Alistair Marks – documentary maker

Alistair Marks has storytelling in his blood. Even before learning to read and write, he was entertaining his family with his stories. After commencing studies in performing arts, he moved into studying production at VCA (foundations) and Swinburne (Bachelor of Film and TV). His final film for graduation, SHOTGUN! starred iconic Australian actors Samuel Johnson, Steve Bisley and Rachel Ward. At just 22, Alistair’s natural ability to create, capture, and share stories was clear – and SHOTGUN! went on to win international awards and acclaim.

Following graduation, Alistair built his practical and vocational skills with crew work in Melbourne, cutting his teeth in the art department on various local and international projects. He also continued to work on his own projects via LateNite Films.

Just as Alistair’s promising portfolio of work was set to take him to New York City, he got a call from friend and colleague, Samuel Johnson. Samuel offered him the opportunity of a lifetime – to follow him, camera in tow, around Australia on his Love Your Sister unicycle quest.

Since wrapping the Love Your Sister project, Alistair has worked with MTV Australia, Nickelodeon, The Project and many regional news broadcasters around the country. Alistair currently heads the Film & TV department of Samuel Johnson’s Straight Jacket Productions.

..it is far better for your creative soul to have a prolific imperfect creative output than a selective, but perfect one.

alistairmarks.com @aaemarks Watch Documentary

 

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

The idea was to visually document the journey of Samuel Johnson unicycling around Australia, as part of a promise he made to his dying sister. At it’s simplest, it’s a documentary. But to those of us involved in the making of it – it is so much more. It was a hard decision to make, as it would require taking several years out of my life, including 12 months full time. However it’s not everyday that one of your best friends asks you to come on the trip of a lifetime, and for a wonderful cause too.

Love Your Sister was originally created as a challenge from a sister to a brother. But it very quickly became so much more. It became about a group of friends working together to conquer not only breast cancer, but also our own fears and shortcomings as people. Before I left to go on the road, I had little in the way of creative confidence. Sure, I had won a few awards for short films, and people often told me of my ‘potential’. But I never truly felt like I was working to the best of my abilities.

It was in about July last year that Samuel turned to me at one point and declared “you have made this event what it needs to be”. A touching sentiment coming from the captain of the ship, referring to my consistent output of images and videos for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, not to mention our TV documentary. It was at this point that my creative confidence began to burn bright, that I realised that it is not the final outcome, but the journey (to borrow a cliché), and that it is far better for your creative soul to have a prolific imperfect creative output than a selective, but perfect one.

As I stand (or sit, more appropriately) on the eve of the release of the documentary, the culmination of three years of uncertainty, blood, sweat, tears and single wheel around the country, I look back on my decision with pride, and I look forward to the future with pride, knowing that every person who has laid hands on this project has made a difference, and that we have created something truly historic in Australia. Something that we, and that the country as a whole, can be proud of.

Please explain your business model 

Straightjacket Productions functions in a very semi-socialist way. As the head of the film & TV department, it is my job to bring in new and exciting projects that we can build on to output in longer format. I then act as producer of said project, and Samuel and the other members of the company act as support. The momentum of the project will be pushed entirely by me, but the outreach to network is as vast as the people who are involved in it. We then source the best of the best to come work with us. In the case of Love Your Sister, we were able to attract Guy Pearce to come and host the show, as the team had come across him in Marree, out in the middle of no-where, while he was filming The Rover.

I was also able to leverage Samuel’s decades in the industry to get people like Peter Carrodus, Final Sound and Woodstock Studios to come on board and lend their expertise to the project. It’s all about who you know, and how you can get them excited about your project.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?

Having just finished our Guy Pearce-hosted TV Special to premiere on Network 10 on Saturday May 17th, my attention now turns to a couple of other TV based projects. One is a black comedy, a Clerks for the next generation. We already have Michala Banas attached to the pilot, and I will be producing it along side Samuel Johnson. It will be the second project we produce for the newly established Film & TV leg of Straightjacket Productions.

How do you make ideas happen?

To make an idea happen, the first thing I need to do is shut down Facebook. Then SuperCoach. Then I need to open iTunes. Let it stay open for about 3 hours while I find other ways to procrastinate, before I realise that you could’ve been listening to my favourite tunes while I was procrastinating. Then, I start writing. And write everything that comes to my mind about the project. The hardest part about starting with a new idea, for me, is sifting through the shit. I have to sift through the shit to get to the gold, though. What I mean by that is, getting all the bad ideas out, otherwise they just sit, dormant, in my brain taking up space. I need to get them out, make space for the golden ideas to come through.

Once I have the golden idea/s, I start to flesh them out, figuring out what story I want to tell, and how it relates to me personally. The stories always have to be personal. They always are personal. I find it hard to ever write from someone else’s experience.

When the idea is fully fleshed out, it’s time to use that network I’ve worked so hard at building and maintaining. I like to select a few trusted people, and get them to look at my idea. I used to get as many people as possible to read a script or proposed idea, and try and take all their feedback on board. Suffice to say, that never worked.

Once I’m confident in the project (or even if I’m not, but it gets to crunch time), it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and just get it out there. Assemble a crew who believe in the project (because God knows I can’t usually pay them, or if I can, it’s never been very much), get a killer cast who can really sell the story and away we go. Compromise and problem solving become my two favourite allies when I begin to shoot a project, especially a low budget one.

And then, after weeks, months or years, what started as a little brain fart in my cranium, has turned into something tangible.

What does your typical day look like?

Since I returned from life on the road with Love Your Sister in February, I have set up my own studio space…. in my bedroom. So forgive me if I don’t share it! (I’ve attached one from ‘on the road’ instead).

Currently, my days are spent sitting at my computer, answering emails, going through mountains of photos and footage from our road trip, planning my next few projects and leaving the house for freelance work, voice overs or meetings.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

If you’re entering a creative endeavour, be prepared to give away your first decade for free, and feel like it’s OK to do that.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?

LateNite Films are doing great things for next to no money

Highwire always make interesting content

Industrial Cuts/Crossfades

The Garvan Research Foundation

What about Internationally?

I can’t go past Smodcast and everything Kevin Smith does. The guy is a genius.

Lance Weiler has also recently been brought to my attention. If you’re interested in cross platform digital media, look him up.

No Film School is a great resource for… well… extra curricular studies.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

Through Love Your Sister I have seen first hand how business can affect social change. Through creating relevance to a younger demographic, Samuel, Love Your Sister and the Garvan Research Foundation have shifted the needle, and inspired younger women (and men) to pay attention when it comes to breast awareness, and awareness of cancer in general. At the beginning of the event, the crew would have to roll around informing people of our mission. Samuel would get up on his soap box, and sell his wares to a crowd of maybe 5 – 10 people. By the end, we had gathered so much momentum, that there were some 300+ people waiting for him in Daylesford, Hobart, and then 3,000+ including media from every network at Federation Square, Melbourne upon our return.

Speaking from personal experience, I found a small lump in an unusual place. Where, perhaps in the past I might have just shrugged it off, this time the message of “stay on top of your lumps and bumps” and “don’t fall into the booby trap” rang through my ears, and I got it checked. It turned out to be nothing, but the point remains. Through successful social media campaigning, and bringing a dynamic relevance to a different audience, business can affect social change dramatically.

Speaking of affecting social change, we’ve teamed up with Shout for Good to encourage readers to ‘shout a coffee’ to charity by clicking the button below. Is there a particular charity you’d like to support?

Love Your Sister, of course!

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.

www.loveyoursister.org

www.nofilmschool.com

www.industrialcuts.com

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.

@sam_j_johnson

@J4Connie

@loveyoursister

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

Is there ever! There are so many ways that people can get involved with Love Your Sister. The first and best way is jump on www.facebook.com/loveyoursister and hit “like”, give us that great big thumbs up, and help spread the awareness. You can also find us on instagram & twitter @loveyoursister, and by hash tagging #lys13, you’ll be part of the conversation. If you feel like flicking a silver coin or two our way, and assisting in destroying this insidious disease, head on over to www.loveyoursister.org and click on the donate button. Or you could buy some of our great merchandise. 100% of the money from those goes straight to the scientists at the Garvan Research Foundation, LYS takes nothing for overheads (because our sponsors are awesome and have donated it all to us!!).

We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?

How can someone successfully monetise story telling in Australia?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

If I could afford to, I’d probably eat at Ginger Boy every weekend. As it stands, Pizza on High will have to do.

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

Sure! How about an afternoon as my ’shadow’ on my next film project?

More from The Social Deck

Michael Linke – CEO, RSPCA – ACT

This week on Ideas Hoist we’re finding out how Michael Linke, CEO...
Read More