Rising Stars Interview Series: Anthony Smith
Rising Stars is The Stargazer’s interview series where we sit down with young creatives to discuss their projects, inspirations, and goals. We recently had the opportunity to speak with graphic designer, creative director, and podcast producer Anthony Smith about his creative process and taking risks to achieve your dreams. Note: The following are excerpts.
The Stargazer: Our first question is always an icebreaker, and I hope you like this one. If you could have been a backup dancer for any early 2000s pop star, who and why?
Anthony Smith: That is the best question that I've ever heard in my entire life. Now I want to go text all my friends and ask them the exact same question. Early 2000s backup dancer... You know, I'm bouncing between three, which are Beyoncé, Shakira, and Britney Spears. But I think the most fun would probably be Shakira.
Yeah, that's a great choice.
There's your answer. Which one is yours?
Britney Spears would be near the top of my list now, but if I put myself in my early 2000s shoes, it definitely would have been Hannah Montana.
Oh, same. Oh, yeah. Big Time Rush, something like that, if you'd have asked me back in the 2000s. Honestly, Hannah Montana is a pretty solid choice, but she didn't have many backup dancers. So I don't know.
She would have made an exception for us, I hope. Okay, let's get to your story as a creative. So first, if you don't mind, can you talk a little bit about what your journey has been like in entertainment and media, and how you ended up where you are?
I think I have a very different story than most people would have. You know, I grew up a very artistic kid, and I would never land on one thing. I always had to do a thousand different things. And when I ended up at the end of high school, I had to pick a major. Because my brain was so all over the place, I wanted to be everything. I was like, “What do you mean, I gotta pick something? I don’t want to pick something.” And then I ended up with graphic design. And I did one year of graphic design and hated it. And I was so confused, because my future was so clear: I was gonna love this program, I was gonna do three years of this program, and then I would get a degree, move myself out to California, and work there. Always in my head, that was the plan. If you are in your 20s or late teens, you know that life has a way of throwing you off your tracks. And so I didn't like it after a year, and I decided I was gonna take a little bit of time off, figure out what I wanted to do, and then reassess for the time being.
During that time, I fell back in love with all those things I didn't think I'd love anymore, like graphic design, illustration, all that stuff. So I started doing a lot of fan art in my free time, just for fun, putting fun things out there, and I started getting attention from big networks. Netflix really appreciated the work that I did, and my drawing ended up on the explore page of Abby Lee Miller, for some reason. And then I drew Colleen Ballinger, because she was one of my favorite YouTubers. She saw it, and followed me, and I DMed her. I was like, “If you want to do merch, I'm your guy.” And I got that job. And then same thing with Lilly Singh, the host of A Little Late with Lilly Singh - I signed up to a contest. I guess the theme of my career is very much, Even though you think that it's not the right door for you, just put your foot through the door, and you'll figure out if it was meant to be yours or not. And I kind of just kept putting my foot through doors. I consider myself a very hardworking person, and I ended up landing and working towards everything that I've ever wanted. And unconsciously, I kind of built this brand around myself.
And then during this pandemic... I love acting. It's something that I've always loved to do. I started auditioning when I was very young. I was in a talent agency, and I missed talking to people who were from that community. And so I was talking to one of my friends who's on this show, and they were like, “I don't like doing press junkets. It's boring. The questions are never good, or, what's the purpose of asking them? I don't like it.” During the pandemic, I was like, “Well, I know how to edit. I know my way around a computer. I know how to figure things out. Why don't I start something?” I started with episode one [of the Sunset Drive podcast] not really knowing if I would get past episode three, four. And now we're on episode eleven with a three-time Emmy Award winner. So that's what I mean that my career trajectory is very unusual. And I still do graphic design stuff on the side. So I guess I got the best of both worlds (Hannah Montana!) by being able to have a career that allows me to kind of step into whichever role I want to have, whether that's as a producer or an illustrator, or a graphic designer. I get to do everything.
So because you have your hands in so many different projects, let's start with your design work. I would like to talk a little more about Colleen Ballinger (aka Miranda Sings). As herself and as Miranda Sings, she has a really established brand already, so how did you approach taking over the creative direction for her?
That's a really interesting question. To be honest, when I reached out to her the first time around, I knew that Colleen loved doing what she was doing, but she wasn't in the era of creatives that were doing YouTube for money, right? She was a creative that did YouTube because she had content she wanted to produce. And so when she tweeted one night: “I should make new merch, every creator now has really cool merch, but I'm tired.” I was just like, “I've been following her for a really long time and I don't think she has a visually established brand.” You think of Miranda Sings, but when you think of Colleen, what do you think about? So all these ideas were coming to mind, as somebody who's watched her for so many years. When I reached out to her, I didn't want to just be like, “Hire me!” I wanted to actually show her like, “Hey, I have these ideas for your brand.” So I sent her multiple design works, and I had a bunch of these little ideas in my head. I sent it her way and I was like, “What do you think of this?” And she was like, “I love it.” So I guess how I approached it is how any fan with a drawing tablet would: “I'm a big fan of yours, and as a big fan of your content, how would I like to represent your brand? What ways do I want my clothes to look?” You know, the trend now is to wear something that represents the brand, but also just looks like something cool you could pick out at Urban Outfitters. And so that's kind of the way that I approached it. I started with the first collection, didn't know if I was going to get a second collection and a third collection. We're working on the third or fourth now, and we had a meeting this morning. Now that I'm talking about it, it's very much been like: I just try, I shoot in the dark. And then I'm like, “Okay, it sticks. I did something right.” So that's how I approached it: the fan perspective.
Based on your work that I've seen, you've done a similar thing with a bunch of different types of projects, right?
Oh, a lot. I'm telling you, you are your biggest enemy. I think there's a lot of things that I would not have in my life right now if I didn't say, “Well, what if I just sent an email? What if I just try? What if I just send them a DM?” It follows that theme, and that's why I love the word ‘dare.’ Dare to try. You never know what's gonna happen. You might get a “No,” I can't promise you a “Yes.” But life might surprise you. I think it does follow that similar theme of me putting my ego in my back pocket, just trying it, and then it works out. I try to convince myself it's also because of my ideas, because I keep telling myself I'm just lucky. I've been told to stop saying that because I do think there's a work ethic, and there's a creativity that comes with it. But I do consider myself daring, in what I reach out for in terms of work.
Yeah, and you do have the work to back it up. You've recently done the album cover for Madison Reyes’s new single, too. Is collaborating with a musician different than collaborating with a YouTuber or with Netflix, like you've done in the past?
I feel like that's a very subjective question. Well, it has subjective answers, because I think it depends. If you're going to work with a music client but they're under a record label, you're gonna have a different experience than working with an independent artist, especially when that independent artist is sixteen years old. You know what I mean? How I worked with Colleen, with YouTubers, is we have a very set schedule, or a very sparse schedule, and we just connect whenever we can. With Madison, she was in a recording studio in New York, and she had one of her cousins, who's a photographer, take pictures of her. I remember her dad, Ricardo, sent me the pictures, and he was like, “I'm a big fan of your work. I love what you do. If you ever want to figure out something with those pictures, feel free to do so.” So I sat on my computer, and I was like, “Alright, the pictures didn't have the purpose to be an album cover. It was just pictures that they took around New York City. How can I take these pictures and then turn them into something like Selena?” And I turned over a little idea that I had. I didn't ask them to give me the contract and ask for the NDA or anything like that. It was very much like, here's what I have in store for you. I was like, “If you like it, we can work together. If you don't, that's cool.” Because I think [when you’re] working with a creative, you need to find the right one for you. It just ended up working out as a one time thing. With the YouTubers that I get to work with, it's kind of a year long thing. Almost every month we're working on something different. So I guess that's where I would say that's a little different.
So Madison was also a guest on your podcast, to transition to that. Can you give us an overview of Sunset Drive, for people who don't know it?
Yeah, absolutely. The Sunset Drive podcast got its name because I love the deep, meaningful, but also weird conversations you can have on a road trip with your friends. I feel like all of my best conversations were built when we're in a car, driving nowhere, with music blasting. So I love that concept, and I wanted to humanize people a little bit. I think with the social media era, and with movies and TV, we tend to hold people on a different level. I wanted to create this safe space where it was a two-sided conversation, as opposed to an interview, where we could go on tangents and talk about everything and anything. And to create a safe space not only for the audience, but also for the guests to come on and share their experience and stories. So it's a really cool, chill place where two times a week, we try to have new guests. We call our slogan, “We're best friends right now.” Because for just an hour, we want you to feel like you’re best friends with us, and you're on FaceTime, and we're having a cool conversation. And so I guess that's my pitch for that podcast. It's a change of pace from press junkets.
You mostly talk to actors and people who are on the younger side, in their 20s or teens, or people who acted when they were in their 20s and teens. And the format you use is humanizing for those people. Is there something you want audiences to take away from that, as opposed to the kinds of things they would take away from a more traditional interview?
I think with traditional interviews, what you take away is who they are as professionals: they're actors, they've accomplished this, this, this, and this. What they are is what they've done with their career. That's where people limit themselves when they think about [actors], and I think that's what happens. And that is when there's a disconnect with those people, because they've accomplished so many beautiful things that you kind of don't relate to them anymore. I think what I want the Sunset Drive people to take away is that they also experience things like anxiety, racism, and sexism. They also experience going to prom with their best friends, and going to the beach. They experience highs and lows. And honestly, it's surprising how relatable they can be. The incredible thing that they do is their job. And so I guess that's the difference. With typical interviews, you'll get the breakdown on whatever project they're working on. But with Sunset Drive, you'll get the breakdown of what they're working on, but also who they are as human beings. That's what I really love about doing the show, and I hope that's what comes through.
I think it does, and it’s a unique perspective on what an entertainment industry interview can be like. So what do you want to achieve or accomplish with the podcast? What are your broad goals for that?
You know, I've kind of gone back and forth about that. Is this just something casual that I can do during the pandemic, and enjoy, and then once I'm out into the world, I put it to bed and that's that? But as it's grown, I’ve realized that there is a need for that kind of platform now, in the entertainment space. All the guests that I've had on are like, “Oh my God, thank you for this interview.” I'm like, “What do you mean, thank you?” And they're like, “No, this is just so refreshing.” And so I guess my broad goal for it would be that this would be a regular thing. I hope to get enough episodes and have it be a profitable endeavor so that I can start doing them weekly, as opposed to two times a month. And I can start having a team of editors, so I don't have to do all of it myself, and I hope that we continue to have people on. My biggest hope is big networks, like Netflix and Disney+ and Hulu, will look at that kind of platform and be like, “Hey, our stars look comfortable on that type of platform. Maybe we should also try to get more platforms like that on our press junket list.” And so I hope to continue to do this, as long as it makes sense and as long as we continue moving forward. I hope that it broadens the horizons of streaming platforms or PR companies, as to what they should plug their actors into - interviews on big networks with adult interviewers who have no idea who they are, but just know that they're famous for whatever project you're doing, or do you want them to have a chit chat and sit down and relax and give an authentic version of themselves? So I guess the goal is to continue to do it, and continue to establish this type of platform and make it more normal.
Yeah, and like we’ve talked about, you’re a really creative person who's doing a lot of different things. In the future, do you want to continue to exist in the same spaces that you do now? Or do you have other goals or other things you want to try?
I do, I think I want to keep expanding and keep growing. At first, my company was called Anthony's Graphx, and it was a graphic design company. And then I re-registered my business as Anthony's Graphic Studio. We don't just do graphic design and illustration, we also do production, and right now we're doing podcast production. That's why at the end of the podcast now, you see that little animation with my name on it; it's because we're producing that. My goal is that we can start producing independent films in the future, and continue to expand. I want it to be like a multi-creative, studio, firm, whatever you want to call it. And I just want to keep growing and keep dipping my toes in different projects. I hope that we can start hiring people and bringing people onto this little studio. If there are creatives out there who just want to be creative, but don't want to be tied down to one thing, this would be the company for them.
So to wrap up, what is your ultimate mission as an artist and a creative? What kind of work do you want to produce, and what kind of stories do you want that work to tell?
I want to continue creating things that I feel are missing in the entertainment space. I think we live in a very oversaturated media world right now, where everybody wants to be a YouTuber, everybody wants to be a TikToker, everybody and their mother has a podcast. So I think I want to keep creating content that I deem is missing from that space, whether that's a podcast or that type of format, whether that's films that I think have stories that I don't believe have been put onto the big screen yet. I want to continue doing so, and impacting people. One of the most beautiful things about doing what I do is, even if it's a drawing, or it's a podcast that I just have fun on, people find themselves in these projects, like, “Oh, I love your art, and I'm an artist, I want to do art as well. And, oh, I love graphic design, what tablet do you recommend while I'm going into that journey of art? And I love your podcast, when you talk about all these topics and humanize these celebrities, because I tend to fantasize about what their life is like and how they don't have the same troubles as I do.” My ultimate goal and dream is to continue creating content that I deem is missing from the space, and can bring comfort and joy to the people who consume it.
Anthony Smith is a graphic designer, creative director, and podcast producer based in Québec, Canada. He has worked on projects with YouTube stars like Colleen Ballinger and Claudia Sulewski, as well as with major networks like Netflix and NBC. Anthony’s podcast, Sunset Drive, breaks down the format of traditional interviews to host grounded, personal conversations with young actors and other professional filmmakers, including Emmy award-winning director and choreographer, Kenny Ortega. Sunset Drive is available on YouTube, Apple Podcast, and Spotify. You can find out more about Anthony and his work, here: https://www.anthonysgraphx.com/.
Written by: Cassidy Elibol