Tech Entrepreneur Mark Kassen Talks Initiatives That Might Aid Voters and Hollywood Alike

THR-ONE TIME USE ONLY -Mark Kassen- Photographed by Austin Hargrave- H 2020
Austin Hargrave

The Like Minded Ventures CEO and producer is testing protocols and technologies to get the entertainment industry safely back to work.

Though much of Hollywood has been shut down because of the pandemic, Mark Kassen appears to be busier than ever. As the founder and CEO of Like Minded Media Ventures, the entrepreneur, who also acts, directs and produces — he was an executive producer on the 2006 HBO telefilm Bernard and Doris — oversees a wide-ranging, three-year-old company with offices in L.A. and Montreal that develops everything from content to new technology. In terms of the latter, Kassen's Like Minded Labs offers TODA, a multimedia content distribution system.

Meanwhile, his firm's production arm recently teamed with medical technology company Masimo on a shoot during which they tested a COVID-19 safety program, combining safety protocols and technologies that Kassen believes can help Hollywood safely return to work amid the pandemic. He says his interest in health and safety likely comes from his parents, who worked in the medical field. "My mom was a nurse and an educator," says Kassen, who grew up in Fayetteville, New York. "My father was a pharmacist and was committed to medical education through just helping people with their health."

Kassen, 48, also recently teamed with Chris Evans (the actor starred in the 2011 movie Puncture co-directed by Mark and his brother Adam) and media and technology entrepreneur Joe Kiani — founder and CEO of Masimo and a Like Minded co-founder and board member — on A Starting Point, an ambitious online platform aimed at promoting civic engagement to help voters better understand the political landscape. Politicians provide answers on video to set questions that voters might have regarding positions on everything from the economy to the environment.

Using TODA's video conference tool for this interview, Kassen talked with THR about what he and Evans hope to accomplish with A Starting Point, getting Hollywood's return to work right and how he hopes to incorporate new technology into his filmmaking.

What's the goal of A Starting Point?

The goal really was to just create a mechanism for people to get good, clean information directly from the source. The larger goal was to shorten the extension cord between the electorate and elected officials. Chris, Joe and I really believe that democracy is best served by a very well-informed citizen. … The idea is to have an ecosystem in which elected officials feel they have a direct voice out to their people, and the people can feel closer to the elected officials and therefore take action. The only action that you can take on our site is to register to vote.

What do you hope will be the impact of something like this in the current political climate?

I hope more people will engage with their elected officials. I hope more people will feel like there's a place for them to start, and therefore then register to vote, and then hopefully vote.

Who are some of the elected officials that you've engaged with on the platform?

We have hundreds, everyone from senators like Chris Coons and Tim Scott and Jim Risch, Cory Booker, Lisa Murkowski, Chuck Schumer and Debbie Stabenow. Across both sides of the aisle, two branches of government, the federal level and then mayors and governors are actively putting up their content.

Our feeling was, in terms of different mechanisms, we're not the better way — we're a different way to do it. I want to be really careful to say that. But in terms of what we do, we don't have any likes or dislikes on our site. We hope to have an earnest, productive discussion around issues.

How did you get involved with Kiani's Masimo in COVID testing?

They wanted to do some commercials. [An ad] that we are now doing, we actually had to shoot a lot. They've developed a set of monitoring tools, a chest monitor for temperature and an oxygen monitor for your finger, and a set of best practices, to get people back to work in factories like their own. We used their technology to monitor everybody [on-set], test everybody, adhere to all these other rules, of course — distancing and everything like that, no more than 10 people to a room, taping off areas. There are many unknowns we're all still trying to figure out. But the idea was to get the most data, use that data for the best practices, continually look at that data and have other people help monitor you so we could then do our job if we adhered to certain protocols. It's maybe nine protocols, along with technology.

How does the technology work?

[It included an] oxygen saturation monitor on my finger. It had a small wristwatch, basically, that Bluetoothed to my phone. Then there was a temperature gauge I put on my chest. I left the temperature on for 10 days. I took the oxygen off at night, but it's really light. It's like a Band-Aid. The thing on your wrist is a very light piece of plastic. Then that goes by Bluetooth to my phone, which then also goes to Masimo and to the hospital. Those are the two main technologies.

For me, honestly, it became almost mission-oriented because some of these things seem like a pain in the butt to adjust to at first, but I want to get back to work and I want people to get back to work. I have a responsibility to the people who show up to work now to be safe and hopefully to find a way that other people can go do things safely.

You also incorporated an LED wall and virtual production techniques along the lines of what was done to make The Mandalorian, right?

We worked with a company called PRG, a gigantic touring company, adding to what Masimo has to create an environment of keeping everybody apart using technology. [With the virtual production set], we were able to do a lot more with less people on set. It's new technology, so there are always interesting issues. But we were able to do something really cool and really stimulating from a creative and technological standpoint.

What were the lessons learned from the shoot? Are you hopeful the industry can start getting back to production?

I'm very hopeful. I can tell you right now that I'm COVID-negative and everybody I work with is, because I know the last time we've all been tested and what we've done since then, unless someone's sneaking out. I think there's a way to do it, for sure. Personal responsibility and caring about your community is important. The directors and producers have to be patient, and there has to be more planning. Is that going to burn some time? Absolutely, but you know what? [Shooting the commercials while following safety protocols], we got a lot done, and it was pretty complicated. Wouldn't have minded a couple more people, but I think figuring that out is going to be the key and the challenge. People need to agree on some basic standards, and they're out there.

With what you have learned, are you going to be producing?

Yeah, we're going to do two movies this year, I'm pretty sure. I don't want to announce what they are. We have a couple movies that will have an element of visual effects that we'll absolutely use the same [virtual production] technology. Who knows? Maybe by the time the second [film] goes, it won't be necessary for us to use Masimo [products on set]. We thought we would be shooting in August in Montreal. We have a wonderful, beautiful, cool empty office right now that we can't wait to visit again.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.