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To Buck and Beyond: A Joe Donaldson Interview

By Ryan Plummer

Learn from MoGraph heavy-hitter and Holdframe creator, Joe Donaldson.

What do Buck, Digital Kitchen, Holdframe and Motionographer all have in common? A mega-motion powerhouse Floridian, Joe Donaldson.
This conversation goes through several stages of Joe’s top of the food chain career during his mid-20’s and notably his time as an art director at Buck. Going even deeper, Joe unpacks his philosophy about work and his outlook on life.
Joe figured out something that most people never figure out... and this conversation digs deep into the gold mine.
Put on your podcast jammies, it’s time to open up a bottle of lightning and experience the wisdom of Joe Donaldson on the School of Motion Podcast.

Joe Donaldson Podcast Interview

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Joe Donaldson Podcast Transcript

Joe Donaldson:
Well, so for everyone listening, Joe lives very close to me and we are running buddies, and we like to get together every once in a while and talk shit about the industry. I thought it'd be a good idea to bring you on. I think a lot of people listening know... they know you from Hold Frame they know you from Motionographer. Maybe they're aware that you used to work at Buck among other studios. But your history is actually very interesting and I haven't really heard you go far back in other places. I thought it'd be cool to just start with the origin story. How did you end up getting into this field and then finding yourself at the epicenter of Mograph at Buck?
Joey:
Well, it's kind of funny I've said this I think before but I never actually made a concerted... I never made a concerted... not a concerted effort but I never chose specifically to do this. It was something that happened and evolved very, very naturally. Obviously, there's a lot of work involved and a lot of effort. Essentially I started out riding BMX bikes with my friends, just kids riding around doing tricks. That ultimately led to making bike videos, and I became the guy who had the camera and would film things and edit things, and that naturally led to teaching myself about cameras about editing. Then you would ultimately want to make the titles or the people's names on the screen look cooler, which then ultimately led to learning After Effects. That was the very beginning of things. I think I got a camera when I was in middle school, and would just putz around with that, like a HI 8 or MiniDv camera, things like that.
Joey:
Over the years, I just kept making bike videos and just filming things, it was a passion of mine, and before I knew it, I was very fortunate and got a job at a local ABC news station. At the time, I thought that was like a big deal. I dropped out of college, and I went full force working at the new station.
Joe Donaldson:
How did you get that job? That's crazy. You dropped out of college to take the job. How did that happen?
Joey:
It's actually a good case for being I guess tenacity or just being annoying, though I was at the time, I think was 18 years old, just like a punk kid that rode BMX bikes and whatnot. I went in and talked to the news director. I showed him my work, and they really, really liked some of the montages and just stuff that I had. But it was a very corporate atmosphere, obviously, being a news station, and he was very honest and just said, we don't have a job, and this might not be a good fit. But being young and dumb, I just took that as I just need to try harder. Literally for like six or eight months, I called him every single Wednesday, and if he didn't answer I'd just leave a message saying, "Hi, this is Joe Donaldson, I just want to let, I'm still really interested in that job if an opening comes up." Then like, over half a year later, he called back and said, "We have an opening would you like it?"
Joey:
It really was just like I was working at a grocery store at the time just going to college didn't really know what I wanted to do, and I just essentially kept annoying this poor news director and the funny thing is my wife and I, our apartment was burglarized, so someone broke into our apartment and like robbed us, and while the police were there, and we were filling out the police report, my phone rings, and it was the news director. On this day of like a really traumatic thing, in the middle of it I get like, at the time, my dream job, and it was wonderful. The fact that I was able to get that job with no experience with like... it was people working there were wearing ties and like being on the news and like, then there's just me just being the cameraman and editor, like that was the beginning of everything.
Joe Donaldson:
That is ridiculous.
Joey:
Okay.
Joe Donaldson:
I think that that is probably going to be a little bit of a theme in this conversation, your ability to lock in and just not take no for an answer. All right, so you're at a news station and you drop out of college. Say a little bit more about that too. Like, was that an easy decision? Were you like, "Well, clearly I'm not studying this and yet, and now, this is my career so let me just focus on that."
Joey:
Yeah, at the time, I mean, I was historically a really bad student, mainly because I just didn't know what I wanted to do, and it was just very aimless. It was like I was taking general education courses, and like my major was never really clearly defined. It was like, "Okay, maybe it's going to be computer sciences, maybe it's going to be something with like biological sciences, whatever, I don't really know, I'm just like, taking classes pretty much." When I got the job at the news station, that was a moment where it was like, "Oh, like this could actually turn into a career." At the time, I didn't really even know what motion graphics was. I didn't know about mograph.net yet. I didn't know about Motionographer. I just got the job. I started doing it while going to school and realize I really loved it. Then after a while, I was just like, this is going nowhere, and I have what would arguably be like the best job in Gainesville, Florida to pursue this interest, so I'm just going to do this full time.
Joey:
I dropped out and I ended up doing working at the new station for about three years, and while I was there, I pretty was taught myself, everything I could on the job about editing, and cameras, and motion design I was making the graphics and the opens and things like that. That was the catalyst that made me realize I do want to do something in this field, but I don't want it to be news. After about three years, I made the decision to go back to school and that's when I started looking at art school.
Joe Donaldson:
Got it. Okay. Yeah, that... I was going to ask you about that because... Well, first of all, if you have any of that old stuff, I hope it's like on Vimeo somewhere.
Joey:
No, it's all deleted.
Joe Donaldson:
It would be so cool to see that. Yeah, because, looking at your work now, the stuff you do for like the New Yorker, and, the stuff you're commissioned to do primarily, you have a great grasp of design and conceptual thinking and storytelling, all those things and I'm assuming at a news station, that's not the skills you're picking up necessarily, right? Did you have some realization while you were there, like, "Wow, I love this. This is really fun. I love using After Effects and working with video. My stuff doesn't look as good." How did you know that you needed to go to art school?
Joey:
Yeah so it was actually really wonderful. When I look back on it obviously the new station I was young and the pay was terrible, but I look back on it very fondly because it was such an amazing experience. I would essentially show up, I would get a $10,000 camera which at the time I would never even dream of being able to use or have of my own. I would get a car. At the time I was broke, so like my car didn't have air conditioning. I would show up and get a car with air conditioning and that was a perk. I would show up and I would get a list and they would say, "You need to be here to interview the county commissioner at this time. You need to be here there is a there's a grand opening of whatever go film B roll there. We need 30 seconds of weather video for when the meteorologists are on. I would essentially have an itinerary, and I would just leave, and I would just drive around and be at my spots and be there.
Joey:
The best part about the job was everything that I did had to go on air that night. I'd show up at like 11:00, have to be back in time for everything to be on for the six o'clock show. It was very, very fast and every day nothing would ever be more than like a matter of hours to go from like importing into the computer to going on air and going out to the North Central Florida area. That was really wonderful. There wasn't really much time to think about design. There would be opportunities to do different stories that are more like artistic and storytelling base. But I just got to a point where that felt very technical, and it was more about the news and the information itself. I realized as I was going down the, I guess the rabbit hole of like after effects and like the little design packages and stuff that I was doing, that was where I was really interested in.
Joey:
I realized like I kind of had a good grasp of Final Cut at the time it was before Premiere took over Final Cut 7. I had a good grasp of After Effects and the buttons, like what they did. But then I realized like I had no design experience at all. When I actually went back to college, I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and I didn't study animation or filmmaking at all, I studied traditional like print design. They don't have majors, but the department is visual communication. It was a very staunch, rigorous print design curriculum.
Joe Donaldson:
Now, I heard you talk about your philosophy on the way art school runs. You've got a place like Ringling where you teach now, that really is focused on getting students prepared for the industry, and so it does a lot of things that simulate real world situations. But I've heard you say that if you had your druthers, then maybe art school would always be about the opposite of that. Just that blue sky thinking and learning to experiment and all of that. I'm curious if you could talk about like your experience at art school. Is that where you picked up that the desire for that kind of education?
Joey:
Kind of. I went to the most like... I don't want to say the most progressive or free form art school there is because there's obviously amazing art schools up for varying things depending on what you want to major in. But the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, essentially their undergraduate program runs the same way that a graduate program work. The SAIC, which is the shorthand, they have, let's say 18 different departments. Within that you never declare a major. When you're at SAIC, if I want to take one class of interpretive dance, and then one class of African textiles, and then one class of motion graphics, and then one class of type design, I can create whatever semester that I want and study anything that I want.
Joey:
Now, granted, there will be things prerequisites and stuff that. But even in the design program, things like business and portfolios and marketing or higher-ability, those words were never uttered once. It was really looking at art for art's sake. The irony of this is I don't have any art for art's sake. Everything I do is commissioned or for a client or for something that, but the beauty of it was is it was just this place where you had full freedom and control over what your interests were and what you pursued. Now if I were to play devil's advocate, a lot of people struggled and flounder in that atmosphere. For me, I think I was 22 at the time. I was going back to art school, I had all of my general education courses completed, I was only there for the 72 Studio credits, and I was going there with laser focus.
Joey:
I had already taught myself Final Cut and After Effects, I had already worked for years in broadcast, I guess, if you will, and I was going with a very sharp focus. And I was able to go and do everything that I wanted, and thrive there. But I did have students that I knew that went right out of high school, didn't know what they wanted to do, and they were just very aimless, and the fact that they could take any course only added to their unknown of what they were doing.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah, I mean, you just brought up... That's one of the issues that I have. I mean, there are many, of course and I've talked publicly about it, but my issues with the art school model. For someone like you, you went to the industry and you got three years of experience, and then you came back knowing exactly what you want. In that case, it makes a ton of sense. Can you talk a little bit about it too, what was the financial commitment like at that point? Because that's my biggest issue. Even someone who's super focused and knows, "I want to be better at design. I want to get into the broadcast industry as a designer." I'm still not sure that someone with that focus, I would recommend to them to take out $200,000 and I know it wasn't that for you. Can you talk about what that was like?
Joey:
Yeah, so it's funny. I don't want to be labeled as a... Okay. Well, I guess in my own personal experience, I am a huge advocate of academia, and going to art school because I was a best case scenario. I literally took the self-taught approach in a small town with no major market and I climbed that ladder or got to the point where I was doing freelance work on the side, I was working on news station, and I hit a ceiling where I could not go any further than that. Now granted, that was a different time that was like 2008, something like that. It's many, many years ago. I took the self-starter route of, pull myself up by my bootstraps and do this thing, and it worked for a number of years, but I did ultimately reach a threshold that it couldn't get past, or there was friction there. And so for me, enrolling in art school, opened the door to everything.
Joey:
My very first job out of art school is Digital Kitchen. It's like everything about it for me was a success story, and I do have to note that that's not everyone's experience. But I was also very strategic about it. I do teach obviously at an art school now, but I don't get involved in any of the recruiting or any of the sales or any of that because it's a very personal decision to do it, and it can be very, very taxing financially. For me, I went to college first I had all of my general education courses done. I took all of the core fundamental art courses, the figure drawing, the painting, all that stuff. I strategically looked at it and went, "Holy shit, my wife and I are broke. How are we ever going to afford this?" I got all of the general education classes done at a community college first. I had industry experience, so when I was going to SAIC, which at the time was the second most expensive art school, so essentially RISD was $38,000 a year and, SAIC was $36,000. It was the second most expensive art school in the country, but I was only going to be going for two years, so that immediately cut the cost in half, because I was transferring in.
Joey:
And then on top of that, I got a tremendous amount of scholarship. SAIC gave me a 50% or 70... a very big scholarship on top of that, and the fact that I was young, poor and married, the government gave me a tremendous amount of money in grants. I was able to come out of a school that normally would be $200,000 for four years with, I think it was $46,000 in debt. I was able to get the same studio courses the same experience, because I didn't just blindly sign up for it or pick it out of a brochure. When I made the decision to go back to art school, a lot of... I actually re enrolled back in community college at the time and took art classes so I could satisfy... I could transfer in with as many credits as possible. There's a limit with how many credits you could transfer in with, and I had every one possible that you could do. I was very strategic in how I did that, and I was able to come out of it with roughly what a normal four year University of Florida or whatever degree would cost.
Joe Donaldson:
That's the smart... If anyone is thinking of going to art school, that's exactly how I would say do it. Try to minimize at, any way possible. That's really awesome. Okay. So that worked out really well for you, and you got to explore the world of art for art's sake a little bit it sounds at college. Then you work a Digital Kitchen that's really interesting in 2000... When did you graduate?
Joey:
That gets very complicated because technically... Maybe they shouldn't have let me do this. I was in my last year when I got the job at Digital kitchen, and all of my instructors were pretty much, you got a great job I'm not going to be the one to hold you back on that. And I was able to work with them and make it so I was able to essentially independent study my classes while going and working, and coming back... It was this weird balance, but I think my degree is either 2011 or 2012. It wasn't till pretty late, but I was already working at DK for, at least six months before I even graduated.
Joe Donaldson:
Hang on. Let me make sure I'm getting the chronology. You went to was at SAIC?
Joey:
Yes SAIC.
Joe Donaldson:
Went to SAIC for one year.
Joey:
One and a half.
Joe Donaldson:
One and a half and then got hired by digital kitchen and finished that last half while you were there?
Joey:
Yes. They were very flexible in letting me balance it.
Joe Donaldson:
I mean a year and a half is not that long. By the way, we have to pour out a little bit for a DK because [crosstalk 00:16:09]-
Joey:
Yeah, sadly.
Joe Donaldson:
... recently closed. In 2008 that they were still pretty high up on the mountain.
Joey:
Oh yeah, they were like one of the best.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
One of the reasons why I chose... When I was looking at schools, I was looking at RISD, I was looking at CalArts, I was looking at SAIC, and a lot of it came down to number one SAIC is very gracious with their scholarships. They're I think the oldest art school in the country. They were started in 1817, Orson Welles, Walt Disney, all these crazy, successful people went there. That's a long winded way of saying their endowment and the money they have is very, very deep. They actually give more scholarship money than any of the other schools I looked into, so that was the big deciding factor. Also, when I looked at it, it was I really wanted to go to RISD in Rhode Island, but if it went to Rhode Island, there is no market for what I wanted to do there, so it'd be two years in Rhode Island and then moving again to find work. Whereas if I went to Chicago I'm not only getting a great scholarship but I'll be in a major market and Digital Kitchens' there.
Joey:
I fully... when I moved to Chicago in 2010 The goal was work at Digital Kitchen, and then by 2011, 2012 I was there.
Joe Donaldson:
What do you think that they saw in you at that point that said, "Yeah, we should hire this kid"?
Joey:
Probably just needing somebody. Needing a butt in the seat. I don't know. It's always very hard to say. It is worth noting I didn't have a junior level position. DK at the time, they had interns which were unpaid, and then they had what they were calling their creative apprenticeship program which was paid but even more junior than the junior, and then they had the junior level staff. I was actually a creative apprentice for six months and then a permalancer for from then on out.
Joe Donaldson:
Got it.
Joey:
I was never actually staff at DK, I never had a cool business card. But I was there for I think two and a half... It was two and a half years maybe, I'd have to go and look.
Joe Donaldson:
What did you notice working there versus the news station? I mean, obviously it's a completely different [crosstalk 00:18:09].
Joey:
Yeah. Oh, Chad Ashley was there, so he...
Joe Donaldson:
Oh right on [crosstalk 00:18:12]
Joey:
He was there when I was very green and knew nothing and would ask him lots of questions. It was night and day. I went from somewhere where there was no budget and you're doing nightly news, and was like you're just filming stuff and slapping it on a television, to at the time DK was still fairly relevant. The ship was beginning to sink. They had made the blunder of trying to become an agency and things were really rocky. I had gotten there, right after they laid off a whole lot of people, and the tone was not dire, but it was very... it wasn't super positive if I will. It was completely different. It was huge budget jobs with like six figures budgets and all this stuff. I was working with other people and I knew absolutely nothing. It was very shocking to go from local small town Florida news station to DK. From one to the next, that was very shocking.
Joe Donaldson:
Because I think you're really good designer, do you credit what you learned at art school? Or do you credit more you were around probably some really killer designers early in your career?
Joey:
I think it's both, because they both influence everything. Admittedly I would say design is probably one of the areas I struggle with the most. I think most people would probably say that. It came from I think, learning how to look at things as a designer. When I was at SAIC, the stuff I was making wasn't very good but it was just learning about the fundamentals and creating hierarchy, and really just learning the... not the checklist, but the things to think about and consider. If you're making this decision, how does it affect the composition or how does it affect what you're seeing and why?
Joey:
When I went to DK I definitely got to design some but I was more of a after effects person. It was like, "Oh, we need this animated," or, "track this into a shot or do this than the other." I was designing but it was more, "We got these amazing boards. Here's your shot. Don't fuck up."
Joe Donaldson:
Right. That's how I primarily used to work in my freelance days and I really like that. You were at DK, how did you eventually end up all the way in Los Angeles at Buck?
Joey:
Well, there's New York before that.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
I was in Chicago and I'd graduated, I was working at DK. DK was a really wonderful experience, but if I were to be honest it was very much the wrong mountain syndrome. I had set this goal of getting there, doing good work, and I was at the place that I wanted to be but I wasn't making work that I was happy with. This was right during the beginning of the 2D boom, and I was really interested in that stuff. I was seeing the work that people Gareth O'Brian were doing and really, really early Buck stuff, and I was really, really into that but DK wasn't doing any of that stuff. I was at a place that was great for being in Chicago, it was the best place that I could be. But it wasn't what I wanted. Then also similarly, the scene there and just living in Chicago, my wife and I had no family there. We didn't really have a network there. It was like, we could stay we had a great apartment in Lincoln square. But, why? If the goal of being away from my friends and family and this is something that comes up pretty much consistently throughout, if the goal of being away from our home and where our comforts are, is so that I can make the best work possible, then we need to chase that down and leave no stone unturned.
Joey:
Even though Chicago was good, even though I was freelancing and doing well at the time, there was no reason to stay, and so I went on Motionographer jobs, and I saw a posting from Dress Code in New York City and I applied to it and thankfully, since they saw that I was working at DK, they thought it was better than I really was, and validated me and a couple, maybe two weeks later, I had a booking for a month at Dress Code. I went there, and within less than a week of being in New York City, I called my wife and I said, "I'm going to sign a lease here. Are you cool with that?" Obviously, there's more conversation than that.
Joe Donaldson:
Of course.
Joey:
I was in New York for maybe four days, and I found my people, my place everything. It was like... I signed a lease to move to New York after less than a week of being there. I only had a four week booking. It was like to just blow it up and, do this.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah, I've heard you... I think you said to me before that when you go to New York, it's mama bird taking you under her wing?
Joey:
Oh, yes. [crosstalk 00:22:49].
Joe Donaldson:
What is it about that city? Because I love New York, too, but I've never loved it as much as you do.
Joey:
Yeah. Well, I think part of it is also if I were to be really honest, it could be that there's the honeymoon period that I never left. Most New Yorkers will admit that there's a honeymoon period. It's year one to year three is figuring out how to exist in a city. Then year four and year five, all the pistons are firing and it's this great experience, and then by the time you get to year six and seven, you start to become jaded and burn out. Well, since I was already coming from three years in Chicago, I had the city life down. So when I was able to get there, it was just everything that I ever wanted. If I were to make a line chart or a graph, every single day a new door was open to me, and every day I got a coffee with somebody else. I got an email from a different studio or producer, and I was just like... I was very fortunate that when I made it to the city, every single day was better than the previous one.
Joey:
I was able to do and be able to be everything that I want it to be there. Then that later translated to what we might talk about later, is like when I ran the marathon there. What happened on that day couldn't have happened anywhere else other than New York.
Joe Donaldson:
Got it. Okay. Then you eventually left New York, so it sounds like...
Joey:
Sadly.
Joe Donaldson:
One thing that that keeps coming up is you seem to have a really good ability to strip away all the unimportant stuff and focus on, this is the real goal, right? You said, when you were at DK, you realized, right now at that stage in your life, what you wanted was to make the best work possible, and you felt you couldn't do it there. I'm sure it was still a fun place to work, and you probably had people there you liked and Chicago's great city, but you were able to push all of that aside and say, "Yeah, I need to still do the scary thing and move to a brand new city and all that." What was the catalyst to leave New York?
Joey:
Really, it was just simply the fact that my wife and I were having a daughter. In New York, I very, very thankfully had a wonderful experience with Dress Code. I was the For a month, and then I was there for six more months, and then it got to a point where I just felt I could branch out and I still love those guys to this day or everyone a Dress Code, Dan and Andre. I wouldn't have been able to go to the city had it not been for their generosity and taking a chance. I just started freelancing. I freelanced for a bit. Then I had my goals. I wanted to work in all these different studios and I was doing that. That was great. I ultimately ended up getting wrapped by not to scale which that's a whole other story of how that happened. But when I was wrapped, it was wonderful. I was 25 years old, 26 years old. I was a... I'm doing air quotes now... an internationally director. And really, it was just I did one New Yorker Times film and they realized they could just market that so they decided to route me it was not because I had any idea what I was doing. But I was a rep director and that was extremely lucrative.
Joey:
I was very fortunate that right off the bat, I got repped and I think I won the first job we pitched on, and that was the biggest payday I'd ever had. At the time it was really amazing, but I could look towards the future, and after doing my research and talking to other people that were repped, I could see that it's peaks and valleys. It's like when you win that job, the directors fee alone could be 30, $40,000, for a three to four week production, if you're lucky and it's a good job. But then there's no guarantee on when the next job will award. I had won that first job, I had pitched a couple other things that didn't win, and I was just looking towards the future and it was, this is risky. I have a daughter on the way. I didn't have insurance, I didn't have anything like... My wife didn't have insurance, and so I very thankfully was able to essentially email Orion at Buck which we can talk about how I was able to get my foot in there. I essentially just reached out to Orion and I just explained the situation and very thankfully we got coffee, and I got the best worst news ever, which was, we have a spot for you but it's in LA.
Joey:
It was this really funny moment where at the time that had became the goal. Obviously a Buck job was what I'd wanted and I had known all the people from freelancing there. I heard the words that I had been waiting for that I wanted to hear, which is, like that everyone likes, we'd love to bring you on, but it's in Los Angeles. And so really the only reason I left New York was for the stability of Buck pretty much. I don't think I would have ever chosen to move to Los Angeles had it not been for the fact that Orion very graciously was helping open that door for me. The salary was very good, and I had benefits and I had a daughter on the way, so it was a best of everything I could have asked for except for it was in the wrong city.
Joe Donaldson:
Right, man. Okay. Well...
Joey:
There's a lot to unpack with the New York experience.
Joe Donaldson:
It's interesting too, because okay, so Buck... Today where we sit 2020 you say Buck and everyone immediately it's like okay, Buck's all the way at the top. This was a few years ago and they've always been basically [crosstalk 00:28:26] there were other studios in the mix still, so why not just find a studio in New York that would have hired you?
Joey:
I think it was culture. I was really lucky. I guess for time, pop time, and this is post Good Books and post, [ChildLine 00:28:41], and all that stuff. Really Buck was... they had the crown even back then when they were... They had dethroned Psy Op and whomever else might have been vying for the top seed. They were just doing the work that I wanted to do, but then on a personal level I was really fortunate that I'd gotten to know some of the people there fairly well, I had freelanced there, and from the work and the culture and the how welcoming they were, it was just the place that I wanted to be. To give an example, the very first booking I got at Buck it wasn't great. It wasn't a great experience. The job... Okay, this was shortly after dress code. I had done a couple of freelance jobs, and the goal was obviously working in all the studios. One of the first... I think maybe the first big studio booking I got in New York City was actually Buck, and that was through friends of friends, and it was just perfect timing there.
Joey:
But I go in for the job, I was booked for one week because they'd never worked with me before, and they probably didn't expect much. Within that week, the pitch that went out some of the frames and the direction that I was presenting, was doing well with the client and the job was big so they extended my booking from literally one week to eight weeks. I don't know the dates perfectly, but let's say on Wednesday, they extended my booking by Thursday end of day the job died entirely or like by Friday. They just extended my booking for eight weeks, and then the job died almost immediately. Thankfully, again, thanks to Anne Skopas and Ryan, they honored the booking they didn't just send me packing, and I got to hang out at Buck for two months. I subsequently went from pitch after pitch and none of the jobs won or awarded. It wasn't like I was there and I just knocked it out of the park and everyone is just clapping at the work that I'd done.
Joey:
If anything, it was awkward in that I went from one job that didn't work to then helping out and filling holes. But at the end of that booking, I remember when I was saying bye to everyone, and who's the EP, she gave me a hug and just was super, super nice. And for those of you who might not know, 99% of studios you work at especially big ones, the EP won't ever even know... won't know your name. They're in a completely different wavelength. They're focusing on business and all this stuff, and I was just a 24 year old freelancer that was working on a bunch of failed jobs. There's no reason for me to be on her radar, but again the graciousness and the kindness that I was shown was amazing. For some perspective, I worked at DK for two years and I don't think that the owner of the company even knew who I was.
Joey:
Then I went to Buck who was just better in every way. I guess that's subjective but they were better in every way, and here the top dog was giving me a hug and welcoming me into the fold even though I was just a nobody.
Joe Donaldson:
Do you remember what your day rate was back then?
Joey:
Oh, I think was quite low. I think maybe... It's still probably too low. I think it was probably $500 a day something like that.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah, I just wanted to get that out there for everyone listening who's thinking, "Oh my gosh, eight weeks and they don't even have work for you? What the heck?" It may seem a lot of money to an individual but to a company... I don't know how big buck was then.
Joey:
It is quite small. Much smaller than they're [crosstalk 00:31:58].
Joe Donaldson:
Right, but I'm sure it was still 50 people at least right?
Joey:
Yeah, I think in New York was between 35 and 50 maybe.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah, so a company of that size, one of the things that... I'm running into this and it's something that you generally don't realize until you work at a big studio, or you're running a studio or something that, is how important recruiting is. They must have seen something in you where they were it's worth the investment just to be around Joe and all that stuff too, and it wasn't that big of an investment for them.
Joey:
Well, so I would if that were the case, but what I will say is... I was able to work on billing jobs. They were getting paid for pitches that they were sending out, and I think there's one that was a nasal decongestant thing and I needed to animate a thing that was glowing and spun around and looked a loading bar. I was working on jobs that they were billing... they're able to bill for. I would love to think that like I just hit it off with them and it was great. But from my first Buck booking which was eight weeks long it was then maybe over six to eight months before I ever even heard from them again. I got to the promised land, and I got there and I was like, "This is amazing." And then my booking was done, I just didn't hear from them again for almost a year. I would to have thought that I was just good enough to be there, but the reality was, is there's a lot of people above me in the rankings, or in their Rolodex-
Joe Donaldson:
It's a deep bench there.
Joey:
... that they were able to just call on. Because it was a long time before I got called back again.
Joe Donaldson:
Let's talk a little bit about the culture at Buck. I've been to the New York office, and I've met a lot of people that work there. I've met Anne super sweet and talked to Ryan Honey. I think in our industry and probably sites Motionographer and School of Motion are partially to blame for this too. There's this mythology now around Buck. It's like going to Valhalla or something. So I'm curious what are some of the misconceptions people have about Buck? I'm sure once you're there on many levels, it's just another business, it's another place of work, but I think people imagine that there's, I don't know waterfalls with a secret sauce coming down that makes all the work good or something.
Joey:
Well, I will have to say I'm very biased. If I were to ever go back into being on the box, or say I leave teaching or something happens and my family and I we decided to go back to how things were, like reverse, the only place I would go is Buck. I would humor other options for sure. But if I got fired on Friday, the very first person I'm calling or reaching out to is them. I'm definitely very biased, but I think it is... I've gotten to work at a lot of bigger studios and mid-sized news and small studios and even newsrooms as we talked about. I think the thing is, is they just keep really, really good people there. The reality is there's jobs that aren't great. I've worked on many Buck jobs both as a freelancer and as a staffer that were not the coolest thing you're ever going to see. But I think their rates of good work is higher, and their willingness to spend money on good work. If you look at any of the bigger projects that they've spent, half a million dollars on their own money or whatever it is, or taken out loans to do or whatever there aren't really many other studios that are willing to do that, or have done that.
Joey:
I think they definitely deserve the status that they've gotten. But I think there is a business aspect of it. Sometimes there's relationships that need to be preserved, and you're doing those jobs as well. But I really can't say anything bad about it. From day one, and meeting everybody and everything... from being in New York and just how welcoming that was, to being able to go out to LA and the job that I had there, and the trust that they showed me, I really can't say much bad about it. The only thing I can say is I just hope that with the growth that they're experiencing, it doesn't change. Because of all of my views on this, I was working at Buck, New York in 2013 so this is many, many years ago, and I left buck la in 2015. I'm already, quite out of date. I can't speak to exactly how things are, but Ryan, Orion, Anne, they've done nothing but be extremely respectful and kind to me.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah. I remember when I talked with Ryan on his podcast, episode one, the most things I was impressed about. I mean, there's a lot of impressive things about him and about Buck, but the fact that they took out bank loans to do the studio projects. I mean that is putting your money where your mouth is in a way that I've never even heard of before.
Joey:
Yeah. Then there's other amazing studios again, it's like... It's hard because if you go to their website literally everything is great. And if you want a stop motion, here's a great one. If you want look at amazing 3D, here's a great one. It's really everything. They do deserve it. It is hard to not constantly go back there. Whenever I'm in class teaching, it's like we can't go a day without going Buck website let's look at this. I like to see that change, and I think... I'd like to go back to how things were before, when there was more competition on the upper. When it was DK and IF and Psy Op, and The Mill and Superfad so many... Brand New School I mean they had their time at top as well.
Joey:
It was, like-
Joe Donaldson:
[inaudible 00:37:22].
Joey:
... every week it was one would come up with something next, then the next, then the next. It was this constant thing where it has become a bit monopolized.
Joe Donaldson:
I want to talk more about that a little bit but just real quick, do you have any idea why? Why is that?
Joey:
Well, I mean I'm not a very good businessman as we'll probably talk about with Hold Frame later. I think it's just the changing tides and the fact that the way things are changing it I would say probably or definitely favors the little guy more than the big guy right now. A perfect example and we may talk about this later, I still... I technically have a company, I still feel freelance from time to time. If an agency comes, has a $30,000 budget, if they go to Buck or whomever, there's nothing they can even do for that. They won't even get a call usually for budget that low, and even midsize studios, that's a really low budget for a smaller studio. But when an agency or whatever has a $30,000 budget, they come to me it's, holy shit, that's a great month.
Joe Donaldson:
You keep basically all of it.
Joey:
Yeah like I'm working out of my home, and if I have to hire support, or do whatever it's amazing. Right now, and I'm seeing more and more of that, like at least three... Like between one and four of those a year, and it's like three to four week turnaround, and it's solid. That right now benefits the little guy or gal, not necessarily the bigger midsize studio.
Joe Donaldson:
Right. You should probably even make a little chart comparing those and put it... Just kidding. I had to.
Joey:
I still want a t-shirt with that [crosstalk 00:39:01].
Joe Donaldson:
I had to. All right, just a little inside baseball there. Let's talk about... When you left Buck you were art director right?
Joey:
Yes.
Joe Donaldson:
Okay. And you've been now in Florida for a few years, so if you'd stayed there and continued climbing that mountain, what would your role be at this point?
Joey:
Well, presumably I'd be a creative director at this point. Again, I don't want to be presumptuous. I was literally in my review with Ryan and Maury, who was the EP at the time. They were saying I... essentially I was being promoted that year. I was in the process of becoming an associate creative director, and that was another one of those moments where it's like everything I wanted, but there was a big, "but", so at the time I wasn't seeing my daughter as much as I wanted to. There were some health issues in the family, and there was this... I essentially again, wrong mountain thing again, where I was in the place that I wanted to be but if I'm honest I wasn't happy in LA, and I was having a... My daughter was only a couple months old at the time, I wasn't seeing her as much as I wanted to, and I was just able to look towards the future. I wasn't super excited about it. And here I was sitting across from an amazing person who's treating me really well saying, "We're going to be giving you what you want." And in the back of my head, it was just like, "Fuck."
Joey:
That's not because of the job, it's because of where I was at with my life, and the different external factors that were applying, not the work itself. I guess, presumably, I would be a associate creative director or a creative director, or I could have fucked a bunch of stuff up and I would have been demoted. Who knows? Anything's possible.
Joe Donaldson:
This is a recurring theme now. I remember you called me at some point to talk about... because I think Ringling was recruiting you to teach right?
Joey:
Yeah.
Joe Donaldson:
I think we talked on the phone or email. I can remember exactly [inaudible 00:41:01]. And, you were telling me... and at that time too, I didn't know a lot of people from Buck, I still had no interactions. And so it was just, "Wow, this is cool. I'm talking to someone a Buck," and you were telling me you were thinking of leaving to move to Sarasota, Florida, which you're from. I mean, there's a reason for it, but to teach, and I think at the time, you weren't even 30 yet, were you?
Joey:
I was 27.
Joe Donaldson:
You were 27, and I'm think this is way too young to be having this kind of a midlife crisis. But again to me, that's one of the most impressive things about you, is that you're able to somehow ignore all of the enticing things that generally keep people in the wrong place for too long, and I wanted to ask you this earlier, but I'll ask you now. Where does that come from? Because I don't know many people that with probably... I don't know what your salary was there but I'm sure it was high, and you probably had a lot of... There as a lot of fringe benefits to being that high up at Buck in terms of the industry and your access and getting an in Motionographer, things like that. How are you able to turn all of that off and just focus on the important stuff?
Joey:
This goes back to... for those of you listening we were joking about the title of this being how to train wreck your career over and over again. That's pretty much what this is. I stepped down from being a rep director to go backwards to be an art director a Buck, and then I quit Buck and then went to become a teacher. Then I just stepped down from Motionographer so the moral of the story of this is how to train wreck your career in three easy steps. Actually I don't know. I think it's probably upbringing. I grew up a fairly common lower middle class family. I grew up riding BMX, and as part of the punk scene, and I think there's a very DIY aspect of that. And with BMX, specifically, you make the fun, if you will. I know it sounds cheesy, but in Sarasota, for instance, we didn't have a skate park. There's no escape park in Sarasota, so all these people growing up in Sarasota, we started stealing wood from construction sites and making our own skate parks in our backyards.
Joey:
I don't condone that, that's a felony now by the way so [crosstalk 00:43:13] do not do that. But we made our own skate parks and we were 14 year old kids who no idea what we were doing making half pipes and 12 foot tall things and the same thing. We made our own dirt jumps. We did everything we wanted. We didn't have anything I guess handed to us being here and riding BMX, so we had to find it or make it ourselves. I think that outlook of both, if you're not content... It's not accountability, but it's like if you're not fully happy with what you have or what the situation is, it's the accountability to know that you can change things and to change things. And then also there's this sense of progression where within BMX, it's, say you do a six stair handrail. I know this might... I might be losing people here. Say you grind on a six stair handrail.
Joey:
You don't grind down the six stair handrail and then look back on it and pat yourself on the back and go like, "I've made it." You go find an eight stair handrail. And then after you do the eight stair handrail, you then grind on a 10 stair. As soon as you do one thing, it doesn't matter, and you're doing... you're looking for, I don't want to say the next, but there's a constant sense of progression. There's no resting on your laurels. There's no just feeling proud or accomplished. Maybe that's for a couple minutes but then you're on to the next thing until you hurt yourself or something happens.
Joe Donaldson:
That's an interesting metaphor, because your career you actually... I guess you're using that mentality but you're doing the opposite. You're stripping away things you know?
Joey:
Yeah, but I guess it's in the quest. Again, the quest was always to make the best work possible, up until I had kids. And then as soon as my daughter was born, that's the very cliché moment where it's like, this is what's important. Kind of what it comes back to with leaving Buck, the work was great. I had directed work for Apple. I was directing the Instagram film when it came out was at the time... It was like when the Instagram film launched Rasmus, who made it with me, we were refreshing it and it was getting a over a million views a minute. Like we would refresh it and it was millions, upon millions, upon millions. That was an amazing opportunity. The work itself and the respect that I was shown was amazing. I did not leave for any reason to do with, anything that happened, or the quality of the work.
Joey:
It was mainly just looking at the situation and how my life was changing, and my priorities having shifted and what I needed to do to fix it.
Joe Donaldson:
I think the other piece of this too which is interesting. What I'm hearing is you just... I don't know where it comes from, maybe from BMX. But you have this ability to focus on the micro detail that's important and push everything else aside and say, "Yeah, I could make more money. Yeah, I get all this kudos, but this is the most important thing. I won't be able to spend as much time with my family." Right?
Joey:
Yeah. Very specifically, I kind of... Again, I don't want to be presumptuous. I would to think if I get fired from teaching I can go back to Buck. Please Ryan and Orion, and Anne, take me back. But I looked at it as the time that I have now, I was 27 when my daughter was born, so I'm on the younger side of the spectrum for my age people. I looked at it like this time is finite. I will have an entire lifetime to focus on titles, and career, and money and all those other things. But the time that I'm going to have with my daughter at the time, I have a son now as well, that goes away. I'm only going to have, let's say 10 years until they have their own friends and they're too cool for you and they are their own person, and that that window will close and there's nothing I can do to get back to it.
Joe Donaldson:
Its fast too.
Joey:
Yeah, it's very fast. My daughter is going to be five this year. I looked at that and it was just like, it's not that that was... It wasn't comparing the two things. It wasn't saying like, "This is bad, so I have to change," necessarily speaking. It was just like, I can't get this time back. I'm going to do everything I can to prioritize that specifically. If it was a train wreck, I was always hoping that they'd take me back, so we'll see.
Joe Donaldson:
Talking about that ability that you have to... Maybe ability is the wrong word, but it's just like, a lot of people...
Joey:
Stupidity.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah, [crosstalk 00:47:40]. A lot of people get hung up on things like status and golden handcuffs, things like that, and you don't seem to. Obviously that's served you really well, and you always joke about it, but I'm sure that... Three ways to burn every bridge in your career. We joke about it, but are there downsides that have happened because... Like as an example, I would imagine that when you left Buck people thought you were insane. Like, "What are you doing?"
Joey:
When I left Chicago to move to New York and having never even set foot there. I definitely got the, "You're insane. What are you doing?" When I got repped as a director, people were like, "What the hell, you don't know what the hell you're doing." I was only 25 and I'd really only done one thing. Then also when I quit being a director to go become an art director, that was another thing where everyone was like, "Wait, why? You're going backwards?" From a financial spectrum when I quit Buck I more than halved my salary. I went from, "Okay, this is pretty good," to I just... on paper it does not look smart. I don't necessarily know if I... I don't want to say that... This sounds very silly, but I don't believe in a bad thing coming from that because there's pros and cons on however you look at it, but... so using money as an example by stepping down from Buck and becoming a teacher, and cutting my salary in half in the short term that looked very detrimental, but in the reality of having more time I ended up making... I've every year made more money than I would ever make at a studio, because I have more time and more access... or more ability to pursue other things.
Joey:
You can look at almost everything as good and bad. The biggest negatives to leaving Buck I would say is, I didn't necessarily expect to move back to Florida. Especially at 27 years old. I didn't expect to move back to Florida in 2016 when Trump was being elected. So going from the liberal cities back to a red state was a bit of a shock again, to be honest.
Joe Donaldson:
Culturally a little different.
Joey:
Culturally yeah. I guess, personally, I miss having my colleagues and friends. Every day I was in a place where I was surrounded by everyone in the room was better than me, and I was getting coffee every day with the... I had friends that were the best people in the world at what I was doing what I was passionate about. Now, when you come down here, you become an island.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
That doesn't exist anymore. You and I can get together. We can do this, that and the other, but the ability of going and getting coffee with someone like Rasmus Bak who is a very good friend, that does not exist here. That's more an emotional and a personal down, but the flip side is I have so much time with my kids, and other things like that.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah, I want to just circle back for a minute to what you were talking about, the step back financially so that you can take five steps forward, I mean, that's exactly my story, too. It's not intuitive. I just wanted to call that out because the story of school emotion gets told a lot and now with this episode, people are going to know you've been through a similar arc. I get a lot of messages from people, some of whom are names you know that are like, "I feel the same. I'm in a position where I have golden handcuffs," or "I'm high enough up on the food chain where I would feel really awkward leaving. People would look at me funny and think I'm crazy. That social awkwardness keeps me there." I just wanted to call that out for everybody because it's really important to note that a lot of times, you do need to take a step backwards and de-leverage before you can then get to the next thing.
Joey:
Taper before the race.
Joe Donaldson:
Yes. Here it is. Alright. You know what?
Joey:
Alright, I'll stop.
Joe Donaldson:
It's amazing that that's the first running metaphor we've used. All right, so let's talk about Motionographer. Up until recently, you were basically running the site, and before that you were working alongside Justin. How did you end up in that situation? How'd you get hooked up?
Joey:
Very thankfully, we've alluded to it, but really the thing that opened up all the doors that we've been talking about in a very silly way is the piece I did for the New Yorker in 2013... I was working on it at the end of 2013 and it went live 2014, that definitely paved the way for everything. That was still the era where you could get the Motionographer bump or the Kingmaker-
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
... could anoint you-
Joe Donaldson:
Exactly.
Joey:
... or whatever it might be. I'd done The New Yorker film, and it got on Justin's radar, which is actually another good story about being nice to your producers, which we can talk about if you'd like.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
Justin featured the work, and then literally since then, I've never had to look for work. I am very, very insanely privileged and grateful. Justin featured the work I did for the New York Times and that started out rapport. We got coffee, and I was just some eager young kid and he was the [inaudible 00:52:41]
Joe Donaldson:
[crosstalk 00:52:41] You were both in New York at the time?
Joey:
Yeah. He was working at Psy Op at the time. I was actually working in Psy Op's basement at MassMarket while... there around the same time, so it's very easy for us to get together. Then shortly after I did just a lame explainer video for a local family farm out in California, and I approached the business side of it from, I guess, a novel perspective. When I told Justin about it, he asked me to write an article. Then when I wrote that article, he just asked me to stay... not stay on. At the time, I was very fluid.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
My first article for Motionographer went out in 2014, and then from there I was just posting here and there, just part of the little inner circle that the site had. Then when I moved back down to Florida in 2016, we just started talking more and more, and I came on as, I guess, a staff member, if you will there, and I came on as an editor helping him. Then so 2016 to, I guess, when he was still there, I was focusing on the content and then he was focusing on new things. The way that Motion Awards was able to happen was, I just pretty much took over Justin's day to day while Justin was able to focus on Motion Awards at the time. Then that was the way that it was for, I guess, a few years, and then he stopped down and I just inherited it all for a bit of time.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah. One of the things I wanted to ask you, and we've talked a little bit about this, writing is a skill that seems to be rarer and rarer. It's pretty hard to find people who write really well, especially good designer/animators who also can write really well. You do write really well. I'm curious, where did that come from?
Joey:
My wife.
Joe Donaldson:
Okay.
Joey:
The secret recipe or the secret here is-
Joe Donaldson:
Here we go.
Joey:
... I have a really loving and wonderful wife.
Joe Donaldson:
Mary, [inaudible 00:54:29]. Got it.
Joey:
She edits all of my stuff. I'll work on an article and then I'm pretty sure, I think she would edit almost everything, and then so she would just by seeing her edits, I would get better at it. It just came from practice. When I started, that wasn't the case and then by obviously, my wife being amazing and making me look smarter than I am, over time I just caught up. I guess I caught up to that.
Joe Donaldson:
That's fun.
Joey:
That's the secret. Just marry a very smart and kind, and considerate wife.
Joe Donaldson:
Piece of cake. All right, so I remember when you came on, and it was because... I'll do a quick little retelling because we have a lot of new people every episode. There's new people who, this is their first experience in the industry, they may not know about the old Motionographer right? Motionographer in its heyday was the shit. I mean, it was the site. It started to taper off a little bit, and then Justin launched a Patreon campaign, Justin Cone, who ran it, and it seemed, at first it was pretty successful. The main goal of it was to generate enough recurring revenue to hire you, basically, as a part time editor, and it worked. The Patreon campaign happened and you came on. It seemed like, alright, this is the reverse of Motionographer, and you definitely brought a ton of energy to it. Now, we are only maybe a month removed from you stepping down, and Justin stepped down, I think, at the beginning of last year. I'd like to hear just what happened over the last couple years at Motionographer? Or maybe it was even a little bit longer than that, but what ended up happening with Motionographer that's led to it being where it is now, where I think there's a new editor that they're going to hire, but we haven't really heard anything, and it's really unclear.
Joey:
Well, I think it's just, everything just changes with time. You can look at any company or any entity... School of Motion has changed drastically in four years.
Joe Donaldson:
Sure.
Joey:
Buck went from maybe 100 people to now 300 people.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
I think it's just a natural evolution of things. I can't speak for Justin entirely, but I think a big aspect was he was just ready for a change. He wore that hat for a really long time, and I did as well. From pretty much 2016 to 2020, or the very end of 2019, I got a glimpse of that, about four years. I think the thing is that it becomes very taxing. There's an aspect of the work that is extremely rewarding, that I really loved, but there's only so much you can do and you can never do enough. Literally, the submissions email will get hundreds of submissions a day. No one person can go through it all, and there's a lot of weight of people always reaching out, having an ulterior motive or wanting something in return, which is like you to feature their work, which is the nature of things. I've been there and done it myself, but then the constant pressure of people putting their passion and their blood, sweat and tears in their work, their time into this, and then you feeling the need to review it and watch it, and curate it, and sometimes saying no and sometimes saying yes.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
That weight does get to you because you look at all those, the submissions, and it's like, man, every one of these things are most of these things someone really cared about and I just don't have the time, or it's not a good fit. That weight is very heavy.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
If you think about the Lord of the Rings, Frodo and the Ring of Power, it is very daunting because you have the ability...
Joe Donaldson:
You're Golem, right, in this metaphor?
Joey:
No, hopefully not. Hopefully Frodo, but... It happened to me, and I've been able to do it for others as well. I was able to... it was a light switch. Justin shared my work, and every day, every opportunity I've had since became... everything got easier because of that.
Joe Donaldson:
I've heard that from a lot of people.
Joey:
Yeah, there was a real impact that you can make on people's lives with the site. I was a beneficiary of that, and I partook in it. You get to see your people making stuff, and you get to say, "This deserves attention," and you post it, and 100,000 people that month will see it. There's a weight to that, though, and I think for Justin just having done it for to long, it just became a very hard thing to continue doing. When I came on, I was able to alleviate a lot of that, but then the other aspect is, everything just takes time and money. We had all these grand ambitions and ideas, and things that we wanted to do, but when you then look back, and it's two people doing the day to day, both of which have kids and there's only so much time, and I was teaching as well and all this other stuff was going on, you look at the goals and you look at the realities and the money, and it just like, wow, to get it to 2.0 or to, I guess, that would be 6.0, I don't know, what version was that... it would just take a lot.
Joey:
I think that it just got to a point where it was just time for a new beginning, and then I got to the same conclusion, really. A lot of Justin's feelings and comments that he articulated and communicated to me, I then felt after my time within that seat as well. It's a bittersweet thing. I really loved doing the work. I didn't necessarily want to step away from it, but I felt that I couldn't do it the way that it deserved to be done-
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
... in that circumstance. It was just time. The year was ending, and it was just time to step down. That's a lot, but it's just the nature of how do you get... a lot of startups probably face that. You get a great... maybe have a great funding, things are really, really good in the beginning, but then when you look at how to get it to the next step, it's like, shit, maybe it isn't going to happen, or maybe it's just not with us. I think Justin was just ready for a change. Then ultimately, I was as well.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah. It's really interesting for me to hear some of the behind the scenes stuff, and I'm sure for everyone listening, too, if you're 30 or older, then you were in this industry at a time when Motionographer was still kingmaker. It wasn't clear at all, I think, until the Patreon campaign, just how small the operation was. I'm sure, too, I mean, it's funny because I've met Justin several times, and we email back and forth. We really, really get along, and I think the world of that guy, and I recognize that he is a rare person, a very high achieving, high output person. You're the same, and Justin said that much to me. It's really difficult to build a business around that kind of person. At some point, you have to split that person to four people, and scale the organization. Was there ever any desire to do that? Or was it... I'm just curious from a business standpoint.
Joey:
I think definitely. Okay, let's say, if we were to create a narrative or a hypothetical, if the Patreon campaign was bringing in $10,000 a month or something like that, and we could build out a team, that definitely would have been done.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
I think this goes back to... and this is something I have tried to preserve through Hold Frame, but I'm also trying to find the balance of, and you and I have talked about this a lot is, the thoughts of keeping everything free in a world that everything costs money.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
The way I've always described Motionographers is it's this Robin Hood business model. Everything was free. There's no ads, there's no anything. You don't get to the bottom of an article and it's a sign up here and give us your okay.'
Joe Donaldson:
Pay [inaudible 01:02:34]
Joey:
Yeah, there's none of that. Everything that we were doing was free. One thing to also clarify is, Motionographer definitely over the years had a revolving cast of very many people that helped make it what it was.
Joe Donaldson:
Lots of contributors, yeah.
Joey:
Yeah, lots of contributors, but every one of them, myself included, I worked from Motionographer more for free on a volunteer basis than I did for pay, right, if you look at the years, from 2014 till now. The thing is, is the business model of keeping everything free and, well, not having a business model is great, but you reach a limit. You reach an area where it gets tricky because if we had producers, if we had a larger editorial staff, if we had a marketing person, things could have likely been much better. That's something... there's a balance there because there's the... everything's cost something and everything's free.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
It's about finding the middle, and that was something that... it was nut that I don't think any of us involved, myself included, if I'm going to take some responsibility, we weren't able to crack that nut. Even with Hold Frame, I'm sure we'll talk about that a bit, I am trying to preserve that. I'm trying to preserve that there's a lot of free stuff. The majority of its free and doing all this stuff, but then that reaches a limit where it's like, man, this is barely breaking even.
Joe Donaldson:
Right, it wants to stand. Yeah.
Joey:
Yeah. There's a fine balance there. I don't know enough about it to find that balance.
Joe Donaldson:
Right. I mean, it's a tricky model and I think you've talked about this. You were on the Motion Hatch podcast, and you talked a little bit about how just the blog model has become insanely difficult to maintain. I remember there was a time... I don't think it's still there but there was a time when Motionographer had ads, I think, that you used... like every once in a while, I'd see a little tiny little ad or something on it.
Joey:
Yeah, maybe the... I don't know. I think there was... What it was, there was never ads. There was... I guess this is an ad, but I think there was a Adobe thing at some point, or... I'm not sure.
Joe Donaldson:
Like a sponsored... Yeah.
Joey:
It was an old... Yeah, it was like... it wasn't sponsored content and it wasn't just a generic advertisement. It was something from our community, but I could be completely wrong because I do remember the talking point that there'd never been ads in the traditional sense. That might be getting into semantics of what...
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah. Maybe my memory is wrong, but I remember, there were at some point... and I'm sure this was an experiment that Justin was doing, like, okay, is that going to be worth it? I'm sure back when Motionographer was getting a million page views a month, then that probably was... that could have been a way to do it. I'm just talking out loud here, but obviously, the traffic started to dwindle. A lot of that, I'd say probably all of that, has nothing to do with Motionographer, and everything to do with just the internet growing exponentially, different outlets, the rise of Twitter and Instagram, things like that.
Joey:
Yeah. It's almost directly proportionate to social media. Essentially, things started going down as soon as social media... so, if you go back, if I go into the analytics and I look at, I don't know, the 2006 to 2008 when social media started becoming less MySpace and more news oriented, where you can curate your own feed. The Motionographer stats just every month over a month-
Joe Donaldson:
Just plummeting, yeah.
Joey:
... are going down because everybody has the ability to curate their own feeds, and then all of the popularity of those things is constantly going up. I mean, I'm sure there's many, many factors involved as well, but it wasn't necessarily an entity or a competition, or anything that. It's just the nature of the role of blogs, and curation changing on the internet. Again, if we were to take ownership over that, and our inability to evolve with that.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
At the time, it had... they cashed in on... when there's a million unique views a month or something like that, it would likely be a very different reality than what it is now, but you never know. Part of... for me, what main Motionographer always amazing was, it was this well or this water cooler of anyone can have access to it. Anyone can see whatever they want to see, and everyone can educate themselves from it, I guess, in loose way, not an educational site.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah. Yeah, man, the history of it is really fascinating. I want to talk about Hold Frame, but I wanted to ask you one more thing about this. You and I, we've talked about this a little bit because I'm 38, so I'm older than you, but we were coming up in the industry close to the same time, right? In the early 2000s, and I was maybe a few years before, and there was definitely this feeling of this is a scene.
Joey:
Yeah.
Joe Donaldson:
There's a scene here, right? I know that it's hard... I've just gotten a lot older. Obviously, I've changed and my opinions have changed, but it feels like the scene has changed, too. I remember when mograph.net was the scene, and then Motionographer was an extension, almost like-
Joey:
Then Vimeo kind of became the scene.
Joe Donaldson:
... the cool kids part of the scene, right? Now, it's just a fractured. I'm curious what you think about just the state of the Mograph scene?
Joey:
Well, I think I want to start this by saying, none of this is either good or bad.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
It just changed. There's a lot of positives and a lot of negatives to both aspects of that. We didn't even talk about mograph.net. Back in Florida, very early on, I was a very advocate. I remember when I got the little Mograph mega star title, the little thing under it, that was... and I think the next one was deities. Binkey and all those guys were the deity and I was the-
Joe Donaldson:
[inaudible 01:08:08].
Joey:
I was the one below it. I remember being like, yeah, that's amazing. Before, in Motionographer, before everything was a meritocracy in that, to have an opinion, you had to have good work, and this is good and bad.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
On mograph.net, if you came on there and were just talking shit, and just being a jackass or sharing work, or just had an attitude or whatever, if you didn't have work to back it up, they were ruthless.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah, you'd get eviscerate.
Joey:
Then Motionographer was the same way, and there was no Vimeo, or it wasn't the same as it is now. Everything that you saw... to achieve any validation, the currency was good work.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
You had to have a good staff position and you had to be... you had to walk the walk and talk the talk. You had to back it up with good work, a good reel and good everything. The voices that you saw were, literally, the best of the best. You would go on Motionographer and it was only the best thing you've ever seen in your life, and you go on mograph.net and have all of this amazing interactions with these people, hopefully amazing, that really knew their stuff. It went from this thing where it was to be validated, or to have a say, you had to back it up. Now, it's much more, I guess, democratic in a way. I guess that's very democratic as well.
Joe Donaldson:
I would agree with. Democratized.
Joey:
Yeah. Now, it's completely blown up where you have people that are complete nobodies spewing nonsense, and they have thousands and thousands of views, and all this stuff. For me, I actually like that because it's more information, but there's also a lot more noise.
Joe Donaldson:
Yes.
Joey:
Before, you would always be like, if Binkey gave a good critique, everyone sit down and let's take this in, and understand it, or whomever it was, or when Justin said something was good, but now there's just so many YouTubers and Instagram things. I'm sounding very dated, I know.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
In a way it's anyone can have a say. You have people on Twitter that have tons of followers or even check marks next to their names, and then you peel back the onion a bit and you realize their careers are nothing, or they don't have anything to back up their opinion other than the opinion themselves, and the fact that they're on a soapbox and they're really loud.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
It's just very different, and it's not that that's bad because in ways, it gets more voices, more people at the table, more people are recognized, but in other ways, you don't know what to pay attention to. You have all this stuff going on and it's just like I'm...
Joe Donaldson:
Overwhelming.
Joey:
It's very overwhelming. There's a lot more content. There's a lot more opinions. There's a lot more noise now than there was, and the funny thing is, almost the people that are talking the talk and walking the walk are pulling back, and you have people that are creative directors at Buck are really the people that know their shit.
Joe Donaldson:
The killers, yeah.
Joey:
They're the 1%. They're not engaging in this banter and all the chatter.
Joe Donaldson:
Right. You wouldn't recognize the [inaudible 01:11:05]
Joey:
They're head down and they're working. Then the people that are engaging in it... and so, the fear that I have is what people's view of the motion design industry, or what they're seeing a lot of, is no longer the best of the best and how high we can rise, and where the work can go, but it's who's the noisiest.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
There's pros and cons to both of those because there's a lot of people, I imagine, that were shut out of the equation or didn't get a say because they weren't validated by some weird metric, or somebody else's standard in the old day. Then now, it's just chaos. You know what I mean. It has changed a lot. The Vimeo scene, or I guess, the lack of the Vimeo scene, it's a whole brave, new world. Again, one of the reasons why... we'll probably talk about this. I see on your notes is Joe 2.0.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
I guess with all the changes, maybe 13.0. Who knows?
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
That's one of the reasons why I was very content with stepping back, and we'll probably talk about this if we talk about work itself and the recent series I did with The New Yorker, but it was very hard to step down from Motionographer because I liked the work. The pay was good, everything was right, but I reached a point where I was okay with fading away.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
I'm eagerly excited about being obsolete and gone. I'm leaning into that. Not fighting it, if you will.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah. I agree with everything you just said. I think, my gut is that all of those changes you talked about, I think there's positives and negatives. I think it's overwhelmingly positive. I was one of those people in the mograph.net days that was terrified to ask a question to say anything because my work was not... it wasn't even in the same universe as that was being posted. Now I feel if I was starting out, it feels a lot more... it's less of a club.
Joey:
Yeah.
Joe Donaldson:
It's a little bit easier to get into-
Joey:
More welcoming.
Joe Donaldson:
... and part of that is, just to put it bluntly, the bar is lower to get in. I think that that's also can be considered a good thing. It's really fascinating. One of the things Justin always harped on, and I really learned this from him, is that in that environment, and I think he saw this coming years ago, that motion design would be this one day, that curation is even more important in that situation. That's why I'm bummed, just personally, that Motionographer doesn't seem to be able to sustain the way it used to because it was the best thing on the internet for curating. Speaking of curation, you have another project that you launched, was it two years ago now?
Joey:
Almost.
Joe Donaldson:
Almost two years?
Joey:
We're not at the two-year mark yet. I think this June will be two years.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah. It's called Hold Frame. I'm sure everyone listening has at least heard of it because we've promoted it and talked about it before. You were on the Motion Hatch podcast and talked about the genesis of it, but in short, it's a marketplace for After Effects and cinema 4D, and other animation project files, and there's a lot of free stuff, which is awesome. Then there's some paid ones that are more elaborate and have extra videos explaining things, and some of them have interviews with people. A brilliant idea. When you launched it, it seemed to just blow up instantly. Everyone was talking about and it became a big thing. I've noticed you haven't been super active promoting it and adding things to it. Just talk about, what's the current state of Hold Frame and your vision for it?
Joey:
Well, again, a lot of the influences for my current position is, shortly after I started Hold Frame, or pretty much almost immediately after, I then... I started Hold Frame, which is a whole... as you know, running a website is very difficult. There's a lot of things-
Joe Donaldson:
[crosstalk 01:14:44] It's an enormous undertaking.
Joey:
It's an enormous undertaking, and almost immediately after the responsibilities of Motionographer were dumped in my lap, so I had the naive idea that I could do both at the same time.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
Then the reality of the situation happened where, when Justin officially stepped down entirely, this site would have gone under pretty quickly. It needed somebody to take over and keep it going. I was tasked with the life support, or keeping it going and trying to make sure it didn't sink immediately. Almost immediately after launching Hold Frame, I inherited running an entirely other site as well, and that was one that I was also getting paid to do. A lot of it... with Hold Frame, and we've talked about this before, I started it mainly as a curiosity, and a based on the opportunity and the fact that I was in a position to be able to do it. It was something where I was able to just reach out to colleagues and friends, and just say, "Hey, would you chip in?" I wasn't a stranger coming to them saying, "Put stuff on this site that you have no idea anything about."
Joey:
The intentions really were pure in this weird little industry and community that we have, this has never existed, so let's make it. The idea is that on the market, there's full projects of short films. Say you've seen Andrew Bucco's film or Emmanuel Colombo's, or Ariel Costas, one of their films, you can actually go and buy the project files for educational purposes and see exactly how the people that you, I guess, hopefully admire are working. Then in addition to that, there's the freebies, which is the more bite sized smaller component of it. But a lot of the way that I structured Hold Frame isn't... I didn't create it... and this is bad business. I didn't create it so that I would become a slave to another thing.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
One of the things that will probably get to is, I'm pulling back and not cutting ties, but I'm pulling back in a way where there's less vying for my attention and less need, and I'm going inward more right now. When I created Hold Frame, I didn't want to just make another full-time job for myself. I never made it in the context that I would be making a six-figure salary from it, and maybe that's foolish of me, and maybe I'm... and you could probably argue that I'm squandering its potential quite a bit, but I made it, hopefully, from the sense of this has never existed. I'm in a position where I could do it, so why not do it?
Joey:
That was really the business plan. That's it. It's just me reaching out to... really, almost all the work on the site are from people that would consider a friend, or at least a mutual acquaintance or a colleague. It's just my attempt at testing the waters and seeing how this could work. I do want it to do better. I do, from an altruistic or a business perspective, I think it has a lot of potential, but when it came to, and what I realize is, every month that I was working on Motionographer and prioritizing that, I was squandering the potential and slowly killing this other thing that I started. It's not that I had to get to a point where I had to choose one or the other, but again, as I'm pulling inward, I just realized I can't do the job at Motionographer the way that I want to.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
This is somebody else baby. This isn't mine, so I'm going to focus on what's going on in my own world instead. The goal is to breathe life back into Hold Frame. We released our first new freebie last week. I have about two months of freebies every week scheduled to go out. This past one was from the Into the Flame film from Hue & Cry.
Joe Donaldson:
Amazing, yeah.
Joey:
It's a really, really amazing freebie. If you haven't checked it out, Timo and Sean from Hue & Cry, they actually made the best freebie ever. They actually included a 15 or 20-minute video of them walking you through how they set up their character rigs and how they did everything. That's there now. Tomorrow's freebie is going to... it's from, I believe, Josh Edwards. We are going to be donating. It's a freebie made about the Australian fires. Anybody that makes a donation to the charities that I linked to, if they send me a receipt, I'm going to give them a free product. Probably not the smartest business plan ever, but again, as a way of being able to say, "Here's this cool thing from someone whose work is great, and if you do something good and donate-
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
... Hold Frame will give you something as well in addition to that." We're not asking you for anything in return for that. The goal, going into the new year, is there's no business model. There's no numbers or percentages, or anything. Ideally, I'd like to prioritize the freebies again, and get those out. I think in about eight weeks' time, we're going to be launching the first new product in a while, which is a great film from Bullpen, if everything goes as planned.
Joe Donaldson:
Wow. That's awesome.
Joey:
Yeah, there's a lot of things I could do better about Hold Frame, but again, I didn't create it to have another job.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
I think that's foolish of me because I did. I created another job, and I created a platform that can make a lot of money. There are people on the platform that have made thousands of dollars from it. I would have to look at the breakdowns, but I believe there's at least two people that have made nearly $10,000 from the platform, and a few people that are in around the $5,000 range.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
That's amazing, the fact that this thing didn't exist, and we made a platform that can do that. Most of the money, either 60% or 70% of every transaction goes immediately to the creator. I don't even get it. It doesn't even go into my bank account. I have it set up with the payment and everything that you're literally paying that money to Andrew Bucco or Ariel, or whatever. It doesn't even show up on Hold Frame's tax returns as I had to pay vendors or anything. The fact that something could go from not existing to generating over $60,000 in the first year, there's been hundreds of thousands of downloads... or not... no, sorry. I think there was over third. I'd have to look at the end of the... there's a...
Joe Donaldson:
[inaudible 01:20:55] Right. It's a big number, yeah.
Joey:
Many, many downloads. Yeah. I think every single day, there's over 100 freebies download from all over the world, and the fact that that exists is amazing. Where I didn't learn my lesson from Motionographer is, I don't know how to get it to version two. Hold Frame does make money, so either 40% or 30% of every transaction goes to Hold Frame, but that's not counting all the taxes, the overhead, the everything.
Joe Donaldson:
Sure.
Joey:
I think when I looked at my profit loss thing in the QuickBooks, for the first year of Hold frame, I made $1100 or something that-
Joe Donaldson:
All right.
Joey:
... and it took way more work than that to do it. I don't really know... again, it's not structured in a way to blow up and make millions of dollars. If that could happen that would be great, but that hasn't been the intent yet.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
I haven't gotten there yet. Maybe I'll put my monocle on and get a top hat, go there, but right now it's a bad idea that I had that is being run very poorly as a business. If you want, you can go get free stuff on it.
Joe Donaldson:
Right. Okay.
Joey:
It currently exists, it pays for itself. Year two was funded entirely by year one. I didn't have to... it just did it and it's going. As long as that happens, I'm going to keep it going.
Joe Donaldson:
I want to call you out. What you're doing, you keep saying it's foolish because it's not optimized for revenue, and this is actually something that, on a personal level, I've dealt with over the last year or two where this site, you probably did not expect it. I'm sure you hoped it did well, but you probably didn't expect it to do what it did when you launched it, right?
Joey:
Yeah, [crosstalk 01:22:35].
Joe Donaldson:
You never know that it's going to do that, and then all of a sudden, there's all these eyeballs on it, and you probably getting a lot of emails and messages from people telling you how great it is, and what a great resource it is. Now you feel almost this stewardship of this thing, this responsibility because it really is an amazing learning resource. It's not a stupid idea. When you told me about it before you launched it, I think I probably said something like, "It's brilliant. You have to do it."
Joey:
Yeah.
Joe Donaldson:
It's optimized for your life. It's not optimized for everybody else's, right?
Joey:
Yeah.
Joe Donaldson:
That's okay. That's allowed. I think that in the United States, that's not said a lot out loud, that it's your thing. It's not our industry's thing. It's your thing. I think it's amazing that you're told... you seemed very happy that it... I'm sure you'd like it to make more money-
Joey:
Yeah, I would...
Joe Donaldson:
... but you don't seem like it bums you out the way it might bum someone else out who was aiming at, "I want this to be a six-figure business. I want to build it and..." You're not like that, and that's really, I think, awesome. We'll talk after we're done here about how you can get... remind me.
Joey:
Please.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
Give me the list, the checklist.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
This is a very privileged position to be in and again, I say this coming from very... The fact that I was ever even able to charge $500 a day right based on... My dad's a chef and my mom was a nurse. It's shocking to me that I've ever even had the opportunities I've had, or have been able to make any money.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
I say this, understanding the value of money or of the dollar, but it also only has the value that you give it and that can be very bad business, but for instance, when our house went on the market... and there's going to be people hearing this that are going to cringe. When our house went on the market, I grew up in the Alta Vista neighborhood, and when we came back down to Florida, a house one street over from where I grew up, and my mom still lives and where my kids' grandma is, went on the market. In the first day it went on the market, just a cute little 1950s Florida house, it got 12 offers. We just went in and just said, "Full value! We'll pay the number. I don't care," and to a lot of people, that's really stupid because there's no haggling involved, there's no this, there's no that, and luckily it appraised right at that number, so it was okay. It's not like we paid more for it than we would have, but that even being said, that house is not... I don't view it as it's worth X number of dollars. That's our home, and that's...
Joe Donaldson:
It's not an investment.
Joey:
Yeah, it's not an investment. It only has the value that you give it, and to me, it has no value because there's no amount of money that there could be. That's the first home that I've had. It's one street away from where I grew up. My mom is right down the street. It's my family's home and I've removed the weight of the dollar from the equation.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
I will never be tempted to go, "We can go buy that house in the burbs and sell this for a profit," or whatever. There's an emotional aspect to it, and with money it's the same way. Yes, I would like Hold Frame to do better. I would absolutely love for it to be to the point where I don't even take the lion's share of the money that comes from it, but I can hire somebody to give it the time that it needs.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
That would be... first order of business is hiring the number two, but the fact that I got... whenever we post a freebie or something that, I'll check the analytics and I'll post, or I'll send the email out and then I go to the map of the analytics, and I see all these countries that I didn't even know existed lighting up. I'll get emails from people in Nigeria or Lagos, or all these places saying, "Thank you. This is so great. I love it if we could see more." The fact that me, myself, who's just an idiot from Florida can have something that people on the other end of the world can benefit from... because one of the big selling points for me with Hold Frame was, I've had the fortune of working and living in the three largest markets, working with the best people, working at the best studios that there are, seeing how these people work. 99.9% of people will never have that opportunity.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
If it's someone in some East African country or wherever, the ability of them to go be able to see how Jorge works right, or see Jorge's project files, or whatever, is very, very low, but the fact that they can do that now and the fact that I just get emails from all over the world of people just saying this is great or whatever, that, to me, is why it keeps going.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
Again, money's cool. I would love it if it could make more and its future was more secure, but right now-
Joe Donaldson:
You're not optimizing.
Joey:
Yeah. Supporting my family is... Hold Frame does not support my family at all. The money literally just keeps paying for itself and whatnot. Paying for my children's insurance or our mortgage, a Hold Frame dollar has not gone towards that whatsoever, and that provides a freedom to just be like, I want to do this the way that I want to do it, and I want to curate it the way that I want to curate it, and in some cases, make bad business decisions. I want to get to a point where I can maintain those Motionographer Robinhood values, while still ensuring that it can continue to exist because right now I can't guarantee that that will be the case. Year two will happen. Hopefully year three will happen, but there's no...
Joe Donaldson:
Right. If it starts costing more than it's [inaudible 01:28:10].
Joey:
[crosstalk 01:28:10] Yeah, if it starts costing money, I won't be able to do that, but I'm able to right now have the privilege of not needing the money that it makes.
Joe Donaldson:
Right, yeah. Well, and I think... It's a weird philosophy for some people, but I've come around to this recently, that I think most people in the US especially, you're raised and trained, and almost brainwashed to optimize for money always right?
Joey:
Yeah. More is always more.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah. Here's just a random example. I now optimize... and basically the entire story of the last six years of my life is optimizing for more flexibility and more time with my family, right? Every decision... School of Motion, I mean, it's gotten pretty big, but it could probably be four times the size if I decided to get investors and do other things, and I didn't because I wasn't optimizing for money. I was optimizing for time. It sounds like that's what you're doing. You're optimizing for time. You're also optimizing for just a positive impact in the world, which not enough people do. I don't think you should ever feel guilty about that. I mean, no one else built it. There could be a competitor, but there's not. I think, I don't know, once I hit stop, we'll have a talk, Joe. Don't worry.
Joey:
No.
Joe Donaldson:
Hold Frame's not going anywhere, people.
Joey:
That's the goal. Again, it's something that back in 2008, when I was working at the news station, I was teaching myself After Effects and watching Aharon Rabinowitz's tutorials on Creative Cow or whatever.
Joe Donaldson:
Preach.
Joey:
It's something that... big fan, by the way.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
He's not listening.
Joe Donaldson:
He might be.
Joey:
It's something that I wish I would have had when I was teaching myself this stuff on the job, and being able to do before I had the good fortune of being able to go and do it, like actually walk the walk, I guess. I wanted to continue, but again, where things are going, it's, again, trying to go inward and refocus, and do the things that are best for myself right now, and that's leads to, I'm trying to pretty much... I'm not taking on freelance work now. I stepped down from Motionographer, which could be viewed as a financially a bad idea. I'm trying to, again, go inward, and I found myself in a position where I'm teaching. I'm running two websites, and I never intend to do either that. I'm freelancing. I have children. I'm running, all this stuff. A lot of those things, mainly the work things, a lot of those I never necessarily chose to do.
Joey:
I spent the past 12 years doing everything I can to follow my passions to become a better animator and designer, not necessarily run a website or do all these other things. Or even teaching does, if I'm honest, fall into that category of I love it, but it's pragmatic and it's a smart thing to do on paper, having a family, the stability, all those things. I just realized I had almost... out of the four income streams I had, three of which were pragmatic and they were safe, and they were smart, but not what I really chose to do or wanted to do. Then when things would come around, freelance opportunities, which is what I would ideally want to be able to put my passion into, I was tired or burnt out. With where things are with stepping down from Motionographer and just pulling inward, it's trying to reassess that.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
I got to reap the benefits of having four different income streams, or five sometimes at a time, and things just being crazy. Now I'm being like, no, no, no, no. Let's stop that.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
Let's-
Joe Donaldson:
Reevaluate.
Joey:
... start the year in a new way.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah, that's awesome. It's a season of rest.
Joey:
Yes. Yeah. The harvest is... I don't want to say the harvest is over, but the harvest is... the fruit has been plucked.
Joe Donaldson:
Well, listen, last time you took a step backwards, you then ended up taking-
Joey:
Yeah, may more.
Joe Donaldson:
... three or four steps. All right, well listen, let's talk about Joe 2.0, or 13.0, or Joe Creative Cloud for 79 bucks a month you too can have a Joe.
Joey:
CC 2014 or whatever.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah. It's really interesting. How old are you right now?
Joey:
I'm 32.
Joe Donaldson:
32? Okay.
Joey:
I had to think about it for a second.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah. I mean, it's just crazy because, everyone listening, we've talked about your age a couple times already, but you've reached a point, not necessarily just in your career, but also in your mentality about work and balance, and life and all those things, that most people don't reach this early. I'm curious, and maybe you don't have the answer to this now, but what do you want your day to look like? Once you've taken three months and slowed down, and maybe started looking at Hold Frame again, what's the ideal day now?
Joey:
That's a hard one because, in some ways, and again, I've been very, very privileged, I'm living it now. Things can obviously get better. There's a million ways to look at everything. Ideally, I want to be present with my children, which I am. I'm there for almost every meal of the day. I'm there in the morning for them. I'm there in the evening for them. Ideally, I have the time to run. I can usually run about two hours a day. I have it structured so that I can get two to three hours of running a day, and then I'll go to teach, and sometimes that's either between three and six hours, so depending and that's a creative outlet in a way. The balance of things, how they are now, I'm very content with, now that I'm pulling things back off my plate.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
I would like to have more of a creative outlet, but I don't necessarily know what that means yet. We've touched on it a bit, but the last series of work that I did for the New Yorker, I created three films for them, and it's hard to articulate. I'm still working through the feelings of it, but it feels like an end, and I don't say that in the sense that I'm just retiring, or I never want to do this again, but it was the best scenario I've... in 12 years of doing this, of traveling across the country, of working with best clients and studios I could ever imagine for, it was the best situation I've ever been in, in that it was hugely powerful and amazing company with a lot of reach, The New Yorker. It's the top of the top. Really, really good stories. The scripts were great, all on really amazing, influential people. Full creative freedom. It was a commission in that they literally let me do anything that I wanted. There was no make the tree bigger or make the blue bluer.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
The pay was quite good for them. It wasn't a huge windfall, but I was at least making a day rate almost every day that I was working on those jobs for the 15 weeks.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
If you think about that as a crazy Venn diagram with, I guess, those four or five things, it was how all of those things aligned in the middle, and-
Joe Donaldson:
You peaked.
Joey:
... yeah. Well, it's not peaking in that the films are that good.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
They're not. Honestly, they are what they are. Anyone that has seen my work before could have assumed what I was going to make and that they would have gotten that, but that's the point, is when I did the first New York Times film, that was the beginning of me scratching this itch and exploring these visual essays, and this style of work. Then every time I've done it over and over again, it's evolved and changed. This was the evolution of that to a point where the situation that I was in, I don't think could get better. I mean, I could make more money, I could hire a team, things like that, but it feels very much... When the New York Times piece went live, it felt the beginning.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
It was my first time being featured on Motionographer. It was my breakout, first thing I directed. At the time, people in the motion design community weren't really doing work for outlets like the New York Times, or doing directorial work even. It felt like the beginning. It felt like everything was going to come from that and it did. When I look at The New Yorker films, it's this comforting, wrapped in a warm blanket feeling of that's the end, or this is the end of that chapter. I don't know what that means yet. It doesn't mean I'm not going to freelance. It doesn't mean if a client says, "Here's $100,000," I mean, because I'll be like...
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
It doesn't mean I would turn that down, but I haven't parsed all the emotions yet or figured it out. It very much feels like that chapter is over. I've said everything that I would have wanted to say or do everything that I've wanted to do within that. Again, to emphasize, I'm not saying that from an egotistical or arrogant way, that the films are that good, or even deserving of any praise. Just for me personally, it's the end of that road, so to speak. I've yet to determine what the next manifestation of that energy or that passion is.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
That's a really weird place to be.
Joe Donaldson:
That's so normal though. My business coach had me read a book recently called Transitions, and the whole book, that's basically what it's about. It's about the fact that when you know something's ending, and you're ready, okay, it's ending and you're going to go on to the next thing, there is a phase that is unavoidable. I think the book is called Wandering in the Forest or something, where you have to not know what's next.
Joey:
Yeah.
Joe Donaldson:
You have to be in that state of I really don't know what the next six months is going to look like. It's impossible to get to the other side without going through it.
Joey:
Yeah.
Joe Donaldson:
I think that's what's... just, because I think we're landing the plane now with this interview. At the beginning-
Joey:
This is the end.
Joe Donaldson:
... yeah. At the beginning, we were telling you, you'll never hear from Joe again. What we were talking about was how you had this North star of, "I want to make the best work possible," but you don't know what that means. You don't know how that's going to happen, but you would just take these big leaps, and then land in New York and find, okay. All right, now you're making a big leap to LA, and now you make a big leap to Florida, and now you're making another big leap is all.
Joey:
Yeah.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah, and that's a skill that I think everyone listening should try to develop. Just every four or five years, just do something that freaks you out because otherwise nothing changes.
Joey:
Yeah, and I guess, it's very comforting. There's no fear involved in it. It's not like using the forest metaphor or whatever. There's not even a wandering sense. There's just a contentedness.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah.
Joey:
I don't know what that means because realistically... my family and I are still a single income family while my wife's in school, and so I have to put bread on the table. I have to work and thankfully, Ringling covers pretty much all of that, but I don't know how it's going to... what's going to happen with it yet, but there's no searching. It's a sense of just being very content and very at peace with it all. There's no fear. It's not like, should I do this? Should I not?
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
I'm actively turning down almost all... pretty much all inquiries right now for the time being, and for personal reasons, and just seeing where that goes. It's scary in a sense, if I think about it too much, but in the moment, it's just cool.
Joe Donaldson:
Well, listen, you're aiming at what, like a two-and-a-half-hour marathon, right?
Joey:
Yeah, well...
Joe Donaldson:
It's going to take more than two hours a day.
Joey:
Yeah. That's the other... the new thing.
Joe Donaldson:
Right. That's the real... See, this is really what's taking Joe away from Motion [inaudible 01:39:33].
Joey:
Yeah. That's-
Joe Donaldson:
The road.
Joey:
... the secret truth.
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah. Awesome. All right, well, so this has been really fun actually, to get to know your history and stuff. I mean, we talked quite a bit.
Joey:
We still left so much out. We just got...
Joe Donaldson:
Yeah, this is just part one. I'll say this to anyone who's still listening after all of this rambling. One of the things that I think is so cool about you and your story is just that it's not the standard thing people do, right? You haven't done it the way other people have done it, and you've done a lot of things that are super counterintuitive and ended up in a place that... I mean really, I feel a lot of similarities between our stories only in that it took me a lot longer to realize this, but you can aim your life at things instead of just like, "This landed in my lap. I guess that's what I'm doing now-"
Joey:
Yeah.
Joe Donaldson:
... and just going on the train tracks. Is there anything about your experience that you can generalize into advice for anyone listening that's coming up and says, "I want to end up in my 30s in a situation where I have time to spend with my family and my income is taken care of."
Joey:
That's a hard one because as you've seen, it's been a winding path.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
Yeah. It was not... there was no foresight here, and it was all...
Joe Donaldson:
Is there a first principle buried in there somewhere?
Joey:
I think... and I guess we talked about this, I think, with Haley on the Motion Hatch podcast, it's really just make sure... When I say the word energy, I don't mean it in some metaphysical [crosstalk 01:41:00] namaste thing, or anything like that. Be mindful of what you're pointing your energy and why you're pointing it at that. It's very easy for passions or your focus and everything to be bastardized, or be used against you, or for you to end up in a place where you thought it was a smart thing at the moment, but then you've just been there too long and it's just stagnating. Again, just trying to be mindful of where you're pointing your energy and what the implications are of that, and how that aligns with what your, I guess your goals would be.
Joey:
Again, I have to say a million times, I've been extremely fortunate. I've been able to do the things that I've wanted to do and experience all these things. A lot of luck is involved with that. It's not because I have any idea what I've been doing, like I'm some Ivy League graduate with a crazy high IQ. It's really just a lot of luck and just reassessing constantly, and that's, I guess, if we were to end it on it anything... bring it to like running, what I like with running is all of that energy goes inward. What I've said previously is, if I look at the past few years, all of that work, all the effort, all the moving, all the jobs, all the everything, you're putting all the energy that you have, you're putting out other people's fires, or you're sending it out.
Joey:
In return, you're getting to live in cool big cities, you're getting money, you're getting all the things that come with it. Where I've come to now, and what we've talked about is, I'm trying to hold on to that energy, maybe. I'm not trying to get selfish with it I'm trying to be like... not using the time that I have to fix other people's problems or do other things, or trade that energy for money, but pushing it inward. That's where running, which everything online with me has something about running. That's what that has become because it's the most useless, frivolous waste of time. What I mean by that is, no one cares.
Joe Donaldson:
Right.
Joey:
There's no ladder to climb. There's no... I successfully bastardized a passion and was able to travel the country and get paid lots of money based on a thing I got into because of BMX bikes. I took something very pure and turned it into money and that's provided my family everything we have. What I like about where running is at, and for me, for whoever's listening, this would be a different thing, I'm getting to keep all that energy. I'm getting to divert it and invest it inward into something where I will never make any money. I will never win a race. I will never be recognized or known. It goes nowhere. In a way, it's this beauty of just burning the fuel. You know what I mean?
Joey:
Not storing it for later or selling it. It's just, I'm just burning it. I'm just taking all this energy and this tunnel vision, and just investing inward on something that, at the end of the day, no one's going to care about, because if we look at the marathon I did in New York, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. No one will ever care about other than me and that's the beauty of it. Just be mindful of where your energy is going, and if it's time to start taking a percentage of it and turning it inward into whatever it might be, whether it's building a home or getting into rock climbing, or running, or starting a business. I don't know what it could be, but that's, in a nutshell, where I'm at now, and I'm very happy to be there.
Joe Donaldson:
Joe Donaldson, ladies and gentlemen, lightning in a bottle, as Justin Cone once put it. I have to say that I have really enjoyed hanging out with Joe over the last few years. We've become running buddies and fellow Mograph refugees in the state of Florida. I expect more amazing things from him and from Hold Frame in the future. I know that whatever he sets his sights on will be pursued with the tenacity of pitbull. That's just how he rolls. Thank you so much for listening. I hope this one sticks with you. Lots of life lessons today, right? That's it for this episode. Thank you so much, and I'll see you next time.