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Learning the Unexpected with Philip Giancola

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You never know when the muse of creativity is going to engulf you in one of its legendary and life-changing moments of epiphany

Filmmaker Philip Giancola has dropped out of high school in his teenage years, only to then fall in love with movies and the film industry. That was the call he needed. Going back to finish his studies, Phil then enrolled in film school and graduated with honours. And he's "never looked back since."

Like many of the creatives we feature in our Member Spotlights, Phil has an incredible story to tell. Unlike some of the most unpleasant corners of the creative industries, however, Phil is fully conscious of himself and overflowing with hopes for the future of the industry. Whilst still holding an admirable spirit of humility, despite being a master of his craft. 

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How did you get into the industry?

I took a break from school because I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I feel like that's most young folks, maybe mine was a bit more extreme. I dropped out of high-school entirely and was anti-social for a long time. I didn't do much but stay inside and watch films.

The more I fell in love with the medium, the more I realized it's what i wanted to do with my life. Went back to school to obtain my GED, then went to film school full-time while also working full-time. I graduated with honors and haven't looked back since. I started writing and directing short films and small branded commercials, often times doing it for free since it was such a passion. That led to paid work and a lot of bouncing around since. Along the way, I took a job in Asia and lived there for three years. As painful as some of the journey was, I wouldn't change a thing. 

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Can you explain your creative process?

Each project is different and never has the right answer immediately. I work from the inside out and focus on core. What is the story or project trying to say? How do we translate that for cinema? Oftentimes that's connected with a human emotion or several emotions.

Then it starts a ripple effect with everything. As a director, you're always thinking about audience, so you always have a big picture in your head of where you want to take them. Then, it's about finding which path is the best one to go down. Sometimes that looks like a web in your mind that tries to connect the variations, with each choice adding more variation and choices.

It's almost like chess. What if this character wears this color? What if we start with this scene? How will this music effect the tone? Sometimes the path doesn't lead anywhere and you start again, sometimes you build off of what you find. But if you know what you're trying to say it will help guide things a bit more. Some of the process is just trial and error. Of testing things, of being open to things. You'll never have all of the answers immediately, but just be a conduit for everything you're absorbing and make choices based on heart and not flash. 

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How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?

From the internet and email sense, it's helped me connect with more people outside of my circle and culture. I can't describe how amazing that is to engage with people from all over the world. Every creative has a different eye and different sensibilities, so it's nice seeing how other people operate. That's inspiring, being able to absorb other creative endeavors. Other than that, nothing beats a pen and paper and taking notes the old-fashioned way. 

What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

Read, watch things, go out and engage with people as they are. I think the goal is to always be alert and absorb as much as you can from every facet of life. Having conversations, listening to people, seeing and interacting with people. Be curious about everything and don't be afraid to do or say something. The moments that you go through and live through often serve as a good influence. 

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What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

I think my work for the Health Promotion Board in Singapore and their anti-smoking campaign really hits for me. There are other projects I've enjoyed and loved doing for many reasons, maybe for reasons of self-interest and growth. For that one though, I've had people tell me they needed to hear and see that message. As filmmakers, we try to be impactful, so knowing that someone can see content like that and potentially be put on a better path or try to live a healthier life... well that's everything. 

How do you recharge away from the office?

On a small, I take walks. Go out and loosen up, give yourself a mental break. It's also good for your body. On a big, being able to travel to different parts of the world for the last several years on projects allowed me to gain some more insight and put things into perspective.

Even if it's not related to work, just be sure to travel and experience something new. I always walk around cities or rural towns as a form of absorption and interaction. You'll see other people with different levels of happiness or struggle.

Suddenly, filmmaking is not so life-or-death anymore. Is filmmaking important? Yes, but life comes first. These memories and perspective stick with you and allow you to remain more relaxed, always. Sports is also a good outlet. I play a lot of basketball. You sweat out your tension and get other muscles going, aside from the brain.

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What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

This is a field where you should be out of your comfort zone as much as possible.

Take on projects that will push you to do that. Learn as much as you can and try things you may not think is for you. At the very least, there will always be a takeaway or a new collaboration you'll gain out of it. At best, you'll learn that is for you and you've added another level to yourself. It's ok to do projects that you may need to simply to pay the bills just don't lose sight of what you want.

Don't be afraid to start small. You're going to get knocked down a lot. Keep getting back up. Find a client or someone to collaborate and learn from that experience. Stay open and flexible.

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What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?

I just hope the passion I see from some of these creatives will never go away. People make inspiring stuff from the heart. Keep doing that. Don't let a big paycheck or a fancy brand come along and change that. Don't let your followers change that. Keep being creative and original. We all get comfortable sometimes.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

I think in every field of work, there will always be politics and ego. Filmmaking is no different, and in many ways, can be worse. Things like that can hinder a creative decision or make for an unpleasant experience. It's ok to have differences with other creatives, because that's only going to help the project figure out what it needs to be. But take the ego and politics out of it. Listen and be respectful and the best outcome will illuminate. This isn't to say that every project experiences this, but it happens. 

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