Cheerleading + TV Pilot + Lawsuit
Notes from the Blue & Gold Army, a TV Pilot called “Flux” that I wrote/directed and a film-project that ended in a lawsuit.
In a few months, I think Streamplate will become sustainable and in doing so, become the first project that I initiated, to sustainably grow. When I say sustainable, I mean I think we’ll be able to secure a few million dollars in investment during 2021 which will finance what’s needed to continue building the App and the Orb. We’re in a bootstrapped/pre-seed stage now.
I realise that the App isn’t even completed nor is it available on Android, but I think part of my job is to think a few months in advance and accordingly adjust the company so its on the appropriate trajectory to reach its destination.
With Streamplate’s nearing such an inflexion point, I’ve spent time thinking about previous projects and why they never eventuated to this stage of sustainability. It should be said, that it’s not like this is a guaranteed path. There are plenty of reasons why Streamplate won’t reach sustainable growth but I happen to think we’ll overcome whatever challenges arise, just as we have before.
This post is quite personal and somewhat biographical. At the end of this post, I’ll explain why I wrote it.
It’s hard to convey how obsessive my mind can be about an idea. It entrenches itself totally into my way of living and it’s only by pursuing that idea that I ever get some sense of “peace and quiet”. I often find myself bordering on insomnia, I’ve burnt out too many times before turning 25, I’ve lapsed into a deep depressive state when an idea didn’t go to plan and in general, I find “life balance” to be something I really cannot do but also something I have to keep working on.
This has been my way of life for as long as I can remember. When I was 6 my room was littered in massive LEGO creations. I made a metre-long replica of the Titanic when I was 7 from LEGO and “designed” the products of a tech company I wanted to create called “Mytech” with friends, Charlie Cavill and Cameron Jewell. I became interested in drawing/cartoons when I was 8 and sold comic-books to classmates — shout out to Jess Ball who bought the first copy for $1. Then when I was 9 and 10, I made short films after being inspired by what Steven Speilberg did when he was my age — shoutout to Luke Ramshaw for being my first “producer” and Nick Polovineo for being the lead actor.
Nick has an awesome story that I love sharing. We lived near each other and began playing music in Year 3 at Belrose Public School. He played trombone and I was on trumpet. I left Belrose in Year 4, and didn’t see Nick for over a decade until we saw each other after university on the bus. We spoke a few times then about his worries after graduating from the Sydney Conservatory on what he’d do — teach music? I suggested he created a social media presence to get his name out there and see what happens.
A year late, I saw on Instagram that Nick was part of Lime Cordiale. Follow his journey at ‘@nicky_nightmare’.
I would leave Belrose for a few reasons but one of them was that I was bullied for carrying a pink notepad with me. I didn’t want to forget my ideas and at the same time couldn’t tolerate being picked on for carrying a pink notepad. I’m not sure why the notepad was pink but I still have it.
Leaving Belrose, I went to St. Augustine’s where I became good friends with Jack Lo Russo and would make another short movie with him and some other classmates. I didn’t really fit the rugby-focus of St. Augustine’s and neither did Jack, so for Year 7 we were at different schools. I was at St. Aloysius’ College and he was at Manly Selective. Jack reappears later.
My time at St. Aloysius’ or Aloys, was great. However, it was also a period of immense social influence and I remember privately quietening my attention on ideas and instead spending more time socialising. I had a lot of fun during high school and was fortunate to meet some really great people including classmates, teachers and even the principal.
I’d describe this time as a period of suppression. I still worked on a few projects like a video-game script in Year 8 and a 2m x 1.5m drawing inspired by Renaissance art in Year 9. I drew and painted a lot in high-school and often thought about pursuing a fine-arts degree in oil-painting.
I think by the time I reached the final years of high-school, classmates saw me as something of a class-clown. I did a lot of dumb things — that I still find pretty funny for the record. But I wasn’t interested in school and when I wasn’t thinking about fine-arts, was considering a career in the special forces as an officer. It seemed fast-paced and risky. Everything I was looking for.
I actually credit this to being told in Year 3 that I was “right-brained” and that I wasn’t going to be “good at maths or science” (NB: I’m a neuroscientist/computer engineer now and I can’t believe this nonsense has been pedalled for so long). While I did chemistry and 2U maths in Year 12, I always thought I didn’t belong there and in the final weeks of Year 12, I actually dropped maths altogether after receiving a disappointing mark in an assessment.
This changed in Year 10 which I credit to properly meeting someone that has become a close friend of mine ever since. This friend is possibly the most intelligent person I’ve met and I’m very lucky to have ended up being put together as his drama partner. For that term of drama we were supposed to perform a somber tragedy about a historic event. We chose 9/11 and laughed through the whole performance. We bottomed the class.
It was after meeting this friend that I became interested in trauma surgery and considered pursuing this in the military.
Supporting the school sport teams was a big focus of Aloys culture, and so in Year 11 when the rugby team, the First XV, were up against Cranbrook, I was there in the crowd. For whatever reason, I spent the entire game mocking and name-calling the Cranbrook players. We lost the game but I caught the attention of Blake Cohen who was Captain of the Blue and Gold Army — lead student cheerleader. He asked during the game if I wanted to be the next “Captain of the Blue and Gold” and that was it. A few weeks later towards the end of 2012 I was chosen to be “Captain of the B&G”.
It’s extremely difficult to describe what this role meant within the Aloys community because the intensity is so foreign to everyone outside of the school. It was certainly equivalent to a “captain of cheerleading” but there was something special about the role given how close most of the students were to one another.
“B&G” as it was called by the students, was pretty exclusive in late 2012. There was a Facebook group with the senior students and there was an odd announcement at weekly assembly but that was it. Students came to games because it was just what we did but even then, it was more a social event than anything about the school spirit.
I’m not sure what exactly compelled me to commit so much, but B&G became something else during 2013. Every free moment was spent with James Mullan, Tim Robinson, Thomas Kennedy and Sergio Badilescu-Buga thinking about how we could improve B&G, what we could do for upcoming basketball and rugby games, and creating new videos to promote the upcoming weekend sports.
We created a new Facebook group and an Instagram account. At the time, there was no other Sydney school doing this and I remember having to convince people to post to get engagement going. It was quietly, totally artificial in the beginning. For those in the group now, you can scroll to the start and find weeks of posts with little to no engagement.
Again, it’s hard to describe the exact effect this all had. While crowd sizes obviously grew, sometimes tripling to what they were the year before, B&G’s greatest accomplishment was creating a palpable sense of school spirit. I hope this is still there now.
Given my interest in video making, I created a few videos to promote an upcoming basketball game. This was the switch that kicked everything into a new gear. James Mullan would take this further by creating weekly videos he called “G-Ups”. We’d premiere them to a packed hall and only had to stop premiering them because the number of students in the hall was a “safety hazard”.
Hopefully this provides some context to what the B&G meant to students when we announced we were organising a whole school Harlem Shake. What ensued was chaos. You can watch it here. Within 24 hours of posting it on YouTube the school asked we take it down immediately. We just changed the name in “homage” to another video that you can see here.
Man, the backlash to this video from staff was intense. A religion teacher called me “the anti-christ”, another religion teacher told me I was “evil”, a substitute teacher said I was “a disgrace” and a history teacher refused to read an essay draft. It was bizarre because we had asked the school for permission beforehand and then had to raise funds to pay for the fire alarm that went off.
This was a turning point for me. It marked the beginning of a rollercoaster of responses that I’ve continued to experience since. This rollercoaster is the form of owning a creation. Creating something means being responsible for its successes and its failures. It sometimes means being praised and mocked at the same time — sometimes by the same people.
It was surreal to feel student engagement with B&G skyrocketing after the Harlem Shake video and simultaneously think teachers hated me. It was enough that the Principal later told me he considered firing one of the religion teachers for what they had said. It was also enough that the Principal told me he chose me to “lead” a school retreat which was to show staff that he still supported me.
It was during B&G 2013, I designed badges and the school initially ordered 80 of them. Students still wear these badges today which I think is pretty cool.
I also checked on the B&G group this morning. It’s still thriving.
After HSC, I was fortunate enough to go on a near 3-month world trip with my family to New York, Ireland, London and Hong Kong. It was during this period that I caught up with James Mullan in New York and we discussed making a TV pilot. We really enjoyed creating the videos during Year 12 and thought we could do it again, but more professionally.
What followed was a 14-day film shoot at my old high-school, involving over 300 extras, a cast of around 30, a film crew of over a dozen and a budget of around $40,000.
It’s important to emphasise that the only reason this TV pilot eventuated was because of how palpable support was for B&G in 2013. It’s why the vast majority of financiers we're connected to the school.
This TV pilot was called “Flux” and followed students in a lawless private school that were trying to save the school’s reputation before it ruins the students’.
I was really lucky to have some awesome actors/comedians join the team. Ben Hunter is a stand out and I hope he’s able to build a career in comedy. You can check out his work here or follow him ‘@benhunterok’ on Instagram.
Another brilliantly skilled member was Sam Evans. This was in the early days when Sam had just done some really cool rugby videos for Newington College. I was only aware of the videos because back in B&G we were looking at what other schools were doing. Additionally, Sam and I were briefly together at St. Augustine’s in Year 5 and 6 so we somewhat knew each other.
Sam’s career has exploded since the days of Flux and his journey is definitely one to watch at ‘@samevanslife’.
I also need to mention Elliott Miller. Elliott is in glasses with blonde hair in the third photo, walking in stride with Mark Kruize on his left with a film crew behind them. His life was tragically cut short at 21 by the ruthlesness of cancer. Elliot caught the bus home together so I knew him well. His career was only starting but thanks to his mum’s strength, others can be inspired by what he achieved in such little time by reading this. It’s an eye-watering read not just because of what the family had to endure, but because of the sense of love on every page. I highly recommend.
Sam created a set of Behind-The-Scenes videos which you can check out here. What we didn’t realise at the time, was that these videos would document the slow train wreck that was unfolding. “Flux” was a classic case of an inexperienced director leading an inexperienced crew. The production was plagued in technical errors from lost footage to lost audio files.
This meant that in the end, when we thought we had 14 days of footage — we only had a few complete days of footage. What was originally supposed to be a one-hour long episode dwindled to just under 20 minutes which was essentially a montage of random characters in the same setting.
It was heart breaking and it triggered a depressive episode that lasted almost a year. B&G had created an awesome foundation of support but now I felt I had left everyone down. While I didn’t think the technical issues were my fault, they were my responsibility.
The end result was still funny and enjoyable but it didn’t meet the expectations that had been building for months. I actually don’t see the project as a failure because what we achieved was immense given our zero-experience, but it was a disappointing success so to speak.
It took over a year to get out of this depressive episode and I credit my first girlfriend for leading me out of it. When we later broke up I initially looked back on that relationship with frustration, thinking I should’ve ended it earlier than I did. But with the added experience of a separate relationship that I should’ve avoided altogether, I realise how special she was.
I’ve been lucky to have been with some amazing partners in the past year. I don’t want to delve into why things didn’t work out because in some cases it’s an ongoing matter, but it’s reinforced how special it is to feel a sense of love. Perhaps that’s with those around you. Perhaps it’s what you do.
There’s a great quote by Carl Jung and it is, “the foundation of all mental illness is the avoidance of true suffering”. I think the antidote to suffering is passion and the foundation of passion is a sense of love.
It’s very important that you surround yourself with people that support what you love. To lose what you love can strike down exactly who you are.
During the years after “Flux”, I continued filmmaking. Working on a few of my own projects and working on others like TV Commercials, short films or music videos — the typical pattern for any filmmaker.
It was in late 2015 that I received a message from someone my age, that I’ll shorten to AS. We shared a mutual friend and he was looking for a filmmaker to create content for his sports media company.
To put it simply, AS is the worst business person I’ve ever met. Totally incompetent in strategy, a pathological liar, unable to admit to mistakes and actually quite stupid in an intellectual sense. To make it worse, this person was the CEO of the sports media company.
It was only by working with him that I came to learn this. I initially received his message to me well because small TV commercials and music videos isn’t what I was thinking about. I wanted to work on feature films and this was an opportunity to do so. After a few meetings, we had reached an agreement about creating a long web-series that was designed to be a form of marketing like how the LEGO Movie is effectively a long-form ad for LEGO. The project was going to be called “Clutch”.
This project would continue from early 2016 to around October 2016 and I was effectively committed to it full-time. This production warrants its own article given how complex it became, but the long story is I would eventually sue him for not upholding his part of the agreement which was to raise $60,000 or he would have to pay me $3,000.
There was another legal episode prior to this, but I’m not detailing it here as it’s too complex to involve. What should be noted is that I had experience with lawsuits before I sued AS and self-represented.
The Statement of Claim was pretty standard — a contract breach and it was painfully obvious to anyone that he hadn’t fulfilled his terms. AS didn’t file his defence till the last day it was due. He also didn’t submit any evidence. A pre-trial hearing was set up for early 2017 and he was adamant that the money had been raised despite having no proof.
I subpoenaed his bank account from the Commonwealth Bank to see the receipt but he responded to the subpoena with “there are no records to produce”. A quote.
Eventually we ended in a hearing and it was clear AS had broken the terms of the agreement. AS would submit a document showing that his “mum” had invested in the project. These are the documents submitted that apparently proved he had raised the amount.
The magistrate ruled in my favour and AS had 28 days to pay the principal amount, my filing fees and interest.
28 days passed and AS didn’t pay. He didn’t respond to messages. So I garnished his bank account from the Commonwealth Bank but he didn’t have any money in his account.
So I garnished his salary from his work. This was going to be tricky because he was the CEO. So I sent a message to the COO.
It was at the end of 2016 when I was beginning legal proceedings against AS that I had the idea for Streamplate and I’ve been working on it ever since.
The reason for this post is simple — you shouldn’t be afraid to move forward. I think there are too many people that are far more competent, connected and immensely more intelligent than me that are pursuing safe options.
I think not just Australians, but everyone should have an appetite for risk otherwise you’ll never know your true potential. It’s easy to fall into a life of comfort and predictability. I see weekends full of people just eating and drinking on repeat and wonder if that’s all they want.
I know this post isn’t for everyone. It’s for those that can do a lot more than what they’re doing now and want do more but are afraid of that first step. I’ve heard so many engineers and scientists discuss their worries and concerns about something not working out and hence abandoning such efforts.
I grew up reading biographies and it gave me confidence that if someone else could weather a storm then so could I.
This post is for all the ones that could achieve more and are just waiting for the encouragement to take the first step. Because I started university three years later than my peers, I’ve seen firsthand many friends graduate, begin a career on a particular path, complain about the path they’re venturing on, and remain on said path.
There’s really been only one mantra I’ve ever believed in and it’s perhaps the first one I remember hearing. It’s “Who Dares Wins”.