The Bearded Man Speaks:
Unanswered with Mac Premo

 

 

 

 

Mac Premo has won 8 New York Emmy®️ Awards, including awards for best commercial, best photography, best set design and best PSA. He is a RISD graduate who is as engaged in his work as he is in a conversation with the local Bodega owner. A 2008 NYFA fellow in video, he currently makes art, sculpture, films, commercials and dinner, most nights.

How do you balance a personal life with your wife being a part of the business?

People often refer to balance as something that is ‘found’ (as in: ‘finding the balance’). That makes it sound like a static state, something already determined, and the trick is to eventually come upon it. The way I see it, it’s a lot less like shopping. Balance is something that my wife and I have worked hard to define over our years, and that definition has changed and continues to change. Moreover, it may change project to project. I think what’s most important for me is that partnering with someone I trust as much as my wife has enabled both of us to know that there’s someone there to check us. If I get too deep in the weeds, there’s someone there to pull me out, and vice-versa. Often pulling someone out of those weeds isn’t a really big sit-down talk about reprioritization… it’s often as simple as cutting out of work a few minutes early to grab a drink together before we get on the subway to go home, or buying someone flowers. I’m not shitting you: flowers. Sounds like a play from the 1956 suburban-survival handbook, but it can help sometimes. It’s just a matter of deciding to switch contexts, and reminding your partner that you care for them.

Frieda and Leni, your daughters are forces of their own. What advice do you have for creative dads raising young ones while performing at the level you perform at?

Number 1 is: set limits on your work, and stick to them. When I first started working with the company that represents me now for directing, I told them that between 6pm and 8:30pm was off limits, no exceptions. We had toddlers, and my wife was working full time. I wanted to define an off switch for dinnertime, so I did. My  line of reasoning was that if they can’t respect my role as a father, then I can’t respect their business practice. And I don’t work with people I don’t respect or who don’t respect me-that simple. Eight years later, I’m still with that company, and though the time guidelines have relaxed and morphed a little, we still sit down together as a family for dinner every single night without exception.

As far as personal advice, know that you don’t know. There is no manual going into parenting, and there never has been for any parent in the entire world. Those folks who have it all figured out are fronting, I promise you. The main combatant against the very inevitable lack of knowledge that is the path upon which parenthood travels is to just listen to your kids. I’m not talking about “Pop, I wanna eat a bucket of Nutella every day” and me going “OK.” I’m talking about figuring out how they process and handle adversity and triumph, and putting yourself in that brain space when you parent. How you deal with shit isn’t how they will. They come out as people. It’s freaky.

You said you try not to think about money. What is it that drives you when you take on a new client or project?

My creative partner / wife and I have made the decision that our goal is to live an artistic life. That means, to us, that we prioritize creativity. I stress that this isn’t a value judgement, just a values assessment. My wife and I don’t play tennis. So we don’t belong to a tennis club. We aren’t into horses, so we don’t own a horse. We like art, so we do art. As far as taking on new projects or clients, we try to lead with what feeds our creative drive. To be honest, sometimes the project has awesome funding, and I know that doing the job will enable our family to take a vacation together or for the girls to go to college (it’s suspect that I put those priorities in that order). But those jobs are often way less invigorating than the creative jobs, which usually come with less money

Your rep said to you “don’t think about what you can do, think about what can be done”. That statement is tattooed in our brain. Expand on that.

The guy who said that to me is Tim Case. Tim owns the production company that represents me (it’s called Supply & Demand). Tim is a dear friend and mentor, even though he’s from Boston. Basically what Tim was saying was this: 

Step 1: trust yourself, your gut and your vision. 

Step 2: Release that intuition from inhibition. Take your idea and let it live without boundaries, and see where it takes you. 

Now, I’m a firm believer in boundaries and parameters in the creative process. But there comes a point, usually after the germ of the idea is firmly rooted, that boundaries become limitations. Tim’s point was to train myself to know when a healthy boundary becomes an unhealthy limitation, and obliterate that wall by thinking bigger, weirder, more creatively. 

It’s funny, when he first said it to me, I was thinking he meant something completely different, something like ‘try something totally new that you have no experience in’. In fact, he was saying the opposite; he was saying ‘take what you’ve built, and allow it to flourish past what you can merely currently do’.

The best advice I’ve ever received in the creative field. It self-regenerates. Once you follow it, you set a standard that you are now creatively obligated to think past. It’s advice that remains challenging for the entirety of one’s creative existence. 

Are there other statements or books or experiences that you can recall that changed your life, career or perspective on things?

Two statements come to mind, each one coming from powerful women in my life. The first one is something my mother always said, and it has been the most illuminating guiding light in my path as a parent. My mother said: “You don’t raise children, you raise adults.” In eight syllables, that statement outlines my obligation to the continual well being of my daughters, my responsibility to the community around me, my ethical obligation to humanity, and manner in which I must carry myself in front of my kids. It’s the most important thing anyone has ever said to me.

The second statement is from my daughter, Frieda. It was the moment I realized that while I can sometimes be a totally privileged dick, at least I’m doing something  right, I guess. One day we were in line at a customer service center. It was just the two of us, and I had somewhere I needed to be (other than waiting in line at a customer service center). The line was a little over thirty people deep. Though there were twelve service station countertops, only two of them were open, leaving ten of them visibly and aggravatingly vacant. As time ticked by and the personal schedule I had planned on became less viable, I started moaning a bit, and I guess at some point my annoyance with the situation was enough for my (then 10-year-old) Frieda to notice. She looked at me and said “What’s the matter, Poppy?” I complained to her about the fact that there were a lot of people in line, and though there were a dozen counters available, only two of them were open, and how that was just really, really frustrating. She nodded in understanding (as she was stuck in this line as well), and then calmly added, “Yeah. I bet it’s pretty frustrating for the people working here, too.”

Happy May Day, everyone. 

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