Network by making real friendship type connections with people.
You can go to some industry mixer and talk to 30 people in a night handing out our card or whatever, and chances are no one will ever remember you or help you do anything in your career. Or, you can find people you actually connect with and work on deepening those relationships. I’d rather have one well-connected person who actually cares about helping me, than 30 well-connected people that don’t really know me.
As part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Alex Knapp, director/producer/actor. Raised in Portland, Oregon, educated in New York City. Alex now splits his time between Brooklyn and Hudson, NY.
He studied film at The New School University, worked as an assistant to director Laurie Collyer (Sherrybaby, Sunlight Jr.), and has touched every aspect of production while working for CBS, ScottFree, Serial Pictures, and Anonymous Content.
Alex’s feature directorial debut Go/Don’t Go is being released on streaming cable and VOD platforms on January 12th, 2021. He had previously created the online comedy series TWO PA’S, played a lead role in the high school horror-comedy BAD EXORCISTS, and stared in the sci-fi feature ALIEN VS. ZOMBIES. All while directing and producing various commercial pieces, narrative shorts, and music videos under the banner of his co-owned production company A+M CREATIVE.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Portland Oregon making silly little comedy films with my friends in high school, and my parents ran a commercial production company as a kid — so there were always elements of filmmaking present in my life. I did a lot of comedy acting and writing growing up, which gave me a really great creative foundation and a fun outlet to expel some energy. Growing up in Portland also instilled in me a love for nature, and appreciating the grandeur of your environment — plus I don’t care if it rains, I actually enjoy it.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Seeing family and friends be a part of filmmaking and production, both as hobbies and as careers was definitely inspirational. I went to college originally as a sociology major and quickly realized that wasn’t for me. Studying film and inevitably working in the NY film industry made it clearer and clearer that I needed to build a life that was simultaneously creative, fun, and interesting.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I wrote a script in college that was pitched to a few A-level actresses, who were very complimentary about it. Being young, that was the first time I felt like I maybe had a real chance in this career.
I was also a production assistant after college for a bit, on large scale TV shows and movies.
A co-worker of mine at one point had to fold the dirty laundry of an executive producer as a job duty, and he quit the next day. That job was interesting in a million ways, both good and bad. Don’t screw up people’s coffee orders.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
You make a million mistakes when you’re first starting out, and none of them seem particularly funny in the moment, that’s for sure. Nothing super specific comes to mind, but there was probably a lot of calling somewhat famous important people the wrong name, or delivering things to the wrong person, pretending I knew where I’m supposed to go when I didn’t. Being in your early 20’s working on high-level film sets is just kind of inherently riddled with silly mistakes and flying by the seat of your pants.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now, my directorial feature film debut GO/DON’T GO is about to be released on VOD platforms, and it’s both incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking. You spend years building this thing, both as a creative project, but also as a small level business in itself — and is all kind of culminating right now.
I’m also in development on a few other projects, one of which I’m really excited about is called “California City”. It’s about a person waking up in the desert covered in strange markings on the outskirts of a dusty run-down town. Their search for answers and identity, and how that may be tied to more mysterious cosmic and secretive forces happening around them. It’s a much larger scope then Go/Don’t Go, and I’m really hoping someone will take a chance on us to make this next level of film.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I think it’s hugely important to have diversity represented in film, on-screen but also behind the camera on crews and as creative teams of projects. The American entertainment industry for a long time has focused on recycling the same kinds of stories from the same kinds of perspectives — and the only real way to break that cycle is to tell stories from a new diverse perspective, both on camera and behind it. It’s incredibly valuable for people to be able to see themselves represented on screen, to have stories similar to their own told. This can empower people to pursue things that they thought we’re maybe out of reach. Filmmaking also can have this enate power of empathy. It really allows you to live a situation in someone else’s shoes, and there’s a lot of people that need a level of exposure to that right now.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Filmmaking a lot of times is more of a science than an art.
People think making movies, tv, or any visual content is filled with fun and hyper creativity, like painting or something. Sometimes it can be, but those moments are fewer and further between then you might think. The logistics of filmmaking is on par with the production of any item or good. It’s a lot of paperwork, people on computers, meetings, busy work, planning, etc. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just worth being aware of.
2. Be prepared for the ebbs and flows of creative gig life.
In general, if you’re working in Film/TV, and especially in any sort of independent contractor or project-based way — there’s times where you’re working like crazy, and other times it feels like everything has dried up. This is the nature of this industry and takes a real awareness to get used to. It’s also not a reflection of you as a person or your worth. I still struggle with it at times.
3. Network by making real friendship type connections with people.
You can go to some industry mixer and talk to 30 people in a night handing out our card or whatever, and chances are no one will ever remember you or help you do anything in your career. Or, you can find people you actually connect with and work on deepening those relationships. I’d rather have one well connected person who actually cares about helping me, than 30 well-connected people that don’t really know me.
4. Pay people who work for you.
This would seem like an easy one, but you’d be surprised. I’ve seen entire feature films get made with distribution deals — and the marketing quote is something like “made for $7000”, and it’s like “yeah, that’s because you didn’t pay anyone, and tricked them into giving you free labour for favors or credit or whatever.” It’s one thing to be in college making short films for school or with friends, but if you’re an adult making a film as a product that you hope gets bought and sold — you need to pay people for their labor and participation in that product. Pizza, favors, and exposure don’t pay rent.
5. Everyone’s career path moves at different speeds in different directions.
When I was younger I was pretty obsessed with career success trajectory based on my age. Something like by 25 I need to have done this, this, and this. Or, okay I’m 27 now and I’ve gotten this article written about me. It’s fine to have goals or benchmarks you want to accomplish, but you have to be aware that a one-to-one map of success doesn’t exist. And just because a contemporary of yours accomplishes something before you, doesn’t mean your chance is over or something. Sometimes I see a 19-year-old TikTok’er become a rep’d commercial director, and I think it’s basically over for me. But then I see someone I respect immensely make their first film at 35 or 40 and realize there’s no direct comparison.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Have outside hobbies, preferably one physical, and one mental. I play basketball (when not in quarantine), and I play video games when I have the time. Basketball allows me to free my mind and connect with my body, it’s always been a mind-clearing therapy for me in that way. It also allows me to expel pent up energy I carry. And then video games for me are also an escape, albeit a more mental exercise. They’re also an incredible way to demonstrate the multiple types of problem solving techniques you can use in everyday life, and they’re a problem-solving tool in of themselves, by using them to walk away from a creative project sometimes.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Wow, a lot of pressure, haha. I would say that I truly believe everyone in a way is a storyteller, we as humans are innately story tellers — but a lot of people feel like they aren’t able to participate in that, and this causes a lot of problems for people individually and as a society. I would try to create some sort of platform or easy way for everyone to attempt to share their story or a story they wanted to tell, in whatever medium they choose. Have it really be based around people expressing themselves freely without fear of judgement or living up to some sort of expectation. It’s like if everyone was given a YouTube channel or blog at birth, but there’s no ads, there’s no likes, no clicks, no tracking data. You share because everyone else shares, and it feels good, and that’s it. There’s no ulterior motive.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been super lucky to have a bunch of really smart friends and colleagues who’ve inspired me to be better and try to achieve something. If anything, I’m just grateful to my other filmmaking friends who are willing to work with me on my own projects, bringing their incredible work ethic and aesthetics to it, but also those of them that rope me into their projects, and hire me to work with them on something that’s important to them. For Go/Don’t Go, that was definitely people like Frankie Turiano, Derek Brown, and Collin Davis. All incredible film directors in their own right, but they were willing to jump aboard my project to help me achieve something personal. I’m incredibly grateful for that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The filmmaker Caveh Zahedi once explained to me about how the fearful assumption of failure can actually block you from finding success. For example, most of our minds kind of work in this future-spinning-assumption kind of way.
I have to get an A in this class so my GPA can be good.
If my GPA is good, I’ll get the job I want.
If I get the job I want, I’ll meet the person I’m supposed to be with.
If I meet that person, I’ll have the life I want.
When in reality getting a C in that class could be the greatest thing that ever happened to you.
Maybe you get a C, and because you got a C you have to try and write an extra paper to get the grade up, and that paper gets read by another professor who loves it, and that other professor has all these great professional connections — and it sets you on a completely different path, that ultimately was actually way better than the first path (which was unrealistic to begin with). But we only ever see the immediate “failure” and assume it will spin out into other failures, when that’s not at all how life works.
Every moment, both good and bad, could be the moment that leads you to success. So don’t assume every tiny failure is a life-altering defeat.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Good question. I guess I would pick someone in film that I find really innovative and probably approaches things differently than me, so I could pick their brain about how they go about their creative process. An obvious choice would be Rodger Deakins, every current cinematographer’s idol. But maybe Reed Morano, who offers a different life perspective than my own, and has found this incredibly beautiful style that I think is really re-shaping modern cinema.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m @alexknapp on Instagram, where I’m most active. My company is @amcreativenyc . People can also search for me on Facebook.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
A pleasure. Some really insightful questions!