Daniel Askill is an Australian born filmmaker and artist, whose range of work is about as diverse as the cities he creates it from. He is the co-founder of internationally awarded creative collective, Collider and Collider Studio, has collaborated with artists including Sia, Philip Glass and Alexander McQueen, as well as clients like Apple, The New York Times, Nike and BMW. Daniel's creative journey has seen him based in London, Europe, LA, New York City and Upstate New York, where he lives today. We spoke to Daniel about creative life in New York, his new feature film and how environment inspires his creativity.
ON WHERE YOU’RE FROM
I was born in Sydney and grew up there, went to school there. I grew up around Darlinghurst, Darling Point, Kings Cross, Bondi Beach, that kind of part.
ON HOW OFTEN YOU VISIT AUSTRALIA
I get back there over Christmas and New Year, December to January to catch up with family and that kind of thing. We’re very lucky to have access to the Australian summer while everyone here in New York is doing the full innings of winter, we kind of get to break it up. I also co-own a production company with a couple of friends in Sydney called Collider. I’ll usually travel to Australia to do one or two projects with Collider each year.
ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH TRAVEL
I had always travelled a lot as a kid. My Dad’s a musician and he was touring a lot when I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time in different places with him. Before I started university I went backpacking across Europe, which is a pilgrimage for a lot of us. But what really got me going was I’d been studying in Sydney doing a course called Visual Communication, and there was an opportunity to study at Central Saint Martins in London in the second or third year. I managed to get on that exchange which took me to London when I was about 20. That was my first time living and working overseas which got the ball rolling for me.
ON WINDOW SEAT OR AISLE
I’m window. I like looking out at the sky and it’s also easier to sleep in a window seat you can lean against the wall. People often complain about planes and flying, but it’s easy to forget how amazing it is to be able to go on that ride, to look at the clouds and the earth from above.
ON LONDON, STUDYING AND WORKING WITH ALEXANDER MCQUEEN
To make some money on the fly while studying at Central Saint Martins, I’d show my work to design places, looking for some Photoshop work and such to pay the bills. I was lucky enough to stumble across this company that looked at a couple of the short films I’d made in Australia during high school and college. They immediately gave me some work directing. But then to add to that, it happened that this company was in a building that was owned by Alexander McQueen, who had the three storeys above this place. I ended up designing Alexander McQueen’s website and helped him with a few different projects. So I spent a couple of years in London working, made a few fashion videos and projects like that, and then came back to Sydney where I tried to get a job at what I thought looked like cool places to work. I didn’t actually get a job at any of those places.
ON LAUNCHING COLLIDER IN SYDNEY
In Sydney I reconnected with my friends Andrew van der Westhuyzen who I did Visual Communication with, and Sam Zalaiskalns who had finished doing some kind of business and philosophy degree. And we were like, let’s start something. We started Collider out of my bedroom. After a few projects, we got some money from the Australian Film Commission and I made my first short film which was called ‘We Have Decided Not To Die’. That ended up getting into a bunch of festivals, which is what then took me away again. I spent half the year going to different film festivals, and ended up back in Europe and London. At that stage I signed with Academy Films, which was a huge dream for me at the time, because that was Jonathan Glazer’s production company and I was such a fan of all his work.
“Working out how to negotiate that space, interact with clients, brands, Hollywood people and all their lingo was all new to me, and still stay true to what I felt was my own creative voice”.
ON FIRST LANDING IN LOS ANGELES
I was going back to Australia from London a couple of times a year. I wasn’t fully committed to being away, even though I was spending lots of time overseas. I joined Radical Media in Paris, who sent me a job working with a car brand which was my first big American project which took me to LA where I then began living. So that initial project was the beginning of life in America for me really. I ended up spending about two years living in LA.
ON THEN MOVING TO NEW YORK
I was in LA for a couple of years and somewhere in that time I made a music video with Sia for this song called ‘Breathe Me’. We’d become kind of friendly, she was living in London when I was there and we had some mutual friends from Australia. And then she was also living in LA when I was. It was all kind of coincidence and her career was really blossoming. Anyway, short story long, I broke up with my girlfriend of the time in LA and suddenly I’m living in this house in the Hollywood Hills alone which was a bit of an existential thing for me because I thought, this is amazing but this actually really sucks and I’m lonely.
Right around that time Sia asked me if I wanted to rent a room in New York. I wasn’t enjoying being in LA on my own, so I said, yes, for sure. And that’s what took me to New York, where I’ve been living over ten years now. Though I still feel like I’m just living out of a suitcase moving here and there, I guess I’m a little more set up here these days.
ON FINDING HOME IN UPSTATE NEW YORK
Like most people in New York I’ve bounced around all parts of the city. But about five or six years ago I felt I just needed something to call home so I bought a place about an hour north of Manhattan in a town called Goshen, in Upstate New York. It’s a small house on about an acre of land, a mid-century house and little separated studio. It was actually falling apart when I bought it, a couple had built it in the 60s as a labour of love by themselves with the help of an architect. They lived there until they passed away around six years ago. It’s got a really nice energy. So I guess I think of that as my home. I was at one of those points living in New York City where I was thinking, gosh, is it time to move back to LA? Or even back to Australia? I realised what you could find in Upstate New York, and pretty reasonably in comparison to Australian real estate prices and certainly in comparison to what you pay in New York City, and it’s only an hour away. It’s proved to be a really nice escape.
ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH NEW YORK AFTER 10+ YEARS
That’s a good question. I’ve got to admit it probably is a love-hate one. I do love New York, it’s such an incredible melting pot, there’s still nothing like it. The speed at which you connect with people and meet creative people, or find yourself at dinner with someone you’ve always admired. That side of New York is incredible.
But the other side of it is where everyone’s out for themselves and their ego and getting ahead and all that sort of stuff. So I find myself constantly trying to balance between those two sides. That’s where Upstate is so great to me, or even travelling to LA can be a bit of an escape and a reconnect with nature, especially coming from Australia.
So my relationship with New York is about trying to make the most of all the human interaction and access to creativity, but also making sure not to get too caught up in that, and be able to escape from it and reconnect with nature. I need to look at a horizon from time to time.
I feel like the literal position of the sun and the earth is one of the last major hurdles in creativity and communication being borderless. Someone’s probably working on that.
ON CHALLENGES YOU’VE EXPERIENCED WORKING IN THE USA
In Australia I’d grown up in quite a creative family. My Dad’s a musician and my Mum worked for a musician and painted, and always had an appreciation of art. In my pathway through design I’d slowly moved more towards some of the commercial sides of art, even though I sort of kept up the more traditional aspect of it as well. Anyway, I guess this is a roundabout way of saying when I finally hit LA and I was pitching on car commercials and reading Hollywood scripts and all that kind of stuff, I realised how many people weren’t interested in the conversations I was used to having about ‘real art’ in inverted commas. Working out how to negotiate that space, interact with clients, brands, Hollywood people and all their lingo was all new to me, and still stay true to what I felt was my own creative voice.
To give you an example. You know the famous Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, who made all these famously beautiful allegorical kind of poetic films. I’m a big fan of his work and there’s a book he wrote called ‘Sculpting In Time’ which is a lot of his musings on filmmaking. I remember being in LA in my early 20s and I always kept that book next to my bed. When I’d come back from some particularly…what’s the word.. aggressive meeting in LA, I’d come back and read some of that book to help refocus on that inner voice and authentic sort of creative space for me. So yes, that was one of the bigger challenges for me initially working out how to navigate that world.
ON A BORDERLESS CREATIVE WORLD
I think the creative world is more borderless than ever. When I was starting my career there were still limitations. I started directing at a time when showreels would still be on Betamax tape, and now everyone can see whatever creative inspiration they want around the globe. To be honest, one of the only things that keeps me from moving back to Australia is literally the time crunch. That’s the last insurmountable hurdle. With the pace technology is moving, everything’s also moving faster. So sometimes to really be in the slipstream of the work you want to be making, you need to be able to get on that call that day or have that face-to-face meeting the next day or that kind of thing. I feel like the literal position of the sun and the earth is one of the last major hurdles in creativity and communication being borderless. Someone’s probably working on that. Or maybe they can move the position of Australia.
ON UPCOMING PROJECTS
At the moment I’m really excited about wrapping up a short film, made to music by Phil Glass called ‘Universal Machine’. It’s part Glass music video, part short film and also part proof of concept for a full feature project I’ve been developing. We started in Dubai at the end of last year and it’s the choreographed story of this amazing young girl boxer from Kazakhstan in a fight with an AI Android creature. I designed with my brother who’s a jewellery designer and with Andrew from Collider. It’s completely 3D but was initially performed by a Japanese performer who we then replaced with the 3D Android. So that’s an area I’m excited about, the intersection between art and film.
ON WHERE YOU FIND CREATIVE INSPIRATION IN UPSTATE NEW YORK
Since I’ve got the place Upstate, there are a couple of places I think are really worth the trip and they’re only an hour out. There is a beautiful gallery in Upstate New York called Dia:Beacon. It’s one stop on the train past where my place is. All sorts of late 20th century American artists, really beautifully presented in a kind of serene location. Artists like Richard Serra, Warhol and Sol Lewitt in very big spaces just one artwork per space. The train ride there is also pretty great. You literally jump on at Grand Central and you’re just on the train past the river to get there. It’s an amazing half day trip.
On the other side of the river there is a place called Storm King that’s an epic sculpture park. You can ride bikes or just walk around, take a picnic, whatever. It’s just these rolling fields with incredible work by amazing sculptors. That’s a little day trip that is definitely worth the journey out of the city.
In the city I haven’t actually been there for a while, but one place I do love to go to when I get the time is the Frick Collection or Frick Museum. I think that it’s a bit of a haven of stillness inside the city. It was the house of the Frick family who had this incredible home right on Central Park. It’s more of a manor or estate than a house which has been turned into a museum with their whole art collection there from the Flemish masters to the Neos. It has this amazing internal courtyard, indoor-outdoor garden kind of area. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place to go and spend a couple of hours.
Beyond that, there’s obviously all the classics you can just keep going back to like the Guggenheim, The Met, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I can never get through everything in those spaces. All the galleries in Chelsea are a great time to check out on a Sunday. I try and get to the Opera at the Lincoln Centre, the Metropolitan Opera every once in a while. One of those classic New York things to do that is really amazing.
And then obviously, Downtown, the street culture down there is still always very invigorating. With Collider we’ve opened up a satellite in New York called Collider Studio. We’re building a little community of our own down here in Tribeca where our studio is, and we’re on top of a gallery called Postmasters. We’re starting to do events every month or so, like a dance performance in our space and some great sound artists. We have a party coming up with NOWNESS based around the Tribeca Film Festival.
ON NEW YORK IN ONE WORD
There’s definitely an intensity. I’ve got to admit that over time it shifts. If you’d asked me in my first five years here, I just would have said, pure excitement. But the longer you stay that excitement shifts into a kind of intensity which makes having some calm very important. I feel that every creative person has different needs in terms of what allows them to be the most creative. Over time what I’ve realised is, I need that intensity but I also need a way to be able to find stillness inside that or it kind of doesn’t work. I think in my work like filmmaking I’ve always loved that idea. That first short film we talked about, ‘We Have Decided Not To Die’, had that as a theme, the three characters in that film are very much finding stillness in the centre of a crazy intensity. One of them is literally meditating as they hover over a car crash. So there’s always that kind of dynamic. New York does feel a bit like that sometimes.