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Life Through the Lens – Issue 12

Art is an infinite pool of trials, errors and discoveries. Emily Brook Watt is a design student here at the University of Waikato, cultivating her past documentaries such as ‘The Dark Side of Fast Fashion’, she is currently workshopping something new. Emily speaks to Nexus about the film industry, her own work, and whether the starving artist trope is true. 


Nexus: What made you decide to study film?


Emily: It really started with my mum back in high school. She wanted me to do media because she wanted me to “learn about social media and technology”. The only part I liked in that class was the film making, that’s where my love started. I did my undergrad in Media Design and loved that but an opportunity opened up over summer and I did an Artist-in-residence and fell back in love with painting. Moving to the media department for my masters felt the best fit for the broad spectrum of creation I do. 


Nexus: Are the people who influenced you all documentarians or are there other directors who inspired you?


Emily: I’ve definitely been inspired by other directors but I’m mostly influenced by films themselves. When I come up with a concept I tend to just run with it, gathering different inspirations along the way, that aren’t solely films.


Nexus: What are you bringing to the film field that no one else has?


Emily: That’s a hard question. I think I bring a broad creative sense to anything I make, being inspired by different creative outlets helps. For the last two documentaries I’ve made I shot, edited and planned them by myself so I’m kind of a one-woman show (that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love the help).


Nexus: Last year you made a documentary called ‘The Dark Side of Fashion’. What vision did you have with this project?


Emily: ‘The Dark Side of Fashion’ was made as a part of my capstone project for my undergrad, so the purpose of this iteration was to be the submission for that. There’s definitely potential to expand the documentary and that may be something I do further into my masters or outside of studying. I think focusing on small creatives in the space is a good step forward so I don’t think it will lose that spark.


Nexus: Where does the creative genesis of an idea come from? Do you simply wake up one day and think “I want to do something on fast fashion”?


Emily: It’s a little like that. I can come up with concepts quite quickly, whether they’re any good is a different thing, but for me it’s a lot of talking. I often come up with the bare bones of a concept and then talking to people about my idea helps me fill it in. 


Nexus: You’re currently working on a new documentary. What can you tell us about that?


Emily: It’s a part of one of my papers for masters but I’m looking into significant objects people have and why people feel so connected to objects. 


Nexus: What are some sacrifices you’ve had to make in order to finish and refine your projects?


Emily: Time. Knowing I have to set out a couple of weeks to edit or plan really means I have to be on the ball with everything. 


Nexus: Comparisons kill so how difficult is it to break away from comparison on others’ artwork?


Emily: I don’t tend to even think about comparisons when it comes to my work. I know it’s not like the flashy Hollywood produced films out there but it is authentically mine. There’s almost a thumbprint on any of my creative work that says this was made small and local and by someone who cares.


Nexus: What do you have to say to those who think “you can’t do anything with an arts degree”?


Emily: Why do something that doesn’t make you happy? I could spend my life with regrets or I can work hard for something I’m truly passionate about. And sadly, I was one of those people. I loved art in highschool but felt I wasn’t good enough or that I would never succeed. I wouldn’t be here today without the choices I have made back then but I wish there was more appreciation for the arts. You wouldn’t have Netflix without filmmakers or you wouldn’t have Nexus without designers. Creative people are often unseen but are everywhere – the world would be less colourful without us so do what you love even if it’s hard.


Nexus: Is the starving/struggling artist thing a cliché or is it something that you have experienced?


Emily: Oh no, it’s a real thing. I don’t necessarily have the whole starving part but struggling, yes. For me, I have so many hats in the ring that sometimes it’s hard to juggle everything and it feels like I have to sacrifice one thing for another. Finding your following is the main struggle. There’s people out there that will like your work, it’s just finding them that’s really difficult. Social media is a great tool for artists to build a following but it takes a lot of work and you can often be let down on posts or things you really put your heart into.


Nexus: This year at the Hamilton Zinefest you had a stall. Is the Hamilton community accommodating to young filmmakers? 


Emily: I think many creatives dip their toes into another form of creation so for many people at Zinefest I feel this wasn’t the only thing they did. Many of them may have been filmmakers, it’s a very inclusive space to start sharing your work. 

I think Hamilton as a city for creatives is great but a little lacking. Saying that, I know it’s all about the people you know, so starting somewhere to get your name out and then expanding that network helps find opportunities. 


Nexus: Do you have to deal with bad critiques or does this field toughen your skin?


Emily: Having a design background critique actually gets me excited. I love giving my opinion and receiving critique because it means growth. The thing you have to do is separate the critique from yourself – this isn’t an attack on you and you don’t have to listen. Ultimately you do what feels right for your work.


Nexus: Is documentary and film making a harsh and competitive field or is that just folklore?


Emily: I haven’t really been in the field outside of university to know but if you’re wanting to compete with projects that have a budget, you’re going to lose every time. Sometimes it feels like an exclusive club; no one wants to hire people without experience but how do I get experience in the first place? It’s an endless cycle of wanting to get in but not finding the opportunity to and it can feel like a waste of time. I would love to work on a big budget film even as a PA but I doubt it will happen anytime soon.


Nexus: What does life after graduation look like?


Emily: I honestly don’t know. I know we won’t be seeing me doing a doctorate. I hope I’m still doing art and some way of filmmaking but I may go into teaching, I just don’t know yet.