TBI Q&A: Mark Albiston
Mark Albiston says he started production company Sticky Pictures in 2000 as a vehicle to let him direct a wide variety of projects. With award-winning arts and extreme sports TV shows, documentaries, commercials and music videos all under Sticky's belt, it certainly looks like he's done just that. Oh, and did we mention that he's just returned from Cannes, where his short film Run was awarded an Honourable Mention? If Albiston has his way, directing De Niro might not be too far off - Mark Albiston says he started production company Sticky Pictures in 2000 as a vehicle to let him direct a wide variety of projects. With award-winning arts and extreme sports TV shows, documentaries, commercials and music videos all under Sticky's belt, it certainly looks like he's done just that. Oh, and did we mention that he's just returned from Cannes, where his short film Run was awarded an Honourable Mention? If Albiston has his way, directing De Niro might not be too far off -At what time of day do you feel most inspired?
I feel most motivated first thing in the morning - I try to do creative stuff before 3pm and book meetings in after that. I have three kids and they wake between 5.30-6.00am.
What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?
I'm a real visual person - I always wanted to be a painter or photographer - so I've always loved storyboarding and jamming with the DOP on coverage. But just recently I've been getting into drama process. Visuals are nothing without heart - I enjoy the psychology and knowing what makes actors tick.
With docos, I like finding new visual ways to tell stories and thinking a lot about lighting, composition and the way the camera's operated.
But again, it's nothing without a good story to tell and people who are comfortable in front of the camera to tell it. This takes time and the right approach - different people have different buttons to get them to give it up for the doco. Editing with documentary is the hardest part of the process but just as cool.
My favourite bit is when I get all the bits and they work together - if that makes sense.
How do you think your environment affects your work?
Right now I'm trying to write the answers to these questions, I'm at my parents-in-law's, they live on a farm and my son Jude is yelling at me "Where's Big Balls - where's Big Balls - where's Big Balls - " (He's the nasty ram who chases the kids round the paddock.)
It's definitely easier to concentrate when I get to Sticky Pictures, or at night when the kids are asleep. But yep, ideally it's good to get away from everything and bunk down in a commune to write proposals/scripts, or storyboards.
The right environment definitely gives you headspace to work. It can also be really inspiring. Having kids has definitely inspired me to write.
Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?
I like really big pictures with great detail - kind of like those doodle art posters.
Sticky Pictures has won a raft of awards, including three New Zealand Screen Awards for arts show The Living Room. What are the main things about your company that you credit for this success?
My partner Amy is the biggest thing. She does all the really hard stuff - I've never had to do any accounts or contract stuff. She's also the principal caregiver for our three kids - whew!
She frees me up to concentrate on directing and has forced me to do some business management courses, which have made a big difference to my business attitude.
Having other great people like Warren Green, Mhairead Connor, Liam Bachler and ace directors like Simon Baumfield, James Anderson, Nathan Morris and co also helps.
Having good people who are like-minded but not the same!
As well as producing arts and sports shows for television, Sticky Pictures has also made a number of short films, including Run which is in competition at Cannes this year. What do they all have in common?
Um - not much. That's the great thing about Sticky - we're always onto new and totally different stuff.
I started Sticky as a vehicle to let me direct a wide variety of projects and to not be pigeonholed. The cool thing is that I've found people to come in and take over stuff that I've moved on from - I don't do much extreme sports stuff any more, but we still make the Vodafone X-Air every year with a great team led by Warren Green.
We have just been commissioned for another arts show to screen prime-time on the new TVNZ digital channel. I'll be making quite a few segments and producing but not to the level that I worked on The Living Room.
I'm writing a feature film together with Louis Sutherland called Shopping and we want to make it together in the next two years, so that's a big focus. I'm also directing animation - we're working together with Misery (Tanya Thompson) to so some short anime for cellphones.
What, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges facing TV and film production companies in New Zealand?
Probably keeping up with new technology! There's loads happening - the web and cellphones are the new frontier for TV and film.
The goal at the top of our list at Sticky is that we want to do cool stuff and that will never change, so it's exciting for us because these new platforms are offering up new ways of getting around TV commissioning, which can be pretty demoralising.
Also, getting to international markets! After being at Cannes last week where the film market runs in parallel with the festival, you realise the people that see the value in unique content live overseas. If you can get into a festival like Cannes, we found out that some of those people find you!
What's the best thing about the culture you've created at Sticky Pictures?
I've never seen myself as a boss - everyone at Sticky seems to believe in what we are doing and own what they do. I like to think we're a team with enough room for strong individuals.
Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?
They've all been so different! The Living Room was pretty cool - it was a show I'd always wanted to make. I hated art school but was into the arts and always wanted to represent people like me who weren't into wine and cheese. It was the first TV series I'd made for myself rather than another company, and we've won a load of awards for it. It proved us to the networks and I don't get the "who are you?!" line anymore, so The Living Room was really satisfying.
But most recently doing drama, Run has been awesome. Going to Cannes and getting the jury prize with co-creator Louis Sutherland was really satisfying!
What's your number one business tip?
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses - get people to do what they are good at and look at yourself first.
Who would you most like to direct in a film, and why?
Robert De Niro.
a) He'd be the perfect father in the feature we want to make next.
b) From what I've read, he works his arse off finding his character in pre-production. I'm just scratching the surface learning about process with actors, but what little I know I firmly believe that it takes time to paint them properly - he seems to have the same philosophy. I'd love to work with him to learn as much as direct.
What do you think are the most important qualities for a director to have?
I think good directors don't direct, they channel. You pick the right people for the job you want to pull off and as long as you communicate clearly what you 'see' then they can grow it. The art of channelling is an important quality.
I think being good at bribery and corruption is also a valuable skill. When you're up against it and things look like they are turning to shit and the crew all looks to you to see whether you know how to pull them out, a good bit of fast talking and confident smile seems to help.
But most of all having an open mind - I'm learning so much all the time from everyone I'm in contact with.
Describe the ways in which your childhood play has influenced how you work as an adult.
I was always conning my little brother into playing out my delusions of being a super hero. I was either Tarzan swimming across the carpet killing crocodiles and getting my little brother to play my chimpanzee, or I was Batman and conning my brother into being Robin.
That's where I learnt the art of bribery and corruption - my most valuable tool.
If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?
What place is always with you, wherever you go?
185 Matai Rd, Raumati Beach. It was the only house I ever lived in as a child, and it has amazing memories for me. It's where I learnt to dream.
What's the best way to listen to music, and why?
Travelling from Wellington to Auckland on a mercy mission in the car with a good stereo and an iPod fat with tunes taken from my friend Warren Green's computer. He has some great music, and I've never had the patience to collect my own library. I love hearing great music for the first time.
You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?
A music video.
What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?
I don't know about advice, but having kids is great - most stress is self-induced, and looking after someone else gives you perspective and a break from that. They also get you doing kid stuff. My son Jude is now Batman and I am Robin.
What's your favourite word?
What's great about today?
Being home with my family.
Interview by Cass Hesom-Williams