Monday, September 21, 2009

Interview // Andrew Apostola - Portable Film Festival

Ever looked at youtube? Who am I kidding! You’re a tech savvy new media buff who spends at least 2 hours looking at sneezing pandas and such a day, of course you have. Well online movies don’t have the greatest amount of respect attached to them but that’s because everyone’s been looking at the wrong site.

Andrew Apostola from Portable Content helped create Portable Film Festival, an online film festival specializing in films made for small screens like your iPod or laptop! Listen up and you will see how to make the leap from uni to the real world, why an Arts Degree is a great thing to have and how to make your ideas a reality.

My Favorite Note – Hi Andrew! Portable Film Festival looks like its going well

Andrew Apostola – Yeah! Portable Film Festival is in its fourth year. Last month we did around a million views for April, which is amazing.

My Favorite Note – Is that something you would normally get?

Andrew Apostola – No. That’s just a big aggregate amount of views for the films that we have around the net. People have these misguided ideas that you put anything up on the Internet and you instantly get hundreds of thousands of views. 10% of videos on youtube get watched 100 times. We do a lot of work trying to pick the right videos.

MFN – Quality over quantity

AA – That’s the idea!

MFN – Did Portable Films come out of having your own company?

AA – Other way around. Portable Film Festival merged first. I was traveling around the states in 2005, just bumming around really and was in the apple store when the iPod was launched and saw what was available and called Simon and said “Hey this is crazy, we really need to do something”. So we came back and started PFF. We did a thing called Six Cities where we asked six film makers from around the world to create responses to the places they live.

MFN – I saw those, they were pretty rad.

AA – Yeah I’m actually quite proud of that. They were people I met in my travels as well. They were film friends because I studied film and sound in America. Portable Content came out of that as a business because people wanted us to build them stuff.

MFN – Is starting a film festival what you always wanted or did you just wake up one day and thought “Today I’m going to make a film festival”?

AA – Actually in ’04 when I was working I did have a few concepts of running some sort of festival but I didn’t know back then what it was. I just like creating ideas and Portable Film Festival is just one of them.

MFN – Do you think that starting Portable FF has led to other jobs because it certainly led to Portable Content.

AA – Absolutely. Having a successful project really takes you forward because you have taken a risk, executed it, it works. All I’ve learnt from PFF can be applied to other things I do.

MFN – You studied at a few different universities, what did you do?

AA – I studied at 4-5 different Universities. I started of at Deakin doing arts but majoring in media. Then I did media studies majoring in radio then I did film and TV and sound. I think doing arts based courses is the best thing you can ever do. You look at people doing great and interesting things in the market place or out in the world. They often have an arts degree behind them, some have arts-law degrees.

MFN – An arts degree can lead to a job then?

AA – Yeah absolutely, much more than a marketing degree and it’s more interesting. I think your blindsided if you think that an arts degree can’t get you somewhere interesting because it builds a whole range of skills like critical thinking, it teaches you how to write and teaches you theory. All those skills take you from being just an average person to being more creative and able to think through ideas.

MFN – I always think that if your going to spend 3-4 years doing a degree you may as well enjoy it.

AA – Exactly. The risk of being an arts major is that you go on to do masters and then a phd which I don’t believe in

MFN – How come?

AA – Because you need practical experience to execute those skills and ideas and being in any institution for a long period of time stops that. The best thing I learnt in uni was how to deal with burocracy which uni is full of.

MFN – Going through uni and even now, did / do you have a mentor?

AA – No. My network of friends have always been my support and inspiration. I have friends now that are doing things creatively across theatre and arts. When your at uni you don’t really know what your doing a lot of the time, your just kind of getting a feel for things.

MFN – How do you get contacts and meet people that you need to know to get a job in this industry? Do you meet them just through university?

AA – No, Call them! Whenever I see someone that’s doing interesting things we make an approach and say “Hi I like what your doing, I’d like to meet up”. A lot of people are really freaked out by that.

MFN – The people you’re contacting?

AA – Yep!

MFN – Did I freak you out!?

AA – haha ((Andrew avoids the question)). It’s a very American thing to be able to just talk and have conversations. People get worried and wonder why this person’s getting in contact with me.

When we started the festival I went around and engaged with a lot of the major festivals around Australia, without telling them the idea, to get advice on how it works and used them as a guide on how to start. Now when I start a project no matter what it’s about I will always go out and try to build a strong network of peers or colleges around the idea and the project. They become my support network who I use to sound ideas.

We are starting a new project at the moment and over the past year I have dealt with a whole range of new, I would say friends, who are passionate and relevant to the idea.

MFN – So you found those people by looking online and just called them up?

AA – Introductions! I go to people and say “Hey we are doing this thing do you know anyone / who should I speak to?” and they will tell you a few names then I ask those people if there is anyone I should speak to and through that the network gets broader and suddenly you walk into a room and you know everyone, you’re the connection point.

MFN – A lot of creative people are quite solitary or don’t like networking. Is it something you need to be good at to get work? Do you need to put yourself out there?

AA – I think you do. There is still this genius myth that people are found but it never really happens. You need to have a good practice and work really, really well but you also need to push your work and take what you want.

I see people in meetings where they are showing their art or films to a distributor and completely miss an opportunity because they think it’s wrong to ask or be bold. The biggest mistake is that people don’t clearly state what they want. At the middle or end of a meeting you should clearly articulate exactly what you want and how they can help because then they have to respond. You have to be clear about what you want.

MFN – Do you get a lot of creativity and freedom in what work you do?

AA – That’s what we work towards. Portible’s half start-up, half service company. So we work on work for other clients. Really what happens is we build innovations like PFF, we own 100% of them, their ours and do whatever the hell we want with them. We create our own partnerships, people see what we are doing with them and say they really like it and want one for themselves. We then put all our expertise into our projects for clients. A lot of agency’s just build stuff for clients, so they are always restricted and creatively frustrated.

MFN – Because they never make their own things

AA – Yeah, so we find money to fund our own projects.

MFN – Do you think it’s important to make your own thing while still working for clients?

AA – You may as well put yourself in a coffin and bury yourself if your not doing something creative, as a business or an individual, to move forward. You will become bored and it’s stifling. You start becoming part of a process and a system and that’s not great.

MFN – Don’t let the man get you down. You are a film maker as well? What do you think about the mentality of the Australian film industry that you have to work your way up from the bottom?

AA – I think its ridiculous! I have never subscribed to that, I think its unnecessary. I’m not a big fan of hierarchy’s. Creation and innovation come out of people trying to exploring new things instead of going into a system of going to university to study then I will assist someone for five years then I’ll be a director.

If you ask most people at the top of the notch if they went down that root, they often went down other paths. So I think that you should get the skills that you need but create interesting projects and collaborate with interesting people because collaboration creates experience. Lots of people have no idea what they want to do and go to work at Rove or Chanel 7. Sure there is some experience there but if you actually want to create something noticeable your simply not going to do it that way. The best way to do it is to find someone in your network who’s a writer, someone who’s a producer and people in your network that have the skills you need to put together a project that way.

MFN – How do you go from uni to getting a job?

AA - Looking how the economy is changing I think the days of walking straight out of uni and into an A grade job are over. Simon and I have spent countless amounts of hours doing things for free, volunteering. I think that’s a necessary part because you have to learn to work for yourself first then other people will notice that.

MFN – You can work for free until you starve to death, but everybody knows how important it is to volunteer for experience and networking. It’s a no win situation. When’s the point that you should start asking for money and get paid for your work?

AA – There are some simple steps: You should always document you hours in any project that you do and give your self a rate for those hours. Whatever job it is let them understand that what your doing it for love and for free but that your going to document your hours and when it’s finished I’m going to show you, so that there is a commercial outcome to that. It can be a bit awkward but it lets people know the value of your work. That way when people refer you, you will be able to say that this role would have cost this amount but you did it for free, so this is what I charge this time.

MFN – How should you know what to charge?

AA – Ask other people in the industry what they charge, pretty easy.

MFN – What’s your advice to anybody that wants to start their own festival or business or just make what they want by being creative?

AA – Take risks, be comfortable with failure. I fail every day and projects fail. Lots of things never go to life because people are too precious. We just put something out there and see how it goes, some people spend a lot of time making something really polished and it never really happens. Look at bands, look at U2. I hate U2 as a band.

MFN – True that.

AA – But they have ((MAYBE))) 25 albums. There is maybe 4-5 albums that are absolutely huge but today when they release a album and it absolutely bombs most people would have given up after 4 albums that bomb but they keep going.

MFN – And look where they are.

AA – We think that risk is detrimental to us. But in most cases taking the risk and fucking up creates so much energy. Collaborating with people as well. So many people want to do everything, they want to write, shoot, direct, edit.

MFN – What’s better? Specializing or multi-tasking?

AA – I think you should be very specific with what you do. Don’t try to do everything in a project, collaborate with people. You get so much energy and so much creative input working in a team. If you have written a great script don’t direct it. Get someone else to direct and edit it and see how they interpret it. Get different sets of eyes on your project. Suddenly you have a project that people have an emotional and professional investment with and that’s how you build success.

MFN – What are the times when you sit back and go I can’t believe I’m paid to do this!

AA – It’s when you get funding for your own ideas and get to make them its pretty good. Or when you go to another agency, company or meet people and see their work and how hamstrung they are and realise it could be so much worst, I could be working here in this shitty advertising agency doing crappy work for some bad brand. That’s when I’m really glad I work here.

Words: T

Image: Neon Sunset