When Her Dream Came Knocking, Robin Hauser Opened the Door

Wayne Gretzky is famously quoted as saying “You miss 100% of the shots you never take”. In 2015, the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival premiered a documentary film called CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap, co-produced and directed by Robin Hauser. By the time the screening ended, and the lights came up, the audience had experienced a penetrating look at a social and economic issue of international importance: the dramatic lack of female programmers in the male-dominated technology industry.  Insightful writing, supported by beautiful imagery and music, made the film a shining example of cinematic excellence—a testament to Robin’s professionalism and skill. By November 2016, CODE had screened in forty-two countries and won numerous awards.

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I first met Robin on a beautiful sun-drenched August afternoon in a Napa vineyard where we were both speaking at a YPO-SF (Young Professionals Organization) Gold event; with the subject being “Life Transitions”.  My former boss and long-term friend, Paul Zuber, had organized the event; and it was one of those truly magical times where you’re surrounded by like-minded driven, but for goodness sake, individuals in a setting that is conducive to those future-looking thought-provoking sessions we so need. After telling my own stuck-in-a-rut-with-a-gut transition story, I sat back with a lovely Chardonnay and listened, transfixed as the entire 100+ executives were, to Robin’s every passionate word and her truly inspirational tale.  As the speakers gathered after the event to get to know each other – the more I learned of her background and mission, the more I wanted to amplify her message and include in the upcoming (at the time) next book, Climb Higher – Pursue Your Passion With Purpose.   Robin, just like the other amazing individuals we’re highlighting this month, transformed herself from a Foreign Securities Specialist at Nomura Securities to an award-winning director and producer of documentary films bringing pressing social issues to the screen as well as an in-demand speaker (TED, TEDx) on topics including bias, AI, diversity, and social inequality.  Her story below is one of inspiration, overcoming adversity and truly helping to make the world a better place each and every day. 

If you were watching the film, CODE, it would be easy to imagine that Robin, fifty years old at the time of its release, had spent a lifetime working her way up in the film-making business, preparing for such an achievement. In reality, it might have come as a shock to moviegoers to learn that a mere six years earlier Robin was just about as far away from being a successful and celebrated filmmaker as possible.  Instead, she was stuck, convinced that her professional dreams all belonged in the realm of “missed opportunity.” Though she’d begun her adult life armed with an MBA, and had embarked on a business career in Europe, full-time motherhood came along to displace all that.

“I lived a beautiful life,” she said. “I loved being a mom. But my kids were getting older and I longed to be back in the working world.  I didn’t feel like I was creating and contributing to society.  There were a lot of things I did in the community, but I didn’t feel I was making a difference in the world.”  That altruistic goal, to use her time and energy to make the world a better place, jostled in her mind with another latent desire that had been nagging at her over the years—to make a movie. 

Then something happened to fan the flames: Very similar to David Batstone and his founding of Not for Sale where he first witnessed sex-slaves at his local restaurant in the Bay Area; she saw a documentary film called Born into Brothels, which told the story of children whose mothers were prostitutes in one of the toughest cities in India. Released in 2004, the film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

“I’d seen lots of documentary films, but there was something about this one that changed me,” Robin recalls. “Sitting in the theater, I felt an intense longing to get involved in documentary film-making. But I sat there thinking, I don’t know how. I don’t know if I can. Darn it, I’ve missed out on something I’ve always wanted to do.”

That moment, seated in a darkened theater surrounded by strangers, became a turning point in Robin’s life. Though she didn’t know it at the time, the bittersweet longing she felt, the sense that her dream had slipped away, would become the fuel to help her break free of the bonds of previous limitations. 

Robin recalls a pivotal moment sitting in the editing suite and watching a scene from her first movie, Running for Jim, come together. It was a dramatic re-enactment of a key moment in coach Jim Tracy’s childhood—running with his siblings on the track between horse races at various California venues. It was the first such scene she’d designed and directed by herself.

“The scene in the film produced the same feeling I had when watching Born into Brothels,” she said. “The convergence of the visuals and the music built up a swell of emotion, and it sank in on me that I was actually doing what not that long ago I had thought was out of reach. It was an incredible moment.”  Suddenly, the doubts that had plagued her a few years earlier—I don’t know how! I don’t know if I can! — disappeared. From there she co-produced and directed CODE, which found its success at Tribeca Film Festival just four years later.  “I named my production company Unleashed Productions for a reason,” she said. “I feel that I have unleashed passion now for visual storytelling and for making cause-based films that make a difference, influence people and promote positive change.”

No Stopping Now

Along the way, Robin has had ample opportunity to share what she’s learned with other people struggling to overcome opposition—no matter the source—and follow their dream.  “I tell them to commit, believe, and push forward. It’s important to really believe you belong in the room pursuing your dreams,” she said. “Say it out loud: ‘I’m going to run the San Francisco Marathon.’ Now I’m committed to it. It’s scary, but it also validates your intention, and then you can move forward.”

It’s no accident that the cause-based stories Robin is most drawn to tell involve freeing people—women in particular—from social and economic barriers to equal treatment. She believes that change begins when people collectively “push back” against all kinds of mistreatment, whether blatant or nuanced. After producing and directing a film called Bias—an examination of unconscious prejudice and how it affects our behavior socially and in the workplace, Robin is nearing completion of her latest masterpiece, $AVVY –  a in-depth look that explores why it’s critical for women to understand and take control of their personal finances.

“I would never have pursued my dream of becoming a full-time filmmaker had I not had the voice in my head and the feeling in my gut that kept telling me, It’s now or never.”

In the years that followed, Robin and I stayed in contact and as her new projects began to take shape, Michelle and I readily jumped at the opportunity to first donate/invest in Robin’s amazing piece, Bias, and now in $avvy.  We felt strongly then, and even more so now, that there should be even more and wider exposure for her films.  One of the most wonderful experiences is to have Robin “curate” any (or all!) of the documentaries for one’s extended leadership teams or all-hands meetings.   What we love is her ability to see the enormous benefit to organizations to have expanded diverse leadership and employee base, starting from increasing female coders to identifying and addressing unconscious bias in us and our own teams, and the ripple effect for others.

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For more information on Robin and Feature Films/Unleashed Productions, how to book her for an curated screening or to donate or invest in $avvy, please go to https://www.finishlinefeaturefilms.com/savvy/.  To read hers, and other stories of ordinary people just like you and me who are transforming their lives and those around them, please click here for your personalized copy of Climb Higher; Pursue Your Passion With Purpose.