David Black

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     DAVID BLACK

“If the show folds in a year or two, I might end up being the guy working behind the counter at 7 Eleven.”

I’m an artist, a musician and a film-maker. My ‘day’ job for the past 20 years has been telemarketing. I’m hoping to give it up soon and take the plunge into working full time in the entertainment industry.

By the time I started high school, it was obvious I was going to be an artist. I enjoyed and did well at art subjects, but was pretty patchy on everything else. In fact, I was considered a troublemaker and the class clown/rebel.

I was drawn to cartooning from an early age, inspired by my dad’s MAD magazines.

The MAD comics encouraged me to look at cartoons beyond Disney, and see it as an artform in its own right.

My upbringing was quite dysfunctional. My parents were neglectful and my relationships with them were up and down. I got kicked out of my mum’s home when I was fifteen, and out of my dad’s when I was seventeen.

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I moved into a boarding house, and even though I was on my own, I felt in control of my destiny.

My love of art and cartoons never subsided and I continued developing my drawing skills, researching underground artists, as well as buying a lot of books and magazines to learn from.

I did attempt to go to art school, but at the time cartooning wasn’t respected, and so I found myself in conflict with my teachers – I wanted to study things like techniques, form and perspective, but the school was more conceptual and fought me the whole way.

I started drawing comic books.

Punk was big at the time, with that DIY aesthetic. I drew the books, photocopied them, then went out and put them into shops on consignment.

My other passion was music, and I was playing bass in bands. I was drawn to gothic rock, which today is considered a mature music style, but back then it was seen as quite outrageous.

To support myself in these early years, I did a lot of part time jobs – door to door sales, telemarketing. Eventually, I could move out of the boarding house and into my own rental flat.

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To get more cartooning work, I’d go door to door talking to shopkeepers who were into the punk scene, like an alternative hairdresser or a record shop, and I’d offer them drawings for their ads. I picked up a few jobs and started getting my name out there.

That lead to a job in Juke, a weekly rock magazine – I ended up drawing a cartoon strip for them that ran for twelve months.

Because of the exposure I got through Juke, I landed a job as the editorial cartoonist at the Truth, a Melbourne tabloid that was very popular at the time. Twice a week, I did the big editorial cartoons on topical issues, as well as various spot cartoons throughout the paper.

By this stage, I was making my living with art.

On top of Juke and Truth, I was doing a lot of freelancing – drawing, illustration and even old-style graphic design where ‘cut and paste’ still required a metal ruler, scalpel and glue.

My future in cartooning looked bright. When I was 25, I won a prestigious national award for illustration. With another artist, I started work on a comic book series, Punkz in Space, hoping to create my own cartooning business.

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But then I hit a rough patch. In the early 90s, the recession hit. A lot of publications were struggling or going under, and either not paying or taking a long time to pay.

Though I had more work than ever and was constantly picking up new clients, I was also having to spend more time chasing payments.

As my workload grew, I was working around the clock to keep up, but getting paid less and less.

Things were getting rough, so I decided to take on some temporary telemarketing work to get through the rough patch. Little did I know I’d still be doing it 20 years later.

I continued with the cartooning, working around my telemarketing shifts. I had a business plan and was determined to succeed, but things just kept piling up: the workload, defaulting clients, problems with my business partner, then the death of my beloved grandmother.

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Have you heard of the 28 club? There’s a lot of celebrities that have died at age 28. If you look at it, aside from substance abuse, a common factor is overwork. Exhaustion. And that’s what happened to me. At age 28, I burnt out.

I really burnt out. I couldn’t look at comics. I couldn’t even read them: suddenly nothing made sense on the page anymore. Cartooning was over.

I fell back on my telemarketing job. My first job was selling education videos, but soon after I started working for Sharp, offering customer service and sales to their printer business and have since remained doing similar work for most of the major players in the industry – Fuji Xerox, Konica Minolta and now PrinterCorp.

I didn’t expect to remain a telemarketer year in year out, I wanted to advance further.

I went back to uni and did a Diploma in IT. I got distinctions, but I hated it. I realized I would not be happy doing IT work.

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One creative outlet that remained to me was music. I had continued playing through the years and formed my own band gothic rock band, Darkness Visible in 1994. The band is still going – it has been the one constant in my life.

We were a bit different from the other goths in that we weren’t completely morbid and had a sense of humour.

We did a horror rock show, with stage props and skits. We gigged a lot, recorded songs and did music videos.

Our line-up was always changing. I had a lot of front people coming through, until someone said to me, “Dave, you write the songs, produce the videos, you fund it all – you’re the back bone of the band. You should put yourself in the front.” I finally did that – 5 years ago.

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But back then, though I wasn’t the front man, I was heavily into it – it became my passion. At our peak, we were gigging all the time, getting good sized audiences. I took it seriously, and worked hard to promote us, getting media coverage and doing interviews, even handing out flyers before gigs.

During the shows, we went all out – they were big, loud and very energetic.

We were getting recognition in the media, being featured in magazines, compilation CDs and books.

Then, in my mid-forties, I got bladder cancer.

I underwent surgery and chemo. I was constantly tired and barely had enough energy to hold down my day job, yet alone perform on stage. I decided to take time off from the band, thinking I’ll be back after six months rest. It took me four years after being declared cancer-free before my energy started to return.

For a few years I was just surviving: going to work, coming home to sleep. There was nothing else.

Recovery was incredibly slow. One year I couldn’t go out on New Years Eve at all, the next year, hooray, I made it out for two hours. And so on.

Finally, about two years ago, I felt like my energy had returned enough for me to return to my creative passions. I went back to Darkness Visible, started playing again and worked on a new music video. Then, through a contact in the music industry who also made movies, I discovered acting.

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My friend asked me if I would be a background extra in a movie he was making called Cult Girls. I came along, and was really impressed by the professionalism and scale of the set and production.

I had an AK47 handed to me by the armourer – a real one!

I did one shoot, and was asked to come back to do another, where I’d shoot the gun and get blown up. I had no idea what I was doing, but I managed to do my scenes in one take, so they were pretty happy with me.

From there, I got the acting bug, and started doing lots of extra roles in local productions and worked my way up to featured extra and finally, starring roles. Through acting, I got involved with the whole indie movie industry. In movies, I found another great creative outlet, encompassing all my passions – art, staging, music and writing.

Whilst continuing to work in telesales full time, I got involved in every aspect of film-making: acting, crewing, editing and promotions.

I spent evenings and weekends on sets, learning, meeting people and making contacts.

One of the biggest challengers I faced was realizing, that though my energy had come back, I was no longer the same guy, physically, that I was seven years ago, before cancer and chemo took their toll.

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In one of the movies, Last Hope, I was supposed to be a ‘fast zombie’. I had to chase a younger guy down and the wrestle with him on the ground. I was out of breath and barely moving after the third take, when they said, “Ok, that’s the practice shots, let’s do the filming now.” I was ready to kill them!

We did 21 takes, and by the end of it I could barely stand.

I had to understand that I was not as fit and strong as I was once, and at 51, I’d aged more than most due to my illness. That realization led to another: I had no time to waste if I wanted to achieve something in life.

I decided I would do my own hosted horror TV show.

The idea came from attending film festivals and movie nights, and seeing all these incredible short films made by local film-makers. There is so much talent in Australia, and I was sad that there wasn’t a platform on which people could see these films, outside of the festival circuit.

Originally, my idea was to make a compilation DVD to showcase the films in a horror show format, with each movie presented by a ghoulish host akin to Deadly Earnest or Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

But once I looked into the costs of doing a DVD, such as certification and mastering, I realized it wasn’t viable. That’s when the idea transformed into making an actual hosted horror show.

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Everyone I spoke to about it got very excited and encouraged me to go for it. And so I did.

The concept for Horror House is simple. We have four short horror movies to show over half an hour. Two hosts come out to present them – myself, Count Fangoula and my co-host, Mistress Boobiyanna, played by Tritia DeVisha. In between the movies, we do ghoulishly funny skits. There is a lot gore, blood and guts and very inappropriate humour.

It’s crass, it’s hilarious and in the worst taste – in the best possible way.

The movies we show are very well done and clever. They are not to formula, like a lot of stuff you see on TV. To finish off, we show a horror music video. For the first series, these are Darkness Visible videos, but in the second it may become a different format.

To make the pilot season, I gathered a crew from people who I’ve worked with before, and then the word spread and people who heard about and liked the idea, also volunteered to work with us.

For the past year, I’ve been working around the clock again – my time outside of my day job was consumed with the show, writing, coordinating shoots, filming, editing.

The amount of work that goes into each episode is huge – I spent hours on my phone, emailing and calling people, organizing everything, chasing people.

The first series are mostly done – there’s only a little bit of editing and post-production remaining on the six episodes. Everyone who has worked on the show, worked for free. The film makers donated their short films. Even so, we faced high production costs – the props alone cost a small fortune, not to mention filming equipment, studios and production costs. I funded most of the show from my savings. Obviously, that’s not a sustainable model.

For the show to be viable, we will need to sell it for enough money to produce the next season.

On top of production costs, we will need to pay everyone involved industry rates to ensure they make a living wage.

Right now, I am getting ready to start pitching.  A lot of that preparation includes promotion, growing a social media following.  A lot of the places we’ll be pitching to won’t watch the whole thing. They might make a decision based on a few minutes viewing times. But they look at what kind of social media following you already have. Only a thousand followers of Facebook? – forget it. You need at least fifteen thousand for people to take you seriously. I don’t know that we’ll get there, so we’ll just have to go with what we’ve got.

I will try to pitch the show in Australia first, but to be honest, I don’t have high hopes of selling it here.

I’m concerned the decision makers in this country are too conservative, and don’t like taking chances on untested projects.

Which is why so many Aussie film-makers end up selling their projects to overseas companies, who then end up selling it back to us.

The biggest and the scariest risk for me will be once we sell it.

At that point, I plan to take the leap and quit my telemarketing job to work on the show full-time. It’s a big leap. After all, we might only get one or two successful years before the show folds.

You’d think it’d be easy to just jump back into telemarketing, but it’s not that easy. I’ve been working in the printer sales industry for 20 years. In my line of work, it takes a few years to establish yourself. You need to build up a client base, nurture and grow relationships with clients.

You contact people who have a rival product, knowing they are likely on finance and won’t be ready to buy a printer for a few years. But you keep in touch during in this time, talking to them and getting to know their business, their needs, building trust. In a few years’ time, when they are ready to buy another printer, hopefully they will give you a shot to send a salesperson to their office and demonstrate your product.

That’s why it takes two to three years to build that sales cycle.

Coming back to start from scratch will mean that I won’t be a profitable investment to an employer for the first few years, and it won’t be easy to find a job like that at my age.

So if the show folds in a year or two, I might end up being the guy working behind the counter at 7 Eleven. On that wage, I couldn’t pay the rent on my flat, I’d probably have to move into a share house again – not a great prospect in your mid fifties!

But a lot of people get to my age and realize they need to take a risk.

I’m scared as anything. But what are my options? I’m twenty years into this telemarketing gig, I’ve changed a few companies. I’ve chased promotions, but it’s always been a case of broken promises and disappointments. If I stay, I will remain on the bottom rung forever.

I never expected to be in telemarketing for twenty years. I mean, even if you take the cancer years away, it’s still a very long time!

I could play it safe and wait until I retire and have some savings to fall back on. But will I have the energy to do something like this in another ten years? Age affects people. I’ve seen it in myself, I’ve seen it in others. Fragility and forgetfulness, it takes you over whether you like it or not.

I’ve gotten through a major illness, I’ve got my energy back and I want to use it.

Now is the time, even if it means taking a risk – if I wait any longer then it might be too late. I am a creative person, always have been – and it’s long past time for me to make a living from a creative pursuit again.

On the other hand, the rewards could be amazing. If the show takes off, I could be in a position where I’m working and producing fantastic material and getting paid for it. It won’t just be me – all the people who donated their time and art, will now be able to be rewarded for their work and talent. We’ll pay the cast and crew, we’ll pay the film-makers for showing their films. This has the potential to help a lot of people fulfil their dreams.

That’s the dream.

Aside from the movies, Darkness Visible will always be present in my life.

I will continue to write and record songs when I can, and make video clips. It’s something I really enjoy.

The only advice I give to people is don’t burn yourself out. People don’t understand the risks. They think if they hit that point, they’ll just go away and then come back.  Sometimes, you don’t.

I can’t draw for crap!

I haven’t storyboarded any of the shows. People are always saying to me, you’re a cartoonist, you should do the storyboarding. They don’t get it. Even if it’s stick figures, I can’t draw anymore.

When I work on the phone, I’ve got a scribble pad on my desk. All day I’m drawing squares, circles and triangles, trying to do 3D shapes, trying to get my cartooning ability back… but it’s just gone. I don’t understand the psychological aspects of it, but it basically means that something at the back of your mind is preventing you from doing whatever you did that hurt you.

When I was a cartoonist, everyone, including myself, thought I’d make it internationally and be a big name. But at least I’m not dead, like some others who’ve burnt out in their twenties. So: don’t burn yourself out.