Khaël Touag: “dancing around in the freelancing chaos is as scary as it is beautiful”
Meet Khaël Touag, a 30-year-old freelance director based in Brussels we often work with for Chase Creative. He dropped out of his PhD in Media Studies to pursue a career in filmmaking. Khaël Touag was amongst the first graduates of the REC Academy, the precursor of Chase’s postgraduate in Digital Storytelling at KASK School of Arts.
KHAËL TOUAG, WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING AT THE MOMENT?
Khaël Touag: "I work as a freelance director of commercials and music videos. I’m also enrolled at LUCA School of Arts, studying Audiovisual Arts. Combining both has been very valuable to me. Directing commercials is a great opportunity to experiment with different approaches to storytelling. It allows me to learn by doing; I get to focus on the ‘how’ of filmmaking.
Art school on the other hand, pushes me to reflect on the ‘why’. Stop. Think. What is important to me as a filmmaker? Why do I devote my time to telling a story? These questions are invaluable. Of course, there are things to be said against a formal schooling in filmmaking. It’s not the only way of going about it, and it sure as hell isn’t fail-safe. Which is why I’m so grateful to be able to work as a freelancer as well."
HAVE YOU DONE OTHER THINGS BEFORE BECOMING A FREELANCE DIRECTOR?
Khaël Touag: "I knew nothing and no one in the industry after I dropped out. I was happy to get my hands on any opportunity to gain experience. I started out doing production, and transitioned to the art department later. In between jobs, I helped out film students with their graduate films. That’s how I got in touch with Xavier Van D’huynslager, a young and talented D.O.P. and a good friend. His ramen is also unrivaled.
I continued working as a freelancer after I’d decided to go to film school. Doing both, it gets crazy busy sometimes. It’s tempting to put work before anything else, and I don’t always manage to keep myself in check. But I’ve really enjoyed myself so far, and I got to meet a lot of interesting people. That’s also what got me my first break to direct, things just started snowballing."
BESIDES ALL OF THAT, YOU'RE ALSO FREELANCING FOR CHASE CREATIVE. WHAT'S THE NICEST THING ABOUT THAT?
Khaël Touag: "Chase is a community, and it invests a lot in young creatives. You can hone your skills through volunteering; writing articles, taking pictures or making videos for the digital platform. Or you can apply to the Digital Storytelling postgraduate. It’s a safe environment to try out new things, master your talents and strengthen your weak points.
Chase Creative takes pride in its expertise in social. Often, commercials aren’t well-adapted to the medium they are meant for. It’s a new reality the industry is still working on accepting, and Chase is doing a great job at it. The projects I work on for Chase are usually socially engaged. There are no creatives in between the client and me, and we work with a skeleton crew. It’s just a different way of getting things done."
YOUR LIFE IS PRETTY BUSY, HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO GET EVERYTHING DONE WHEN THERE ARE ONLY 24 HOURS A DAY?
Khaël Touag: "The truth is, you can’t always get everything done. I used to have a hard time accepting that, and it made me unhappy. Nowadays, I try and focus on what’s happening around me, in the now. I’m learning to separate the important stuff from everything else.
That’s a challenging thing to do when you work for yourself. There’s no one to impose a structure or a routine on you. You need to find your own way to do things. There will be days when there’s no work at all, and you’ll start questioning yourself. And then suddenly, you need to juggle demanding clients and tight deadlines. Dancing around in that chaos is as scary as it is beautiful."
WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE ADVICE FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE INTERESTED IN MAKING OR DIRECTING VIDEOS?
Khaël Touag: "Don’t be fooled by survival bias. You read about success stories only, because the ones about failure just don’t get the same coverage. In the era of social media, this is even more true. The algorithm that decides who pops up in your feed and who doesn’t, makes its selection based upon what you like, what it thinks you like, or worse: what it wants you to like. Usually these are hot, up-and-coming creatives or people with a big following already. Scrolling through that, it’s easy to doubt yourself. Luckily though, we are not them. We’d just be serving up more of the same otherwise.
Surround yourself with the right people. I don’t care if I’m stating the obvious, it’s just too important - especially as a filmmaker. You need to have a vision, but you need others around you to bring it to fruition. Be loyal to your crew, and they will push you further than you could have gotten on your own. Talk. Share your ideas with them, and don’t be afraid of honest feedback. A shitty idea doesn’t make you a shitty person."
ONE LAST QUESTION, WHAT DO YOU WISH FOR THE FUTURE?
Khaël Touag: "Lately, I’ve been taking more time to discuss ideas with friends or people I know. I’d like to explore the possibilities of developing projects together. It’s fascinating to see a story grow into something you’d never have expected. I want to make an honest effort to make those ideas come to life along with the right people. But if nothing comes of it, that’s fine too. At least I get to be inspired just talking about it."
Check out more of Khaël Touag's work here!