"My whole life I had succeeded at everything. I thought it was the worst thing in the world when I was 24 to have not finished a feature film," Shlain said. "But I learned so much more about myself. You can't just keep doing something because you don't want to be a quitter."
Then, in 1996, she was offered the opportunity that would change her path. Greg Mason, publisher of a magazine called the Web, owned the word "Webby." Impressed by her background, he asked Shlain, who was designing a Web site for him, to produce an Internet awards show.
"It was a blank canvas," said Shlain. "I had a vision of how huge it could be."
Show Goes on Before Magazine Folded
The first Webby Awards took place in 1996 at Bimbo's Supper Club in San Francisco. Mason's magazine folded soon thereafter. But the Webbys lived on under the magazine's parent company, Boston-based International Data Group, publisher of the Books for Dummies series and Cliffs Notes. Shlain is now CEO of Webby Awards Inc., a division of IDG. She is also the creative director and executive producer of the show.
"Tiffany has not only created an event, she's sold it to others, which is a great endorsement of her skills as an impresario," said IDG President and CEO Kelly Conlin. "The Webbys have a great future."
Two years ago, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani offered to provide a new home for the Webbys, and after Shlain declined, the press in both cities had a field day.
"I say no to a lot of things," she said. "Mayor Brown has attended the Webbys since Year One. But it would be incorrect to say the fact that Giuliani wanted the Webbys didn't increase the city's participation," said Shlain. "It's not like we get special treatment. It's just important to the city."
So important, apparently, that this year's Webbys, on May 11 at the Masonic Auditorium, featured a post-party in Nob Hill's Huntington Park, the first time in memory the city had allowed such a thing.
"It was unique event," said Sandy Lee of the city's Recreation and Parks Department, "the first and maybe the only that will ever be held there."
The Webbys may be in the off-season now, but Shlain isn't slowing down. She wants to write a book comparing the Internet revolution to the Renaissance and spend more time in her art studio. There are speeches to give and awards to receive (she nabbed a Shining Star Award from the American Women in Radio and Television last month).
And despite the lesson she learned about "Zoli's Brain," Shlain still hopes to finish the film, maybe even release it on the Web.
"I now know that there is a way to be true to one's vision, however alternative that may be, and still reach a large audience," Shlain said. "I have experienced it with the Webby Awards."