Very Fine Day #40: Marc Fennell
MARC FENNELL does a lot of stuff. If you can broadcast off of it, he has probably made something for it. That’s the spark notes version. Bit longer, though: Marc is a guy who has been on Australian television since he was 19-years-old, when he was tasked with being part of the team taking over one of the more lionised and heralded movie review shows in Australia, the cleverly titled “The Movie Show.” Anyway, it didn’t completely work out.
Since then, Marc has made more TV shows, done a lot of radio, made award-winning podcasts, hosted quiz shows, and has been gifted with the title that many Australian mother’s probably point towards as “the charming man on the television.”
VFD: What have you been working on at the moment?
Marc Fennell: I'm just finishing off a four-part documentary that we’re going to drop in one bingeable hit on SBS. It’s called “Framed”. So we’re finishing that off at the moment. It’s a bit of an experiment for us, to be honest with you. It’s the team from “The Feed” but we wanted to do something that was long, because I’ve been working in longform podcasts for the last couple years. And it was a bit of a question of: we know we can tell stories over long periods of time, and we know we can make TV, and we know that these bingeable documentaries are being made by Netflix. So we have all the ingredients, why don’t we just do it?
So we started about two years ago. We had two competing stories that we were working on, and it was basically a question of which one would run the distance and which one would have enough material. We ended up deciding on what would eventually become “Framed”, and we’re just finishing it off now. It’ll drop on Boxing Day.
We’re also finishing off the second series of “Stuff the British Stole”, which is coming out at the moment. And I’m starting work on a new series for Audible. So it has been a fairly hectic year. I have worked a lot this year.
I feel like I always hit this point in the year where the moment I have two or three things finished I immediately roll into developing or researching something. I feel like my body needs to fill the vacuum. It’s the workaholic’s lament. So I have just immediately filled it with two or three other things because I have this terrible habit.
Whenever Summer rolls around I know that everything kind of grinds to a halt, and I know I to be working on something then. Otherwise, I get a bit weird. My family is so used to it now. We went away late last year and I took the kids on holiday and I immediately started working on a TV pitch for something.
Because if I don’t do that I get weird. I know that sounds really obnoxious.
VFD: When did that start in your brain? Has that been a constant thing for you?
Marc Fennell: Yeah. So when I was 18-years-old I was hired to work on this very swiftly put together reboot of “The Movie Show.” The hosts, David and Margaret, had just bounced – they’d gone from SBS to the ABC - and SBS were like: oh, shit, we need a replacement show!
And in six weeks I turned around and I was on the show. I was just 18-years-old and was doing movie reviews at FBI community radio. I literally just stepped out of high school, doing volunteer community radio, and I got headhunted to do this thing. I signed my contract a couple of days before my 19th birthday and the day we were unveiled to the press was literally my 19th birthday.
It was a really strange thing to be pulled in from community radio, and nobody knew that I was young. Nobody. On the day, I remember mentioning it to the executive producer and she just looked at me with absolute horror. Like: what have we done?!
VFD: I hired a child! What have I done!
Marc Fennell: Exactly. But that show, for a variety of reasons, did not last. It lasted two years and, ironically, was cancelled at numbers that most of SBS would kill for.
But the thing it taught me - because I literally had my first TV show commissioned before I turned 21 - was like: if I’m going to do this thing, where I work in media and I make things, I’m going to need at least two income streams.
Marc Fennell: And I've literally had at least two, if not three, jobs at once ever since. I think that was really formative. We know that the industry is unreliable, and what was interesting between my generations and the generations that have come after me is the freeness with which people pick up and drop off jobs. It’s very different. Whereas I’m like: I’ll just do them all at the same time!
I’m always really impressed when I see people get a job - that is a good job - and then they quit and go on to something else. That’s cool. There’s a little thing in me that just doesn’t quite process it. And this is not a judgement on anyone, but there’s a little part of me that doesn’t quite understand. I’m just like: why don’t you do them all at the same time and make lots of money?
VFD: But how do you keep all of those plates spinning without going insane?
Marc Fennell: It’s more staggered than it looks. Actually, I say that, but it isn’t. There was a week earlier in the year where on Monday I would shoot five episodes of “Mastermind”, then on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I was shooting this documentary called “The School That Tried To End Racism,” and I was at a primary school. So primary school finishes at three o’clock in the afternoon, and then I would go to the ABC and I’d record “Download This Show.” As soon as that was done I’d be back in the studio to host “Mastermind” - do five or six episodes a day – and on Friday I was doing development and researching stuff for “Stuff The British Stole.”
There are more hours in the day than people think there are and you can do a lot. But the most important thing is finding people you can work with, and who you can trust, who are really smart, who make you better, and who tell you when your ideas are shit – that’s really important.
A lot of the work I do with Audible, the producers and the production companies are based out of the US and London. So having people that you only have to deal with late at night or early in the morning has helped.
I’m a night-time person, so I work better at night anyway. And not having to be in the office every day has been quite liberating, because it means you can just do a lot more for a lot more people every day. But it does also explain how, when I go through periods of not having 14 jobs, that my body is just like: What else? What else can we do? I’m sure there’s something.
VFD: Do your wife and friends every look at you like: could you just chill out for a little bit?
Marc Fennell: I think Madeline's used to it a little bit. She does have those days. And it’s worth pointing out that this is only all doable because of my mother-in-law and my mother and my wife. I have periods, like today, where I can pick up and drop off the kids. Things like that are great, and I can do those when I don’t have to be somewhere at a certain time. Instead, I just shift things to the middle of the night.
So you’re simultaneously very busy but then also weirdly free at times because of timezones. It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. My Google Calendar is just a jigsaw puzzle. And I do think there are periods where they look at me and go: you’ve packed too much into this week. And I’m always just like: next week will be easier. But of course, they just respond: oh, you have literally been saying that for 10 years. And not once has it ever been true.
VFD: Well, from the outside it’s like: you spin all of these plates, you have all of these ideas, but something I always think about when I see people creating a lot is: how many ideas do you have that don’t get made? That get shut down? What is that percentage like? What’s that divide?
Marc Fennell: So I have a habit when I have an idea - or the beginnings of an idea - where I immediately write it down. Because I have no memory. My memory is garbage. So as soon as I have an idea for anything I write half a page and I store it in a folder. And what that means is that whenever you have a meeting with somebody, or whenever you are in a conversation with somebody with money, you always have some sequence of ideas that you can lean on. Does this work for this? Does this work as a podcast? Is this a book? Is this a movie? You’re constantly asking those questions, and whenever you’re in an environment where somebody has the power to make a decision to get something made - or help you get something made - it means you have a list you can lean on. And there are ideas that have sat there for five years. It’ll be a thing where it’s just not the right time.
So for example, “It Burns”, which is a podcast series I did for Audible about the race to make the world's hottest chilli, that all started when a friend of mine actually gave me these two hot chilies and I was just like: Why? Why would you make something so hot that you physically can’t eat it without hurting yourself? And she’s like: Oh, no, people have competitions! And then I just go off into a vortex and email lots of people.
My attitude is that as soon as I find my characters I usually know who my story is. And I found this one guy who was just obsessive. He thought the whole race for the world’s hottest chilli was an absolutely fraudulent mess of terrible people who were making money that they shouldn’t be. And it’s like: you seem like drama. And drama is good.
So then it’s like: OK, I’ve got this characters. I’ve spoken to them all. And it’s pretty obvious, rather quickly, who the five main players in the story are going to be. And I literally just wrote out five pages of how I thought this thing would go.
At that point, I was still thinking: Is it a book? What is it? I hadn’t even thought about podcasts. And initially I’d actually pitched it as a TV documentary and I remember having this great meeting with a TV commissioner who was just like: it’s a bit too entertaining for us… Which is literally my favourite bit of feedback I’ve ever received.
VFD: What, exactly, is the negative there?
Marc Fennell: I think they wanted something that was a bit more… hard-hitting journalistically. Which is fair enough, actually.
VFD: Like: We don’t want people to actually enjoy themselves…
Marc Fennell: In fairness, that particular person I think may have misspoke. And they did listen later and go: oh, I see. And maybe it’s a failure on my behalf of communicating it. But at that point I didn’t know what to do with it.
So I sat on it and then I started talking to Audible and they’re like: have you ever had any ideas for doing longform podcasts? And I was just like: Ah yeah, I have this whole folder…
But there are 100 ideas that just sit in there and don’t go anywhere. And I think that’s part of why I do so much stuff: I don’t want my self esteem to rest on whether things get made or don’t get made. I don’t want my self esteem to rest on whether projects get commissioned or not commissioned, or well received or badly received. Because if you’re constantly coming up with new things and chucking stuff at the wall – if there’s always a new thing in the pipeline - if something goes wrong your world doesn’t collapse. You can just move on to the next thing.
When I did “Hungry Beast” - and “Hungry Beast” was this weird show that people either remember really well, or they think it was an awful wank. And y’know, both are accurate. I think we made some really wonderful stuff and I think we also made some stuff that we’ve all looked back on and gone: hmmmm… not sure about that.
It was a big, life changing moment for those of us that got on it. But it was really frustrating, because I felt like I was chucking lots of stuff at the wall every week and wasn't getting on it at all. I remember just being super frustrated. And I realised that my whole sense of worth - I was spending 18 hours a day at this office - and I was coming home and I had nothing to show for it. When the show went on air on Wednesday, I realised that my self esteem was hooked to my output. And I worked out quite quickly that that was not a healthy thing.
VFD: Yeah, I don’t think they recommend that. I think for many people, it’s not advised.
Marc Fennell: I know. But I was dumb and it took me forever to learn what is now fairly obvious.
VFD: Like: this is OK. I can beat this! This is a challenge and I can beat it and then everything will be fine.
Marc Fennell: I became literally quite militant. Like: I’m going to come up with 50,000 ideas and I’m just going to pitch and pitch and pitch until something gets on TV. Which was good in a sense. We were taught really young at community radio that airtime is a privilege, not a right, and you’re not entitled to to it. You have to fight for it. And I think that was a good lesson: you’re competing with everyone - even though we were really good friends.
And it wasn’t like the stories you hear about “Saturday Night Live”, where everyone becomes competitive for time. It was never like that. We're all really good friends. But there was 30 minutes in the show. You had to fight. You had to really go in hard if you wanted something to get picked up. And I became quite militant about just coming up with ideas and working out what sort of stories were going to get commissioned to work. Just gaming the system, but also just minimising the reasons to say “no.”
It’s sort of old-fashioned. It left me feeling like I knew, at the end of it, that it was unhealthy to put so much of my self-worth on whether or not somebody commissioned somebody. It's a thing that happens with people - on TV, in front of microphones, and also social media - where your self-worth, whether you like it or not, does get informed by what other people think. And some people are absolutely fine with putting something out into the world, and some people get off on being hated, and some people love sharing and creating discussion and just chucking things out into the world.
But I realised that I was so linked to what I made. I needed to work out ways of managing that relationship.
VFD: So, if you’ve got hundreds of ideas, good and bad…
Marc Fennell: Many, many, many bad. Many bad. So many bad.
VFD: Was confidence ever an issue in what you created? And the ideas? Because for me personally - not to reflect onto you and be like, You must be like me - but I’ve always had an issue with having ideas and then they sit in a folder and they never get done.
And it’s not that they don't get done because I don't believe in the idea — they don't get done because I don't believe in my ability to do it. I'm like: Someone else should do that. This is something that is good, but I'm not that guy. And I wonder if having all this stuff going on… is that something you've ever thought about? Or is it just: I’ve gotta make it happen!
Marc Fennell: It's an interesting point. There's been a few ideas where I come up with them and I look at them and go: Hmm, I'm not the right person to do that. And often I email them to other people and I go: I had this idea for this thing, I just feel like it's better if you do it. You have it - if you don’t do anything with it, no big deal.
VFD: Just send 15% of whatever you make my way…
Marc Fennell: Hahaha, yes exactly. I should put that in those emails, but I have not yet.
So, there's a few times where I've just been like: I think this is a good idea and you should do this. And I think it’s less about confidence and more about just being mindful that there are some stories that are better told from other points of view. I think it takes a particular kind of arrogance, because you assume you can do all kinds of stories. And there are some things that I'm quite confident I'm not the person to do.
But as to the thing about ideas sitting there... I learned quite early to never send anyone an idea that I thought might be a bit shit.
Early on, there was this thing where you'd write half an idea and you’d send it to somebody and you’d be like: Is this a thing? And I learned very quickly that goes nowhere, because in effect I know it's not quite right but I'm outsourcing it to somebody else - even if it's somebody who's really invested, like a person who produces things or is your friend. It doesn't actually matter how close or invested they are, there's still a little thing in the back of their head that must be going: Why are you making this my problem, bro?
VFD: A field of broken dreams. Like: I don’t wanna play here.
Marc Fennell: Exactly! So I learned quite early on, if I get to the end of that page and I'm not sold, do not send it to other people. Now, if I get to the end of the page and I'm sold and I send it to other people and they're not sold? That's interesting.
One thing I like to do - if I have an idea for something, be it a podcast, or a book or TV story - I like to pitch it verbally. I like to sit in front of a person and go: Alright, I have this idea, and it goes like this. And I pitch the story as I want it to be, and I do it to their face, and I watch their face while I'm doing it. And I like that for a couple of reasons.
One: when you're telling somebody an idea, they're always polite. We're Australians, we're always polite. And if you're dealing with Americans and British people, they’re either relentlessly optimistic or incredibly polite.
The problem with that is you never get what they really think. But faces don't lie. So if you look at them and you're explaining an idea, you can see when they get bored, you can see when they're confused, you can see when they don't like it. And even if they say: Yes, I think it's really good, you know exactly the points where you lost them. And that's useful. Because you can work with that.
But people won't, generally speaking, tell you when something's a bad idea. And I guess I'm trying to use a bit of what little emotional intelligence I hold to try and navigate those moments. And I found it really, really helpful. But yeah, it's also one of the reasons why I miss in-person meetings.
VFD: Yeah, definitely.
Marc Fennell: I miss doing that stuff.
VFD: It’s a weird thing. I don't want to fall on the track of: Isn't working from home crazy?! But it's something I think about a lot in the context of even this project: People will email me and they'll be like: When are you going to make it a podcast? When can I listen to stuff? Because I have all the audio of everything, I have all the film of everything. But I'm like: it will be an entirely different experience for you to listen to our conversation. And you reading a transcript is so different to you seeing our faces, and knowing when there's an awkward pause. That's the great thing about a transcript, no awkward pauses at all. Everything just works. It's great.
But yeah, I totally get the face reading thing. How much of that do you think flows into your work when you are interviewing people and talking to them? How do you approach that?
Marc Fennell: Yeah, it's actually my favourite part of interviewing people, because a big part of my job at “The Feed” for seven or eight years was interviewing movie stars and actors and musicians and stuff like that. And my rule of thumb with interviewing was always: all interviews come down to time. Either time beforehand to research them, and know everything about their lives, and know exactly how to get it, or time during the interview to fish around until you find something nobody else has.
And obviously with famous people, you never have the second option, you only have the first. So I would look around and, particularly with movie stars, because movie stars have been interviewed so many times over, I'd look for just the worst interviews they’d done. Y’know, there’s the interviews where they're sitting in the room and they've got the movie poster over their shoulder? And they're just like, So what attracted you to the role?
VFD: Yeah, yeah.
Marc Fennell: So I'd basically watch every single one of those that I could and just look for the moments where their eyes lit up, and the moments where their eyes deadened. And that kind of gave me a bit of a guide as to what is it that they wanna talk about that other people aren’t talking about with them? And then: how do I turn that space into something that's interesting?
I don't do it anymore, obviously, because famous people don't come to Australia anymore because of the pandemic, and I actually really enjoyed the challenge of celebrity interviewing, because it was these people who have been interviewed a gazillion times before. The challenge was: can you create a handful of authentic moments in this conversation? Despite all of these things that are around you — the 14 publicists in the corner of the room that just want you to talk about “Transformers 5” — can you get something genuinely interesting in that space? And I took it as a challenge.
The key to it was always researching them, but then just watching their face as they answer the question. If they're lighting up, go there, if they're shutting down, skip to the next thing, because you do not have the time. And I'd be the only person in the world that would say celebrity interviewing has made me better at other kinds of journalism. Nobody ever says that. Everyone's always like: go do a crime beat. But yes, celebrity interviewing taught me so much about just reading people's body language and knowing when you had permission to go somewhere unexpected, and when you don't, and if it was gonna chew into your time.
I think just that time learning how to read people's levels of comfortability was important. And even though they're actors, no one's that good at hiding it, right?
So I think that it's really important to read people's body language. What we’d often do with “Stuff the British Stole” is we’d put microphones in front of people no matter where they were in the world. But I also run video. I also run a Zoom chat or something like that, which we never use the audio of, but I want to see their face. Now when we're talking about something that was stolen from your family, or we're talking about something that happened in your childhood, you need to see that I'm a human being and I'm not just a disembodied voice that you’re talking to. I think that's really important. It just focuses their attention. And it was a big thing when we knew we had to make both of these series in lockdowns where there was no chance of me going overseas to do it properly.
I'd done the Audible series and I was like: Okay, let's put some strictures on it. Where we can still have the human parts, we can still do banter, we can still laugh together, and we get clean audio to work with and make it happen. So we did all kinds of stupid things.
I had a woman climb to the top of The Acropolis holding a microphone in front of her while still holding FaceTime in front of me. And I would, literally in this room, I would just walk around with it going, Okay, cool. Am I turning left? Right? Fantastic. And what am I looking at? Ah there’s some ruins there! I tell you what, you lay the audio on top of each other, you put the right amount of reverb in it, it's fine. And I don't lie to the audience, I don't say I'm there. I say you are there. Because where I am doesn't matter, but where you the listener is, with them, on top of the Acropolis, that matters. Particularly now where nobody - certainly in terms of Australians - has really been able to go anywhere.
It's really important to me that I can, in that series, take you - not just around the world - but back in time, which I think people seem to like. Technically, it's a nightmare, but I think the end result is really good.
VFD: What was it like being a teenage genius?
Marc Fennell: I was not a teenage genius.
VFD: Okay, yeah, you wouldn't think that, but you have to admit that a lot of other people would have been like, Here's this 19 year old kid… You would have had 40-year olds that are like: That's my fucking job. This guy's taking my job. Right? And you’re there like: Hey, I'm from community radio! And David & Margaret are gone! And I want to talk about movies!
Marc Fennell: Yeah, no, OK. I get it. It’s just not healthy to think about yourself.
VFD: I know. But I was thinking before this conversation: in Australian media, there's not many people that have had that, ever.
Marc Fennell: I think...yeah. I'm just processing. I’m not sure how I thought about it at the time. I was probably really bratty. I know I was really frustrated. Because I think I realised that there were lots of things I wanted to do and I couldn't do them all at once. And I remember, it might have been Andrew Denton, actually, that took me aside one time – he was the EP of “Hungry Beast” - And he took me aside once and I think he said something to the effect of: Life is short, but careers are long. You don't actually have to do everything at once. And that was probably in response to me being really frustrated that I couldn't do everything all at once. But it's funny, because I don't have any qualifications. I didn't have qualifications to be a film critic, I don’t have qualifications to be a journalist. I did Year 12...and that’s all I got.
VFD: You’ve got a lot of people reading this looking at their university debt, getting mad…
Marc Fennell: Yeah, yeah. And I guess there was a period of my life where I would look at other people that had been to university and done things like that and I was a little bit... well, I was quite jealous. Because what they got with university was, obviously, an education and a glorious HECS debt. But they also got a tribe, most of them. Particularly in media terms. They've got people that they’ve learned to work with. And for me, that was FBI community radio.
So the generation of kids from FBI that I came up through — you’ve got people like Linda Mariano, and Dom Allessio, and Dan Ilic — we're all sort of that same era. And I remember, as I went up through Triple J, I realised that there was a class like that in lots of different places.
Like in Melbourne, there was a certain age bracket of Triple R presenters that came through. I remember when BuzzFeed Australia launched, and because you guys were so active on socials, it felt like we were watching a new sort of “group” emerge. That was really fascinating. I'm sure you got a range of reactions to that. But I remember being like: Oh, I love that. Like, I love that there's this community. And you could feel the sense of community because you guys did everything public. I don't mean that at all in a negative way, I actually loved it.
VFD: That was the whole strategy. Just take over. There's only 200 people in Australian media. We can be a loud 10 of them.
Marc Fennell: Yeah, exactly. There are obviously people that will say it's clicky and exclusive and all that kind of stuff, and that could well be true of all of these groups.
But I could barely get anything made on “Hungry Beast”. I think you have to be grateful. I know it's a very boring emotion, but I feel like you have to. Nothing reads more boring than gratitude, but I am. I am grateful. And I think because I don't feel like I deserve any of it, I sort of bite off more than I can chew and hope to God nobody notices.
Marc Fennell: But I feel like I’m working a lot to justify the luck. You're lucky a few times in your life, and you don't have any right to be there, and you’re just like: Don't fuck it up.
VFD: Yeah. Yeah.
Marc Fennell: So a lot of it is massively underpinned by my low self esteem. Let me be very clear about that.
VFD: Again, very healthy.
Marc Fennell: Very healthy, yeah. The therapist is gonna have a field day with this.
VFD: It's interesting what you just said about the uni thing as well, because...not to turn this into a therapy session…
Marc Fennell: Please do.
VFD: It’ll read well. It’s good for the content.
But the university “tribe” thing: I've never thought about it, but you just explained it. I dropped out of university to take the job at BuzzFeed, and the degree I was doing was, like, Film studies and Media. And if I'm honest, I wasn't even really doing it. I was there, occasionally. But I had no long term ambition or goals. And when I got into media by some kind of miracle - honestly, someone took a chance on me - I started working and seeing all of these people that went to Sydney University, or UNSW, or UTS. And they were all friends. And they all knew each other. And they also all understood journalism and media. And you have to play that game of catch up. And it wasn't that I was jealous of their qualifications or even their education, but I was like: That's a tribe that not only am I not a part of, but in a way, I'll never, ever, be a part of. I can still be friends with those people...I am friends with those people...
Marc Fennell: Yeah, yeah. I married one of those people.
VFD: But I'll never understand what it was like to be there and to go through that, and to edit the student newspaper, and be part of that. And part of me is like: I can't believe I didn't even really know that was a thing.
Marc Fennell: Yeah. I think a big part of that imposter syndrome comes from heavy exposure to people that do journalism the proper way. And I do think what they do is good and proper, and they went and did their degrees, they started in newsrooms, they did that and I have nothing but respect for it. I don't want to seem like I'm saying “my way is fun and interesting and left-field”, but being a teenager who becomes a film critic who becomes a journalist, and makes documentaries and podcasts, it's an unusual career path. It just is. It's a really unusual career path that doesn’t often happen.
And the thing you were saying before we started this interview, about what you're doing with VICE, about finding young people - I am absolutely the direct result of at least three key people taking an absolutely massive gamble.
At “The Movie Show” there was this woman called Anette Shun Wah, who is an absolute icon in terms of Asian Australians on TV. She was out there doing it before anybody was doing it. And I came in, I did this screen test, I sat in David Stratton’s chair, and I read a three minute script in what must have been 30 seconds flat, because I'm a fast talker at the best of times. And they're like: We've never heard anybody talk that fast before. And she just looked at me. And she explained it to me afterwards, she's like: there's just no one on TV that looks like you, and you could do the job, and we thought we could teach you the rest.
And there's no reason that should have happened. And even with “Hungry Beast” - they basically picked 19 young people from around Australia and said: Here's the half hour immediately after “Spicks & Specks” - the most-watched half hour of Australian entertainment on the ABC - here's the half-hour immediately after it: Make a TV show. It was an absolutely bizarre experiment.
The application process for that show was bizarre. You do this sort of meeting with Denton and a few other people and he fully “Enough Rope”s you.
VFD: Right, like: And tell me about your parents?
Marc Fennell: Yeah, that is him. He is amazing at getting people to come out of themselves. But then they did this thing where they gave you a handycam, and they lock you in a room with a bunch of random props, there were Barbie dolls and some sand, some random things, and he goes: In camera, make a two-minute film and just knock on the door when you're done. That was the application process.
Marc Fennell: And then they did another thing where they put you in front of a camera and said, You're about to interview the Prime Minister, what do you do? Oh, and by the way, halfway through the interview with the fake Prime Minister, the feed’s cut and you need to fill for 30, 40 seconds. What do you do? That was what they did! I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. But I'm only here because somehow they took a ridiculous chance on me.
So I feel like when people do take chances on you, two things happen: You feel an enormous amount of responsibility to pay it forward, and so whenever I find somebody who's young and smart - not everybody, you can’t do this for everybody - but when you find certain people you’re just like: You. I'm investing, I'm all in on you. Tell me what you want to do. Tell me who you want to meet, tell me what I can do to help. So it's really important to me to do that, but that's the external part of it. The internal part of it is like: I don't really deserve this. I'm just going to work really hard until...
VFD: Someone realises.
Marc Fennell: Yeah, so it's sort of twofold. Your brain can somehow manage both of those tracks at the same time: Don't belong here, don't deserve it, but also, Got it and should pass it on.
VFD: Yeah. Well, I won't talk for you, but I have the thing as well where… I probably wouldn't have hired me.
But having said that, hiring me was a good choice. I'd like to think. So therefore, I should not think like that. And it's something I'm constantly reminding myself of. Whenever I have a reflexive thing where I'm like, Nah, not for me. I'm like: Well, hang on. You were wrong about yourself. Why are you doing that to someone else? Now I'm getting anxious thinking about it, but that's alright. It's cool.
Marc Fennell: It is hard though. I blame the internet a little bit for this. When I started in TV it was 2004 - there was no Twitter, no Facebook, there was nothing. The thing that changed is that with the advent of social media, if you make things or if you put things out in the world, at some point or another, whether anybody verbalises it or not, you are encouraged to become a brand.
Marc Fennell: And lots of people have benefited from that and played it really well. Some people it’s just innate, everything they do has a consistent philosophy behind it and therefore becomes a brand and that's fine. But the fact that you're constantly putting things out in the world and people are watching, consuming, and forming an opinion of you through your work. I think it has an effect on people that make them do things that is quite different to generations before.
To inextricably link your content to your personality and have that constantly be reinforced by social every day, I think that can be quite detrimental to people's view of themselves. You can emerge out of that engine like a real asshole. You really could. Or you could emerge out of it with just massively low self esteem.
I know very few people for whom it is an unqualified positive thing. Even people who are really good at the internet, I think everybody kind of has a moment where they're just like: Ooh, my relationship with this thing needs recalibration. You don't always have to go full digital detox, but I think sometimes it’s good.
I fully stopped having opinions on the internet shortly after Yassmin Abdul-Magied, actually, because it just seemed like anything you put out in the world, like in a tweet or something like that, you basically needed to clear the day to moderate it. And I just didn't want to spend my time doing that. And I actually did a piece with Yassmin in London a few weeks after she went to London. I was talking to her, and I had met her a few times over the years and I've always really enjoyed her company - she's really smart, really funny, and really interested in the world - and I kind of just blurted out, halfway through this interview: Oh yeah, I stopped having opinions on the internet because of what happened to you. And she's like: You're about the 10th person to tell me that.
VFD: Yeah, I feel like I've probably told her that. Maybe in the VFD interview as well. I feel like I’ve said that to her.
Marc Fennell: She's such an emotionally intelligent, smart person. She just imbibed it really quickly and just realised that...something happened. Something happened in that moment that I think affected a huge generation of media makers. Obviously, it overwhelmingly happened to her, I don’t like to diminish that, but I do think lots of people I've spoken to over the years have looked at that moment and just gone, This is a really unforgiving space.
VFD: Well, I think there was a lot of media attention - and public attention - on Yassmin being Muslim, being a minority, being a woman. But I think something that isn’t talked about as much is that she was young. She was just a kid.
Marc Fennell: So young.
VFD: And that happened to a kid on a national scale. And if you describe that to someone as a storyline from “Succession” or something, they’d be like: that's fucked up. That's almost too crazy to be true. And you’re like, Oh, well...
Marc Fennell: “Succession” is about one of the only shows in which that storyline would feel native.
VFD: Which is not a good thing: that it would feel native in that particular show with those particularly awful people.
Marc Fennell: And this is my personal experience, other people's experiences are quite different, but I say right-wing assholes live on Facebook, left-wing assholes live on Twitter.
VFD: Hell yeah.
Marc Fennell: And I did that series earlier in the year for the ABC, “The School That Tried to End Racism”, and then very predictable voices from a certain large media company that should go nameless, went to town on it - and by proxy, me - and it was really interesting cause I've had real shit storms, media shit storms, happen in the past, but that was the first time I experienced a purely confected one. They were pumping out articles, and having op-ed pieces on a daily basis about the show, and it was just really telling that if I didn't engage with it, or retweet it, or anything, nothing was gonna happen with it.
And there's a really big difference between that and an actual shitstorm, where people are genuinely upset and there's a huge wave of discontent. And it reminded me that the power of those organisations is not absolute. They try and chuck a lot of stuff at the wall and the public don't engage
And in all the debate that's happening now about that particular media organisation - which I’m so not weighing in on - it's just important to note that they are powerful, and they're big - but they're not monolithic, and not everybody that works there thinks the same way and talks the same way. There's limits to their power, and there are limits to their impact, which I find...heartening.
VFD: Yeah, I get you.
Marc Fennell: I’ve avoided controversy as much as I can.
VFD: Yeah, I don't think that's a bad thing. And I mean, people are dying. And that is what it’s gonna be. We've just gotta wait a few generations and then things might be different. Who knows?
Marc Fennell: Yeah.
VFD: Alright man. Well on that note.
Marc Fennell: Did I say anything interesting? I can't remember if I said anything good, sorry.
VFD :I'm sure you did. I’m sure you did.