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Kirby Ferguson

Humans are inherent copy machines. Emulation is how we learn to walk, talk and navigate the world. But when it comes to ideas—especially ones we deem “original”—things are different.

Everything is a Remix
Everything is a Remix

Everything is a Remix

Ep
141
Jul
07
With
Kirby Ferguson
Or Listen On:

Copy, transform, combine.

Humans are inherent copy machines. Emulation is how we learn to walk, talk and navigate the world. But when it comes to ideas—especially ones we deem “original”—things are different.

We become hyper critical of imitation and resent anything close to a copy of our own. Obsessing over ideological ownership. But what we don’t do, is turn that critical lens on ourself.

Copy, transform, and combine. According to Kirby Ferguson, this is the recipe for creativity.

Kirby is a filmmaker, speaker, and writer. You probably know him best from his acclaimed documentary, *Everything is a Remix*. You can watch it for free on YouTube and we promise that it will change that way you think about originality And maybe help you let go of that inner critic.

Hosted By
special guest
produced by
edited by
music by
Appearances

Episode Transcript

Kirby:

But I'd like to see more people creating and less people criticizing. Because criticizing is pretty easy. It's relatively easy compared to creating. Creating is very humbling. Your failures really end up in your face, whereas criticizing you're never committing to anything. You don't clearly make mistakes and it's very comfortable place to be.

Greg:

Welcome to The Futur Podcast, the show that explores the interesting overlap between design, marketing and business. I'm Greg Gunn. As a species, humans are inherent copy machines. Emulation is how we learn to walk, talk, and navigate the world. But when it comes to ideas, especially once we deem original, in air quotes, things are a little different. We are hypercritical of imitation, resent anything close to a copy and obsess over ideological ownership. But what we don't do is turn that critical lens on ourself. Copy, transform and combine. According to our guests, this is the recipe for creativity. He's a filmmaker, speaker and writer, but you probably know him best from his acclaimed documentary, Everything is a Remix. And if you haven't watched it yet, please go do it as soon as you're done listening to this episode, it'll blow your mind. And maybe help you let go of that inner critic. In the meantime, please enjoy our conversation with Kirby Ferguson.

Chris:

First of all, thank you for doing this with me and-

Kirby:

My pleasure.

Chris:

... I feel like this conversation is long overdue because I've watched your video I think back in the days of Vimeo, when I first saw it, many, many years ago. I was thinking how this is so in alignment with what I believe. And so there's still a lot of people who haven't watched your video or your video series or your film, however, you're calling this, Everything is a Remix. So I'd love to touch upon some of the ideas, talk to you a little bit about the genesis of why you made the video, what impact it's made on people and what impact it's made on your life and your career. So we'll do that and then I'd love to talk about what else is happening in your life. Is that okay?

Kirby:

Yeah. Sounds awesome.

Chris:

Okay. So first, for anybody who doesn't know who you are Kirby, can you introduce yourself?

Kirby:

My name's Kirby Ferguson. I'm a filmmaker and speaker and a writer. I'm best known for a series called Everything is a Remix, which was about creativity and I also finished a documentary recently called This is Not a Conspiracy Theory, which is about conspiracy theories and such. [inaudible 00:02:56].

Chris:

It's very meta that way.

Kirby:

Yes.

Chris:

Okay. The reason why I think we really need to talk about Everything is a Remix, A, is because not enough creative people have seen this and I'm still dealing with people who are struggling with this idea of originality, the pursuit of something new and original. And in the film you talked about like when we do it, we justify it, like when we steal and borrow and copy, we justify. Then when others do it to us, then we vilify. Can you expand on that?

Kirby:

Yeah. I mean, that's rooted in a psychological phenomenon known as loss aversion. So this is something that's very... makes good sense out in the wilderness, like we have expressions for it, like a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Like if you have something, for God's sake, don't lose it. Like if you have that dollar bill in your hand and you lose it, like, "Oh, that's really annoying." It doesn't matter that it was just a dollar bill or whatever. We're really attuned to keeping what we've got, which makes very good sense. It was a good defense mechanism for surviving. When you have something don't lose it. So then we've assigned ideas of property to ideas, right? I'm not someone who is just oppositional to that idea. I think it has a lot of benefits. I like that idea, but it also comes along with this notion that like, "This is mine."
And it isn't always just about wealth. It isn't just about, "This is mine. I want to make money off of it." But it's also, "I want the recognition of, I started this. This is my idea." So we get protective about ideas that are ours. And I use the example of Steve Jobs in the video series because he was... I mean, Apple has always been a company that has copied pretty boldly, right? Like the original Macintosh was very much based on Xerox Alto which was kind of an experimental early graphical computer, the first one. And there also was another one after called the Star, which was very much like the Mac. We even see it right up to now, like AirTags just came out now. Tile was potentially going to get blown out of the water. It's a thing that they do. They copy things and they make them... and they add value. They make them better, definitely. It can't be argued.


But anyway, Steve Jobs was sort of the poster boy for that because he copied really boldly from other sources, but then when Android, when Google and Android originally emulated the iPhone he called it a stolen product and said, I'm going to destroy them and took it really personally. So it's a phenomenon that's rooted in our psychology. Basically we tend to protect what is ours. We don't want to lose the things that we've worked really hard to get, but we're more attuned to noticing when something is being taken from us than when we are taking from someone else, which do nonstop all day long every day. Like we're a little copying machines who copy all day. That's what we do. Throughout childhood, all you're doing is trying to copy what other people are doing. It's a major, major force in our minds, the instinct to copy and emulate. So it's a very natural thing. It's like breathing. We just don't really think about it.

Chris:

Yeah. I mean, we emulate as a means to learn. We look at other people and we see that's how they walk, so we walk that way. And they make sounds this way and then we emulate that. And I often find this to be like very rich people, the hypocrisy that... I fundamentally believe this to my core. It's not just because I'm sitting here in front of you, but I am the sum of all influences in my life. So then who am I then to point to someone else and say, "Yo, you just copied me." I mean, I have no ownership over that idea. And the argument I would make with a lot of artists and designers who is primarily our audience or our crowd, is that you didn't invent that typeface. You didn't make the software. You didn't build that... You're building on everything that came before you to allow you to do something and even your design palette is informed by everything that you've seen.

Kirby:

Absolutely. Yes.

Chris:

And then the other argument I'll make with them is this is that if you could somehow be raised in a lab somewhere where everything's white, like a white room and you never saw another thing in your life and you made something and it looked like a Picasso and you were really proud and you're like, "This is an original piece of work because I was devoid of influence." Now, it's original to you, but it's not original to the world. So then does the pursuit of originality matter? So that's the question I want to ask you. Why are we so hung up on this and does it even matter?

Kirby:

Well, I mean, I think like the example that you used there, I think if you were raised in a white room, you would make white art. That would be your thing. Like if you were raised around rocks, you would make rock art. That's what you've got. You're not going to... If you're raised in a white room, you're not going to invent red. It's not going to happen. You cannot conceive of that. So, sorry, the question is, why are we hung up on the idea that it's mine, I made it, I originated it?

Chris:

Yeah.

Kirby:

It's vanity, right? Our vanity. It's wanting to be respected and loved and admired and wealthy and powerful and all that. And it's related to the loss aversion phenomenon as well. So it's a means of recognition and power within our group of influences. We want to be known as someone who comes up with cool stuff. A lot of these things they're understandable. I don't just condemn them. I think in lots of ways, these are positive influence as well. Like I want to follow interesting people. I want to follow people who come up with interesting stuff, but just this idea that they are originating it, I think is something that we should ease our grasp on.
And there are people who come up with new, original stuff that is exciting, that is new. It's just that new stuff came from old stuff. That's just the way it works. You build your ideas out of old ideas, but that's still... Like, why is that not awesome? That's awesome.

Chris:

I think it's really awesome.

Kirby:

Totally.

Chris:

When Danger Mouse released The Grey Album, which is a blend of The Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album, like that is really cool.

Kirby:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Chris:

And it doesn't take that much of a transformation for it to become new and novel again. I think we just get hung up on this and then we're like... I think sometimes it's a self-defense mechanism, that when somebody does something that's good, our first instinct is, and this is how we process the world, we try to map it to something we already know. And so people will often say, that looks like... Like, well maybe, or maybe not. It just depends on your reference point. Then the next thing, the self-defense part is, "Well, it's not that good. They must've stolen from someone. I'm going to find that source and I'm going to point that out." Because it makes my worldview of myself and my lack of creativity or production, I feel a little bit better about myself by putting those people down.

Kirby:

Yes. Yeah. I mean that, that's undoubtedly part of it and that's a major... that's a strong... I feel like that force has gotten stronger since I started the series the resentment that is widespread in the culture and maybe it's rooted in that anybody can create now, right? So I think a lot of us are walking around with the thought of like, "Well, why can't I do that?" You made this viral video or whatever, like, "Why couldn't I have done that?" And the answer of course is because you didn't then that other person did. That's the simple answer, but we don't want that sort of simple answer. We want to think that we could have done that as well. So yeah, I think there's... Resentment is really widespread in our culture. And I think you sell yourself short when you buy into it, this thought that I could have done that, or I could have done whatever. Concentrate on doing what you're doing and making it better because it's so much harder to improve and evolve what you're doing than people think it is. It's a very critical culture that we're in right now.


And I would love to see... Something that I would love to see is people letting go of criticism. And I think criticism is part of creativity. Again, I'm not condemning criticism. It's a valid thing. It can fuel creativity, but I'd like to see more people creating and less people criticizing. Because criticizing is pretty easy. It's relatively easy compared to creating. Creating is very humbling. Your failures really end up in your face, whereas criticizing you're never committing to anything. You don't clearly make mistakes and it's very comfortable. It's very comfortable place to be.

Chris:

Yeah. Okay. There's a bunch of breadcrumbs that you're dropping here that I want to follow up on. You mentioned like we have this need, we have this need to be liked to be successful, to be acknowledged for our good work and then yet history, and I see even recent history, people who are alive today are successful, are acknowledged and are liked when in fact they borrow heavily from things. You pointed Shepard Fairey. I could see the references really clearly. You talked about Led Zeppelin. People have talked about The Beatles barring from black music, and you mentioned Steve Jobs.


So if we can see that there are many successful people that have borrowed heavily from others and like, who is it? Robert Rodriguez and Zack Snyder put together the movie adaptation of Sin City and 300, it's like, "Wow, this is really fresh and interesting." But if you're a fan of the comic book, it is fresh for cinema, but we've seen this in two dimensional form. They have a whole career and they're successful. So we can even see that then why are we still hung up? I just want to set the record straight I hope after watching this and then of course people need to check out your movie. We just got to let this go because it's holding us back from our true potential.

Kirby:

Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I think it's just... it's an idea that we can move past. I think it is very doable that we can let it go while at the same time acknowledging that, again, people do... I don't want my message to ever be that people don't do new, exciting things or original things. People make original things. It's just the original, like I said, the original things are actually built out of old things and that's the way it works. So I think we can still have this idea that people create new, exciting things and that's awesome, but it's also a more positive and realistic way of looking at the world to acknowledge that you are indebted to the larger community that you are within. And to me, that larger community is the thing that to me is the most beautiful and the most worthy of honor, is the larger culture itself. That is the thing that is great, more so than us.
Like, we're awesome, we make it, we contribute to it, but it is these larger things that are beyond us that I think it's sacred. It's a thing that is transcendent of our individual lives and our individual personalities and quirks and so on. You get to make something, you get to contribute to something that is greater than yourself and I think that's something that we could get more in touch with.

Chris:

Okay. I wrote down some things as I rewatched the video series. One of them I'm not going to get right, but I do want to tee you up for this because I think this is going to be like a cold glass of water in some people's face. Okay. So I'm just saying that we know it's going to push some buttons. I'm sure you've had your-

Kirby:

I love that.

Chris:

... share of feedback before, right? So here we go. A couple of statements here. Creation requires influence and creativity isn't magic. This next part I need your help with, which is creativity is ordinary thought onto existing materials or models or something like that. Those are three statements that are going to... it's going to be like the fingernail on the chalkboard for a lot of creative people. So let me just say this again, so creativity requires influence. So like for many of you get over it. Creativity isn't magic, and this is going to hurt people, it's going to feel like you're wounding me. And the last part is just talk about like, what is creativity then?

Kirby:

Well, I mean, let me touch on that second one. So I feel like the first one that creativity requires influence. I feel like a lot... I feel like very many people have gotten that idea and I feel like for anybody listening, you can get that idea, just hearing us talk here I think you can start to wrap your head around that one. So that it's not magical, number two, I think that's, again, I get why people think that way, like there is beauty in keeping creativity abstract and not sort of... I think something that's people are pushing back on with me sometimes is they don't want to define. They don't want to define creativity. They want it to be loose and amorphous and magical, something that you can't peg it. And I think you can't peg it. It is magical. I acknowledge that.


It's just, it's not really magical in a literal way. Like if you were in the mind of Beethoven, then you would understand how Beethoven made music and it would not be magical. The end result is magical to us because it is so unknowable. Like you can't know... You can't truly comprehend what another mind did to achieve these things. So I get where that comes from. And again, like I do think it is magical in lots of ways. I get why people think that. And then the third part was... Sorry. Refresh me on what the third part was.

Chris:

I think you said something like... it's like ordinary thoughts onto existing materials. Do you remember that?

Kirby:

Yeah. Ordinary [inaudible 00:16:49] of thought. Yeah. I mean, that comes down to my... So the little formula that I came up with was copy, transform and combine. So that to me is how all sorts of creative work are done. You copy existing ideas, you transform existing ideas and you combine those ideas with other ideas. And I think a real secret ingredient there is when the ideas don't seem related. If you bring ideas together that don't seem to be related that seems to be especially powerful, because other people can't see that. They can't see that possibility. And if you can, and you can bring them together, that can be super explosive. So to me, the actual work of creativity just fits into those very broad categories. It's not a real... It's more of like a direction to head in with your creativity. It's not a formula. It's not something that you can do... It's not an algorithm that you can just follow. But if you just start doing that...
What I was really trying to do with the series, I think was create something for young... for like a young me where I didn't know, like how do you start? And these people who are making awesome stuff, they're so intimidating, like how do they even do what they're doing? Right? So copy, transform and combine is something that anybody can do. You can copy a song, some code, a JPEG, whatever, and you can start fiddling around with it and your stuff's going to be crap. Like what you start doing is going to be junk, just like when you started writing, there were little scribbles and when you started drawing you were drawing stick figures. So it's not going to be good to begin with, but just keep doing that, just keep copying, transforming and combining. And that's how you build up to sophisticated things that will seem magical ultimately to other people, if you're lucky.

Chris:

Yeah. I want to circle back on that three-Step formula that you're talking about. I want to come back to this thing where... There's a couple of things that you're saying, and I was trying to find a quote online here at where it says magic is just science that we don't understand yet. So I think creative people, especially want to ascribe to this power, this divine power, this magical ability and what we do, because it's a romantic idea that lot of genius in a room channeled to God or some DET of your choice you're able to do this. But here's what I believe and I'm seeing this as a creative person and I believe you think of yourself as one as well, is that the more I understand the formulas in my mind, the more likely I am to be able to consistently produce good results.


The film starts with you talking about Led Zeppelin and how... We know Led Zeppelin is a different thing today, but in the day they are like, they're just rip off artists. And so it's quite interesting. You cite not one, not two, several examples that were just to my untrained ear it was like, "Oh my God, that's the same lyric. That's the same tune." And I think they knew their formula too, which is listen to music that people aren't paying attention to and let's put a little contemporary spin on it. And it's not even that big of a change and we're going to have hit songs. We're going to make hits from hits. That's there for me.

Kirby:

I think the thing that I didn't make clear enough there is that that's part of what they did, but there's also a lot of what they did... What they did was a lot more impressive, I think, than some people. I think some people they want to see what I did in that first video and think, "Oh, okay. They're not that great." And that's another way of lowering everybody else. Because there too, it's like you want to raise yourself by lowering everybody else, right? So I think some people want to... Led Zeppelin are great. Oh my God... They're a great band.

Chris:

They're.

Kirby:

They're super creative, but they did have this habit of not properly attributing songwriting credits. So there was this aspect of their work where they were copying things, just like hip hop artists copy things. They will sample and use something where you can clearly tell what it is, but it's still something different. It's something new and exciting and it's not what it was. So they were doing that. The thing that they screwed up is that they weren't attributing it properly. They weren't saying it came from this blues singer. But anyway, so it was an aspect of what they did, this element of copying. And then there was lots of copying where they did, where they're...


Yes, you're playing blues music and yes, you're doing these lyrical tropes that are in blues music, but that's the kind of thing that everybody does, right? Like you can't make a new form of music out of the blue. So they were just... They started with doing cover songs like everybody else and then it morphs into making your own music and it's clearly indebted to the music of the past, but it is something different. And that is a band that really did do something different. Like that was one of the first heavy rock bands. It really was sort of a nexus point in popular music where a whole universe of music sort of popped out of that realm that they... And a few other bands went down as well. I think something that I will make clear in the reboot of it is that aspect of how impressive it was, what they did. And there was the stuff that they screwed up as well.

Chris:

Yeah. I think that would be a really nice addition in the reboot for you to talk about that, because it wasn't about like, "Let's just throw it all away." In your way it's like you're acknowledging the greatness can come from this process of copying, right?

Kirby:

Yes. That's the whole point.

Chris:

I got that, but you're going to make it super clear. Their biggest sin, and I agree with this part, which is, and I think this comes from maybe that they're young band, they're not confident, so they want to hide their sources. That's how people see you as original. And if they're more established, like, "Yeah, we'll just pay that artist some appropriate fee. They'll get credit and that's how we honor the original source material. We say, we borrowed from you and we've transformed."
The thing that I want to talk to you about is you have this three part thing, which is copy, because that's how we learn. It's natural and it's good. We should celebrate that part. And then we transform and then we combine. Now my thought was, I wonder why you picked that order because in my mind it's like we copy, and if we only copied from one source, then it's very derivative and it's not usually looked well upon, but if we take two or more things that we copy and we combine those, then in the act of combining it we've transformed. So I'm curious why you started with copy, transform and then combine.

Kirby:

I don't know. This is [inaudible 00:23:21]. My elaboration would be that I think the way I originally conceived of it is you can create without having that transform aspect. Like you can be like, for instance, in the realm of classical music and that's your beat and you listen to classical music. You can sort of stay within a single world or people can even kind of build up their own language. They start creating and then they're kind of transforming their own ideas. So they are really bringing in other stuff. So I think there are kinds of creativity. I think there are plenty of people who work in a way where there's not a lot of combining going on and that is a valid way to do work as well, but I think I conceived of that as sort of being a step after copying. So you copy and then the next step can be, "Oh, I'm going to take this thing and I'm going to fiddle with it." And that's sort of step two.


And then step three is, oh, you bring in this other thing. And that actually to me is the hardest part to combine something new in, as again, especially when other people can't see that connection. That's kind of the most powerful part and to me the most advanced part.

Chris:

I see.

Kirby:

So I kind of see it as levels of difficulty. Copy is easy. Transform's harder. Combine is harvest.

Chris:

And that makes perfect sense-

Kirby:

Actually [inaudible 00:24:41] I'm very impressed with myself.

Chris:

After you explained it, I'm like, "Yeah, that makes a lot of sense."

Kirby:

Totally. I'm like, yeah, maybe I [crosstalk 00:24:49].

Chris:

There you go.

Kirby:

I don't know. Yeah.

Chris:

Right. Right. So for anybody who's listening to this and you're worried that the work is very derivative and influence... I mean, I was guilty of this. Man, I love the work of Neville Brody and David Carson and Charles S. Anderson as a graphic designer. And so almost everything I did looked a lot like them. I was trying to get closer to them, to be honest, not farther away from them. And if you're worried about this, here's the formula. Just combine it with something and then enforcing it. And it is a difficult thing because there's inelegant combinations and elegant combinations.

Kirby:

Most of them don't work.

Chris:

Most of them do not work and that's why most of them are forgettable. So just try and combine. And in that act, you will probably transform. It most likely won't be great, but you keep working at it and eventually it will be great. Okay.

Kirby:

Well, let me ask you, Chris, a question if you don't mind.

Chris:

Yeah.

Kirby:

So you said, and it's just interesting because I talked to a friend yesterday and he felt like the idea of that we... none of us are original and we copy from other sources. He felt like that was a pretty widespread idea at this point. Do you feel like maybe in the younger people that you're talking to that's still is a problem for them? Like, "Oh, I can't do it. I can't do this stuff. What do I know?" You still see it a lot?

Chris:

Yeah. I still see people struggling with this that's why I think for some people, this is going to be a shock that this film was made, what is in 2000 and-

Kirby:

10. Started.

Chris:

Yes. It's been 11 years guys and there's still... And I'll reference you in a conversation, like what? I'm like, just go search it, Google it, you'll find it.

Kirby:

Go get in [crosstalk 00:26:19]. That'll help.

Chris:

Yes. And so here's the thing I think, because it was originally on Vimeo, like where we all posted our art films, you know?

Kirby:

Yes.

Chris:

Vimeo's got the worst search engine ever.

Kirby:

Totally.

Chris:

Worst. It's like I can't find my own videos.

Kirby:

Yeah. And it's not a site people use anymore for [crosstalk 00:26:35] videos. Yeah.

Chris:

They're reinventing themselves for something very different.

Kirby:

I think [crosstalk 00:26:39].

Chris:

I'm glad to see that it's on YouTube now so that can actually find it. That's the glory of YouTube. So everybody I'm going to provide links in the notes below so you guys can check that out and please go watch it. It's four parts series and there's one super edit, which is Everything is a Remix Revisited, I think, or something like that.

Kirby:

Remastered.

Chris:

Remastered, yeah. Remastered. So you can just sit down and just hit play. It's a fascinating, well-written, well-produced I guess a documentary film that you just need to watch. Okay. The question for you. Let's take us back to like, because this thing took you like two years to make, right?

Kirby:

Yeah. It did. Yeah.

Chris:

That's a lot of time.

Kirby:

And then maybe another year or two before that of it brewing, of bonking around in my head.

Chris:

Okay. That's a lot of time to dedicate to something. So I have to think... I imagine in my mind the motivation to make that was equally as strong because if it's not strong, people usually quit.

Kirby:

Yes.

Chris:

Tell me what was going on in your mind, what was going on in your life that you're like, "You know what? Today I'm going to start this two year journey. I'm going to make this thing."?

Kirby:

I think it started as... I was doing short form comedy mostly before I started that series. So I was doing videos and they were just getting long. That was just something... I don't know why it was happening. It's something that creative people should understand I think too, is that you don't have to understand why things are happening. They just are. Like my videos were getting longer. I don't know why. They just were. It was some sort of interest I had. I don't know. I thought it was more. [inaudible 00:28:09] way to go deeper and explore further probably ideas. So the videos were getting longer that I was making and then I had an idea. I believe Everything is a Remix started as I just had the examples. I had like, "Oh, Led Zeppelin did this thing and oh Jobs did this thing and oh, Apple did this thing."


And I think I originally just thought it was, "Hey, can make a video about that. I can make a video about that and I can make a video about that." And then I realized, "Oh, I could turn these into a single narrative." And I think the idea of Everything's a Remix just popped right out. I don't think I had to work for it. I think it was just there. So I realized they had these chunks and I could potentially sequence them together. So I feel like I started with a solid, "Okay, I'm going there and then I'm going there." And then I think I knew... I didn't have a set piece for the fourth part, but I knew it was going to go to copyright because that was a big topic in remix culture at the time, because there were a lot of crazy lawsuits going on.


So I knew that was ultimately where I was going to go. So I think having a solid foundation of... Having like stones that you're stepping on across the pond. I knew I'm going to go there and I'm going to go there and I'm going to go there. So it felt stable and safe. And then for the duration of it, I just make videos that take longer to make. That's just something that... that's just my orientation, but also I did stuff in between. I made other videos in between those videos and traveled and did talks and all sorts of stuff as well. But I think the reason that I had the confidence to do that was that I had that solid foundation of those pieces that I knew. And I didn't know most of what it was going to be. But I knew I had a toehold, so I could climb that wall.

Chris:

Okay. Was there like a clear moment when somebody is... you're at a bar, you're in college and somebody's arguing with you like, "Oh, shut up Kirby [inaudible 00:30:05] new work." And then you're like, "Bro, bro. No" And then you go into this thing, like, let me just show you how everything's a remix and that kind-

Kirby:

No. There wasn't. I think it was internal, whatever it was. It was just something that I struggled with. Like I remember when I started... I started writing and producing newspapers, actual print newspapers. That was what I... Journalism was my background and I would self publish newspapers, like [Zenes 00:30:30] when I was young and I did lots of movie reviews and music reviews and stuff, and those people amazed me and baffled me. So there was always this mystery about creativity that I couldn't kind of penetrate. And in my own work, I just felt very defeatist, maybe like, "Oh, what can I do? I can write a bit, I can design a bit, but what can I really do?" So it was this thing that I felt like I had to get through for myself. It was personal. It wasn't about persuading other people. It was about persuading me.


So it was something that was in my head from the time I was a kid and then ultimately reached expression in my thirties when I managed to put those pieces together and go, "Oh, that actually... That's this problem that I've had it. That's an answer to it."

Chris:

Yeah. Okay. Now I want to ask you this question because in the remastered version, there are fewer shots of you talking to a mirror because in the original it's like there's a lot of shots of you talking to the mirror.

Kirby:

Yeah, after the credits I talked to the mirror. Yeah.

Chris:

Right. And then I was just like... When I saw that, I was like, "Well, I have my hunches to why he did it." But for people who don't know, Kirby's looking in a mirror and you know this because the camera's pointing towards the mirror and he's holding a microphone, he's speaking. And so I just have like, what was the genesis of that? What's going on there?

Kirby:

Nothing. Honestly, the way that... Ideas can come from just trying to solve problems, simple problems often. I was using a DSLR camera and they're clunky to operate, like to set it up and then go on the other side and running, especially then, you just couldn't do it. So shooting in the mirror was way I can have the camera here. I can set the focus. I can set the exposure. It's right there. I can make sure it's running the whole time, et cetera, et cetera. Because my camera then it would run a certain while. Got too hot. It would stop recording. So it was just a way. And I had a mirror in my bedroom, so I shot the mirror and that's where it came from. And then it became like a motif and then I've done it ever since then because people expected it.


But the only reason I cut it out the remastered version was because that was meant to be like a single doc, without a guy coming in and talking about... thanking people and all that sorts of stuff. I want to just keep moving and get to the end.

Chris:

Right. Right. Well, it became like a very interesting and unique kind of signature look. And I guess that's a lot about, what is it? Necessity is the mother of invention.

Kirby:

Exactly.

Chris:

I know exactly what you're talking about. You were doing this in the early days of DSLR cameras, maybe no flip out screen, so you don't want to hit record run around the other side record and then it gives a performance of your life to be out of focus sometimes.

Kirby:

Absolutely. And the focus was so touchy on those cameras. Well, that was the main thing. It was like, how do I keep focus? Because you can move around without realizing you move around, blah, blah, blah.

Chris:

Right. The other thing is interesting is because the eyeline is really important, right? So the camera's here and you have notes over it, but you're looking right at yourself, talking to yourself. Was that weird? "Who's this other guy? Who's this good looking guy looking back at me?"

Kirby:

It feels natural. I still do it now. Like when I record on a camera that has... I shoot on a little camera here sometimes, and it has an LCD where I can see myself and it's close enough to the lens where I can look at myself and it's... I don't know. It feels natural to me to look at myself talking. It's like you can see exactly the performance while you're talking. So it works for me.

Chris:

Are you an introvert, an extrovert? I'm just curious.

Kirby:

I'm an introvert. Yeah.

Chris:

[crosstalk 00:34:14].

Kirby:

I developed extroverted aspects of this as I've gotten through, but no, I'm naturally introvert.

Chris:

Same here. So I don't know. I'm just going, little technical note for everybody, that if I have my face was mirrored on this one, I don't want to make eye contacts. So I had to move you off this screen onto this screen so I can... Now I'm just looking at you. If I look at myself, I'm like, "Who is that weird guy Looking back at me? Stop it." So this helps a lot.

Kirby:

I'm looking at here. I am looking at you here.

Chris:

Yes.

Kirby:

That was-

Chris:

[crosstalk 00:34:43]. He's so vain. He's so vain, that guy. Okay. Let's talk about the impact. So even in the early days of Vimeo, I remember, as viral as a Vimeo video can go, it felt pretty viral to me that everybody's talking about it. People were like, "Oh, what is this? Everybody check this out and you need to watch this series." And back then I was teaching. I told all my students watch this film. Watch this. This will change the way you think about your work. Okay. What kind of impact did that make in that initial splash and what kind of long-term impact has it made?

Kirby:

It was everything. I mean, it changed my life. I had a job before that. I worked at a marketing company before then making videos for different products and stuff like that. And I started Everything is a Remix on the side, that it was in evenings and weekends kind of thing. And then I think it was, I believe it was after the second one came out and there was just enough stir that I was like, "Man, I think I could quit my job and if I quit my job, I think I can get talks." That was sort of like the main thing that was happening that was actually, where it was actually like, "Whoa, people can make money at talks. I didn't know that." So there were talks and commissions and various things that were coming my way, where I realized, "Okay, if I didn't have this day job, I actually could pursue all this stuff." And then I've managed to stay independent ever since then. So it was the thing that... the door that I walked through and I've managed to stay there ever since.


And it's still something that... I've made lots of different sorts of videos since then, and it's tough to compete with Everything is a Remix. New videos will, in my stats, they'll momentarily go above Everything is a Remix and they drop back down again and then Remix reins again. So it's a thing that people just keep watching and keep talking about. And that was a big part of why I decided that, "Okay, I have to, at least, update this thing." And then that became why not just do it again? Why not tell the story again. And that's where I've ended up now.

Chris:

Yeah. So I know you did a TED Talk. So you were also doing like on some kind of speaking circuit where you give that talk and people would pay you and that you were making money and building.

Kirby:

Yeah.

Chris:

Okay. Awesome. Okay. What about impact on the lives of other people?

Kirby:

I don't know. I mean, I hear about it a lot. That's something that you can only really get a glimpse of, right? I don't know. I definitely hear about a lot. Again, I still get emails from people and DMs and stuff where people are telling me what it meant to them. I definitely know that it did a lot, but I can't get my arms around that, which is probably... It was in its day. It was like the thing... For a certain community, it was like the thing that people were talking about. Like to hit like that. And I didn't realize until afterwards how it landed. Like, "Whoa, that really landed." I would kill to land like that again, but it's hard to kind of wrap your head around it, but it definitely ignited a lot of people that I have heard from since then. But again, it's hard to grasp the scale. Because it got seen by millions of people.
Let's just say like a thousand people, which is a fairly modest number, let's see for a thousand people it was a significant factor in their life. That's hard for a single human being to wrap your head around. But definitely it's something that I've heard about a whole lot, but I don't totally get it.

Chris:

Well, that's the thing about being a creator. You do your thing, you release it to the world and it takes on its own life and meaning it has in people's lives. I'll watch a concert and somebody will hold up a sign saying this band saved my life. I'm like, "Okay, that's fantastic." So the sender and the receiver, it's not always what you think, right? It's like a ripple in the pond and the waves go out far reaching and it hits people. Has this ever happened to you where somebody is like, flagging you down the street? Because you look exactly like the same person in the video. "Hey Kirby, Kirby." I mean, they don't say things that... I mean, does that happen to you where like, "Hey man."?

Kirby:

It's never much any more. Honestly, it used to happen. That was a weird transition where you realized, "Oh, man." Because at first it just feels like this nerd thing. It's just people of a certain type know about it and then it became, like people on the street would... The really weird part wasn't so much the people that would talk to you, it was people were like... You're on the subway or something and they're looking at you and you know like, "Oh my God. These people know who I am [inaudible 00:39:15]"

Chris:

It's kind of weird, right?

Kirby:

Yeah. And I've been that person. I'm more likely to be that person who wouldn't bother-

Chris:

Same.

Kirby:

Yeah. Yeah, totally. I would not bother somebody, but at the same time, you're like, "Whoa, that's whoever." So yeah, it definitely was... It was a turning point. Like the first time where I went out on the street. I lived in Brooklyn at the time. And someone's like, "Hey, awesome video." Or just what I was... Just something really pleasant like that. And that was like the first kind of real world, like, wow. Like people are actually... They actually know... They're actually watching far enough in the video that they're seeing me too because I'm not in the video until the very end. So they're actually watching like the full thing past the credits and they're actually seeing me talk. So I was like, "Wow, that's pretty cool."

Chris:

Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back with more from Kirby.

Speaker 4:

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Chris:

Welcome back to our conversation with Kirby Ferguson. Here's another question just as a person who makes content and for anybody who's listening, who makes content, I'm always wondering how authors do their thing. So you're sitting there or standing there talking to the mirror. Is this something you've memorized or is just you freestyle this like 10 times, and then you just take the best take?

Kirby:

No it's written.

Chris:

It's written.

Kirby:

Well written. Yeah. I'm a writer. Almost everything... I try to inject moments where I go off script, but basically with those ones, I would probably read it a few times, get it into my head and then speak it. I think that's what I did with those ones. It's hard to tell what I did then and what I did now, but basically I read the text first. And with the videos I've done since then direct to camera, I read them, then I speak directly to camera. I prefer that to using a teleprompter, which... I feel like that's a real art in itself to make something seem alive when you're literally reading it off of a screen. So I read things first. I get them into my head and then I perform to the camera. I'm not good at... I'm not interested I guess in improvising to camera. It's not what I'm interested in from the works that I consume. I want stuff where like somebody has edited it down, gotten rid of all the fluff and stuff down to something that's sharp and as concise as it can be.


So that's the way that I tend to make things, but it's more labor intensive than just being able to refer to camera. I wish I had that ability and I do try to inject some of that into videos nowadays, because when you have those moments where you go off script and you just talk, it feels different and-

Chris:

It does.

Kirby:

... real. So I try to inject some of that in as well.

Chris:

Yeah. Nice. Okay. I know you also successfully funded a kickstarter project based on the project. But the question I had for you is do you feel like you've squeezed every cent of value from the creation of this two-ear project as you could have?

Kirby:

No. No. [crosstalk 00:42:51].

Chris:

What else could you have done?

Kirby:

I don't know. But basically I would... It was interesting, like I was watching some of your stuff this morning and we think in very different ways. And it's interesting too, like my... I know other creative people who managed to maintain a business and it's a real... it just sort of keeps skating by like barely making it, right? And that's kind of what I am. It just sort of skates by barely making it because it's hard enough to... Because I'm just fully engaged with the content, generally speaking. Like that's my thing. And everything else is sort of atrophied in my brain. I probably would need partners to elevate those other aspects. I'm just not the most practical person, generally speaking. Like when you're spending that long making videos, obviously you're not really that oriented towards practicality. I'm oriented towards making video as best I can. That's my passion personally.
So no, I would say... And I undercharged for talks sometimes. Like I actually had a client, I did a top four. It's wild, like a multi-billion dollar company and charged them a few thousand bucks or something for a talk. And the person I was talking to actually said to me afterwards, "You need to charge more money for talks." The client actually told me you need to charge more money. So there was just undercharging that was going on because I've often... I'm very nice, generally speaking. I try to be really nice to people. I don't want to milk people, generally speaking. So I'm like, "Oh, here's a fair price that's reasonable." Rather than thinking like, what is this actually worth and how much can I get? And being kind of more of a hawk in that way. I try to be very nice and cut people really nice deals to the detriment of myself. So I certainly didn't capitalize on it as I could.
A comedian once referred to that first spin on having some fame as being on a rollercoaster and the rollercoaster is like looping around and money is falling out of your pockets all over the place. And it's this chaotic thing that you can't make sense of. And that's what the first go around is. And then if you're lucky enough to take more rides on that, then you can maybe hold the money in your pockets. But that first trip I definitely did not. I did not capitalize to the best I could.

Chris:

That's probably why I don't like rollercoasters. I prefer trains. My money stays in my pocket. Okay. Well, I was interviewing Austin Kleon who wrote the book, Steal Like an Artist.

Kirby:

I know Austin.

Chris:

And I was chatting with him and he was sharing the story of the creation of the whole thing. He did a talk and then he was regretted. Like I just did a talk and it felt pretty well received, so he's going to write a blog post and the blog post blows up. And then he's like, "Well, maybe I should put this in a book." And then those things lead him to this, "Oh, I can quit my job if I just sell books." So I was thinking when I was looking at these ideas that kind of percolate, he says something that I think got people upset, Steal Like an Artist. I think that's like a more aggressive way of saying everything's a remix. And I wonder if it's because it's so polarizing that it became more of a talking point for him and how he's able to leverage that and why, maybe, I don't know this, but why you haven't produced the book yourself and maybe transform different media and then to capitalize on all the work you've put in already.

Kirby:

Well, I would guess that Austin's title came from the Picasso quote. I don't think we know where this quote... But good artists copy great artists steal. I tend to think that's probably where it came from. I don't think... that's one of those... It might be Steve Jobs that said that. Actually there were versions of it that were something like that, but it may have actually been Steve Jobs who said it like that. I haven't researched that. I'm not totally sure, but it's one of those quotes where it's like, who exactly said that, we don't... I'm not sure that we quite know. I actually have written a book that I haven't finished that I gave to kickstarter backers as like an early kind of beta version. So I do have a book that's in the works.


It's my impracticality I would say that is the reason that I haven't turned it into other things. And just the heavy lift of making the thing intellectually. It's hard. Like at the time when you're doing the videos and I was doing other commissions and stuff like that, like it's just hard to do other stuff while you've got this big thing in your brain that you're trying to get out and make the best you can and still having limited time, because you've got to go do this talk wherever, do this commission in between or whatever. So I would just say it's my lack of a good business acumen, quite frankly, that I didn't do that. Again, like when I watched your stuff, I'm like, "Oh, here's a guy who actually that's flex... has worked those muscles and I should to do more of that or get people who can do that."

Chris:

Yeah. I mean, for me, it's like if you take in all the good writing that you've done and just put it in a book and maybe add a couple of exercises, it's solid. It's ready to go.

Kirby:

Yeah. I tend to think there will be a book in the near future.

Chris:

Yeah. Well, I hope so for so many people who can't find the Vimeo, you can find the book. I don't know what it is. I think in our culture and society a film is something, but a book is something else. It buys you credibility in some circles.

Kirby:

It's true. Absolutely. Yeah. I also felt like, like when I did a TED Talk, I felt like that. Like when you do a TED Talk, rather than just talk wherever. People like to go like suddenly you're a thing now, but a book is definitely one of those things. And it doesn't have to... It can be a crappy book. It doesn't matter. The book is-

Chris:

There's a lot of crappy books out there by the way.

Kirby:

Yeah. You just wrote a book and then you're an author after that.

Chris:

That's right.

Kirby:

And that sounds credible. Yeah. I should do that. I should work that scam.

Chris:

Well, somebody told me this before. I don't know if there's any truth is, but they have literary agents. When you have a book, you can command more money for whatever reason when you go out to speak. He's a published author. And if you have... So here's the weird thing in our society. If you have a viral video, like man, so what? But if you're a bestselling New York Times author, I mean, presumably or arguably more people have seen the video than somebody who's seen or read the best selling book, right? The numbers are vastly different, but we just throw that away as part of pop culture. It's eye candy. It's something else, right? It's not a profound work of thinking and writing and craftsmanship, but...

Kirby:

I'm interested in it too because it's just another discovery mechanism, like then you're on Amazon and whatever other sites and you can cluster with other people who are doing similar things and suddenly you're getting exposed to people that you weren't exposed to before. Some of those books too they're so easy, some of those books too. Like some people literally take their websites and it's a book. They just make it a book.

Chris:

They just take a bunch of blog posts and glue it together.

Kirby:

Yeah. Assemble together. Yeah. And it's something that you can read in whatever order you want or whatever. I bet there's even people... I'm sure there's plenty of people who even have read the blog post, but they like having that book version of it where it's something that you can refer back to and review and have on your shelves and whatever.

Chris:

Yeah. Like I'm an old school person in that way. Whenever I go buy a book, it's like I don't want the ebook, I don't want the audio book. I want the book because I want to touch it. I want to smell the paper and I want to be able to highlight and write in it. And then I put it on the shelf and I could see it and it's just... Old school. I get it, but there's that connection. Yeah, I hope sometime in the near future, you do this. The question for you on the business front is, do you have an agent? Do you have a speaking agent? Do you have literary-

Kirby:

I have a speaking agent.

Chris:

You do.

Kirby:

And actually I could get a literary agent pretty... I have somebody that-

Chris:

You can.

Kirby:

... I was going to use, but I don't have an agent, agent. No. Do you?

Chris:

I do not. And people have recommended it, but... So here's the thing. I have a friend and his name is Adam Morgan, and he's like Chris you should get a speaking agent and they'll negotiate-

Kirby:

You should get-

Chris:

... I think 20% of your fees. But they negotiate way better than you would. But I'm like, "Oh, I don't know. I'm not aspiring to do more talks because I'm already recording so many videos anyways."

Kirby:

Yes. I mean, the thing is you just can't understand... Like for me, going into the public speaking realm, first of all, it's terrifying, right? It is hard. It's not for everybody. It is hard work. You should be paid quite a bit for doing it because when you get in front of... Let's just say it's a relatively modest room of a hundred people. It's scary. Like when you get up on a stage and a hundred people are staring at you, "Okay. Do something." Especially when you have to deliver an idea rather than just entertain them for a bit, it's scary stuff. So it's hard work and it's stressful and it's definitely not for everybody. And people should be well compensated for doing that because it's not something that anybody can do. But you can't understand going in. I couldn't understand going into that world that people will pay a lot of money for speakers. I couldn't conceive that people would pay X amount of dollars to have a speaker. Like that just sounds the crazy talk to me that somebody would pay that amount of money.
Agents know that though. So that's the advantage of having an agent. They can know that, "Okay, that company they can pay five figures or whatever." So I would say a speaking agent is definitely a good idea if you want to get into that. And again, it's a tough nut to crack too. I feel like it's something that just happens. Like you don't choose it really. It comes to you. That's what happened with me anyway. It came to me. I didn't choose it. I had no interest in public speaking. That's terrifying.

Chris:

Yeah. Somebody who's in the know, who knows... Simon Sinek's agent said that basically Simon was giving this Start With Why golden circle talk to basically anybody who would have him. The agent gets him on TED, it blows up, his whole life and career changes and now he's like the guy that people look to. And then when he publishes the book, it's like instant bestseller, right?

Kirby:

Yeah. He didn't plan that, right?

Chris:

Right. He just wanted to share an idea.

Kirby:

Yeah. And I think that... Sorry. What's that?

Chris:

He just wanted to share an idea.

Kirby:

Yeah, totally. I'm a huge fan of that sort of career on planning. I'm big into letting things emerge. I'm big into emergence. Like rather than because with planning you decide in advance what... it's like you're trying to decide in advance what you're going to know. Like I'm going to go down that path and I'm going to know as I proceed through these signposts along the way, I'm going to know where it is that I want to go. And I don't think you can know. Once you start doing it it's going to change and you're going to want to shift direction. So I'm a big fan of just taking a step, evaluating, taking another step, evaluating and you'll end up... Like I never imagined that I would end up doing Everything is a Remix or being an independent video producer or certainly speaking. That was completely unimaginable to me. But you get there by taking one step after another and you end up someplace that you couldn't have imagined and I couldn't have planned that.

Chris:

Yeah. I love that. It just dawned on me this thought that our society and our culture tends to value things I think we perceive to be difficult. So anybody can grab their iPhone record a video. So if you make a hit video they're like, "Well, I can do that too. I just haven't done it yet."

Kirby:

Sure.

Chris:

And everybody can write a book. There's a discipline to it. And then you got to get into publisher and distribution. So not everybody can be... Not everyone can be an author of a book. And the same thing, I think when you talk about speaking, because speaking at least the way that you're talking about, the way I work at, it's a lot of work to try to do this and you've got to get on the stage and you perform. But a lot of people don't see value in that because, "Well, I could've gotten up on stage. I could have written a talk." Whereas like a musician, you can't just pick up a guitar and start playing. It requires lessons and hard work and crafts. And so that's where I think people don't understand because it looks easy because you think you can do it doesn't mean you can.

Kirby:

Yeah. That's definitely a part of it. Like that's part of that hierarchy of media and part of that resentment that I talked about in this critical cultural that we're in, where you can watch... I can't imagine. Maybe it's just because I know something about speaking, but I can't imagine somebody watching one of your, like especially the talks you do where you're clearly improvising, right? Like you're asking the person questions like, "Hey, what are you making with whatever?" And then you're actually going to a board and running calculations and stuff like that. I cannot imagine how somebody would think, "Oh, that's easy to do." Maybe because I couldn't do it and I just know that staying concise and to the point and composed during that is something, it's definitely a skill that you've got to develop. So yeah, there definitely is.


There's a lot of easy content out there and I think that fuels this notion that, "Well, I could have done that." But I would say to anybody listening to things that public speaking, unless you somehow had been practicing it without knowing that you're practicing it, like you're a big personality and are used to kind of holding court and speaking to a bunch of people, like maybe you've kind of got it in you. I'm sure there are people like that. But generally speaking, when you get up there and try it, you will realize that it is real hard. It is real difficult. It is real scary. It's tough just to remember what the hell you're going to say, and it's tough to know how to get through. I'm sure you've experienced this, but getting through those moments where you blank like what to say next, and everybody's sitting there looking at you. Those are scary, scary moments that you have to be able to navigate.

Chris:

Yeah. As a person who goes to a lot of conferences. I mean, there are a lot of people who do talks. Not very many of them are good.

Kirby:

Yes. Absolutely.

Chris:

So there's doing it and then there's doing it well.

Kirby:

That's the thing with me. Yeah. That's something... Sorry, what was the last thing you said, Chris?

Chris:

There's doing it and then there's doing it well.

Kirby:

Absolutely. Yes. I was amazed too. Like just when I went to TED and watched the talks. And all the talks were good, but there weren't a lot of great talks. Like if you actually go to a TED event, they're mostly good talks and not a lot of great talks. And that's TED, that's a really well curated conference. And then when you're watching other sorts of talks, like it's real dodgy out there. Like most talks are not that good because it is fricking hard to do.

Chris:

It's really hard to do.

Kirby:

Yeah. Super hard.

Chris:

Okay. I'm trying to be mindful of time here. We're almost at the hour.

Kirby:

No worries for me.

Chris:

Okay. I don't want to let you go before I ask you a couple of questions about this eight year project called This is Not a Conspiracy Theory. I watched the video that's on your site. You talk about the struggle, the darkness, and they have the obligation and the lessons you've learned. Tell me about how that's working out for you right now, in terms of that as a project.

Kirby:

I mean, mostly did not work out like any... It was a eight-year project... It was a project that I'm very proud of and it definitely, lots of people really liked it, but it took immensely too long. Basically, it's something that if I had to do again, I think this is the lesson that I try to impart to people when I tell this story, is if you don't know... if you haven't sort of defined something, if you haven't kind of put it in a box, it's going to be this and it's not going to be these zillion other things. I think you should say... you need to stay private with that pursuit. You don't want to say to the world, "Hey I'm going to do this thing." But you don't really know what it is yet. I think you've got to have some sort of seed clearly defined beginning to what the thing is, and I didn't have that.


So I spent a couple years just trying to figure the thing out, straight out the gate and I also just wanted to do something that was super ambitious and super difficult, so I intentionally made it really, really hard. And then I composed a bunch of the music myself, and I'm not a musician, so I didn't know how to do any of that. So I just piled on stuff that made it harder and harder and harder and it took forever to do. I'm proud of it, but it shouldn't have been sort of the main event for what I was doing in the world because it wasn't... it was too experimental. So I think there's a real role for doing experimental work like that, but you don't want to have people hanging around and waiting for what you're doing. You want to put it forward as being, "It's this experimental thing. I don't know where it's going, I don't know how long it's going to take." So that's what you're in for and I didn't know enough to define it that way.


And then the fate of most projects is just, they aren't as big as you would have hoped that they would be and that's what it was. Tens of thousands of people saw it and that's awesome, but it's not enough where like, "Oh, okay, this is like a real business in itself." So it didn't, for now, at least achieve that sort of level. We'll see what will happen in the future. But it was one of those things where it just... I didn't really manage it properly. It took way too long. I made it really hard. So it was something that I learned some hard lessons about doing creative work with doing that project. So I'm really proud of the end result, but I just made some really big mistakes early on with defining it and presenting it to an audience.


So there were some big screw ups that happened early on, but it got made. I'm very happy with the film. I do think people should check out the film. It's called This is Not a Conspiracy Theory. It was just way too long and way too hard. I actually made it way too long and way too difficult.

Chris:

Well, it's a testament to your perseverance and your commitment to it. Like I said, a two-year project, that's too much for me. An eight-year project. I don't even know how I would do that. Yeah. I used to make commercials and music videos for a living, so you had like five weeks, it was a generous timeline. So we would do that and we would take a break and we just do the very next thing and sometimes not even take a break. And I have friends who make documentary films and there's... I'll walk on them and then a year and a half later like, "Oh, we're still doing it." I'm like, "Oh my God, you're still doing it. I forgot this project even existed." And three years later, they're done.

Kirby:

Oh yeah. I think like your average doc takes three years, I would guess, probably the entire all of it. And then keep in mind, you can stop working on it for... I didn't work on this doc for eight years. I did a bunch of other stuff and there was a bunch of other mishaps and stuff that went on. But I think a lesson there is that everybody has their magnification that they want to work out. Like some people want to work out like now. I want to do tweets and Instagram posts and whatever and it's very now. It's going to happen today. This stuff I'm doing. And then other people it's on the scale of weeks, other people it's on months and some people, like people who write books it's... And again, if you're writing a book, that's at least a year. That's probably two years or three years.


So there are these levels of magnification of time that we are naturally oriented towards and I'm naturally oriented towards months, at least. I think not necessarily years, but that's what happens when you add up episodes that take months, then well, you get years with that. But I like to take months to make a video basically. Certainly doing daily content, just for me, it's not appealing. I don't have an interest in that. So I think that's something that people can fight with themselves about. I think lots of people... For me, I had a long period of wishing I was more prolific. Like, boy, I wish I could just crank stuff out, but it's not my natural inclination and it's not the kind of content that I'm naturally drawn to generally speaking. I like things that are worked over longer than that. So I think that's something for people listening to consider possibly like, are you at the right level of magnification, are you operating at the speed that you are acclimated to?

Chris:

Yeah. You are most definitely a fully baked person. I'm more a half-baked person and it just-

Kirby:

I don't know about that.

Chris:

Different structures, different folks.

Kirby:

What's that?

Chris:

[crosstalk 01:03:59].

Kirby:

Yes. Right. Well, some people it's just what your interest is. You're exploring ideas kind of like in real time. Like people are seeing the debate as it unfolds. That's your format. Whereas mine is, I want to kind of take that. I want to do all that discovery offstage and then, "Okay. Here's what I found out. That's what I want to do. Present like a miniaturized version of that stuff." You're doing sort of a conversational approach and that's a totally... Lots of people love that sort of format. I kind of wish, of course, I was [crosstalk 01:04:30] this stuff. I wish I knew that sort of stuff. It's just not my bag.

Chris:

Yeah. Well, I do want to say something as a fellow content creator. I do really appreciate that level of depth and research that you do in your projects. I was watching one of your videos that you're talking about Joe Rogan and Alex Jones and... Here's the difference between you and me. I'll go on the internet. I'll do research for like eight hours. That's enough. And I'll go, "Yeah, I got it." [crosstalk 01:05:01]. You're like, "Well, let me go research for this for like six months or something." And then it's happening. It is so exhaustive and I look at it, I'm like, I believe what you're doing whatever amount of people see it, it's like for public good. It really is because we live in a dangerous time when there's alt facts and weird things because if enough people say it's true, then it becomes true and perception becomes reality, that somebody out there has to do the good work that journalists should be doing, but aren't. There's experiments where people put out a false thing and then they seed it a certain way and it hits like a thousand news sites.

Kirby:

Sure. Absolutely.

Chris:

Just to see how easy news media and outlets are manipulated. It's so, so easy. So I admire you for doing that. My hats off to you. At what point do you decide, "That's enough research, Kirby. Let's go do this sucker."?

Kirby:

I don't know. It's like a feeling. A lot of what I do... I'm sure you have this in you as well. Like it's just a feeling, right? Like there's some sort of... I'm not a perfectionist contrary to what some people think. I don't think that's my... I can say everything I put out, there are imperfections and things that I got wrong and stuff like that. And I accept those, and even like those things, those imperfections about the things that I do. So I'm not trying to be perfect, but there's just some sort of feeling of like, "Okay..." I guess it's the feeling of like when you've charted all the paths and like, "Okay, there aren't more paths to follow here that merit following." So it's just some sort of natural feeling of completion.


With something like the Joe Rogan, Alex Jones series, like there was a clear... That's a fairly comprehensible undertaking whereas with This is Not a Conspiracy Theory, I'm talking about... the canvas is so fast that... That was one where you could really go a long time before feeling like, "Okay, I think I can synthesize this into something at this point." But with Joe Rogan and Alex Jones, it's like it's knowable. Like you can figure these people out. They're not that complicated. But I would say it's just a sensation of feeling like, "Okay, I think I've charted." It's almost like a spatial thing. Like, "Okay. I feel like I've charted this territory. And now I'm ready."

Chris:

Yeah. Okay. We know that from the timeline point of view, two years in making Everything is a Remix, and then eight years of This is Not a Conspiracy Theory. I only want to throw this out there. Is the next project, like a 32 year project? Because like the way it's going.

Kirby:

That's my plan is to make them longer and longer. I'm going to be at that store for the [inaudible 01:07:49]. No, no. Again, I'm sure this is something that other creators experience as well. I see it in musicians a lot, like the kind of going back and forth between different impulses that you have, like the impulse... For me, This is Not a Conspiracy Theory was like, let's do something that's the best I can make it, that is the most rigorous analysis, that has the biggest insight that I can manage. And it's kind of for nerds. Not everybody's going to like it. It's not going to be everybody's cup of tea. Going between like aiming for everybody, but something that's poppy and accessible or doing something that's more serious and rigorous.


So for me, I can kind of alternate between those things. So This is Not a Conspiracy Theory was trying to be rigorous and intelligent and do something for a discerning media consumer. And then Everything is a Remix is my poppy thing that's for everybody, so no. The next thing is, Everything is a Remix. Also I already made Everything is a Remix. So it's definitely a lighter lift, but that's the next one is I'm rebooting. Everything is a Remix. Again, I'm not going to say how long it's going to take and I don't care. It's a thing that I've let go of. I'm not saying, that I'm just not going to say and that's just something that people can, they can think whatever they want to think about it, but I'm not going to say how long it's going to take. And I just care about making those videos the best that I can make them and I'm not making any promises about how long they'll be, but it won't be eight years. I think I'm going to go out on a limb here and say, it will not be eight years.

Chris:

Less than eight years. I'm proud of that.

Kirby:

Nothing else... Yes, yes. And nothing else, because the template is already there. Like it's-

Chris:

Right.

Kirby:

... already actually built.

Chris:

Right. So I have two questions, a really easy question and maybe one about business in the future. Question number one is, how does the iron man dancing in the park in the Pantheon of Kirby Ferguson? Now I saw that video. I didn't even know it was from you. I saw it somewhere on the internet.

Kirby:

[crosstalk 01:09:54]. Oh my God. Holy shit.

Chris:

Yeah. I saw it somewhere. I don't even know where I saw it and then I went on your site I'm like, "Oh, that's you?" Okay. So that's not research. That's not trying a cross puzzle.

Kirby:

Yeah. It was before when I was doing my comedy stuff.

Chris:

Oh, okay.

Kirby:

So basically I did... Yeah. It's pre Everything is a Remix.

Chris:

I see.

Kirby:

It's an old video basically, but for me, that's part of my character is that I'm eclectic. I'm project oriented, right? Like I want to do this thing and then I'm... Like I did This is Not a Conspiracy Theory and I'm going to... Now I'm done with that and I'm going to do something else now. Whereas some people, like you, I think it's an ongoing conversation where you want to keep moving with the thing that you're doing. For me, it's project. I want to do this thing and I want to finish it, and then I'm going move on to a different realm. So initially I was doing all sorts of wacky stuff really [inaudible 01:10:44] different formats and just exploring and having fun.


And you didn't have to have a brand then so much back in those days. You could just make videos and have fun and people would like that. But it's still like an aspect of myself that I might struggle to package a bit, because you want to have a brand, you want to be a thing. But my natural inclination is towards miscellany, it's toward like I want to do this and then I'm going to do something different. And hopefully my voice is enough to unite those things, but it's still something that I... is a challenge for me to integrate because I'm interested in different things and I want to. It's more of a filmmaker approach, right? Like you do this sort of film and then you make... they get made to a drama and then you do a comedy or whatever.


Yeah. Basically it was a stupid idea that I came up with. I knew a dancer. Was like, "Hey, let's get this..." The Iron Man movie was coming out and I was like I saw the costume in a store and was like, "Let me finally see Iron Man dancing." And that's what it was.

Chris:

And were you in Paris at that time? Is that the-

Kirby:

That was in Brooklyn. That's in Brooklyn. Yeah. That's in Prospect Park. Yeah.

Chris:

I see. Okay. Well, here's the next question for you and my final question before we wrap up here, which is, let's talk about the business of filmmaking. You've now produced-

Kirby:

Oh, man am I under-qualified for this. Sorry, go ahead.

Chris:

You've made substantial films that have implications beyond just a popcorn thing. It's part of the culture and it touches on deeper thoughts and observations built upon a lot of research and writing. And it seems like today it's like the golden era of documentary films, that you have so many... I'm overwhelmed with high quality choices today and it's like the appetite for these types of projects is growing and not diminishing. You have Apple TV, you have Disney Plus, you have Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and probably several others that I'm not even remembering. Are you in that position now... And Netflix. Are you in a position where it, you know what? It's time to take this show up the chain and go get some of that money?

Kirby:

That'd be great. I would love that. Like what I'm doing next, Everything is a Remix to me it has to be semi illegal. Like it has to be... I can't be asking permission to use this piece of music or that [inaudible 01:13:22] do all the licensing to get all that stuff straight away.  It's got to be kind of a rebel thing. So that's what I'm doing. My focus is on just doing that and making that the best that it can be and I think it will, my hope is it will open doors. And then my interest in it... the reason I think it will open doors is just because I love it that much. I just think it's that wonderful and exciting. So definitely after that I could see potentially doing something like more of a legitimate documentary, but for the next phase, I see myself doing this thing that is an internet movie. Like it has to be an... it has to be like a YouTube thing. And then after that it would be cool to do a bonafide documentary for one of these platforms.


Something you have to be careful though... Something about Everything is a Remix is that because it's just this internet movie, it's on YouTube, it's on Vimeo. It's in a bunch of places as well. Like [inaudible 01:14:18] all. It's not hard to get. It's free. Anybody can go get it. But if you end up on like Apple TV or Hulu or Discovery Plus, or some of these smaller platforms, you're not necessarily... exposure might be lacking on some of those platforms. Like you might be... It seems like Netflix is something where everybody has potential, a bunch of potentially, the world can see it if you're on Netflix, but there's a lot of... The pie is getting divided up into a lot of pieces at this point. So that would be something that I'd be concerned about as well as like, yes, I'm going to make this thing that I want the world to see, but you want to make sure that the world can see it as well. So it's more than just making, getting a decent budget for it too.

Chris:

Okay. So are you saying that it's more important for you to, if you're going to put out a piece of art like this, that you want it to be accessible by as many people as possible?

Kirby:

Yeah.

Chris:

Okay. I just wanted to be clear.

Kirby:

Yeah. I mean, I think like what I consider myself at the end of the day, more so than being a filmmaker, is an educator, that's what I'm really trying to do. Like if I was just trying to get views or whatever, I'd have a totally different way and I wouldn't be spending years making videos. So what I want to do is spread good ideas. That's the thing that I keep at the top. And then I have to make the money and everything work around that, my core interest is in education. So yeah, like if it's a choice between somehow finding a way to make something independently and get it out there, and then everybody can see it and it can live for a long time that... I mean, that's an actual potential financial advantage of these things that are out there for free. Like people can still go watch Everything is a Remix if I stuck it on, who knows, on current TV or something that's gone extinct now then that film is gone.


So it's still putting something out there for free. It gets to live forever. That's a real advantage of taking that route.

Chris:

Yeah. Very true. I mean, I didn't know this about you before talking to you, but you strike me as truly... The education part is very clear. It's part of this public discourse and you're trying to, in a way, either help artists understand like how things really work and then maybe in that way allow them to share their own artwork with more people, which is a good thing. Or [inaudible 01:16:39] is going to call a BS or a BS or then say, "Look, I've done a gazillion years of research in here. I'm still trying to find the one example where this is not a lie. I can't find it." So I love that. And you are in every regard an artist. Even when you said I'm not a perfectionist, there are a few imperfections I still see. That is spoken like a perfectionist. I don't know if you know that. Only a perfectionist would say that. I love you for it.

Kirby:

Or maybe [inaudible 01:17:06] say I'm not a perfectionist?

Chris:

Yeah. You can't say that, like, I'm not really a perfectionist but-

Kirby:

Believe it or not though I'm doing the things as fast as I can.

Chris:

I believe you sort of. I believe you sort of.

Kirby:

We all have our dysfunctions that we can't get past and that might be one of mine.

Chris:

Yes. Now, you don't need this from me, but I wish for you that somewhere somebody will listen to this and they'll check out the films and the many different projects that you work on and support you, if nothing more than to subscribe and to just give you a view or share it with somebody who needs to really see this material. But beyond that, maybe there's some agent out there who's like, "I know exactly what to do with this artist who wants to educate the world."

Kirby:

Call me.

Chris:

Yes, exactly. Call him. I know on that note, how do people get in touch with you? What's the best place for people to find you or to reach out to you?

Kirby:

I would say that Twitter is a good place to reach me. I'm remixedeverything on Twitter and my DMs are open. So you can reach me that way. It's also good to follow me on YouTube if you just search for Kirby Ferguson on YouTube, that's a good place to keep up with whatever I'm up to.

Chris:

Great. And you will see that dancing Iron Man video right there.

Kirby:

Yes. Dig into the archives and you'll find Iron Man dance.

Chris:

It's really fun to see the kind of very diverse projects that you work on, and the thoughtfulness. I see that you really do make an effort to be this, as much as possible, an objective reporter on facts and [crosstalk 01:18:41] opinions. And you're not one of those shock jocks and easily, you could have gone many different directions, but... That is just a testament to who you are, your character and what you're trying to do.

Kirby:

Thanks, man.

Chris:

So I wish nothing but success for you in the future. I'm looking forward to it. As soon as you release the book, you got me. I will be first in line to get-

Kirby:

All right.

Chris:

... a copy of Everything is a Remix book, whatever it's going to be called. And people need to support artists and creators like Kirby because they can't exist without you really and do what you can to support Kirby and artists like him. Kirby, it's been a real pleasure. I had a lot of fun and the time just disappeared before my eyes.

Kirby:

Awesome. Me too. Thanks so much, Chris.
My name is Kirby Ferguson, and you are listening to The Futur.

Greg:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me. Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode and thank you to Adam Sanborn for our intro music.


If you enjoyed this episode then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts, it'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me, head over to thefutur.com/heychris and ask away. We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening. And we'll see you next time.

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