An Optimist's Guide To Hollywood
Infinity2’s Dan Reisinger had a big 2018. He started by co-creating and directing his first US TV show “Sideswiped” which featured the likes of Rosanna Arquette and Jason Sudeikis. It received great reviews and the pilot alone has been watched over 7 million times and counting. He then came home to direct Channel 10’s Drunk History Australia pilot featuring Flight of The Concord’s Rhys Darby. It was 10’s number 1 rated pilot and the country’s number 1 trending show upon its release. So he has a lot to feel optimistic about right now. But even in the slower patches of his career, Dan has always seemed to be one of the most upbeat guys in the Australian ad landscape. We had a chat to him about optimism and a positive attitude to explore whether or not it’s a learnt behavior, a choice or something more innate.
S: I speak to a lot of creative people about how they’re feeling and all too often they use words like frustrated and exhausted—but you almost always tell me you are excited no matter what is going on for you. Where does this optimism come from?
D: There is a certain madness in choosing a creative path. If you didn’t have a little voice in your head saying “why shouldn’t it be you, you’ve got this” you’d enroll in Accounting at uni and be done with it!
I suppose the bigger question is how do you maintain this optimism in the face of adversity? Because that’s what this job is really—little patches of glory in an endless ocean of rejection! When you get knocked down what is it that makes you keep getting back up again? The most successful people I know aren’t just optimistic, they’re resilient too. That’s the magic formula I think.
S: Do you think this kind of optimistic thinking has had much of an impact on your career?
D: Well its definitely stopped me from chucking it all in a few times.
When I first moved into advertising from music videos, the campaign I directed for Vanish Napisan won a bunch of Cannes Lions and I thought that’s it, I’ve made it. Kaching! But no one was impressed except for my parents and the phone didn’t ring for more than 6 months.
I was absolutely broke and to make ends meet I started selling coffee machines at Harvey Norman Liverpool. (Which I chose because I figured I’d never bump into anyone there from ad land).
I was pretty low but it gave me time to think about the bigger dream and I got together with some mates from advertising—Dantie Van Der Merwe and Dave Fraser (now CDs at BMF)—and we made a short film called Status Update.
It won a few festivals and got a Vimeo staff pick and next thing you know it got a lot of attention in Hollywood and got me represented over there. Even in that shitty period I still believed things could turn around and that it would be worth it in the end.
I’d also spent so long working towards being a director that I really had no other life skills to fall back on. I never even managed to sell one coffee machine at Harvey Norman so it didn’t even seem like a career in retail could be a goer.
S: From what you have experienced then do you think optimism is a choice?
D: It probably is for some people. I think we all start out optimistic or we wouldn’t be here, but that little voice gets drowned out and we have to find a way to turn the volume back up.
I think that the Australian larrikin attitude and our ability to just get shit done suggests it could be a cultural value too. We learn it pretty early on and its kind of expected of us.
S: That’s interesting that you think it could be cultural. Do you notice a difference in attitudes when you work here compared to the US? Or in film and television vs advertising?
D: We definitely don’t care as much about hierarchy here as they do in the US which means a good idea can come from anywhere and you usually get to the best solution or outcome a lot quicker. If being able to avoid unnecessarily long meetings doesn’t boost your optimism I don’t know what will!
I still really love making ads in Australia. They’re all consuming and have such tight turn arounds nowadays that to nail them the sense of team work has to be stronger than anywhere else . In Australia everyone has to get their hands dirty and pitch in. Aussie crews are the best in the world and I’d choose to work with them every time if I could.
S: Can optimism be a fool’s domain? Especially when you consider the egos that abound around us?
D: One thousand percent, yes! Especially if you confuse optimism with over confidence or narcissism. If you can’t accept feedback, change and adapt then forget it. I’ve seen people absolutely crash and burn and disappear when their egos have gotten in the way.
Relationships are so important and if you cut people if they’re not saying what you want to hear then you’ll really struggle. It’s a small industry and once a bridge is burnt its burnt. You never know when someone is going to pop up for you again in the future.
S: Given advertising is such a cynical industry should we be putting a premium on optimism? How do we encourage it?
D: A little cynicism isn’t a bad thing. It’s a self protection mechanism and all creatives need that.
The best thing I’ve done is to surround myself with positive people and people who are more talented than me. My heroes growing up all came up in groups (On Star Wars George Lucas got script feedback from Coppola, Scorsese and Lucas and held joint actor auditions with Brian De Palma who was casting Carrie.) It’s been really important to me to find creative friends who championed each other and made each other better. That’s why I joined Infinity in the first place. I started out in comedy working with Nick Boshier (aka Trent From Punchy and the Bondi Hipsters) so when he started the business with Dave Jansen it was a no brainer for me to join.
I get so frustrated when I see writers and directors tearing each other down and not sharing ideas and learnings, it makes us all worse not better and actually stifles opportunity.
I really believe there is more than enough success to go around, especially now as the number of mediums and channels explode and we see a bigger focus on diversity and representation
You never know what the next day’s going to bring in this industry. It could all go tits up at any stage. But I just have this feeling it won’t.
Dan splits his time between LA and Sydney. You can see his commercial reel here