ADC Member, 2014 Festival speaker and ADC Young Guns 11 winner Ivan Cash is an artist with the potential for an endless line of nouns and adjectives in front of that simple title: internet, new media, film, interactive, socially-engaged — they all describe the kind of artist he’s become since leaving agency life for the magical land of freelancing.
Since then he’s been working on independent and commercial projects out of his small outpost Cash Studios in San Francisco, CA, focusing on the connecting power of ordinary human experience in a wide range of creative work. The latest from these efforts is a short film for a new L’Oreal campaign about inspiration.
If that sounds like a broad topic that might be hard to connect to, watch the video and just try to peel your eyes away from these everyday stories of triumph and love. We’ll bet you can’t, and that’s thanks to Ivan’s unique way of getting straight to the hearts of his subjects and his audience. We caught up with him to learn a bit more about how he’s developed that technique and seen success bringing it to brands. Then we turn the proverbial camera on the man behind the lens and learn about Ivan’s own battles, joys and dreams.
ADC: Do you have any tricks for making people more comfortable on camera? How do you get ordinary people to open up to strangers?
Ivan: I have a number of tricks, all of which I’ve learned through trial and error. I actually started interviewing people on the street in high school when I took a trip to NYC with my dad (I’m still trying to track down that footage).
I get ordinary people to open up and reveal their true selves by holding space. I’m well-trained in mindfulness practice (Last year I went on a month-long silent meditation retreat) and so I really try to be fully present and emotionally open. I also reserve judgement and even try to fall in love a little bit with every interviewee I speak with. If my heart’s not open, then they won’t feel as comfortable opening up.
I also use a minimal amount of equipment, and crew, so it’s not as intimidating. Lastly, I always offer people outs if they seem hesitant. And funnily enough, people are often more receptive once I’ve given them an out, because then they don’t feel pressure. It’s so crucial that they feel relaxed.
ADC: This video doesn’t mention the product it’s promoting once. How do you work with clients to understand the relevance that your socially-inspired work can have for their brands?
Ivan: My work with clients varies from project to project, but the ideal scenario is where the client is already familiar with of my work, as L’Oreal was, and approaches me to do what I do. (They loved my ‘Last Photo’ project and wanted me to do something similar for their inspiration campaign.)
“It’s less about the questions and more about creating a space to get people comfortable to talk about what’s really happening with them.”
When a client trusts your work and sensibilities, it makes the whole process so much easier. I think there’s a growing movement towards creative partnerships with artists and creatives who have a preexisting following or have proven themselves, and so the end product ends up being less ad-like and more like an art commission. It feels more genuine; brands and companies then recruit fans from producing compelling content rather than trying to sell them something.
ADC: When you go out to shoot a piece like this, do you work off of an outline or plan of any kind, or let the interactions lead you where they will?
Ivan: I had a list of client-approved questions that I started off with, but that was it, and it pretty quickly deviated from that based on what worked and what wasn’t working. At the end of the day, it’s less about the questions and more about creating a space to get people comfortable to talk about what’s really happening with them on the inside.
“I recently stuck a series of post-it notes all around my apartment with the words, “NOT KNOWING.” I find inspiration in not putting pressure or stress on myself to figure everything out.”
Otherwise, my DP and I just walked all over San Francisco during the course of three full days, and after getting over 50 interviews, edited it down and once the client and I agreed on the final grouping of interviews, we went back and shot b-roll to match the content.
ADC: What does inspiration mean to you?
Ivan: Inspiration is everything: it’s being truly open to new experiences, remembering that reality is malleable, following passion, and then surrendering to ‘not knowing anything.’ I recently stuck a series of post-it notes all around my apartment with the words, “NOT KNOWING.” I find inspiration in not putting pressure or stress on myself to figure everything out, like a new relationship or a new job. I don’t know where anything is going, and admitting that is beautiful and inspiring.
“Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. ‘Cool’ is subjective.”
ADC: What’s your greatest struggle? How are you planning on overcoming it?
Ivan: My greatest struggle is balance. There are so many things I want to do in life and time just keeps slipping away. There are always more TV shows to watch, books to read, people to connect with — even answering this interview right now, I feel the other opportunities of the day ticking away. So I plan on overcoming my struggle with balance by continuing to set boundaries for myself and not overcommitting to things.
ADC: If you could give one piece of advice to your childhood self, what would it be?
Ivan: That your parents don’t deserve to have their toothbrushes peed on. (Sorry mom and dad!)
Also: relax, and don’t take life so seriously. Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. ‘Cool’ is subjective.
This is advice I could still use to hear more of, but especially as a kid, I was so damn serious about everything and was hyper-aware of other people’s judgements or at least perceived judgements. This was really limiting, and made it difficult for me to relax. And while this seriousness has allowed me to achieve in some significant ways, at the end of the day, what’s the point if I can’t let go and enjoy it all?
For more from the mind of this brilliant interactive artist (and apparently reformed evil prankster!), check out Ivanspiration, a blog Ivan curates with the things that are inspiring him every day.