Very Fine Day #6: Andrew Kimmel

Brad Esposito

Andrew Kimmel is a pioneer of early online live-streaming, sending out video from protests and social movements across the United States. #MeToo, George Floyd, Charlottesville, Portland… in a chaotic four years of American history, Andrew’s camera was front of the pack. It is almost guaranteed that you have seen his footage on your newsfeed and on your television.

VFD: I’ve hit record just now – just so you know and you don't, like, say anything insane that you'll regret.

Andrew Kimmel: That’s going to be a lot of things in this interview I’m sure.

VFD: Yeah, great. Put them all in! Let’s do it.

So, I guess when I was thinking about you before, it is obvious why I wanted to talk to you. Because what you do is really interesting. And also, I feel that you were one of the first people to do it and do it well. But how would you describe what you do? Because it's a bit tough.

Andrew Kimmel: Yeah. Well, I think it depends on when in time this was because I still live-stream today, just not to the extent that I was doing it when I was at BuzzFeed.

And so, y’know, at the present moment I'm building a startup, which is taking up a lot of time, I'm still working on television productions - like I just finished a Christmas show in December for ABC, and there's a good chance I'm gonna be going back to “America's Got Talent” starting in March. So that takes up a lot of time. And whenever I can - whenever I have the ability to - I will go to any sort of event or protest that I feel deserves more media attention, and not just more media attention, but a firsthand look at what is going on from the front lines of a protest or within a community, to provide a perspective typical mainstream networks don't provide.

And whether that's because of financial reasons, or certain biases, or they just don't have the time to get to know certain characters in these events… That's where I feel like I shine best - when I'm able to get into and embed myself within different events to offer a true, firsthand, unedited perspective of what's going on there.

VFD: When was the first time you realise that? Like, what was the first live-stream you did where that kind of fell into place?

Andrew Kimmel: Uh, well… I think just to toot my own horn a little bit - I still think I might be one of the first people, and I swear on my life for this one, to livestream on Facebook. It was… I think it was 2007.

VFD: Hm?

Andrew Kimmel: I had worked for this production company and they did a documentary on the September issue for Vogue magazine. It was called the September Issue. And the company - oh no it was 2008, I believe. The company sent me to New York and we managed to figure out how - with a special deal with Facebook at the time - to broadcast live from the red carpet of this event. And I was the one who was filming it asking anyone coming down the red carpet questions.

Anyway, that was the first time I'd ever seen or heard of anything happening with Facebook Live. And that was still almost a decade before I think it really even hit.

But the first time I ever really noticed the power of Facebook Live was in 2016. I was working on a passion project of mine called Stories Of Syria. And the project aimed to humanise the refugee crisis. This was at a time when, particularly throughout Europe and here in America, it became heavily politicised. They were using refugees and claiming that they were terrorists, that they're, y’know, these poor, disgusting, wretched people that are going to come and take over your city and bring crime with them.

So I went out on this mission to humanise refugees by conducting first person interviews with them. That way I was asking questions that typical networks weren't asking, giving them a platform to share their stories as to where they came from, how they got to where they were, and what their plans are for the future. So that way you get a better understanding of who they are. And so what I did was I got into some refugee camps and I started,

VFD: Where's this?

Andrew Kimmel: So one of them was in Greece… and then there was another camp called Scaramangas. And so they were allowing volunteers, and I embedded myself with this woman who was a volunteer who was bringing toys for kids. Basically, I became friends with her and she said: Alright, yeah, do what you need to do. Because I told her in advance what I wanted to do.

And so I had met with people the day before, went back the next day, and started doing live interviews with refugees from within these refugee camps. And the whole idea was: anyone around the world can speak with – through me – and ask questions that they're interested in learning from a refugee. That way it was trying to break down these barriers of what the perception of these people is, and and allowing everyday people to get the opportunity to become familiar with them.

VFD: Yeah.

Andrew Kimmel: So that was really the first time I I used Facebook Live in a situation for news, trying to connect people and break down these barriers. And then the second event that really kind of set everything off for me was I went to Standing Rock in North Dakota, for the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

And the first time… I remember I was on Facebook, and I got a link to a Facebook Live showing police officers spraying water on the water protectors that were there. And that was when I was like: shit, I got to get there. And like: why is no one talking about this?

Y’know, like a CNN or Fox or MSNBC - no one was talking about this. And so I said: Alright, well, I'm gonna offer another lens, another avenue of getting information out there. And so yeah, I went there. And that's when I actually wrote various outlets like the Young Turks, Now This, BuzzFeed News, Vice, and was like: Hey, I'm going to be at Standing Rock. I'm going to be filming stuff. I'm gonna be going live. If you guys are able to amplify or if you're able to take this just letting you know I'm gonna be there.

VFD: Yeah.

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Andrew Kimmel: And it was actually BuzzFeed News that got back to me. I don't know if you ever worked with Jess?

VFD: Yeah, yeah.

Andrew Kimmel: She was the one who was like: Oh, yeah, you're there? Yeah, get some stuff!

But yeah, I was doing all this on my public Facebook page. And all of my live posts on that page were going viral. And I didn't have any followers on that page. But it was what everyone was interested in seeing and learning more about, because there was no other avenue of actually getting or watching any of this content. So that's when it really hit me like: holy shit this is an incredibly powerful tool to get content out there. Whether you're on the left, you're on the right, you cannot deny what is happening right now in this video, because again: misinformation was swirling around during Standing Rock. They were talking about infiltrators and how this was all bullshit. And,

VFD: Aggressors,

Andrew Kimmel: Yeah like “the protesters are the ones who are starting it”. And that was actually when BuzzFeed News started asking me to do more and more live-streams. And eventually, I started doing it for the BuzzFeed News account, not just my account.

VFD: Yeah.

Andrew Kimmel: And then from there I ended up moving to New York and took a job at BuzzFeed.

VFD: So how do people react when you're there? Has that changed in the time that you've been doing this?

Andrew Kimmel: It has changed. I think it also maybe depends on the events that you're live-streaming. So when I first started at Standing Rock, I think people were very welcoming. Well, I mean, they knew who I was, number one, so I was able to build up some trust and rapport. And so they knew that I was there to just show what was happening. And so the people that were there, I think they were happy that I was there doing that. But then if you fast forward to, let's say, Minneapolis from this last Summer, it was a bit of a different situation because live-streamers, obviously, I think it's exploded.

Now if you go to a protest, you'll see 20 or 30 live-streamers there. A lot of whom I don't think respect what they… they aren't really respectful of those that are partaking.

I mean I do understand that I'm supposed to be impartial. And I do try to keep that. If there are people who legitimately want to hide their face or they do not want to be on camera I try not to shove a camera in their face and upset people.

But yeah, I think we're where we are today because it’s like: we know that law enforcement watch these live-streams. And so people that are partaking in protests are rightfully scared to be identified at a particular protest. And let's say, for example, Portland, or as I was saying, Minneapolis, same thing - there are people there that aren't doing anything wrong. They are just standing there protesting. But we are now living in an age where police are watching this, and they have the means to go after anyone for anything. And protesters know this is an incredibly dangerous time.

VFD: Have you ever been caught up by the cops? Seems like you’d be the -

Andrew Kimmel: Well, what do you mean by caught up? Because I've had a number of interactions with police.

VFD: I just mean like: Hey, this guy that's live-streaming everything is a bit difficult. Maybe we should have a word with him.

Andrew Kimmel: So… luckily, no. I think one of the reasons why is because law enforcement watch my streams and use my streams to get a good understanding as to what's happening on the ground. I'm not thrilled about that. But at the same time, it's like, it's important to be there and to show everything that's happening.

If I miss that one moment, if I turn around and that's when the police come out, and they fire off a rubber bullet and it hits someone in the head, or in the eye, and it pops their eye out. And I missed that. And nobody else has that. Who's gonna hold the police accountable?

And so, I think that's this slight sense of agreement that protesters and people like myself come to - it’s that they understand that. That there are inherent risks for them by being there, and by me live-streaming these things. But the flip side of that is, if the police are doing something, or if I'm filming when something bad happens, that what I'm doing is able to be used for their benefit as well.

So it is a relatively neutral thing. But I can remember back to when we were live-streaming from Charlottesville, I was with Blake Montgomery, and we were told that a lot of far-right people were using our live-stream to go after people on the left that were there protesting against racism. And they were trying to find people that had started a fight or had punched back.

So… that is kind of hard to swallow when you realise that there are literal Nazis using your footage to go after people. But again, this is something where my whole reason I do this is just to show everything that is happening without edits and without manipulation. And yeah, unfortunately, and fortunately, it works both ways.

VFD: So what are the key moments that you remember? Because I feel like you've been at almost every… Well, there was a period there where you were at everything.

Like, my Twitter feed was all you - I'd wake up in the morning and because I didn't have a fresh homepage uploaded yet I’d refresh and it was just you going: Now I'm here. Now I'm here. Now go over here. Okay, watch this. It was intense.

Andrew Kimmel: Yeah. So that's the other thing. When I was with BuzzFeed I was going live four or five times a week and luckily I had the money from BuzzFeed to travel to these places to cover things that I was researching and that I thought would be newsworthy events. And so nowadays, because I do this now more as a passion of mine, I don't get paid for it. Which makes it much more difficult to cover as much and to get out to things that aren't necessarily local to me, or that I don't necessarily know if they're going to be big events or not.

It's like, I can't risk going to a lot of different events like I used to with BuzzFeed. But yeah, when I was with BuzzFeed, I was going out three, four, or five times a week going live. I remember at one point I went to the airport three times in one week. You know, from my apartment, to JFK, to LaGuardia, three times in one week. It was just insane.

VFD: When did you move to LA from New York?

Andrew Kimmel: So I moved back to LA. I was in LA for eight years before BuzzFeed. And then I moved to New York for BuzzFeed from 2016 to 2018. And then, unfortunately, I lost my dad in 2018. And so I moved back out to Los Angeles because my mom and my sister were out here. So it just made sense to kind of be out here and help them.

VFD: Yeah, I remember seeing that too. And it just being like – again, it took over the internet for 24-48 hours. And it was incredibly raw and honest, and obviously very powerful. And it resonated with a lot of people. And I guess I should put context in here: you did a Twitter thread about the death of your father. How do you feel about that being so public now? I noticed that it's still pinned to the top of your Twitter. But it's there. Forever.

Twitter avatar for @andrewkimmel

Andrew Kimmel @andrewkimmel

1/ It has been exactly one year since I lost my dad. The events that led up to his death are dark, but I think it is important to share what and why it happened as Let me start by introducing my dad...

June 2nd 2019

12,226 Retweets37,448 Likes

Andrew Kimmel: It's interesting. Before I lost my dad, the thing that was pinned to the top of my Twitter and remained pinned until his death, or actually, until I wrote that post, was just a video clip of what was happening with Standing Rock because I didn't want people to forget.

And it's the same sort of thing with my dad's thread now. I'm leaving that there as a reminder, not for others, but also just for me to never forget. I want his name and his story to live on - not just get lost in the never ending scroll of Twitter. So for me, it's kind of a nice thing. Every time I'm on Twitter and I go to my profile, that's what I see.

VFD: Yeah.

Andrew Kimmel: Also I think it's important to keep that pinned at the top because I do engage with a lot of various Twitter personalities, particularly those on the Right, who are using Twitter as a means of grifting and spreading misinformation. And a lot of their followers will see when I start commenting and trolling them a little bit. They will come to my profile page to write shit on my page - and I find it interesting -because a lot of times they'll see that thread, they'll read it, and then they message me privately. And they'll say: Hey, I think you're an asshole. I don't agree with anything that you say. But that's really, really something what you wrote, and I'm going through something similar at this time.

And kind of like - back to what I was doing with the refugees and trying to find this connection - that to me is this sort of connection, where those that completely disagree with me, or people that flat out hate me, will read that and message me and say: Wow, I'm going through something similar. If you ever need anyone to talk to about this, you know, let's talk.

VFD: Wow

Andrew Kimmel: And well, it's a nice sort of connection. Common ground, I think, between people from all sides.

VFD: Yeah, I think it also speaks to the naturally flat emotion of social media, and how people are so easily angry or happy. And then you throw one thing in front of them that's like: well, just think about this a little bit. And they're like: uhhhhhh there’s a human being on the other side?

Andrew Kimmel: And it's, for me, it's just being honest on social media is what we need more of. And the things that do the best on any of these social platforms is when people are being open and honest. And I don't understand why more people aren't speaking out about certain things, particularly with this thread with mental illness and with suicide.

These are all very, very hard things to talk about. I realise that. I know. But also, there's such a need for it. And it got to the point where I was overwhelmed with messages from people who I didn't even know that seriously wanted to talk about it… and I can't. Because I'm not the expert. And it is a bit hard for me to go through 1000 plus messages.

But yeah, I think it's important then that people talk about these sorts of things rather than just engage in the normal Twitter harassment bullshit, which I am also guilty of.

That's only against real… like the biggest assholes, though.

VFD: Yeah, yeah. How are you feeling in Biden's America then? I guess, on the topic…

Andrew Kimmel: I still feel the same to be honest with you.

VFD: Yeah?

Andrew Kimmel: There was definitely some relief. But we are in a very dark place right now. And there's a lot of people who think that because Biden is now president everything is just going to become better. And it isn't, it is going to get worse, I think. And I say that from the side of the American citizens.

VFD: Yeah.

Andrew Kimmel: Particularly those that are more right-leaning who are now drifting further and further into the far-right spectrum. Because of this polarisation… it's not getting better. And people think that what happened at the Capitol on January 6, they’re like: OK, this is one isolated incident or: there's no way that that can happen again.

It will happen again.

And, y’know, this is something that myself and a lot of other people that have been in the field for years covering this stuff - we've been screaming about this since Charlottesville. We even knew before Charlottesville that Charlottesville was going to happen!

I remember at BuzzFeed, I pitched going to Charlottesville three times and was told “no.”

Like: We can't give a platform to white supremacists, or: we can't give a platform to neo nazis. It's like: well, I understand that, but this is going to be something. And then when it did happen, they were like: holy shit.

And that was the one time I ever came back and felt like, amazing, because… I actually, in the office, when we came back, I got a standing ovation.

VFD: I was actually there for that

Andrew Kimmel: It was fucking insane!

And that was because we knew that this was going to happen. And just like now, it's like, we still know that more is to come. And unfortunately, when there's apps like Parler that have been taken down…Which, y’know, I do agree it was getting to the point they did need to be taken down because they were actively calling for the hanging of Mike Pence and murder. But it's now pushed everyone that was on these apps to all these other platforms that are much more difficult to track and regulate.

And the same thing with Facebook. Like, it's kind of this really difficult position where while I was at BuzzFeed I was using Facebook as a tool to research and find a lot of these events.

VFD: Yeah.

Andrew Kimmel: And it made it easy to identify and to know who the players are, and when this event’s gonna happen. You know, when the event actually happens, you're there to cover it, to get a better grasp as to who these people are and how many there are of them. But now, it's getting much darker because we don't know where they're going.

A lot of everyday right-wing folks that were on Parler are now going into the dark web because they want to keep these conversations going. And that is just prime space for more people to become radicalised.

The last thing that I was at in Richmond, I was speaking to a Boogaloo Boy. I asked him: how have your numbers been since the capital insurrection on January 6? And this was, two weeks or a week and a half after that. And he said: Well, I've received over 14,000 emails.

Interest in these sorts of groups are rising. And it's a very scary thing.

So I am definitely a little on edge in Joe Biden's America. I certainly feel better about where he's going to take the country environmentally.

VFD: Silver lining!

Andrew Kimmel: That's something that I'm very happy about for now, especially with the Keystone XL pipeline. But I don't know if that's gonna happen. But I don't know… I think America is in a very dangerous spot right now. And people are genuinely just pissed off even more so now than they were with Trump.

And then there's people that are on the left where Biden is still this sort of establishment figure that, within his administration, has been bringing in these corporatist people. And it’s like: well this is just going to bring us back to where we were before - that brought us to the age of Trump. It's just a very hard, confusing time. Yeah, I am definitely not breathing any sighs of relief right now.

VFD: Oh, man. I always feel bad talking to people in the US because it is just… I agree, it is volatile. And I don't want to say beyond the point of return, but it's hard to see a road back. And how that road would even be paved.

Do you think the pandemic has exacerbated everything? And it's a case of everyone's at home, and just online, and ready to do something. And they're not happy?

Andrew Kimmel: Yeah, I think there is certainly some truth to to saying that. That the pandemic has exacerbated a lot of this. But I also think it was going there, and was there, even before the pandemic. But the pandemic has certainly made, I think, more Americans more desperate. Financially, emotionally…

People now - again, this is like this sort of horrible, perfect storm of radicalisation.

People are out of work, they're desperate, they need money, people are getting thrown out of their apartments or their homes because they can't afford it. People are getting sick. There's all this misinformation going around and it causes people to do crazy things. Crazier than I think if we weren't in this pandemic.

And ironically, I also think that it is because of this pandemic that Donald Trump is not president.

VFD: Yeah, I agree.

Andrew Kimmel: If there was no pandemic, I believe he would have been president again, for a second term, which says, I mean… it was so fucking close!

VFD: Yeah.

Andrew Kimmel: And it shouldn’t have been. But what does that say about our country and the people in our country right now?

VFD: Yeah.

Andrew Kimmel: And the fact that Democrats won primarily because of mail in voting? Like, personally, I don't see a world in which Biden would have won without the pandemic.

VFD: What do you think people get wrong about these protests the most. Like, is it Black Lives Matter? The pipeline? Charlottesville? I don't know, I'm probably missing a whole bunch. But what is the most common thing that people say to you and you're just like: you have no idea.

And I think also, like, part of that is, is it ever as aggressive as it seems if we just watched CNN and Fox News and everything else? I mean, looking at some of your live-streams, like Portland, and you're seeing guys lighting shit on fire. And it's pretty intense… but is that you capturing a moment rather than you capturing the moment?

Andrew Kimmel: Yeah, it's a really tricky thing. And I mean, there's so many different situations where, let's say, it really depends on the protests…

Let's talk about Portland. Okay, so Portland this past summer was one of those situations where of course you had Fox News talking about: “the entire city of Portland is under siege.” You know: “These radical leftist socialist, Marxist, terrorists are burning down the city.”

So I don't know what to expect by the time I get there, but when I do get there, what I'm filming is one city block. And not even like … a corner of this city block. A quarter of it. And so the craziest thing is when you're there and you're filming - and Portland was fucking insane because we were getting doused and pepper sprayed and tear gassed and flashbang grenaded and shot at with rubber bullets and rubber pellets and, you know, pepper balls.

I've never been so attacked with so much shit in my life and I was speaking with other journalists and live-streamers that have covered everything in the last few years and they agreed.

And so what was most disheartening for me was that you would have some instigators that were there. I don't know if they potentially could have been Boogaloo Boys, because we found out later on in the summer that Boogaloos were engaging in a lot of these protest movements to start violence and to start shifting conversations to show the violence and to get police to engage in more violence.

And so there were some people - and by some, I mean, literally, like three or four people - that were in Portland that were setting fires to this one area on the street.

They would take garbage, light it up, and make a little bonfire in the intersection of the street, right. And so that happened for all of 10 minutes, this bonfire. You had a protester come and say: guys put this out, this is gonna make us look bad. Don't do that. And then these four guys were like: Get the fuck out of here. Don't tell us what to do.

And so then you have streamers and also some news agencies - all they film is that fire.

And that fire, which was 10 minutes of the five, six hour night, that's the only thing that ends up getting on CNN, or Fox News. And that's what they end up talking about: “Protesters set fire in Portland.”

But what happened for the hours before and the hours after? They don't talk about that. They don't show that a lot. And that, to me, I think is the most annoying and frustrating thing: the cherry picking. Which is again why I live stream.

It’s: this is everything that's happening, you can see everything, it wasn't just this one thing, or this thing happened because of this thing. Go back three hours in my stream and watch how this happened. But news networks do not do that.

And then you have people that will take our content - take photos and videos, or even take my live stream as it's live - and they'll put their own chyron over it. And they’ll put their own voiceover over it. And they'll start talking about it even though they're not even there. But they're talking as if they're reporting on it, and making things up, which is, you know, perpetuating the misinformation.

And then you have people like Andy Ngo who will take content of ours, mine included, and then completely bullshit a narrative, post it on Twitter to his million of followers, and then Fox News takes that from his Twitter post and then they post it as news.

And then it's just… you can't go back from there. And that's why I go after a lot of these right wingers who… actually, most of them have now blocked me. But that's the most frustrating thing from these protests.

VFD: Do you think it’s a net good, then? What you do? Given the potential for that to happen?

Andrew Kimmel: I do. I still think it is important to have because, at the end of the day, people need to be held accountable for their actions, right?

And for me particularly, it's law enforcement.

Because in this country our law enforcement has essentially been acting with impunity. They are free to do whatever they want. And I've witnessed so many times, all of these actions by law enforcement that are illegal and should not be allowed. And they pave the road to a very dangerous place. And we've actually been getting closer and closer to that place as the years have gone on, which we really saw it kind of culminate in Portland with paramilitary groups and military firing upon citizens. And also taking people and putting them in unmarked vans - which we shouldn't forget about.

So yeah, I do think that it is important and I do think that misinformation is going to get out no matter what - you might as well have a counter to it.

VFD: Yeah, that's fair. All right. Well, I'm conscious of time. I don't want to keep you. I did want to ask… this really feels like we’re going against the grain here. Did you like… invent “The Bachelor”? Like, are you the inventor of the bachelor or something? I think I have this brief memory and I'm like,

Andrew Kimmel: Oh my god, if I was the inventor of “The Bachelor” this wouldn't be my background. You’d see a window looking out into the Grand Canyon behind me.

VFD: I just thought maybe you were an artist.

Andrew Kimmel: Fuck man, I wish. No, I was a producer for “The Bachelor,” three and a half years 2012 to 2015.

VFD: Alright, yeah.

Andrew Kimmel: But no, I do not get money from the show, or residuals or anything like that. I was a freelance producer for three and a half years which is the same shit that I'm doing now for other shows,

VFD: I think it's pretty interesting that what you were before live streaming - which is inherently about showing the truth and like you say, left, right, doesn't matter. You can't look away - But you were working on “The Bachelor”, which is like, the complete opposite. I'm sure you've thought of that.

Andrew Kimmel: I'm actually really happy that you notice that because that was the whole reason. In 2015, the primaries were starting. And I knew that bad things… I could just feel it that things were not right. And I took a look at myself and how much time I was spending putting out content that ultimately wasn't helping people.

Yes, it does help a few of the people that are on the show with their careers. Getting paid to get up at the nightclubs and post Instagram posts. But it wasn't actually, you know, helping push the country into the place that it needed to go. And so I kind of had this moment where I felt like I was losing a bit of my soul. And that's actually how I got involved in this refugee project.

While I was working on the show I just kept reading about the crisis and it was weighing heavily on me. And there was a hiatus that I took with the show - every Christmas I would take a month off. And that was when I was like: Alright, I've got a month. Let me travel. Well actually, I saw a photograph. And there was a photograph of these refugees that were leaving what was called the Yarmouk Camp in Syria. And the photo just blew me the fuck away. And I was like, how can this photo be real? And no one be talking about this here?

VFD: Yeah.

Andrew Kimmel: And so it drove me to want to go to a refugee camp, speak to people, get these first person accounts, as kind of a test to see if I could handle it. And also if I could even do it. And when I went and I conducted interviews, and the people that I was speaking with were thrilled that I was able to… that I was listening to them, but also giving them an outlet to tell their story… That was when I realised I had to get out of what I was doing. Because this has a much more important role, I think, in the grand scheme of life than “The Bachelor.”

VFD: Yeah, well, I think you've made the right choice, personally,

Andrew Kimmel: But I will say, because I have ventured back into the world of reality television… I'm only doing shows that I feel like are, y’know, have a little more…

VFD: Are a little more in good spirits?

Andrew Kimmel: Yeah. Because they do pay incredibly well. And I commend everyone that works in news because when I found out how much journalists are getting paid and how much news producers are getting paid and video producers, I was like: are you fucking kidding me?

VFD: Yeah,

Andrew Kimmel: Particularly people in New York. It's like, they are taking advantage. They're taking advantage of you guys. So yeah, to help fund my live-streams for today I do have to work for some of these reality shows. But I’m OK with that.

VFD: Well, a lot of people like them!

Andrew Kimmel: Ha, yeah.

VFD: Alright, man. Well thanks so much. I really appreciate it.