We caught up with Austin Roa during SXSW a young filmmaker and music photographer based in Austin, Texas, and talk about his start with film, passion for music, and upcoming projects.
What started your passion for music photography/videography and film? Was there a specific moment that drew you in?
I actually didn’t start taking pictures until about a year ago. I started this whole journey four years ago on the video side of things. When I was 19, I went to Free Press Summer Fest in Houston to film for a local band called BLSHS. I was there to film a festival promo video, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. It wasn’t until that day that I was introduced to the festival world and music all around me. That’s when I met Robert DeLong, whom I later filmed some videos for. I can’t really describe all the things that happened, but I remember at the end of that day thinking at 3 am this is exactly what I wanted to do.
From previous projects with Hippo Campus, Robert DeLong, and Oberhofer, what have you learned working with musicians like them? You’ve never worked with different publications before working with them, so what was that like?
I never went through any type of publication for anything. I didn’t know that was the natural route, I just went straight to the artists. With Oberhofer, I met him two years before at SXSW and loved his music, so I started filming his sets. We became friends through that, kept in touch and I ended up directing one of his music videos for him. I’ve learned from directing the Sea of Dreams music video that he has a very specific idea of how he wants his content to be. As for my experience with Hippo Campus, they kinda have a nonchalant attitude. When I made the intro for the Texas video, they all dug it and were really trustworthy of my style and editing. I guess all artists are like that, just very different. Some can be super picky, others are just like, “Whatever you think looks best”.
So, in the past year, you’ve been working with local bands. What has that been like compared to working with signed artists?
There’s a difference in numbers, but at the end of the day, I don’t consider it a big deal. What I’ve tried to stay true to, something true to my heart is to just be there for the music. If the music is good, I’m there. I don’t care what the turnout is like, if it’s good music, it’s good music. I’ve been to shows where I thought, ”These guys are the best band that I’ve ever seen,” and there were like four people there. Sad Cops, in my personal opinion, rule the house scene in Denton. Those guys are the kings of Denton right now. It’s really cool to see their side of things in such a tight and specific environment. As with Hippo Campus, anytime I see them, they have their big tour bus and five-person crew, all sorts of things in that bus and there are already people waiting outside in line.
I sometimes get messages from fans saying, ”Hey! I saw your work. I really like the Film Your Friends thing. I love how you’re trying to create this, this is really cool. Keep going!” But I’m like, ”You can do this too! You can chase your dreams, even if it’s not filmmaking. Whatever you’re pursuing, you can do it.” The answer is always no if you don’t ask. I try to say that as much as I can to people because if I wouldn’t have asked them to make something, then I wouldn’t be here sitting and talking about it.
I really wanted to go to some of the official SXSW showcases this year, however, I prefer the unofficial showcases since they tend to have more underground bands.
Yeah, and those bands go so much harder. For example, Hypoluxo drove twenty-seven hours straight from Brooklyn for a three o’clock show and there were maybe ten people. That’s insane!
Tell us more about Film Your Friends?
I’ve always been into fashion and how I dress, but kind of afraid to address that. I just want my name to be on something and have it represent something bigger than myself. I was always afraid doing that, especially when I started working with bigger artists because I didn’t want them to think I was using them as a platform. It has to be about the music before anything else, and that’s what I’m always trying to emphasize when I put my work out. I just want to have something that I like and wear it for myself. If ten people buy it, that’s great! If no one buys it, that’s alright too! What I wanted Film Your Friends to encompass was people like me, a specific niche.
I started shooting and editing when I was eleven years old, just filming my friends. I want to savor that feeling for as long as I can. When someone wears this, I want them to feel like I’m gonna do that one thing I told myself I was gonna do but didn’t. I came up with this idea a year ago, it just sat and stirred in my head. I make the shirts in my studio and just do it. I’m still sitting here trying to figure it out as I go along, but that’s sort of the beauty of it as well. I’m always going to think like an artist, as a creative. I need to constantly make things. If someone wears it and they feel inspired to go after their passions, stay true to their hearts and chase their dreams a little bit more than they did yesterday, then I did my job. If I can affect five people, that’s fine; If I can affect hundreds, even better.
Would you say that the message of this is, take your story and make it your own?
If I can evolve this more, I’m going to. Right now, Film Your Friends is volume one. I would like to take volume two and “Tell Your Story”. I think it would be really cool to bring people together.
What would you say sets you apart from other young creatives in Texas?
When I shoot everything, I already know what I’m going to use. Again, you already sort of know what it’s going to look like. I start with the sound design before anything else. That’s the most important part because your ears are so much more susceptible to sound than a visual appearance. You’re going to hear something so much more clear than you’re going to see something come to life. I like to take songs reverse it to see what it sounds like and once I find some type of loop, I’ll take that and use that as an intro. I’ll then go through the song and try to recreate the song but in its own remix. From there, I would introduce the video in some type of unique fashion. Maybe a Super-8 style, or something weird, retro and different? I try to start with how I felt that day and how the footage feels to me. If I can personalize that in the intro, then I really think that sets the story for what you’re about to watch.
Yeah, I saw you do that with the Texas video! It was about twenty minutes.
[Hippo Campus] really let me do a twenty-minute video. The first cut was actually twenty-five minutes. The video almost got cut into two parts, but I asked them to keep it as one video. As one film, rather. That was another thing too, I remember asking them to call it a film because of the story that was created. Not a lot of people film in the crowd. No one sits in the middle of the crowd and tries to shoot video and pictures because it’s horrible. What videographer wants to be in a mosh-pit and film? It looks amazing with people’s hands going up in front of you. It becomes personal, almost like you’re there. I want my videos to come to life. I want my videos to remind people that I’m behind the camera. I try to poke that into a few times in my videos and show my face, just for a few seconds. I love reminding that someone is holding a camera.
So what are some upcoming projects that you have in store?
This week I’m making a mini-SXSW documentary for Sad Cops. I’m going to do another new music video for them for their upcoming EP, which drops June 8th. I’m also gonna be working on another really cool music video soon for some big artists. Then a Hippo Campus video at Hangout Fest in Alabama as well.
Moving to a place like Austin, an up-and-coming city, how has the culture and environment fostered your creativity?
When I graduated in May, I left and moved out of Austin. I couldn’t find any work like most college graduates, so I moved back home to Dallas and that’s when I started hitting the ground really hard with Sad Cops and Little Image. I love Dallas and the Denton scene, but the biggest opportunities I’ve ever had in the last four and a half years have been in [Austin]. You should follow your gut you know. The way I decided to move back was just that, I packed my stuff to the ceiling of my car about three weeks ago, drove down [to Austin] with no place to live and absolutely no job. By the Thursday of that week, I found a place to live and found a job as an assistant editor. Now I can be here, chase my dreams a bit more, and further my opportunities.
Camera System: Mamiya m645 | Film Stock: Fujifilm pro 400