Making It Big in 30 Minutes

Transcript: Episode 7, Bunny Kinney

Making It Big in 30 Minutes

Transcript: Episode 7

Bunny Kinney


Terri Trespicio:
What does it mean to make it big, having money, fame, worldwide acclaim, climbing the corporate ladder, or crushing it in your business? One thing's for sure, there isn't just one way to do it. Welcome to "Making It Big in 30 Minutes," a podcast for, by, and about the Emerson community. You're about to meet an Emersonian who's making it. Making a living, making a difference, and sometimes making it up as they go along. As far as we're concerned, if you're making something, you've made it big time. I'm your host and Emerson alumni Terri Trespicio. And we've got 30 minutes, so let's get started.

Terri Trespicio:
Jordan Kinney is a Canadian-born, Texas-raised London-based writer, filmmaker, and creative director working in fashion and digital media. And he has a nickname. He goes by Bunny. It's a name he picked up in school, even though he isn't sure how. And because his professional and personal network were so enmeshed, Bunny stuck.

Terri Trespicio:
People used to ask him about it, but he lives in London where he says, "They're used to weird names." Bunny graduated Emerson with a degree in film in 2007 and became a filmmaker, not capital F film, as in Hollywood. Film isn't synonymous with the industry for Bunny, it's simply a medium of expression and one he loved most. He'll tell you how he found his way, even when he had no master plan at all. He's a creator, but he's also a curator of his own and others' work. And it's this ability not just to come up with ideas, but to select and shape them that has contributed to his success as an artist and professional.

Terri Trespicio:
Bunny has some very honest insights as to what it means to make art your work, whether you make it for yourself or for someone else, for fun or for profit. And with that, I give you Bunny Kinney on how to make it as a filmmaker.

Terri Trespicio:
Bunny, your description is the best. It is one line. Canadian-born, Texas-raised, London-based filmmaker and creative director. I mean, those three things could not be further apart. It's like three different, completely different worlds. It's crazy to me. So how do you best identify when you think about what feels most like you?

Bunny Kinney:
Well, I don't really identify with any of it individually. I think that's why I like to say that now, because I lived for equal amounts of time in all of those places. And I think they are the kind of, when combined they are the parts of the whole. They make me as one entity, but I for a long time really sort of revised my own autobiography because I was really not into the Texas part, because that's really where I came of age and I got-

Terri Trespicio:
Wait, you're not into the Texas part. Why?

Bunny Kinney:
Because I never wanted to live there and my parents moved there. My dad moved there for his work when I was a little kid. So we were from Canada. My parents are Canadian, they live there now. But when I was seven we moved to Texas and I essentially grew up there. I mean, I lived there, I went to elementary school, middle school and high school there. And when I came to Emerson, I moved to Boston and that was really like my freedom. I remember people would be like, "Where are you from?" And I would just be like, "Canada." I skipped over the decade-

Terri Trespicio:
Oh my God, curation.

Bunny Kinney:
Yeah, because I was just like, I don't really ... I never felt like it was my culture. But really the place I come from is kind of London, because I have lived here longer than I lived in Texas and longer than I lived in Canada. And I really found myself here. I had my sort of chosen family here. I embarked on my career here. I went to school here after Emerson, and I feel ... And I've just become a British citizen because I've been here for so long. So in a way it's much more definitive of where I'm at now than Canada or Texas prior. But I really see it as I kind of like unholy Trinity of identity.

Terri Trespicio:
Yes, I love that.

Bunny Kinney:
I think each one is important. And I think to my family, Canada is the most important than if I ever turned my back on being Canadian they would never talk to me again.

Terri Trespicio:
It's interesting though, because as a filmmaker, you know that editing makes the film and you have been curating your own experience for a long time. Tell us this though. I mean, anyone who goes to Emerson, anyone in the world will be like, "Oh, filmmaker," people will identify with that. But it's my thinking that no one approaches their art or their work in the same way. How do you explain to someone what it is that you do?

Bunny Kinney:
Yeah, that is such a good question. And it's so relevant, because I just went to Canada a couple months ago and saw some of my family. And my cousin literally came up to me and she was like, "I'm trying to introduce you to people or explain who you are, but I don't understand what you do." And she's like, "I just, what is it again? Is it you work in magazines or something?" And I was just like, "Just say filmmaker." And then these people came up to me and they were like, "Oh, we heard you're a filmmaker." And they literally said, "We love Shrek."A film-

Terri Trespicio:
We what? Why was that?

Bunny Kinney:
That was their reference point for films. And they were just like, "Oh, we've heard-

Terri Trespicio:
But why, do you have a particular relationship with Shrek?

Bunny Kinney:
No, no, no, no. I think they were just reaching for common ground. And they were like, "Film."

Terri Trespicio:
So how do you explain?

Bunny Kinney:
Well, I mean, the short answer is, I usually say filmmaker. And if I feel like they're sort of on the same page as me, or maybe sort of generationally the same, I might go so far as to say, "And creative director." But the slightly longer answer in terms of what I do, I make videos. I make films. I make what we call in fashion moving image content. And it's really specific to digital media. So I'll make videos and digital content on behalf of a different online publisher. I work for a lot of fashion magazines and cultural magazines, and I'll be making all their kind of online content and short films that you might see that are put out through that platform on their various websites or social media accounts and things like that.

Bunny Kinney:
And then I also work a lot with brands working on commercial projects. And I'll make everything from television ads or ads you'll see in cinemas or the back of taxis down to short social media content that goes on Instagram. And that will be for the purpose of marketing whatever they're trying to sell. But it's mostly in the space of fashion and beauty that I'm working.

Terri Trespicio:
That means you, in the simplest way, you are paid to create digital video moving image content for a range of brands. I mean, that's how you're paying your rent. You know what I mean? That's how you live.

Bunny Kinney:
Yeah.

Terri Trespicio:
And early on that you were given a role at a magazine in digital content and you knew it was because they didn't really care about digital content. So also about how that has changed. When you first started like, "Hey, do this digital stuff. We don't know, go figure it out." What was that like?

Bunny Kinney:
Yeah. I think that's where I really started my career. I left Emerson and I studied film there. I don't know what the film program is like now, but when I was there, it was like taping together film on a Steenbeck editing machine and learning how to use a Bolex and all this kind of great, amazing stuff, which I'm really, really happy that I learned about. But when I came out of film school, and I didn't go to LA and I didn't kind of do the Hollywood thing. I wanted to move to New York and I wanted, I was really interested in fashion specifically. And I was really interested in possibly working for a magazine and I didn't know what exactly that would be or how I would necessarily apply my filmmaking experience and interests.

Bunny Kinney:
But when I started working for different magazines, this was 2007. So digital was really a kind of, sort of new field for publishing. And all magazines had websites, but they weren't necessarily using them in the same way that they use them now. They weren't necessarily prioritizing them in the same way that they must prioritize them now, because readership was still largely print-based. So when you work for a magazine, everyone would be putting all of their energy, time, effort, and budget into doing the print. And it was still working in this very kind of traditional way. But sort of percolating under the surface was this great digital shift. And at the time, if you were the youngest person in the room, or you were the intern, oftentimes you would be the one that that was kind of delegated to because you were the person who presumably understood it because you were the target audience.

Bunny Kinney:
And also in the eyes of that publishing world, the digital was the least important thing. It was the kind of the cheap thing. It was the thing that you couldn't touch and therefore it wasn't as important. And of course it wasn't as vital as it is now in terms of revenue. Because advertisers are still spending money in print. But things started to change and I was already kind of immersing myself in this world of thinking about online content, whether that was written text-based articles or special features. Whether that was a little bit looking at sort of more video content and things like that, that could go on the site. Bearing in mind that it was still kind of [inaudible 00:09:34] YouTube days. I mean, YouTube was around, but it wasn't so dominant. Not everyone had the capability to watch, streaming high definition video on their computers. And very few people actually had smartphones.

Bunny Kinney:
So it was still a brave new world. And I ended up, when I moved to London I ended up working for Vise and Vise was really such an important company in terms of shepherding in that digital shift. And really recognizing the potential there and recognizing that there was like a future there in terms of where the audience was going and where the revenue was going. So I really kind of cut my teeth, making videos for Vise and helping them sort of translate what they were doing for 10, 15 years prior as a print magazine into what they were doing as a digital first platform that was populated mostly by articles and increasingly videos. So I was really doing all the video stuff.

Bunny Kinney:
So I kind of got my training in a very practical way by just watching everything happen around me. It was on the front lines of this great digital expansion. And it was something that was very unique because it really favored the young. Whereas, when we think about filmmaking with a capital F. When we think about Hollywood and we think about the industry, that's something that really empowers the status quo and is really hierarchical. And it's really about having that history and respect and experience, which are all important things, but there was something amazingly punk and exciting about digital disrupting everything. Because it meant that you could be the youngest and least experienced person in the room, but yet you were the one who was the most savvy and intuitive about how to do this content and kind of fearless as well.

Terri Trespicio:
You were making it up as you went along.

Bunny Kinney:
Totally.

Terri Trespicio:
I mean, it was low stakes because they didn't really care. You couldn't mess it up because they weren't sure anyone was watching anyway. And what a fantastic opportunity for a filmmaker, you could go be a PA somewhere in LA and hope that maybe you get to do something someday. And there's plenty of people going that route, but you got to make things earlier. Did you think at that time, "I can make a living doing this, I'm going to make this important because it's going to be important." Or were you like, "I don't know, let's just see where it goes."

Bunny Kinney:
I honestly think it was probably the latter. I feel like-

Terri Trespicio:
Whenever you didn't know, you didn't know for sure.

Bunny Kinney:
No, no. I knew that it was going in that direction. I had no doubt that print as a business was going to be challenged. I suppose I had some inclination that traditional television and cinema were going to be challenged by the arrival of digital. Because I was seeing it evolve all around me and I was participating in its evolution. As far as me personally, I wasn't being strategic about being involved in it.

Terri Trespicio:
You were like, "Oh, I'm going to be the VP of digital." Like you didn't have that title in your head?

Bunny Kinney:
No way. I, in fact, I would have been like, "I don't want to be called that, that sounds stupid." I would have been, I was so apathetic I think in a weird way, I was just like, "I don't know what I'm doing in my life. I don't know what's going on." I'm not thinking about the bigger picture. I'm literally just here, making some videos, going to meetings, seeing what happens and I'm trying to have fun and I'm just trying to see what happens. And then it was almost like everything else happened all around me. And it was partly to do with my age. Partly to do with being in the right place at the right time. Partly to do with the fact that I was working very hard. But really it was just like, there was no plan to it.

Terri Trespicio:
This has now been a few years. Hence, how do you, or what do you credit to having fashion brands seek you out to do this work? What are they coming for?

Bunny Kinney:
I think that the answer is probably ... I guess I really sort of grounded myself in what I would call an editorial sensibility to what I do. So I was always interested in interesting stories and cool images and inspiring films and content. And I always was trying to generate new ideas. That's my favorite part of the job is thinking of new ideas. And I really love to imagine and to take a brief or take some key words or take very abstract things and turn it into exciting story-driven ideas. And I think that that wasn't something that was situated in a kind of commercial frame of mind. That wasn't something I was thinking about, "How could I use this to make money or to help a brand sell something?" That was never part of it.

Bunny Kinney:
But I found that I was really good at translating my ideas in a way that felt really exciting for brands. When I first started working at Vise, they were still growing as a company. Certainly they were bigger in New York than they were in London and Europe, but they were sort of second to that and they were starting to work more and more with brands because they were starting to really establish their voice and their audience here from an editorial point of view, which is what I was working on.

Bunny Kinney:
Then as more brands came to them and said, "You know, we really like what you're doing. How can we collaborate?" There weren't that many people in the building who were kind of coming from the editorial side, who had those very editorial-driven ideas who could also make them work for brands who understood how to unpack what a brand really wants and what they're trying to communicate and who they're trying to communicate to. But still make that work in a way that feels cool and that feels right for the master company and for that audience.

Bunny Kinney:
And I feel like I had this kind of unique position that I was elected to, whether that was accidentally or on purpose, where I was able to sort of think about those ideas that still felt very editorial, but also served the purpose of achieving whatever marketing objectives a brand had. Which I kind of hate to say, because it makes me sound like a weird sellout. But I think there was something very, almost anthropological about it for me in that I like to unpack meaning and things. And I think that that can be coming from anything. I don't really, I'm not precious about if that's coming from something that's ... This really hard hitting piece of journalism or something that is a fashion brand trying to sell a bag. It's like, how do we make meaning ?

Terri Trespicio:
It doesn't matter. That's right, that's right. Oh, I'm so glad you said that. I mean, what you're pointing out is that when you go in with a, "How do I make money and how can we market a thing?" I've always thought that was ass backwards quite frankly. I believe that there is real value in editorial. And editorial, okay, fine. We both work in magazines, we have an editorial mindset. But for anyone else, editorial means ideas that stand on their own and that can connote meaning regardless of who wields them for whatever business transaction they want. If you start with the transaction, you have skipped and short circuited the value of the thing you're offering. And you said there were very few people in the building who did this. There are lots of people who have jobs in the or a industry, right?

Terri Trespicio:
You can get a job at anything. You can get a job, you get a job. People, "How do I get a job in this?" But what is very clear to me just in hearing you speak is, the standout is not, "Oh, I knew how to make someone a million dollars and blah, blah, blah." It was, "I had the ideas. I developed them and found ways to connect them to meaning in ways that very few people were doing." There is value in ideas and in developing them. And there's inherent value that cannot be had from a marketing strategy alone. Marketing strategy takes the idea and makes it accessible. But you traffic in the ideas that is your stock and trade.

Bunny Kinney:
Yes, well put.

Terri Trespicio:
Is there something you've learned about working with brands, working with other businesses, working with people who are bottom line-driven that you'd say will serve the artist as they seek commercial success?

Bunny Kinney:
You can be an artist and you can create work that is a pure, linear expression of who you are. And you can sit at home and, or potentially if you have the means to do so, bring in collaborators to help you execute those ideas. And you may be lucky enough to find fortune and fame from that. But really if you want to be commercially successful, then, and I do think most artists think about this regardless of their intentions to be commercially successful or not. You have to think about who the audience is. And you have to think about who this is for, because presumably you're creating something to be seen, to be watched, to be read, to be consumed in some way. I mean, every artist generally I believe wants an audience.

Bunny Kinney:
When you have people investing in that art or people you're trying to get to pay for that art, they're going to want to see a return of investment. And when it comes to media or it comes to entertainment, or it comes to filmmaking, that equates to eyeballs, that equates to a conversion. I feel like the main lesson I've learned really through a very practical experience in this industry so far is that, I'm not creating something in a kind of self-indulgent way where it's just for me. Or I can have that kind of work, but that's separate, that's something I do at home. That's something that I do as an exercise for whatever I need it to be for, for my own sort of betterment.

Bunny Kinney:
But when it comes to things that I'm trying to get the world to see, when I'm trying to get people to pay for, when I'm trying to bring collaborators on board to work with me on it. It has to have some kind of viability in terms of why people are going to want to watch it, or why people are going to want to buy it.

Bunny Kinney:
I'll say this anecdotally, I'm working with a really amazing production company right now on a big, big project of mine, which I'm very excited about. And they produce films. They produce films in Hollywood, but they have a really amazing range of films they produce, and some are big blockbusters that they're spending tons of money on. And some are kind of what we call indie or art house. And I asked them, and I said, ask the development execs I was like, "Why do you invest in these films that are potentially not going to really find a massive audience? What is in it for you?" And they were like, "Well, there's different reasons that we do it. We one, for all of our films, it's because we believe in them. And we think that there are stories that needs to be told," which is amazing and refreshing to hear.

Bunny Kinney:
But two, there are some films that happened because there are so many things that play behind the scenes with our various production partners and investors and studios we're working with, that sometimes films can just get made because someone them to be made, or there's a reason that they feel it will do really well in a particular market. Sometimes we make films because we know it's going to be a big Oscar moment for us. And it's worth that credibility that will help us when we're recouping the costs or doing this massive blockbuster or whatever.

Bunny Kinney:
So I think there's all these really interesting things going on. But the bottom line to me is like, there's very rare instances where I'm seeing people or hear just saying like, "I'm making this film, the target audience of this film is me. And I'm the only person who's going to watch it." And that is totally fine by me. You're going to be hard pressed to find someone to pay for it. And I think that's the point. People are trying to find people to pay for it. And hopefully, as artists, we're trying to find people to watch things as well.

Terri Trespicio:
What do you say to people who are coming up and going, "I want to be doing this and I would like money for what I do because I believe in it." And yet they have a hard time accepting money, because they're afraid of what it says about them as an artist. How do you, in your mind justify or rectify that for the person who's struggling with it?

Bunny Kinney:
I would probably tell that person that they're going to have to make some choices. It's like, "Okay, if someone is willing to pay for this thing, then yes, I do believe that you need to maintain a sense of integrity and it needs to be legitimate and not conflicting for you and what you're trying to do." It's like, if you are trying to make this big documentary, that's about how fucked up factory farming is, and the people that want to invest in it are in bed with factory farming-

Terri Trespicio:
Good luck.

Bunny Kinney:
... it's like, yeah, I can understand the conflicts there and would advise against it.

Terri Trespicio:
We talk about, you're doing stuff for commercial, things that you do for a living, but you also have a site called Nowness, N-O-W-N-E-S-S.com, which I looked at it. And it has like a very rich and vibrant collection of all kinds of different films. But can you tell us a little bit more about what I'm looking at when I go there?

Bunny Kinney:
Nowness was launched in 2010 by LVMH, Louis Vuitton, Moet Hennessy group in Paris. And it was conceived as like a kind of ahead of its time, short film platform dedicated to creative expressions in short form digital content and moving image. And now it's a really kind of beloved, slightly, still underground platform where we premiere, curate, commission, and create different short films from directors all around the world. And it's essentially like a kind of Netflix for culture, but it has a little bit more of a curatorial eye. It's this beautiful and kind of inspiring place where you can check it out every day or follow us on Instagram or any of those kinds of platforms. And every day you sort of see another interesting, hopefully inspiring short film created by some amazing visionary filmmaker from anywhere in the world. And makes you stop and actually watch something for more than eight seconds or whatever the average drop off rate is elsewhere. And hopefully think about things, or be inspired and get up and go and make things.

Terri Trespicio:
Do people submit films for consideration or?

Bunny Kinney:
Yes, yes. If you are a young Emerson filmmaker and you are making films and you're looking for a place for it to go, you can hit up Nowness, there's information on nowness.com. And there's always a possibility that we might feature it if we like it.

Terri Trespicio:
You're an Emerson grad. Emerson, like every institution we're ever part of leaves a fingerprint on us. What do you think that kind of Emerson shaped mark on you is? Is there some kind of thing that you said, "Hey, I learned this there, or this is what I take with me from that experience?"

Bunny Kinney:
I think that Emerson really was such an important place for me to kind of come into my own in a sense, at least as an individual. It was so renowned for being a college of weirdos. I don't know if that's still the case. I hope that is still the case. I very much hope that is still the case. And it was like, "And that's kind of why I wanted to go." I was like, "I want to go live in a city and I want to be able to be whoever I want to be. And I wanted to let my freak flag fly and just blossom into this awkward-

Terri Trespicio:
Yes.

Bunny Kinney:
... unique flower. And Emerson was totally, it's like such the perfect place to do that, and so great for that. So I feel like it really facilitated within me or instilled within me this love of myself, of being an individual, of being sort of confident in that individuality in a way that might not be the case elsewhere. So I feel like my Emerson stamp is really saying ... When I had those formative years, when I was a teenager still, when I was there, I was for the first time stepping into the world as an individual, as an autonomous individual and saying, "I'm a little bit different and I am totally okay with this." And I think that's something that was completely fostered by my experience there.

Terri Trespicio:
I love that. And what does it mean for you to make it and how will you know when you get there, or have you?

Bunny Kinney:
I think there's the conventional metrics, which I feel I can understand, and I can relate to in terms of my professional path, which is, you're always sort of working towards something, whether that's money, success, recognition, especially when we're talking about creative people. When we're talking about people working in ... Professionally creative people working in the entertainment industry. And I get that, and I do relate to that. I think that the way I operate is that I'm always kind of, the goalposts are there, but I'm always moving the goalposts.

Bunny Kinney:
I get out of bed because I have something to kind of look forward to, something that gives me a spring in my step, whether that's a new project or a new ambition or whatever, I operate on that way. And that doesn't mean that's the way that everyone needs to operate, but that's what keeps me going, at least on my professional life. However, I also have this very, this almost like contrasting part of me, which is really more about my soul. Which is something that really transcends these kind of more superficial markers of success that are present in my career ambitions. And that's really about feeling grateful for what I have and feeling grateful for what one has, regardless of if they have very little or they have everything they ever wanted.

Bunny Kinney:
And I feel like when you can wake up in the morning and genuinely feel like you're happy to be still here on these two feet, regardless of how stressful, amazing, or bad or good the world outside is. I think that when you have that feeling where you can kind of do a little inventory of what you are grateful for, what you do have, even if that's like next to nothing. I feel like that is making it to me. That is making it, because I think that's what we should all aspire to be like. And that's something that fully transcends, money, fame, and a lot of it.

Terri Trespicio:
Bunny, thank you so much.

Bunny Kinney:
No worries, my pleasure.

Terri Trespicio:
This was fantastic. "Making It Big in 30 Minutes" is a production of Emerson College, bringing innovation to communication in the arts. Sponsored by the Emerson College Office of Alumni Engagement and supported by the Alumni Board of Directors. Our theme music was written by Phantoms and Avocado Junkie. For more information about the Alumni Association, please visit emerson.edu/alumni, where you can also find bonus material from the show. I'm Terri Trespicio. Thanks for listening.