young women drop in and out, variously reporting on how disgusting squirmy eel guts are, but also making large, philosophical and quirky asides. "I feel like I'm watching a Miyazaki movie," someone says. The dad, peeling the skin off with a wrench, says the skin is good for boots. The word "iridescent" is tossed around. Everything is fairly serious, even the funny stuff. It feels like a scene from a John Updike book. It makes sense, seeing something perturbing is imminent, that Maia picked up her camera and began to film. But the choices she made—to cut out the gathered crowd, to stay on the eel—are not the obvious ones. There is no relent from the eel murder, but all around is the stuff of life. In many of her videos for FADER TV, Maia focuses on tiny details of the artists she's filming: how someone taps her toes, the drawings someone has on his bedroom wall or the books on his floor. She knows what little asides, what details, represent a bigger life. That's the key to storytelling that's impossible to teach. What was interesting about the eel murder wasn't the actual death, it was someone looking at its beating heart and half-seriously asking if they should eat it as crudités. Then it gets tossed in a bucket. —MATTHEW SCHNIPPER

The Lijadu Sisters, "Sunshine"

The first time I ever talked to Maia, I was an unemployed recent college graduate, new to New York and obsessed with the idea of interning for FADER TV. A mutual friend gave me her contact info, I emailed her, and she told me to come in for an interview. I was so nervous that I showed up an hour early and anxiously killed time in the Dunkin Donuts across the street. But as soon as we shook hands I realized there was no need to be nervous. Her desk was covered in amazing posters, a magazine spread featuring unlikely animal friendships and pictures featuring the cast of Saved By The Bell and Bill Murray in drag. We fell into an easy conversation and my nerves faded away. Then she surprised me by asking if I wanted to help shoot a quick interview with a rapper named Kendrick Lamar. At the time, I'd never heard that name before. That was the first video we worked on together; from then on it was history. Maia helped me get hired full time, and for the last year and a half, we've sat next to each other every day. From Crown Heights to Harlem to Flushing to Gowanus, to day trips to the Catskills, to balconies in Austin, to RVs in Brooklyn alleys to green rooms across the city, we've been everywhere together. Maia taught me how to manage New York: where to get the best soup, what beach to go to, how to make kombucha and so much more. My life in this city would not be the same without her. Of course I'm sad to be losing my partner, but I'm also so excited to watch her take this big next step. I know she'll kill it. Bye Moogie! My parting gift to you is a reminder about Mr. Sunshine. —SARAH RIAZATI

FADER TV: Interview with Rachel Comey

New York Fashion Week is hella stressful. When one comes around, I've got to field invites, conduct interviews and sort a tangled schedule for two editors. Like clockwork, days before NYFW kicks off, I have literal nightmares where I wake up panicked. One time I had a terrible nightmare that I screwed up and missed my chance to interview one of my favorite designers, Rachel Comey. I woke up with a tummy ache and felt awful all day, until I actually had to interview her. Maia and I were the last in a long of press people waiting, and Comey looked like she was over life. Maia held my hand through the entire ordeal, as I went over my questions and fussed with my hair. Then she graciously edited the footage so you only slightly notice how nervous, awkward and sweaty I felt. I love Maia dearly and will miss her gracious, calming demeanor and they way she makes everyone look like they're doing a good job when they really want to poop their pants. —DEIDRE DYER

FADER TV: Highland's First NYFW Show

As a writer and editor, I've always been inclined to think that the best way to express your feelings about a subject is through writing and editing words about them. That's my bread and butter, that's how I think. But Maia always made me feel like a really beautiful point of view can be expressed through film. Since we're always trying to do something new and push ourselves, Maia and I had an idea to take a gamble and do a video that was a bit longer than FADER's normal fashion week clips, and we immediately decided to focus on a menswear brand called Highland that's been my personal favorite for years. I was nervous, couldn't quite picture what it would look and sound like, and a number of delays in shooting and a massive snow storm didn't help my anxiety. On one freezing cold evening, we went downtown to shoot a fitting, only to be told as soon as we got off the subway that the fitting got canceled. Maia and I looked at each other, both said oy, and turned lemons into lemonade by ducking into a shitty dive bar and ordering cheap steaks and beer and having a really good time. I still remember how much fun we had. The next day we spent hours with Highland as they prepared for their show. Maia just ran around the space as quiet as a mouse. You can never tell what Maia's up to—she's the fly on the wall, after all. Would this video be boring? In the insanity of fashion week, was she getting everything she needed? Would we have enough interesting footage for a long-ass 8-minute documentary? After the show was over, as I worked with Maia to edit the video, I realized that even though I could barely see her labor, couldn't tell how hard she was working or what she was doing, that she had had vision all along and expressed, in video, what I would hope to say about Highland in words. That's who she is: easy but focused, and with vision. As she leaves, FADER loses a powerful set of eyes, and a powerful voice, but I'm very confident they'll be used elsewhere in really beautiful ways. —ALEX FRANK

Phoenix, "Entertainment"

I met Maia through mutual friends years ago, and I was really looking forward to getting tighter with her when I started at FADER last August, because she'd always struck me a true-blue mensch, which is Yiddish for a person of kindness and integrity. Sadly, we work at completely opposite ends of the office, so I didn't get as much quality Maia time as I'd hoped, but I'll always remember how much fun we had together a few months ago when we went downtown to interview Phoenix on the top floor of the Standard Hotel. I'm not sure how she felt about it, but I was kind of intimidated, because I had been given the task of interviewing them in French, which is my mother's native tongue and not a language I'm in the habit of using when I'm interviewing Madison Square Garden-huge, European electronic acts. Maia's quiet sweetness alone definitely helped keep me calm, but I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that behind all the famousness and industry red tape, Thomas Mars and Deck were just a pair of nice, sincere, completely unpretentious dudes. I think I will always associate Maia with that moment, that rare balance being a really talented and accomplished person but also carrying a heart into everything you do. —EMILIE FRIEDLANDER

Jim Henson on The Arseino Hall Show

Since everyone's written so nicely about how good Maia is at making videos, I'll add that she's also a pretty great writer. Two summers ago, after a string of events she elegantly called "life burps," Maia wrote a short essay about having her aura read. From that incident, she also talked about sometimes having trouble deciding even what to eat for dinner, sending herself to the museum to learn about muppets instead of doing nothing and, ultimately, learning how to have a good time without anyone else's consent. On another occasion, she wrote about her mother with the same gentle directness and brevity. I'm not sure writing is fun for any writer, and I'd bet Maia wouldn't call herself a master writer. Because why call yourself a master at anything? Maia knows creative tasks take work, that no one gets off easy, that everyone should remember to just do what feels right and not to be too hard on themselves about it. You don't have to figure all that out just once, of course, but pretty much every day, especially when you're trying something really new. But Maia, wisely sure of her own resilience, is brave. —NAOMI ZEICHNER

FADER TV: Open Bar with Michael Chapman

Maia is a chiller, a quality that does great things for her whenever she has to manage film subjects like bossy, topless goof-rappers with British alter egos. The time I remember her go-with-the-flowness most was actually a small incident while shooting a video that only a small number of people ever watched—I think it was the least viewed FADER TV I worked on, though we were both pretty psyched about filming it. (Truthfully, I never know if Maia is genuinely excited or just mirroring my excitement, which is reassuring either way and a nice quality too.) Some Tuesday after work, we went to shoot a single song in Williamsburg with this old, legendary-to-some, Irish guitarist and singer/songwriter named Michael Chapman, who was late or warming up or something, so we had to wait around the bar outside. In fact, I was late too, and so Maia was already at a table with her boyfriend, who is a fan of Chapman and was thus kindly recruited to hold the sound recorder, and her brother, who happened to be in town. They had their own thing going, so I basically shut up and drank a beer while Maia and her brother talked about old T-shirts—she was wearing a hand-me-down of his—and how he once went to a very awkward bachelor party with their dad, and so on. Typing this out now, I guess hanging out and waiting for Chapman is what anyone would have done, and not especially indicative of her true chillness, but it was a very pleasant half-hour in the summer that I remember fondly, basically entirely thanks to Maia. —DUNCAN COOPER

FADER TV: On the Road with Meek Mill

The first time I met Maia was actually right around this time, about five years ago. She was living in Los Angeles. I, for reasons that were not 100% clear to me, was in Palm Desert for Coachella, covering the event for FADER, but also playing official documentarian for a series of off-site parties we were throwing at a nearby hotel. When those parties weren't happening, we had a run of the hotel to ourselves. There was a full bar we could just walk up to, a pool, hot tubs—it felt like paradise. I had no idea who Maia was, but I was generally confused by the fact that I was living in a private hotel so I just chalked it up to another inscrutable event in a long line of inscrutable events. Not much later, Maia came to New York to work in the video department at FADER. If you're unclear on what, exactly, that means, it's basically that almost any time any editor of the magazine went and did anything with an artist, Maia was there. She filmed bands playing acoustic in bars. bands playing in woods, just about every rapper that floated through the FADER office. She went to people's apartments, she filmed live shows, she spent just about every SXSW in a tiny trailer, eating bite-sized Snickers and editing videos on the fly. I'm not expanding on Maia's job description because it's impressive (though it is), I'm doing it to bring up a point: throughout all this, Maia had the best sense of humor ever. I never once saw her get overly frustrated or angry with anyone and she always had the best jokes.

A few months ago, Maia and I went to Philadelphia for the day for an event Meek Mill was doing with Puma. It was kind of shitty out. We got caught in the rain on multiple occasions, and because of the way the day played out, we ended up killing a couple hours in a Starbucks before Meek did a signing at an FYE (ask Maia about the fans that showed up sometime). To get to Philly, we rented a car. Maia drove there and I was going to drive back. That evening, after the signing, and after we ended up eating chain Italian food in a booth with such deep seats that we both looked like children playing at being adults, we went to a private Meek Mill show in a recording studio. Miley Cyrus, with her new haircut, was there for some reason. We filmed his performance as well as a brief video interview, tried and failed to get pictures with Miley. Around 1AM we got in the car to head back to New York. I'd had a couple drinks and realized I shouldn't drive, which Maia, rather than being annoyed, took with good humor and grace. On the ride back, the road was mostly empty and we listened to one of the only CDs we had in the car, The Cranberries' Greatest Hits, with the heat blasting. I probably fell asleep a couple times, but Maia was totally cool with it. —SAM HOCKLEY-SMITH

Posted: April 19, 2013
Daily Inspiration: Maia Stern