New Talent: Alex Vivian
A bona fide globetrotter, director Alex Vivian spent his formative years growing up (and skateboarding) in Australia, China, the UK and USA. These diverse influences are certainly clear in his impressive reel, which features the likes of adidas, MTV, Karnage Skateboards and Henson jewellery.
Now back in Sydney where he’s signed to Rapid Films, LBB’s Liam Smith caught up with this rising director to find out more about his life, his viral series ‘How to Ride’, and what tempted him back to Australia.
LBB> You spent your childhood all over the place! Australia, Hong Kong, London and Los Angeles. What kind of kid were you growing up, and what made you decide to settle back in Australia?
Alex Vivian> I was an absolute terror, but with a soft heart. I had a lot of freedom growing up, like taking trips into the city in HK to skate all day and coming back late at night, at age 11 or 12. Then London was more of the same, but I never truly felt like that city was me. It’s cold and dreary and for a kid trying to figure out his start in life, I never could quite find my true identity there. I left when I was 18 and moved back to chase a better lifestyle. I eventually went to university, met a fellow filmmaker friend there and within six weeks of hearing that he was going to this film school over in LA, I applied, got in and we went together. After film school I was pretty burned out and I wanted to come back to home soil and make things work here before I thought about any bigger career moves.
LBB> What made you decide that you wanted to be a director?
AV> Growing up as a skateboarder I never left the house without a camera. Since I was 11 or so I made videos of me and my friends skating and would try new things every time. And during summer I was doing work experience on TV shows and working on sets. When I eventually landed in London, I became friends with a group of skaters who were all filmmakers. We ended up making videos for local brands, little short films and entered all these 24-hour film competitions and things. It was actually a really amazing environment of constant experimentation and collaboration. So I don’t think I ever really made a decision to be a director, it’s just something I’ve always done.
LBB> And what drew you to join Rapid Films back in September?
AV> The simplest answer is it felt like home. When I first walked into the offices I saw surf pictures and skateboards on the walls and a room full of techy camera gadgets at the back. I was just thinking how cool it would be to be part of what they were doing. I honestly thought I was having a meeting for a small job or something and it turned into representation. It was pretty surreal. Everyone there is amazing and I can’t wait to see what the next few years have in store.
LBB> Your ‘How to Ride’ series went viral a few years ago, and even went on to screen at a few festivals. Did you expect it to receive the traction that it did? What inspired you to start the series?
AV> It was inspired by me literally having to ride ‘bitch’ on my mate’s bike after mine broke down. And a few jokes and laughs later, it became my mission to create something of the idea. I didn’t expect it to do as well as it did, but I did do some heavy lifting to get it there. I spent three solid days emailing every blog, magazine and website I could think of that I thought it could feature on. That definitely kick-started it and it then gathered its own momentum and went crazy. I felt after the first, it felt natural to play on the same classic stereotype of two girls on a bike, which became ‘How to Ride… Bitches’. I still would love to make another one, I feel a third would be the perfect way to finish it, both the girls and guys riding off into the sunset.
LBB> And your recent spot for Vissla Wetsuits is really something. What was the brief and production like? Where was it shot?
AV> Vissla were kind enough to let me come up with any idea I wanted from the tagline ‘Everything you need in a wetsuit and nothing you don’t’. Having done a few of my quirky comedies in a row, I wanted to take an opportunity to experiment with a different look and feel. So I thought about a journey in which a character starts with everything and ends with only the couple items he truly needs. I feel like everyone can relate to that feeling. In NSW we shot at the Stockton sand dunes and Bombo Quarry; in VIC we shot in this surreal Redwood plantation in the middle of a pine forest and of course, The Twelve Apostles. I have endless crazy stories from that shoot, but way too much to detail here.
LBB> What project of yours are you most proud of?
AV> I definitely have a soft spot for the first video of the Riding Bitch series; it was a passion project that came from this really pure place. But I’m proud of every project. Even if I think it could be better or I just see mistakes, those are the diary entries that project what it is and it’s hard not to get nostalgic when watching them back. It’s like those holidays where everything goes wrong, but ultimately those are the ones you remember the most. I suppose that’s what keeps me going, that endless quest for the next adventure, whatever it entails.
LBB> Who and what are your main creative inspirations?
AV> I definitely have my go-tos, which are Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Edgar Wright and Wes Anderson. I grew up watching them on repeat – particularly Spike’s early work when he was making mostly skate and music videos. With my work, the things that sticks out most notably are eras like the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. The music, the fashion, the cars, the sense of unspoilt freedom; I’m really drawn to that. Particularly with modern life, I think those eras represent an escape to a simpler time and that’s just so fun to explore on film.
LBB> When you’re not directing, what do you like to do to let off some steam?
AV> It used to be skateboarding, which it still is to a certain degree, but surfing took over when I got older and more injured. This sounds lame, but surfing is my version of yoga. I’m a very high-energy person and the ocean is a total place of calm. It’s also something that I’m okay at but not amazing by any means, so every little bit of progression is something that I get really stoked about.
LBB> Do you have any advice for budding film directors?
AV> I feel like I’d be repeating advice that’s been said so many times over, but just have fun with it. I think the best part about being a young filmmaker is you get the chance to try and fail and try again. There’s no pressure, no rules and ultimately those lessons and experiences will be what shape your style and make you a more interesting filmmaker.