In this episode, I speak with writer/director Shal Ngo.
Shal was bitten by the film bug early, and fondly remembers balancing his family’s video camera on his nine-year-old shoulder (it shot directly onto VHS tapes and weighed a ton).
Born and raised in Minneapolis, he graduated from NYU in 2008, where his thesis film took first place at the SyFy Channel Film Contest. Since then he’s kept busy in the narrative, documentary, and commercial worlds. He regularly works with progressive politicians and has created commercials and content for clients like Bernie Sanders and the ACLU. His narrative and documentary work has won Adweek’s Ad of the Day and Vimeo Staff Picks on multiple occasions, and he is a Sundance Institute grantee.
Shal loves to mix genres; he’s had two films premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival – one was a sci-fi drama set in Vietnam ( The Last Fisherman ), the other an experimental documentary about solitary confinement in American prisons ( The Box ). Shal wants to blur the line between art and entertainment and push his audience to ask deeper questions about their own lives and preconceptions.
Shal splits his time between New York, Los Angeles, and Ho Chi Minh City. He’s represented by UTA and Echo Lake Entertainment.
But I mean, that’s why not everyone is super successful. You don’t I mean, people assess what the ones that jump into their fear, like look at me like even just look at like the kids that get really good at skateboarding are the ones that are down to fuck their shit up.
Welcome to another episode of the next level filmmakers show where we interview filmmakers from around the world to explore their pathway to success. What worked, what’s working now, so you can take your Korean business to the next level. I’m your host Clarke Scott. And I believe that having the right systems in place is the difference between taking your career and business to the next level, or just being another dude or dudette with a camera. So if you’re tired of hustling for one off projects, being undervalued and underpaid, I’d like to invite you to an exclusive free training I’ve put together for filmmakers just like you where I share the exact strategies I’ve used to grow my own video production agency. Just go to Clarke, Scott education.com. That’s Clark with an E. Clarke Scott education.com. forward slash free training. That’s Clarke, Scott education.com forward slash free training and start your journey to becoming a next level filmmaker today. Okay, Mr. Y’all, do you want to? Do you want to jump into this? Let’s do it. All right. So the first question I ask everyone is, how’d you get your start?
How did they get my start? Well, I guess if you go back to pre career, I was always very interested in storytelling as a child. So I went to Manas for story School, which really, really nourished my creative side, I was able to write comics and draw stories and just go so deep inside my head and my creativity for hours every day. I discovered it can’t my friend’s camcorder shooting on the big VHS tapes when I was maybe 10 or 11 got into making music videos and stuff when I was 15. I was blessed to go to this state High School in Minnesota where I’m from called the arts high school where that really nurtured creativity. You have like academic classes in the day. And then your arts classes in the afternoon. So I took the media classes there so setting photography, and video and I was actually made like a feature film when I was 17, which was great practice and pretty terrible movie. From there. I
want to say I don’t know why, but I just thought a brick. Have you have you seen the movie brick? Yeah, totally. I don’t know why. It’s just I think you also remind me a little bit of Jays Joseph Gordon Levitt. Yeah, yeah. Obviously. In that. Yeah.
Yeah, he did a lot. A lot a lot. Yeah, I’m thinking for him when I was at Sundance about eight years ago. They’re like, you chose to quit. But I was okay. So from there, I went to NYU film school. And so that was really where I got to cut my teeth and meet a lot of people that I’m still friends with some of whom I still collaborate with. And right out of film school, I met a really great guy and dear friend, Matt McLaughlin, a photoshoot for a friend. And we started a production company together called macular so macula started out doing kind of Fashion Film. And you know first few months we also had another woman with us Gina corral was the three of us doing this company within our first few months we got this huge break where Dockers through a friend of mine wanted us to do these commercials wouldn’t want us to do these online ads. So we flew out to San Francisco on a little budget and shot these six different documentary shorts one of which was was with Barry Jenkins now is famous and directed you know moonlight and all that good stuff back there and it just done this little movie called medicine for melancholy incense as well. So we shoot this ad and they end up fucking loving it and turning it into like a pre Super Bowl Super Bowl spot and playing it during the NBA Finals was a huge success with our first thing was super stoked. Like how does it always gotta wait for the phone to ring you know we very much had this idea that like our way the story
a lot right?
Yeah, I work with a separate us but the phone no ring, you know we work in but we’re not we’re not growing like we’re making a living which is you know, a blessing in and of itself. But we’re not like growing with it. We want to grow. So we continue that for a few years. And eventually, Matt starts another company called Akers with another friend of mine, Andrew sin kiss from NYU, and they wrote me as a director so I leave the business side and I go go fully into the filmmaking side. And then from there, I’m directing commercials for many years you know, making a making a good living out of it, but feeling somewhat unfulfilled always having this idea that you know, I’m going to transition over to the films. I’m doing music videos here and there, but I mean, these videos are fucking terrible. They’re just like, horrible to do overdue, and super late. I pay very well these days. Oh, yeah. They don’t pay well at all and it’s organizations which is about me and The most insecure of all artists in the US act as actors can be pretty insecurity. Yeah, but that’s true. That’s true. But my thing without going on too much of a tangent is that you think that and this is not all musicians, or some guys I work with, and I just love. But you would think that like, if you were like a rock and roll person, or like a punk rock person, or counterculture person, but you wouldn’t be so obsessed with like your hair, absolutely pristine and perfect. Like there’s just a level of insecurity. I couldn’t believe I got deeper into that. But again, it’s not everybody. Yeah, sure, for sure. But then, I mean, so basically, what happened was in 2012, when was it 2017 I was like, you know, I need to, I need to make a movie already. I’d made shorts here and there. But I hadn’t really done this. This my piece, you know, and I had always loved science fiction. I’ve always read science fiction, and was a little kid. I was writing like crazy space stories. I was very interested in fancy sci fi. And so I was like, you know, I want to make a sci fi movie. I’ve been making good money. But this shit is not filling my soul. You know, it’s not giving me a sense of purpose or anything. I’ve been doing a lot of political work, which is, you know, which is nice, because at least I was able to use my talents, something good like one. If I’m like, struck by lightning today, at least I did a bunch of stuff for Bill deblasio is like after school and pre k program, right. So like, that’s something I’m thankful I was able to do Matt and his company. There’s a lot of this political activism, for politicians, for Bernie Sanders, for people like that, for the woman brought to you saw that stuff was the one part of the thing that was rewarding, you know, because I felt like I was making the difference. But the part where I was really expressing myself was missing. So I took four months off, and I flew to Vietnam, where my father lives and my two brothers now live as well. My dad’s giving me he was living in Minnesota in Minneapolis for most of his life. He moved back there about four years ago, and hence the surname. Yeah, yeah. And, and I shot I wrote a movie and I shot it out on a raft in the middle of nowhere. And it was fishermen. The last fishermen. Yeah. He said a while is that available on VOD? On VOD platforms? No, right now, it’s in a development deal right now for a show that I’m working on. So it’s unavailable for private screeners at all that I you know, I send out to, to friends and acquaintances and whatnot. Oh, customized. Yes. And podcast. project, you can get it. And honestly, if you just hit me up, Awesome. Cool, cool. But um, yeah, that was just an incredibly difficult and rewarding project. And opened a lot of doors for me, it got me an agent, it got a show that I’m working on now. I’m writing. And yes, that’s the runtime on that, again, the runtime is about 11 minutes and 50 seconds. Yeah, we shot for four days. Cool. So
I want to go back to that’s those branded tacos that you did. How did that all come about? Like, how did you go from basically, you know, film school grad through to shooting that stuff? And then that’s that guy, too. I mean, it was a broadcast during the Superbowl. It was during the Superbowl pregame.
I should, I should. Yeah, by that. Yeah. It was broadcast. For that time, I think it was 20. Oh, man, how old was I 2322. Something around there. Like it was absolutely fantastic. I never had anything on TV before. I mean, it’s again, it’s like the best thing you can do. The best thing you can do is just is no people, unfortunately. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to at the end of the day. You have to be good. You have to have friends. And you have to have a network. Yeah. And what happened was is I was waiting tables at the time. And I met a dude that I really liked. And he’s still a friend of mine SkyTeam a while and he’s awesome. He came in I was waiting a table he was like you’re cool. Would you hang out sometime. Got his info turns out and he was doing these these these fashion stuff. And so I did this, like no budget Fashion Film with stop motion for him. For this wallet brand that he’s doing now. He’s doing all kinds of crazy stuff. He’s really awesome guy. And from that he introduced me to one of his friends Sean Lewis was working at Dockers and I made a film another just no budget film for Steven Allen and dockets and my friends from film school shot we went out to the tugboat graveyard in Staten Island which is a wild place and shot this thing completely legally on like a five D with these three homeys kind of bromance going up with Steven Allen clothes going on this adventure. So from there, this guy Scott from
hang on before before we go any further. So you’re you’re you’re waiting tables and you see This dude, like, it was just just you’re just being yourself and the dude’s like, I really like you. You are filmmaker, like, How did he know? Or did you overhear? Like, did you have? Did you ever hear him tell you what kind of thing? Okay, I’ll slip my business card in there or like, how did that?
Not at all man, I mean, honestly, I have a really bad memory, which is unfortunate because I really don’t like hurting anymore. Like, I have a bad memory. I’m like, I feel like I might as well as photons, but my whole life is gonna be this bad. I don’t remember the specifics if he even mentioned the film at the table. But I know that I went I mean, I just wanted to talk to him, because he’s a cool guy. I like did you know who he was? No, no, I had no idea. Okay. And even when I hung up, I think I didn’t find out until I hung out with him. I thought he was just like a cool, dude. And that’s really a lot of things have come from in my life. I mean, I think especially today, people are just so aware of you wanting something from Yeah. Yeah, and that’s all really turned me off as a person. Like the people that have I’ve always associated with I like, for lack of a better word, like, authentic, like real people, and always pleasing people, like, even if they’re kind of dicks, or if they’re kind of dumb, or if they’re kind of whatever, like, they’re just themselves. And this dude was real. And he was fun. And I was like, Alright, cool. Let’s hang out, I really didn’t have another motor for the fashion thing just kind of came out of it was like, a good synergy. You know? I think that’s partly if that would be one part of advice. I would have people it’s like, really? Find people that are on your level. Like, it’s tough. If you’re trying to try like, yeah, you’re not you’re not gonna like everybody. And it’s not always worth it to, like, pursue a friendship with someone just because they can get them to do something that they’re not cool. You know?
Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s totally true. I don’t remember who what was it that said, it may have been? Actually, I don’t remember who it was, it was one of the three Mexican directors. So I’m not going to try and pronounce the names because I’ll butcher it. But I’m fairly certain it was the dude. Gravity said that every film that gets made is a miracle. So I never criticize any film. Because, you know, so it’s someone at that level. You know, his filmmaking is just incredible. And I think at the end of the day, it just, it comes down to aesthetics, like it’s the I like this, I don’t like this doesn’t mean that it’s a bad film. And that’s a good film. It’s simply, I like this and I don’t like that I really like slot slow, dark and Moody, European cinema. And, for me, I can like the opening shot of Buzek, a film called distance by distance by new barrage alarm, is, it’s just a goes for about three or four minutes. It’s, it really gets carried from the sound design. And I think most people, probably 95 and several people that watch that would go, they would turn it off within the first shot, because it’s just so boring. To me. It was just brand. Um, so. Yeah, yeah. Anyway, um, cool. All right. So I would say that the strategy is just to find authentic people, this strategy in that, isn’t it?
Yeah, totally. Yeah, there’s a level of hustling and it’s not, you know, not that like, you know, simple that like, Oh, you know, just be like, you know, there’s obviously a level of strategy and scheming and being in the right place, and networking. But I just think, I mean, I’ve become more. I’ve become just like a better version of you. I’ve always been, I think recently, it’s been extremely successful for me. And I’ve been just focusing more on just having integrity, and saying no, sometimes, and it’s sometimes better, especially when you’re working in advertising. I have a few you know, if another thing I would say is like, in general, like if someone is in the advertising industry, don’t do them a favor, I’ve done favors for so many people over time, they’ve never paid them back. There’s not there’s not a level of loyalty in that industry. So if you’re going to make something, either make something that’s going to be cool, that’s going to be like part of your calling card, and it’s going to be something awesome or make something to make some money and that doesn’t mean it has to be a huge budget, but like killing yourself for a commercial for somebody because you think they’re going to give you something later. This is unfortunately not the way the world works. Like that whole industry is it’s it’s backwards and the people when they don’t have loyalty they jump through companies. It’s not It’s not like that. Unless you have working with someone that’s like a friend. Like that friendship has to extend beyond the work and like that’s a piece of advice I give young people all the time like don’t don’t make something like that fucking sucks for someone for nothing. But yeah, that would be cool or had to be some money because people like it’s just not it’s not worth it like for like either you favor. You do me a favor? Yeah.
The last CVC I shot is about five years ago for a major brand here in Australia. I got a call from the creative director from a big ad agency. And I don’t know why I said yes. He said to me, Clarke, can you do us a solid on this? And we’ll get you on the back end? Which, you know, obviously, I’m basically making Can you do a half price and will get you more work? Guess what never fucking heard from this guy. It’s just an IT. This is like, it’s a major, it’s officeworks. Like, it’s a major, it’s a major brand here in Australia, you can’t tell me that they couldn’t have paid my full day rate. And stupidly, I went, because, you know, the, the client, the brand, it was like, okay, and it didn’t, you know, not one call after that. So, and it wasn’t like the work of shit. It was the gig itself was not great. And it was at that point, I went, you know, I’m never fucking doing that again now, but I’ve done that many times. That was the very final time. So I think that’s great advice. Free or work with you, mate. Free or a budget? Yeah, I agree. Yeah. Yeah. All right, man. Let me move on to the second question is actually not because we kind of stopped you before you ended with where we where we started from? So I think we’re up to the break that you got from the last fishermen.
Oh, yeah. I mean, yeah. So I get a lot of detail first, I’m like, I’m, I’m prone to ramble. Yeah. So the break from that was like I got I’m signed by UTA now, and I’m doing a show with this company topic studios. So it’s really open doors. I also did a film again for Tribeca Film Festival in 2019. For 23andme, called hapa, which is a extremely personal film, about me discovering that I’m 48.7%, Asian and 51% white. So it starts out kind of like as a joke about race. And then it goes into exploring what that means to be a mixed person. And out of all my work, that’s what I’ve gotten the most response from people for, which is just so nice. I’ve had so many random people in my life, it may have been something to do with my passing. So it but it really started from that filming. And I feel like that was like the next arc in what I was doing is like, building up this commercial career. That was, Oh, it was going well. But I mean, it wasn’t, it wasn’t like I was doing shit that I was proud of. I mean, most of that stuff. Like, I’ll be very glad to, like, I don’t ever need to see any of what I made.
So, yeah, there’s, if you look at your reel, what would you say the amount of work you’ve done, how much you’re hiding? How much is stuff that you’ll never show? Anyone? 90% 80% 90% docky whatever spots hospitals spots, like in every director does that. I mean, I would say can I because I put one other thing out there to like, show. Good. Like, the more you see, like his people doing his dope stuff like that cool shit. Like, all those people, like all the directors I know. Like, I just know, like, they’re doing so much dumb stuff, pay the bills. They’re just not. They’re not saying so you know, like, everyone is struggling. Instagram and everything else. People are just people are just fronting about, like, how great and awesome and sexy why they’re doing some like, dumb stuff. I’m not sure anyone I know. The noise applies directly to what I’m making.
Yep, that’s why I asked the question because I knew the I knew what the answer would be. And it’s really kind of just heated home to to other people. And Alright, so I’m interested to know, you said that through. So you got an agent through the last fishermen. How did that happen? So with the last fishermen that went into was it tele rod that went into what was it?
They worked at Tribeca Film. Yeah, yeah. And so and then it got into a bunch of European festivals from there to like a dozen festivals that hit me up we still haven’t just got into 100 Festival in Switzerland, which is cool. Um, yeah. And then it was sort of again it’s just through the random people you know, I ended up doing this music video for an artist
and hang on before before we move on to more work I want to I’m interested to know so you shoot this you’re on you’re on set for four days you shoot it you edit it comes out comes out nice. You start submitting it to around to film festivals it’s getting in so you’re getting some kind of response back you’re your people just randomly hitting you up like this agent is random randomly hitting you up because they’ve seen you work or you
have a story I was telling her to explain it like I ended up doing a music video because I should so random. Again this is just like be out there you gotta be social you got to be hanging out you got to be sharing. You got to be have something that like delete Okay, to me last fishermen is a film that is worth seeing. Like if I saw it telling me that was that’d be like that’s fucking dope. That’s one of the first things I made was like I want to show people this answer anyone. That’s because it’s good as cool. And so I showed it at this at a Super Bowl party. At my buddy’s place in Venice, where I was staying with a bunch of rappers and musicians or axes. He used to be a musician. And this guy’s met this rap. This singers manager was there. And the manager was like, Yo, this movie’s awesome new music video. And his roommate, he showed it to his roommate, his roommate happened to be a junior agent at UTA. And the manager came to me young guy said, Tommy, and he’s like, yo, my roommate, like, he wants to like, you know, like,
Is it cool? If
Nick shows your film to his people at UTA? I don’t know if it’s knowing. And I was like, no, that’s not fucking annoying. It’s amazing. Please do that. So I showed it to his bosses, and they loved it. And next thing I know, I’m fine. I mean, that’s it. It’s because I showed them the Super Bowl party.
And when you were when you when you asked you Your, your mind, whether you could do that, were you thinking I just like, I just want to show my work to people? Or was there was this strategy at all behind? What like, were you thinking about what you were doing? When you asking the question about showing your work?
There’s definitely some strategy behind it. For sure. There’s always that there’s always an undercurrent of that, which you know, it’s not always like,
it’s not a bad thing to I’m feeling that you’re feeling it’s a bad thing. So here’s the thing, I’m pushing back on you a little bit, because there’s two things that get thrown out in the industry. Good work will get you more work, which is bullshit. And just put your work out there, and people will find you, which is also bullshit. There has to be a level of strategy, I call of hope marketing, we put screen grabs onto Instagram hashtag in the hope that someone’s going to see our work. The reality is, that’s not how the industry works. It works in a much more personal level like you, when you’re at a mate’s place. There’s, you know, people, they, they’re friendly, it’s more that someone knows, you knew someone who knew someone, as opposed to just putting your work out there. So don’t be fried. I believe it’s that we as artists need to be less frightened of the word strategy not seen as being manipulative thing, it is actually fucking smart. Just being smart. So if we change the word, from strategy, being manipulative to being just being fucking smart, but you know, we can all do better. So I’d be interested to know what kind of strategies you would you were using or have used? Yeah, probably move on to the to the next question, which is, or dovetail into it, which is, what’s the one unique or even strange thing that you’ve done? Or have done that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far? Yeah.
For the year, to be perfectly honest, the strategy aspect and selling myself aspect is what I’ve always been the worst that what I’ve always wished I was better at. So I wonder if the I’m just thinking out loud. I wonder if like, the obsession with authenticity, and realness can be detrimental to that growth in some way. You know, because I do strategize about these things, but not to the degree that I see other people that are much more successful than me. And I oftentimes kind of, I kind of judge them a little bit for it. I’m like this kind of like, you know, I’ll just be a fucking artist. Do you just art raw? And
not so cool. Yeah.
But you’re right. I totally, totally resonate with what you said about that. But in terms of the unique The unique thing in the question is like, the unique thing that I did to that I feel like propelled me where I was right now. Yeah. I think the biggest thing I did was just make that make a big jump into the unknown. And the fear. I think that’s the biggest thing I did was making last fishermen. And the biggest thing I did was like, you know, my company at the time, like they didn’t want me to do it. No, no, no one was like, You should go make this movie, not a single person. Not that people were like, not like, oh, cool, but there was nothing. I mean, I was going out to do this thing. And, well, there was one thing I’m sorry, it was one thing my friend said was extremely supportive. And she had and she had a little organization as product. So she was instrumental in helping us. But beyond that, it was like my company didn’t want me to go, I was going to be missing out on like a lot of work. I did miss out on a bunch of money. And I had no, I had no networking. I had to start off from nothing. And I remember so clearly, on the fourth day of shooting, we were on a boat, going back after you know, for 20 hour days in a row with my dp Jared. Jared leaving and watching this the night and just being so fried.
Oh, actually, I’ve sorry before I just want to interrupt you and say I’ve actually emailed Jared to say, can you be on the show? So he hasn’t got back to me. So can you email him and say, Go o’clock show?
And I told Jared I know and I was like, You know what, like, even if this unit this movie doesn’t go anywhere, because I didn’t know I wasn’t going like this was worth it just for the experience for like, for the learning and the camaraderie and just the confidence built in me. And that’s really what the biggest thing was the biggest thing that I did in my life The biggest thing for my success was completely leaping into the unknown. And trusting that and being okay. Honestly, it’s like being okay with failure, I think I was just really scared, scared to fail. And that’s why I didn’t hadn’t done these like big things, I put a lot of my money. I funded it myself from everything that I’ve been making. And I gave up a lot of money to make. It was a sacrifice, without any idea whether or not it was going to work out. And if the pieces and the line and we were shooting on a fucking raft in Vietnam, you know what I mean, in the middle of nowhere, with people that didn’t speak English with a boat driver that, you know, I never worked on a movie with a lot of people net worth to non actors. Like, it’s a complete like he said before from all Alejandro Greetings, names, you know, bad habits and bad luck. But you know, every miracle isn’t every movie is a miracle. And the movie was a miracle that came together, but it was really just, it was leaping into the unknown and being ready to catastrophic fail. It allowed me to succeed. And so it’s being uncomfortable in your own fear. Totally. Yeah. I think if you’re not afraid, I mean, unless you’re genius, but if you’re not afraid, I think you’re doing something wrong. I think every time you have a project heartily agree with that. You should be a little bit if it’s if you’re too comfortable. I’ve got every day I got on the side of the thing. I was excited, but I was terrified. You know, I was like, What if the fucking What if our camera falls in the water? Like, we’re not really good camera for at least eight hours. We’re like, so far out of school civilization. There’s no backup cameras and like, we have a lot of money here. Like, if something goes wrong, we’re fine. And the things that go wrong, you’re lucky, you know, you have to get kind of lucky with this shit. And you have to trust it. You have to be ready to fail and to lose a lot. And if you look historically, like there, there are some of the greatest filmmakers that have fucking failed so hard, like Jacques Tati, you know, you know, filmmaker? Yes. With time, you know, you went bankrupt, you lost everything. And the movies great. One of the one of the best films ever made play time, fantastic. And it ruined his career, and he lost all his money. But you know that that’s what you have to be ready to do that to be ready to just go for it. What else? Do you know?
Yep. Yeah, cool. So would you say that kind of the biggest thing that you’ve done is, is basically, because what we don’t want to do is encourage people who aren’t ready to go and and, you know, get on a raft and, you know, go bankrupt, right? So, bankruptcy hurts a lot of people, not just the one individual, but everyone that would have worked for him, his family, his kids that you know, so I think, would you say that with you, it’s a combination of knowing when you’re ready, and also kind of not being frightened to be afraid, being able to kind of live in that space of, of not really knowing what you’re doing, because fear is, is a feeling of uncertainty, right? And, and that feeling that then they’ll kind of listen to this feeling of I don’t really know what I’m doing here. I know, when I shot those moments, my feature that was like, day in day out, that was what it was like to be on set as like, I’m not really sure, but I think it’s this way. And then I just followed that intuition. And there was there was, it’s a funny place to be in. But I think if you can do that, but at the same time be thinking clearly and strategically, then it can pay off. Would you say that’s the one thing that you’ve been able to do? Is that the thread that you see through your career?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, you’re right. I mean, I’m talking about like a master film. And for that to the lead, just just for people that don’t know, jack to theater already made an incredible film. So he wasn’t just like, some guy going out to do something, he had a vision for something, but it was just too advanced for the world. So by no means don’t max out your bank account and go up, go to Vietnam and shoot a movie. I’m not. I’m not saying that. But I am saying that, like, there is going to be a level of risk involved. And luckily for me, like, well, I’m extremely lucky person. Like, I come from a family that loves me. I don’t have debt on very smart and talented. And I was making enough money at a job that I knew that even if I did fail, I’d be able to get back on my feet. I mean, that’s like the hugest thing with these things. Whatever your product is, if you have to, like the best thing you can do as an artist is find a way to make money as quickly as possible. Basically, stack cash and be smart like make sure you are able to survive and maybe hold off on having a champion maybe not but Yeah, I think so. I think those are the I think that that’s pretty much it like I was able to jump into that fear fear and I had a safety net I had I had money saved up and I had the experience from shooting so many projects you know, I’m saying yes for a long time to a lot of stuff you know like going back to what I said before I’m not saying don’t say Don’t say no to a project for no money do stuff for free by all means do so for free. Yeah, people sets for free if you don’t have any experience, but once you if you’re making In your own work, like you know, make make work that resonates with you, if you think it’s gonna be good or make it work that gets you paid, don’t don’t don’t do stuff for other people to add work, because they
haven’t seen people get used in advertising, that’s just, that’s creatives get used, which is part of the reason why I’m doing what I do is to, for that to not happen as much. But we do we get used, the way that I like to think about for myself, and it’s something that I like to talk about is that I think that what we’re actually trying to do, as as filmmakers is, is that we are kind of creative entrepreneurs, right, where that entrepreneurial aspect is, is that strategic smart thinking, but applying that to art, and then bring those two worlds of kind of art and commerce together. If you can do it in a smart way, then I think there’s a lot of parallels between that and and entrepreneurs, whether they’re, you know, like software, founder types, they’ve got this big vision for something, they want to build it. There’s, they’ve got to find money to be able to do that. No one, no one believes in them, all that kind of stuff. But but the the difference between the ones that do well, and ones that don’t, is not just their ability to come up with cool ideas, and execute on those cool ideas. It’s the strategies that’s around it. And so talk to us a little bit about how the whole agent thing worked after. So you went and shot the the film, last fisherman, you went and did the music videos, then the agent happened. Talk to us about how that all how that kind of transpired from there through to now.
I mean, I guess right now it’s it, I feel like it’s just, I’ve been able to open another door. You know, one of the reasons I think that they that I’m working with them now is that I went into that meeting with my agent before it was signed with with a clear idea of the movie, I want to make an easy way to communicate. I think that’s another skill. Well, I’m not a good. Well, I’m not a good salesman, or strategist and a lot of ways very good at talking about movies, and very good about talking about shit that I care about. So I had a movie already, that I’ve been, it’s been in my head for years that I just without really planning it, pitch to him. And he loved it. So that was a big part of that. And from there, I was able to, you know, go out to LA and do a lot of meetings with a lot of, you know, a lot of people in the industry. And, and from later on, I was able to pitch a film and connect me to other people. But I think it was going into that with like a very clear trajectory of where I’m going, you know, I got some very good advice from from an awesome producer, big time producer, which is just basically like, you know, your, your the side by that be decided by guy, you know, and I haven’t fully followed that I do some dark stuff on the side. But like in general, like, that’s my genre, I want to do character driven science fiction and fantasy films, and I want to find that space and more and more, you know, you know, I’m expanding these worlds, but I’m shrinking down kind of where they live down. But in the business world, you call it niching down. Yeah. niching down is it’s the same thing. And like you said the same way, the same parallel between entrepreneurship and art. Like, this is the same way with the specificity like in the grander sense of things like being a specific artists like specific art is really good and important, like movies that are just like to all to like too many ideas are terrible. Like they’re boring, and they’re frustrating. movies that are centered, that really are about something even if that’s something is, is vague and fleeting and abstract, like those are the ones that really resonate and stand the test of time. Yeah,
I agree. I think that’s that’s well said and well pointed out. And I think if you look at you look at anything that does anybody does anything well, even like you’ve just come back from burning, man, burning that has a very clear message, very clear agenda. And it does one thing, if you think about if you’ve ever sent an email, so this is just talking pure business, right? You send an email. If you ask too many questions in that email, what’s the reply that you get back from someone? Often vague, just like the quick like if Yeah, but if it’s, if the email has one question and one very clear message, then you’re more likely to get a clear answer. So, you know, emailing agents for For instance, if you if your email is all over the place, same thing, a film, a piece of art, if it’s saying one thing well clearly, even if it’s in Australia, we have a compiler called pro art, who his paintings are quite messy, but if you look at the bigger picture, if you look at it, you stand back from a pro op pining. You can see it’s the the there is some kind of use the word specificity. I think, narrative and specificity. Those two when they’re Together, you can you can have a pro art painting or children of men narrative that’s kind of, you know, that one shot in the car going like that is just crazy, right? But there’s something quite special about that film again, because there’s this thread that runs through it. And I think that if we do the same with our, with our careers and our businesses, then it can it can literally be the difference between doing well not. So it’d be interesting to see how you go after having this conversation with me whether after we get off you, you swipe memory start to come back and slow. Okay, actually, when I did this, I did that. And I did and then the strategy becomes more apparent to you over time. It almost feels like you think that you’ve done this intuitively. But I reckon that there is some kind of, because you said you said you’re talented and smart, clearly smart.
And talented. Sorry. I heard that come out. It was like it came out the wrong way.
So I reckon that’ll come out over time where you go, Yeah, actually, there was a there was quite a bit of strategy. I think as artists, we tend to think that that means that there’s a lack of talent, if it’s just strategy, there’s a lack of talent. And I think it’s a common I it’s always the people that I see have done well. Part of the reason why I like doing this interviews is because I get to dig. And everyone that I’ve interviewed thus far. There’s always been some kind of strategy. There’s some people are more cognizant of it, others less, but it seems like there’s always strategy there. So cool, man, let’s, let’s move on to what are you doing to sustain your career? What am I doing to sustain my career? So you just got back from Burning Man? So that would be one thing.
Yeah, sustain economically or creatively? However,
you want to answer it. We actually already know how you’re sustaining it economically, because you like 90% of the work that maybe that’s in the past, but, you know, most we all hide all this. Yeah. So that’s, that’s almost like a given. So, you know, maybe the the unusual things that you’re doing to sustain your career?
Sure. I mean, I have actually a career life coach that I’ve gone back to, again, that I that I that I went to in a different stage of my life, because I felt like he was able to ground me a year before last question, I started doing these other films called tangents. And that kind of opened the door to last question. So you know, sometimes I sometimes and again, like it’s money to spend, but sometimes when you just spend money on yourself like that, on something, like just as simple as like, you know, paying this person a couple 100 bucks, each time you talk to them about your career, it really forces you ended that. And I’ve been trying more and more like, I’ve been freelance for so long. And my mind is just such a, and my routine is such a jumbled, chaotic mess. I can’t believe I can’t believe I’ve been able to make it for 33 years. And so I’m trying more and more to get disciplined to get scheduled. And so that’s really like a big thing I’ve been doing recently, I’m reading a book called daily rituals, about the habits of different incredible people over time, I’ve developed these different strange things I’m doing where, you know, I have a pair of pants that I put on when I write every day, like I’m really trying to clearly I’m trying to incorporate ritual into my life because I think ritual is Yeah, and I agree. Oh, yeah. And I’ve been such a, I’m just, I mean, again, I talk a little too much shit about myself. It’s not like I’m just like, running off my head cut off. I do have a calendar. I do keep certain things together. But I do have like, a level of chaos in my life. I like to rectify and it’s getting better and and sitting down and, and writing consistently. So it’s really like keeping that going. And then keeping things like Burning Man going to art shows always going to the movies like always meeting creative people. I can’t tell you how inspiring the last week was. It’s the most inspired I’ve been in years. And I’m going to go back to this every year. Like it’s unbelievable. Like, the more you can be, the more you can like keep those neurons firing and just be bombarded with things is great. And so it’s like combination of habits and always staying staying up on what people are making.
And are you an extrovert or an introvert? I’m a big time extrovert. Yeah, okay. I think Burning Man and activities like that a very much directed towards extroverts. And yeah, I mean, I’m an introvert introverts. I look at Burning Man, and I kind of shake my head and go, Why? I’d rather stay home and read a good book. Yeah, so but I think the point is, is finding things that inspire you. Sure, and whatever that is for you. So building It looks like a really cool thing to do. From a distance for me. Yeah.
an introvert and she loves it. She just, she just can’t go as hard as me. She she’s, there’s a lot of parts of it. I mean, she, she can turn on the charm like that. And she’s actually a software entrepreneur as well. You can turn on the charm like crazy, but she just needs so much time alone. Like, it’s crazy compared to Yeah, she’s. So you know, I think I think you’d find something there for you as well. And maybe maybe you might see me there one day. We are some weird suit. Yeah. Cool, man. Um, do you meditate at all? I did meditate for a while. But I am have not maintained my practice. But I did. I did. I got a scholarship from the David Lynch foundation to learn tm. So I did that for a while. And two years ago, I did the seven David passionate, a silent meditation. Yep. Which was very transformative and wonderful. But I did not maintain that process. I meditate every once in a while, but it’s not great. I find that like, for me, like the biggest thing for me is to be regularly working out having like a workout scheme. scheme. That’s the close to the meditation I have. Are you a regular meditator?
Yeah. Have Been for 24 years. I was your practice a long time. Basically. So it’s, it’s mahamudra. So which is a? It’s part of the Tibetan tradition. Okay, yeah. So yeah, my, my wife’s half Tibet. And I actually have, if you google me, there’s, there’s more information on me and my background. I might cut this bit out, but I was a Buddhist monk for a long time. Oh, yeah. So back in the day, art school, then I met some Tibetans and I went off and did that for a while and then kind of came back into the, into the creative, creative world. And it’s been 10 years, I think, back in this world, so from there, you know, shooting commercials working my way up, but I had this kind of block in the middle where I kind of ran off, ran off and shaved my head. And, you know, did that holding? So? Yeah, but I don’t tend to sometimes when people hear that they assume a lot of things. I don’t tend to talk about it too much. But the we got some publicity around 1000 moments and and the angle was Buddhist monk makes makes a movie.
I kind of really, anyway, um, I’m on to my family, too. Before you know, you know whether or not you’re just telling you to like my granddad. My grandparents are Buddhist monks. And
yeah, yeah, well, you that’s part that’d be part of your father’s lineage here. part of the culture. So yeah, yeah. Cool. All right, man. Um, what are you doing today for your tomorrow? What am I doing from today from my tomorrow? Yep. It’s a nice vague question in order to allow your Curia your imagination to flow.
You know, so, you know, I’m getting older now. I’m 33. I’m focusing a lot more on my body and seeing people around me seeing people die seeing people get sick, I’m just seeing, really just seeing how important health is health is just the most important thing in the world. And my girlfriend is great for this, but I’m getting more into nutrition and exercise and, and, and sleeping, right. And I’m more and more, you know, Burning Man, I just just destroyed my body for a little while. But you know, not still being somewhat responsible. One could say but you know, I’m really just really centering myself in my house and realizing just remembering how precious time is, you know, I have a new, just like death clock I put on my computer. Now, that tells me like an estimate of how many days I have left. Oh, wow. Just to remind me that, you know, like, time is finite, you know, is it is that a digital thing? or? Yeah, it’s just a digital. It’s a little like, a widget or an app that you can download for if you’re on Mac, and I open it up says you have like 15,000 over days left, because you know, I go
there get on that.
Yeah, you just I’m just not going to do all the things that I want to do in this. Time. And time is so precious, so precious. And again, I like a lot we’re talking about a sorter. It’s always like, it’s never just like this or that it’s kind of in the middle. It’s like, you really can’t waste your time, but you can’t obsess about wasting your time because then you’re gonna waste your time. So it’s like, yeah, I’m just more and more I’m just trying to find the balance in my life and chilling out and and being more giving and listening better. I’m trying to just become a better person. I think it makes me a better artist too, and allows me to give more to the world. So yeah, yeah.
The so if anyone wants to find that death clock, they Google death clock. I think so. Yeah. Yeah, I’ll put it all fine. We’ll find out later I’ll put it in the show notes. Yeah, I’m definitely gonna look at that. Because, dude, you said you’re 33 I can tell you that your 30s go real quick. Yeah, Tommy get into your 40s it’s like, Fuck, man. This is you know, how did the last 10 years we had? Where’d they go? Yeah, no. Yeah, the that it’s Tom is a strange phenomenon. Very, very weird. Tell us something that you’ve and we kind of we kind of touched on this earlier. Something that you’ve read watched or heard that inspired you recently
something that I’ve read or watched or heard that inspired news. Now think about that for a second. reading and watching hearing a lot of stuff.
you know, that movie that Korean movie burning really inspired me. I thought that was so fucking good. Okay, I like that. I think I’ve got that in my is it on Netflix? Yes, it is on Netflix. Okay, dude, it’s got the Asian dude from walking dead. Who’s the man? Yeah, that’s my cue. That’s him. Yeah, yeah. And it was like, is this thing about art that I just, I just love so much about art. Especially with the time based medium. I am. I’m just such it’s such a critical, judgmental person. Like, I saw this movie on a plane. Originally, I was about to turn it off. I was like, an hour. This movie is like, What the fuck is this movie about? Like, I feel like it’s good. But it’s annoying is boring. And then an hour and a half pass. I would read it. I was like, wow, this is incredible. What kind of movie finished I just I was blown away. And then I watched it again, you know, a month later and was blown away throughout it. Like it it just took like a little bit of patience. And it was just, you know, I’m I’m so interested in, in, in, in blending genres. You know, like, this is a art house sci fi film. This is like a musical fantasy film, whatever. This is experimental. Like right now I’m working on this film about solitary confinement. That’s like a horror doc animation, right? But but but burning is like it transforms it goes from being a noun drama to a thriller to something else. Like it really shifts forms. And it’s made by him. It’s just made by a master. And it’s really satisfying to like, you know, when you see those kinds of arts that are just like, they’re made by masters, this dude is just master. Yeah. So that was awesome. And then there’s this sci fi book, the three body problem. If you’ve heard of that book to them? No, I haven’t. It’s something it’s really cool. It was written by this guy who was a I think he was a physicist, or an engineer. And it’s a very, it’s like a combined again, it’s a good combines physics, like real world physics, with completely out there concepts of virtual reality and aliens, along with the Cultural Revolution and China under Mao. So it’s moving through time and space in a really interesting way. just totally, totally wild. So those are the two that are sort of like, two things that a reason I would bearing witness to that are just amazing. I’m just like,
I always recommend to people that movie and network. Why? So specifically, why do you think you were inspired by them? Um, well,
I mean, just take to just take the the book, actually, I feel like people talk about movies on this a lot more. Let’s mix it up a little bit. The thing that was so inspiring me too, about that book was, was that it, the scope of it was just unbelievable. Like, I love these huge, I love when things are just so big, but still so specific, like, without giving too much away like this. And I’m starting the second book. I’m starting the second book yet. But it moves through, you know, like 60 years of history with all these different characters, and it and it manages to keep you guessing. And to be so specific, well being so strange. It’s just like, I’m so amazed that there’s these new things that come out that that I’ve never experienced in my life, when I read a lot of science fiction. I’ve never read a Chinese science fiction story before. And this one is just fantastic. And there’s just something about it that that it starts out with one of the main characters father, being basically beaten to death by his students in the Red Army in the 60s, because he has these concepts that are not with the party propaganda that are not with like, even though he’s a physicist, you know, but his concepts of like experimental physics don’t don’t don’t fly with with Maoism essentially. And he’s beaten to death almost accidentally by the by these kids who are brainwashing who like feel actually guilty for
it, too. It’s just like, it starts out with just this profound,
gut wrenchingly sad scene that is still so human and sweet and realized Stick. And then it dives into this physicists in the modern world discovering a VR game on a distant planet about trying to solve a math equation about about these three suns. Like it goes so
the top. And just the competence in the writing from from this guy and just like the bigness of it, I mean, Amazon picked it up, but there’s going to be a show. I don’t know how they’re gonna do the show. It’s gonna be insane. Like other people are responding to this to this is like, somehow this is somehow this is something that, that the mass culture is behind, because for me, it was difficult to read too. So I’m impressed at this point. There’s, there’s, there’s something in the there’s something in this, like I said, this book is resonating. You know what I mean? Like everyone saw these books in these movies come along. That’s what happened with Harry
Potter. Right? Yeah. It’s it kind of sounds a little bit like Cloud Atlas. That’s that’s what kind of reminded me of a little bit of that. Except that would that kind of didn’t work.
Yeah. The book you mean, or the move? No, no. The movie? The adaptation. Yeah.
I mean, the book was amazing. But the, the adaptation, they tried real hard. And I think that was part of the problem was that they were trying and couldn’t live up to it. So So someone’s bought the rights. Do you know?
Yeah, so about the rights. I know, there. I think Amazon has it right now. And they’re doing a show out of it, which I think is going to be smarter, because it’s so big. But I don’t have the ISOs for it. Honestly, I think they usually butcher these kind of things, and especially especially sci fi shows, they’re unfortunately, oftentimes so bad. So that’s one of the reasons I want to make some good ones, ya know, the concepts and
the annotations are though I was I’ve been reading recently, Mullingar, ramalinga, Anthony Malin, go Cold Mountain. ration the director, writer, director. So he comes from more of a writing background. And while I’m not a big fan of these movies, definitely a big fan of the man and unfortunately lost him. He’s like, 52, when he died. He in his book, talking about the process, which is a fantastic book on on filmmaking, his process of adaptation is that he sees them as completely two different things. And I think that’s so the book is one thing. And his adaptation in the screenplay that comes from the book is a completely different thing. It’s not the same. So it for him an adaptation is actually not an adaptation. It’s a it’s not a copy, paste. It’s more like it’s an edit. Like, it’s a completely new thing. And so I think when I heard that, when I heard him say that it was like, Ah, okay, I can’t remember what I’ve watched something recently. That was an adaptation, I’d read the I’m trying to, I can’t remember what it was. It was a something on Netflix again, and I remember, I watched it, knowing what was happening, but seeing it as something different. And it actually made the experience better, not worse. Knowing what what Anthony milling or just, you know, that piece of wisdom. So yeah, cool, man. Well, what if what do you got coming down the park, he said, You’re on the show, when what’s happening with them.
I’m working on the show right now. That’s about the end of the world. So it’s sort of like a black mirror type show that I’m doing that I’m writing right now, and waiting to see if it’s going to get the green light in that production. So I’m in writing mode right now on this crazy thing I’m going to shoot in Vietnam, that, you know, I’ll be able to tell you about more, hopefully in the next few months. But yeah, that’s been that’s been like, been my biggest focus. Right now. It’s been super exciting. I’ve been like pitching stuff for this company for a while. So it’s really exciting to see some movement on it with this original idea. And then in the meantime, I’m also working on this film with a good buddy of mine, James burns, we’re doing a Like I said before, this experimental stop motion horror documentary about solitary confinement is James actually spent a lot of time locked up in solitary confinement as it to other subjects. So we’re going to interview these three people here about their experience, and try to try to illustrate the psychology of what that isolation means through abstract stop motion pixelation with human beings. So it’s going to be very emotional, scary, intense film, it’s gonna be basically a real life horror film. But it’s a unique challenge again, even talking to you now. I like feel the fear, because it’s very ambitious. And I don’t know, it’d be really bad. But I every time that happens, I’m like, Okay, I’m on the right track. You know what I mean?
Yeah, you gotta you gotta be willing to. You said before you the if you don’t feel that fear, then you’re i don’t i what i heard was, you’re not doing it, right. I don’t think there’s a phrase I use, but I think if you’re not, if there’s no fear there, then you’re actually not doing it right. You need to be pushing yourself to the point where Like, this could fucking suck?
Yeah, it does.
Sometimes it just does. For sure it’s going to I mean, that’s why not everyone is super successful. You know, I mean, people assess are the ones that jump into their fear, like look, I mean like even just look at like, the kids that get really good at skateboarding are the ones that are down to fuck their shit up, they’re down to like, get hurt. I remember my friend just gave born and I was a kid I was like, No, I don’t get hurt. Never even I never even got on the board and then a few buddies that were so good that would just like eat shit all the time and said no fear. They loved it. If you love them, something can get you over your fear hump. And yeah,
I reckon that you’ll find that if you look back over your career, this where you’ve been able to kind of level up will be related to some kind of strategy, even if it’s, if even if it does just feel random. I reckon. If you dig a little bit deeper, you’ll still go archive. That’s Yeah, you could call that little thing that I was doing. They could call that strategy, the more comfortable up you become with that, then the easier things will get in from a business perspective. Not from an artistic perspective. That’s still tough. Yeah. And I think you’re right, the rituals are really important.
I mean, I think Yeah, you gave me a food for thought there for sure. Man. That was great. Appreciate that. Yeah, there’s definitely a lot more again, like I just don’t I do it sometimes. You know, I don’t love talking about I definitely, like, see that someone is important and valuable and put myself closer to them. You know, what I mean? by this is like, basically a key part of being a person I don’t like, I definitely don’t think I don’t do it. If I don’t like the person. I just like I told myself, like, no matter how useful this person is, if you don’t like them, not be the fucking friend. Because that’s just I don’t want to be like that. I want to be that person. You don’t think it’s helpful? I think people know when I don’t like them to where you on?
Yeah, I think being genuine and being authentic is really, really important. And I think I’m actually going to say that we ended the the interview, but that last part, I think is actually really cool. So I might, I might cut now rather than cutting before, we’ll see. See what happens. Maybe I’ll use that for a bit as the as the front bit for the interview. But I think I think it’s really important to be strategic. But being that also being strategic and going I don’t like you, I don’t want to work with you, I call it core values. You got to you got to know your core values. You know, you are as a man, you know, what makes you tick, you know what your core values are, and that you will align yourself with people who have similar core values, life becomes easier, and it means you don’t have to deal with assholes. Totally. Yeah. Cool like that. Yeah. Awesome. All right, man. I’ll I’ll let you know when this is when this is ready to go. Awesome. Yeah,
let me know when it’s ready. And what I can do for a little bit push it out. Of course. Nicola. was great. Talk to you, man. Yeah. Cheers, man. All right. Take care.
Have you enjoyed today’s episode, and here’s what I want you to do. Next, I want you to take one thing that you got from today’s show. And to put it into practice, in your career in business, because it’s only through having the right systems in place, that you’ll be able to take your career and business from where you are today to where you want to be. So again, I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. So until next time, I’m Clarke Scott from next level filmmaker. Have a great day.
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