We had the good fortune of connecting with Gregory Kasunich and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gregory, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
When working in a creative profession the division between work and life is oftentimes non-existent. As a writer and filmmaker, most of my time is spent working out of my home office, taking calls, writing, revising, scheduling meetings, researching, designing pitch decks, editing, and on and on, so it is very easy to let those activities seep into the rest of my routine. Like many high-demand professions that require a lot of time, discipline, and constant learning, the job will take what you give it, and for the better part of my career, I had been giving the job as much as I possibly could. Over the last few years, although I had been productive, making films, writing, touring film festivals, and booking photo-sessions, I began to notice I was sacrificing aspects of my life that didn’t seem as important. Things like sleep, self-care, alone time, and just simple recreation. I fell into a pattern of thinking to myself whenever I did anything – “how is this going to forward my career, how is this going to move the ball forward?”, which kept me from being present in the moment. The beginning signs of burnout were appearing, and it was my incredible wife, a doctor, who really illuminated ways that I had become out of balance. She offered a litany of suggestions and solutions to help me rediscover a balance that had been lost. Taking a step back I was able to look at how I spent my time holistically – and realized that the things that made me good at my job came from those moments when I wasn’t necessarily doing my job. I re-introduced myself to meditation, took up coffee roasting, invented a board game, began reading novels recreationally, free-writing, and started training as a student pilot – not to contribute in any direct way to my career as a filmmaker, but to re-draw the boundaries of my own experiences in a way that feeds all aspects of my work and life in a more balanced and freeing way. Now I ask myself “how is this going to engage my curiosity, how is this going to enlighten, uplift, or help those around me?”. I still give my artistic and filmmaking pursuits the time and attention they require, but now I make sure I share that time and attention with my family, friends, and community outside and inside of the film world. Interestingly this has led me to engage with my work in a deeper, more meaningful way, a way that feels more like play than work, a way that flows gracefully between states of high output and quiet input, a way that feels sustainable. I know the balance will shift time and again, sometimes falling more on the side of work, and other times, more on the side of life, but my hope is that even though those things might not be entirely mutually exclusive, that I can realign my intention and attention to maintain balance going forward.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a writer and director. Over the last several years I have made commercials – directing and creative producing ad work for Acura, Honda, Taylor Swift Now, Top Chef, Disney, Lucasfilm, Moët, and many others. I love making commercials because it allows me to bring my voice, passion, perspective, taste, and technique to household brands and gives me the opportunity to travel and meet incredible people. I’ve also made short films, a feature film, animation, music videos, and experimental work. Creatively, I approach everything from a place of curiosity. I always start with wanting to know the answer to a question. Who is this person? What is this thing? What is this new visual tool and how can I use it? Learning the why behind the what is so fascinating. I take that information, those experiences, those relationships, internalize them, and then ultimately share them back as a story. Both making and sharing those stories are a way to connect with people, to find common ground, to say something about who we are and the world in which we live. My hope is that something will connect and make someone feel less alone. I’m proud of all the work I’ve done, and I’m most excited for is whatever is next. I like the process. When I focus too much on the outcome of a project, how an audience feels, what they may say about my work, good or bad, it steals focus from the making of the thing. The hardest moments in my career have been the times I stopped listening to myself, my intuition, and did things because I thought this is what you’re supposed to do instead of following what I was inspired to do. The more time I spend getting quiet and listening, the easier the work comes. Each project is an opportunity to work with a new crew, tell a new story, and say something that I haven’t said before. I don’t have any rule about what I make or how I make something. I follow my interests, taking on projects that are inspiring and spark something inside of me.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I always say, Los Angeles is like a smorgasbord, it’s got everything you could want. Right now, we are in the middle of a pandemic, which is really hitting some of my favorite places hard, so if and when it’s safe to go out again, here are some of the places and things I love and hope continue to be a part of our city far into the future. So, I would start in the North Hollywood Arts District, my main stomping grounds. Hit up the Idle Hour, a fantastic little pub in a restored programmatic building shaped like a gigantic barrel which puts on music, trivia, and film inspired events. Then, check out some of the murals and public art on the sides of the many, many theaters in NoHo on your way to grab a coffee at Groundworks Coffee housed in the gorgeously restored, 125-year-old, North Hollywood train depot, right next to the LA Metro Red Line. Now it’s time to hop the Red Line subway (yes, LA has a subway and it’s great!) down to- Los Feliz, where you could catch a movie at the Vista theater, a gorgeous single screen movie theater from 1923. Then, a quick jaunt up over to Barnsdall Art Park, where you get views of the Hollywood Sign and the Griffith observatory and the stunning Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House (open to the public for tours). Then it’s over to Vermont Blvd to my favorite bookstore in LA, Skylight Books, which has everything you could want and more, especially in the Art Annex, and then a quick taco tour lunch at Yuca’s Tacos, Homestate, and Best Fish Taco In Ensenada. Back on the Red Line to- Downtown LA, where we would take the Angels Flight funicular down Bunker Hill to the Grand Central Market for a quick bite. Pop across the street to the Bradbury Building featured in Bladerunner and 500 Days of Summer. Then grab a show at the Theater at the Ace Hotel after a quick drink at Clifton’s Cafeteria, a kitschy nightclub/eatery/bar thing that defies categorization. Then we mosey past the fountain in Grand Park as we take a quiet moment in the hidden park on top of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The only way the night could end is at the Blue Whale in Little Tokyo – the best jazz in LA, no matter what night you go there is always going to be a band lighting the place up. The rest of the week might look like this: Abbot-Kinney in Venice for some shopping, Blue Star Donuts, and a vegan meal at Butchers Daughter before a walk past the canals and then some amazing people watching at the Venice boardwalk. Hiking up to the remains of the old Mount Lowe Railroad in Pasadena. Of course a bit of Burbank for a studio tour at Warner Bros. and dinner and a surreal Doo-Wop show with Jimmy Angel at The Smokehouse. Play some board games at Geeky Teas or Guild Hall. Koreatown for a show at the Art Deco palace that is The Wiltern, some Karaoke and soju, and then over to MacArthur Park for a comedy show at Dynasty Typewriter at The Hayworth Theater. Highland Park for sandos at the hidden deli Jeff’s Table in the back of Flask Wine and Liquor, wings at Greyhound, herbs and spices at Wild Terra, and vintage bowling at Highland Park Bowl. A long drive up the 1 freeway at sunset. A long drive up Mullholland at sunrise. A long drive to the Angeles National Forest up to the telescopes on Mount Wilson and a night of camping at the Buckhorn Campground. A long drive to Vasquez Rocks, to the Bronson Caves, to Long Beach and back. No trip to LA is complete without a visit to the Museum of Jurassic Technology – don’t ask, just go. I feel like I only scratched the surface of the surface of what LA has to offer. There is so much art, culture, film, food, nature, and architecture to discover.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
So many incredible people have been a part of my journey as a filmmaker and artist so far. Among those who have had a significant and profound impact on me and my life are, of course, my wife, Dr. Anjali Kasunich, who has seen the evolution of my career and has remained a steadfast partner, cheerleader, supporter, and source of inspiration. She’s an incredibly cool and approachable physician worth checking out if you’re looking for a doctor. My collaborators who continue to make my work better, and are incredible artists unto themselves, such as my composer Gene Micofsky, my co-director and editor Jerry Spears, editor Craig Thomas Quinlan, my assistant director Jordan Paley, also a great filmmaker, Sophie Strauss- an amazing musician and activist, and Nicholas Piatnik who creates stunning cinematography, just to name a few. They all have great work you can find online.