We had the good fortune of connecting with John Irwin and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi John, how do you think about risk?
Life without risk would be awful. It keeps everything evolving, and continually shifts my perspectives on what’s really important. In any creative project I find worth doing, I know there will be risk- it’s a lot of why finding new challenges feels exciting to me in the first place. I try to push myself beyond what I’m familiar with in every new directing project, and that in turn is the only way to find fulfillment through it. It’s an ongoing struggle, especially since clients that seek me out for commercial work tend to want something very similar to a project I’ve already done. Creative people need to stay vigilant, guarding control over what it is we want to make next. Part of that is knowing how often to say no. With practice, it gets easier to say no to more stable paying jobs and resist being led down roads where the trade for more stability (and often, money) is met with less risk and control. For me, staying my own boss as a freelancer, keeps my yearly risk high but I get to retain control over where I’m going.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
In general, the struggles out here in Los Angeles transform my creative spirit for the better every year. Discovering how to survive as a freelance filmmaker while also attempting to stay prudent in the choices of jobs I take on, carefully considering how much creative control each one brings, is no easy task. I used to get so caught up and frustrated by the process of maturing creatively which often requires an incredible amount of adaptation, self reflection and patience. But lately, I’ve really started to enjoy every bit of it.

I’ve had two, in many ways contradictory, sensibilities that I feel led to tell stories through. On one hand, I like gritty, completely character-driven pieces. I’m always fascinated by stories that show a strong character in a setting that is largely unfamiliar, with their determination driving the narrative- totally unpolished and bolted to reality. This also feeds my desire to seek out the types of clients for my commercial work:  whether it’s a young female rancher that wants to help save our planet by changing our perspectives on managing undeveloped land or a family helping keep a three-generation’s old camera shop alive. This doc-style content will always have a big part in my life and will influence the way I tell any story through film. On the other hand, I have a deep love for science fiction, striking imagery, stylized interpretations and finding fresh ways to tell stories through editing.
It has taken me several years to find how to naturally combine a lot of my predilections, often by experimenting through each one separately but something recently has started to really click. Just before the pandemic hit, I directed a short proof of concept for a feature film I wrote and am trying to get off the ground. The decision to do the short was a difficult one because it was a steep financial commitment during a time that I probably shouldn’t have been spending money on my own personal projects. Ultimately, I was proud for taking the risk and it has really helped clarify for myself, the type of narrative projects I’d like to create in the future. I was inspired to start developing concept visuals in settings of the future that represent where I want to write stories from, some of which I’ve been compiling through the channel @followtherill on Instagram.
The creative side of life in LA has felt like a meandering maze. It’s a path with a lot of trial and error, uncovering what it is about my voice that matters, that’s unique, then somehow channeling that part of myself to inspire others through storytelling. That’s what we all want at its core, right? We make things that excite us, that fulfills us, but part of the significance of what we do is listening to the feedback from those around us. How does it resonate with them? How do our constantly shifting and charged relationships make us more capable of understanding life and be better creators for it. Success is being able to have the creative and financial freedom to create and control content that inspires us. To me, achieving success isn’t some end goal; you never reach the point that feels like you can rest easy. It’s an endless struggle that requires constant navigating to keep grasp over. Each time there’s a project you’ve finally managed to complete, the fleeting perception of victory vanishes in a flash when you realize that the endeavor itself has changed who you are. You aren’t the person who made this last project, you’re the person who is about to make the next one. It’s easy to get lost, frustrated and sometimes consumed by self-deception, wrapping ourselves in excuses and overthinking, articles and schools of thought on how to succeed. It’s all noise. The beautiful thing is, no one can predict the right way to go. You just GO. You continue creating over and over again until you look around and realize you’ve gone the right way. So why do we so often wait around? Time to burn bright and strike hot. We can’t get caught up in trifles, distractions or hoops we’ve convinced ourselves we have to jump through before we can do what we actually want to do. You have to crack through any stubbornness and do what scares you. Stay uncomfortable in the exact thing you dream to be. You’ll be terrified, scared about money, filled with doubt, easily distracted by temptations of a more stable life. But the longer you burn yourself on that uncertainty, the rewards that reveal within you will be beyond what you could’ve imagined for your abilities, your worth, and much more important: what creatively fulfills you.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
A lot of “day plans” can change on a whim depending on mood but for a best friend who is unfamiliar with Los Angeles, here’s a proposed itinerary for a dreamy non-pandemic day in the city: We’d meet for breakfast at Cliff’s Edge in Silver Lake, choosing a table tucked away behind one of their giant trees. Afterwards, maybe we’d take a stroll through the farmer’s market across the street then maybe we head downtown on Upper Grand and walk through The Broad museum, coffee in hand. Let’s pretend traffic is especially light this day and hop on over to Venice Beach right after. We’ll stroll up the boardwalk, taking our time, and grab lunch at Fig Tree. Maybe we’ll hang on the beach for a bit, then rent some bikes up to the Santa Monica pier to spend an hour or so walking around up there. I don’t feel like getting my car wherever it’s parked, so let’s take a Lyft to the ArcLight to catch an early matinee of some terrific movie we’ve been dying to see. Afterwards, we’ll catch the best dinner ever at Gracias Madre in West Hollywood. From there, we’ve got to head across town the opposite direction again. Weirdly, there’s no traffic at all today, it’s unbelievable, not a single car. There’s an amazing show at the Dynasty Typewriter near MacArthur Park. We arrive just in time, the popcorn is awesome. And, why don’t we end this above average day over at Alcove on Hillhurst for drinks. That’ll do.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The biggest shout out has to go to my amazing and supportive wife, Vanessa. She’s been fighting to keep L.A.’s Dynasty Typewriter thriving through the pandemic by adapting to online shows and content. Her driving passion for the theater and all other aspects of her creative life is a constant inspiration to me. My creative friends in Los Angeles, trying to “make it” in their own way are a tremendous source of encouragement and mentorship every day of my life. They are the ones that push me to be a better filmmaker and creator. I’m lucky that I get to collaborate with so many talented creatives in order to complete projects I care about.

Website: https://www.johnrobinsonirwin.com
Instagram: @johnrobinsonirwin
Other: http://www.instagram.com/followtherill

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