I've known Gavin Youngs and Lily Coates for a lot longer than I've been writing this blog. I studied with Gavin many moons ago at university - he is truly the most talented multi-disciplinary creative, and used to make the most amazing short films full of rich visual imagery (on the most shoestring budgets!) back in those days. These days Gavin collaborates with equally talented film maker Lily Coates, and together this industrious pair launched their production company, The Apiary, in 2009.
The Apiary aren't like any other film production company. They don't make TV commercials, and they don't make corporate videos. They specialise in films about creatives in various disciplines - fashion designers, musicians, theatre-makers, dancers and visual artists. Gavin and Lily conceptualise, shoot, direct and edit all their work in house - pulling in skilled collaborators when need be. They share the roles of director and producer equally. They've carved out their own perfect niche in the world of independent film making - creating exquisite morsels of filmic beauty, commissioned by cultural and arts organisations including The Australian Ballet, Arts Victoria and SBS's subscription channel STVDIO.
In less than three years, Gavin and Lily have already established a stellar reputation in Melbourne for their unique documentary work. They're jetting off next week to shoot a series of commissioned films about Australian artists living overseas. I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more about this dynamic duo... watch this space!
Tell us a little about your backgrounds - what path led each of you to working in film, and to setting up The Apiary together?
LC : We both came to filmmaking almost accidentally – Gavin had come from a theatre background and I was doing design and illustration when we started at VCA Film & TV. We both wanted to be production designers and then through that realised that we wanted to tell stories as well as making beautiful images.
GY : And be very controlling in how those stories looked visually. VCA was a bit of an endless film camp. We bonded over a shared distaste for the tech-boy speak that populates a lot of film circles, and also over the many late nights spent converting our student homes into film sets, trawling hard rubbish, visting kinkos at 2am to print out make-shift wallpaper… A lot of big ideas with no money.
What were your initial goals when launching The Apiary in 2009 ? Did you sit down and make a plan for the type of work you wanted to do? Or have things unfolded a little more organically?
LC : We came back together after a few years working strange and sometimes unpleasant jobs, and we had this idea that we’d create a collective of creative people making the sort of work we really wanted to make – conceptual films, collaborative work with musicians and artists – it was a bit of a utopian fantasy actually, but it kind of ended up happening, in a round about way.
We did some gratis work for The Australian Ballet and immediately fell in love with the company and its dancers – and the contrast between the serious requirements of this very old-fashioned art form, and the freakishly modern work the dancers were doing at the time with Wayne McGregor, and fortunately they asked us to keep working with them from there.
GY : From working with The Australian Ballet so many other opportunites have arrived. We toured with the company to Japan last year and we have started to move into creating visual work for the company on-stage which is super exciting. After having made a doco on emerging choreographer Alice Topp last year, we worked together again this year and made a ten minute film that was integrated into her latest piece - Scope, at the Sydney Theatre in May. So this has opened up a new bridge between our doco work and theatrical projects, which we are really excited about.
LC : So from working with dance we started to make films on other artists. First with STVDIO, a series on the studios of artists from all disciplines, and more recently a series of web docos profiling Victorian Artists for Arts Victoria.
The Apiary fills a unique niche within the Melbourne film making community - you focus on independent films about artists and creative people, and have been commissioned by leading cultural organisations including The Australian Ballet, Arts Victoria and the NGV. You seem to successfully avoid making overly commercial work - TVCs or corporates, for instance. Is this a conscious decision? Would you take on a less creative film project if the money was AMAZING!?
LC : To have a job making films with people who are creative and who excite us is pretty special, and it’s unusual I think to make a business of it. It’s obviously been a decision we’ve made to focus on making things that we would want to watch. So… if an AMAZING client came along offering us AMAZING money and asked us to work on something that we felt we could make visually interesting or clever or striking – we’d certainly not tell them to go away!
GY : We work pretty crazy hours, so it’s not so much only wanting to make films about art as realising that if we’re going to be channeling all our crazy energies into something, it should be something we care about.
Can you give us a bit of an idea of how your creative partnership is structured? Who is responsible for which tasks, and what significant tasks do you outsource to keep everything running smoothly?
GY : Its pretty much 50/50. We do have different styles and approaches and in some of our work you can see it evenly divided, while other times it might tip closer to one end. I do admit I like a good excel spreadsheet so sometimes I do the numbers.
LC : Gavin always does the numbers. Sometimes I think he does them before sleep in lieu of bedtime stories. Though we both direct, and interview, write and film and edit, I prefer shooting. Editing, I’m very finicky and obsessed with detail and I often envy Gavin’s ability to see a project’s ‘big picture’ while I’m ferreting away in the undergrowth. So to speak.
GY : We also have a very talented animator/editor, Aleks, who works with us on projects that require that additional shazam and we also occasionally use a super cinematographers to get the real beauty beauty such as Marden Dean or Stefan Duscio.
LC : Music also is very important to our work. The one thing we have no hope in achieving ourselves is real, beautiful music and we are so fortunate to have found our amazing composer Lisa Illean before Michael Haneke snatched her up.
GY : Yeah that’s something I’m really proud of is that we always use originally composed music in our work.
Which other designers, artists or creative people do you admire?
Theatre maker Romeo Castellucci (amazing)
Conceptual artist Julie Rrap
Visual artist Michael Borremans
Composer Jonny Greenwood
Art Director Nagi Noda (sadly deceased)
Actor and forever muse Isabelle Huppert
Can you each list for us your current top 5 go-to resources for creative inspiration across any media - websites, books, magazines, a combination?
Alejandro Jodrowsky collection of work
The sadly defunct Art World
What does a typical day involve for you?
GY : Hmm there isn’t really a typical day -- editing, filming, editing, importing, meetings, writing, sourcing, encoding, grading, editing.. something like that... but in saying that, we have a lovely studio in an old converted school library that’s filled with light in which to do all that editing, editing.
LC : For instance yesterday was made up of filling a photography studio with cabbage, gravel, pineapple rings, dry ice and perfectly plucked clovers on which our model lay – We were shooting a fashion film with Annika Seidel who is launching a new lingerie line Light Years very soon.
What would be your dream creative project?
LC : I’m getting a bit itchy to make a written film as opposed to a documentary, but not necessarily a conventional narrative. It would be a dream to collaborate with some of those artists I really admire on a non-doco film.
GY : I’m excited to do something event/installation based that involves film but also live performance. I am also looking to further explore dance on film - I recently saw Pina by Wim Wenders which was amazing.
What are you looking forward to ?
GY : We are off to Europe for a few months next week making some documentaries on expat Australian artists living and working in Europe. Exciting! We are making the series of 5 works for STVDIO across three European cities.
LC : We’ve also got two exciting on-stage commissions with The Australian Ballet next year, one of which will debut at the Lincoln Center in New York, which is terrifying and a great challenge.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
GY : I’ve just moved from Collingwood to East Brunswick so I guess I still love Collingwood
LC : Collingwood for me too. It’s kind of love hate, which makes it feel familial. We’ve recently moved to a studio in the old Sophia Mundi school in Abbotsford (Schoolhouse Studios) and it’s very beautiful around there, all leafy backstreets and piles of produce and aneurysm-level café sua da on Victoria St, so that’s a lovely place too.
A favourite location you’ve filmed at in Melbourne?
LC : Studio 7 & 8 at The Australian Ballet Centre. It could be a case of brainwashing due to the immersion of the past two years… but so much beauty is in that room. And sweat, and control, and intellect and dedication to an art form that I haven’t witnessed on that level before. And the light is lovely for filming.
What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
LC : Beef pho at Pho Hung Vuong 2 on Victoria Street.
GY : The weekend CIBI breakfast plate yum yum
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
GY : Coburg tip shop (perfect for finding gem furniture and treasures). I actually also went there on my last birthday because I love it so much.
LC : Still in my dressing gown drinking coffee on the balcony otherwise I’d be on my way to the studio.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
GY : Daiso for Japan memories