Emmett Sparling is an award-winning director, photographer and videographer. As a teenager, he left a burgeoning career in fashion photography to backpack across the world. Over the course of his journey, he began to gain momentum on Instagram as a travel photographer.
In the years since, Emmett has shot major tourism campaigns for Egypt, South Africa, Indonesia, Belize, and Switzerland. He’s also worked with Samsung, Lexus, Toyota, Bang & Olufsen, and other globally recognized brands. He’s nearing 1 million followers on his Instagram profile.
In this episode, Emmett shares how his family and community supported and inspired his work. He also reflects on lessons learned from years on the road and offers a glimpse into what exciting new projects are next up.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Emmett Sparling is an award-winning director, photographer and videographer. As a teenager, he left a burgeoning career in fashion photography to backpack across the world. Over the course of his journey, he began to gain momentum on Instagram as a travel photographer and shot more and more short films.
In this episode, Emmett reflects on lessons learned from years on the road shooting, a rule that increased his creative performance and offers a glimpse into what exciting new projects are next up.
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Pierre Lambert: Good morning podcast, and welcome to a new episode. My name is Pierre T. Lambert. I am here, your host. And today with me, I have a very talented guest, and his name is Emmett Sparling. Emmett is a travel photographer and videographer. He's had several films awarded through different competitions; we'll get into that a little bit. He's worked with some of the best brands in the world that you may know we're going from luxury to cars. And before that, you were actually a fashion photographer for a little bit. So there's a lot to unpack here in this episode. And I really want to get to actually get into some of the stories, how you got there and what's happening now. We've traveled together, I think it's the second big trip we do together, and there's always something to be learned from either working with you or just seeing your work, and that's always a pleasure. So Emmett, welcome to the podcast.
Emmett Sparling: Thank you very much. Thanks for the intro. Just for the record, not so much luxury and cars. Well, I mean, it is true. Lexus is one of my main partners, I guess, but mostly adventure travel. Yeah.
Pierre Lambert: I think that's what people know you the most for. But I do see those car shots, and I'm like, Ooh, this looks good.
Emmett Sparling: I will say it is a fun little side thing. And it is fun to pursue new types of photography like that. Because I just got into that pretty recently.
Pierre Lambert: Oh really, it seems like it's something you did for a long time now.
Emmett Sparling: No, not really. Like I had some car photos that I'd taken a while ago and I kind of used those random car photos that I had taken as kind of a media kit to pitch to Lexus because I wanted to buy a four runner. So I pitched to Toyota. I was like about to buy one. I was like, why don't I just see if Toyota wants to work with me? So, my friend works with Toyota, and he gave me a contact. So I emailed them, and they were like, oh, we don't have any ambassador spots with Toyota left. But we have them with Lexus, and Toyota owns Lexus. So I was like, oh, oh no, not Lexus. And so, they got me set up with Lexus and then in exchange for photos of the car, which is a pretty sweet deal. So I've just been diving into automotive photography more and more. And since I have to, I have monthly deliverables for them. I kind of have to constantly be coming up with new concepts. So I don't just give them the same photos over and over again. I just have to keep experimenting and trying new things with car photography and kind of seeing like like what other car company are doing for their photos and try and figure out how I can recreate them with no budget by myself, like maybe a driver or something which has been pretty fun because It's actually easier than you think to make a really high-budget-looking image for just you and your camera, really in a polarizer.
Pierre Lambert: Oh, like already a secret: polarizer.
Emmett Sparling: Polarizer and a whole bunch of editing. And yeah, I think that I think there's a big role for that.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah, how did that come about? Do you feel like travel photography, and we'll get into how you get into that, but do you feel like travel photography helps for the car photography?
Emmett Sparling: Every type of photography helps in different ways because it's all about just learning how to use your camera. And if you know how to use your camera well enough, you know how to work with light well enough, you're going to be able to come up with a good car photo. After a bit of practice, just because you know how to work with a subject, work with light composition. And it all is like in the end, it's all fundamentally the same, but yeah, it's something that takes a bit of practice, but interesting.
Pierre Lambert: Well, let's dig into the travel photography, which you're known for. You actually released a few NFTs around that, which did really well. So we'll link to everything in the show notes. If you guys want to check out Emmett's work. How did travel photography come about, and what was first, photography or travel?
Emmett Sparling: Well, definitely photography. So, I first picked up a camera in probably grade seven. So that's like twelve or thirteen years old in Canada, and I was bored sitting around the house one day, and my Mom gave me her camera. She was like, go outside and take photos. And so I was like, okay. So I went outside and started taking some photos of just horrible photos of like grass for you, tree bark, some leaves. Beautiful. And then I posted them all on Facebook, and I got this one comment from some guy that I didn't really know, but I kinda knew him. And he was like, “These are awesome, man. Like, keep going.” And I was like, huh? I was like, that was kind of cool. I'll keep taking some photos and then kept taking photos, turned into macro photography. You know just so I'd be finding bugs in the garden and shooting those. And eventually, that kind of morphed into me taking photos of my friends and coming up with like conceptual portrait ideas. So we would like get my friend in a dress and put her in a lake or something in the freezing cold in like January in Vancouver and just take some mediocre photos. But it was all part of the process of learning. Do all that kind of stuff. And then that eventually I took photos with one of my friends who was a professional model. Yeah. We were in high school together. This was probably grade twelve. So finally, or high school. And she, after school, one day we took photos. She really liked them. So she sent them to her agency, and her agency liked them. So they hired me for some test shoots and that kind of thing. And so, I started taking photos for fashion stuff, started doing more editorial work and that kind of thing, and started working with a lot of the agencies in Vancouver. Yeah. And then where are you then? I was 17, turning 18. Well, it was about 18 years old. So I did that when I was 17, 18, and then into 19. and. And it was fun because you could come up with all these different creative ideas. It kind of felt like a movie set, you're like the director, but you're also, you have a photographer, and you have your like hair and makeup stylist, model lighting, and maybe you'll have an art director or something. Which kind of felt like a movie set to me. And I love making movies, and I was actually doing that before I was taking photos. And so that was kind of felt like a short version of making a movie. Does he come up with this whole set and this whole theme of, for example, one shoot, we did, we had a rowboat, and we filled it with all these old nautical ropes and giant pulleys. And we had this guy. It was for kind of like Sperry or something like a nautical fashion brand. Okay. A cable knit sweater or something and that kind of thing. And, but it was like high fashion still. Yeah. And so we just created this whole theme. We had like sunrise on this lake with mist, and it was super cool to just come up with this whole set in the middle of the lake and just turn this creative idea into a reality. And I think that also helped me practice a lot coming from a pre-production idea to actually fulfilling the idea. Yeah. and then, from there, after about two and a half years doing that, I was kinda like, there's a lot of big personalities and fashion as I started to take it more seriously and get bigger with it. Like I went down to LA and shot with some people down there, started doing shoots for guests and a couple of other companies like that. It kind of was like, oh boy, I like there's so many. Like egos and fashion, just like go find a lot of ego fight. Everyone's just trying to size up the next person. And I had started, I probably had 20,000 followers at this point, just from posting portrait fashion stuff. And so, like models would come to the shoot and just be waiting for me to tag them in their posts or in my stories or something. And just, I was like, okay, like, why am I doing this? So I basically saved up four or $5,000 and then went backpacking. So I was like, screw this, I went to Mexico, to Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, kind of down that the west coast. And then to the other side, like Cancun, and whole Holbox island, a couple of other spots, Mexico city. And then I did that for, I was in Mexico for two and a half months, ran out of money, flew home, and then took photos in a glass tile factory.
Pierre Lambert: And that's, that's quite a change.
Emmett Sparling: Yeah, and basically. Yeah, it was pretty dry, but they actually helped me buy my like 5D Mark IV. So I was shooting on 60 before that. And so, shooting there, I basically traded all the work. I did shooting there for a new camera. And then obviously a bit of money as well, so I could keep traveling. So I went back to Mexico and then did two more months in Mexico. Because it was, I guess, all I knew, and it was easy, and I knew how to travel there, and backpack and the hostels were fun. And then my parents for Christmas, they bought me a plane ticket to anywhere in the world. Wow. They're like anywhere, anywhere. Well, I didn't want to make them go broke. I did choose for them to buy the most expensive flight in my journey, which was from Mexico to Bali. Wow. So I flew from Mexico, LA to Bali and then did four months in Bali, and that's kind of where everything started with the adventure travel stuff. So that's where I met, like Jordan Hammond, Conor McCann, and a couple other guys down there. You know, you had Jordan on the podcast. So sweet. Yeah. So Jord and I kind of had started talking through Instagram when we had probably 5,000 followers, and we'd just started taking photos. I was taking almost all portraits but started to get into landscape travel stuff. Jord was also the same, just starting to get into travel landscape stuff. And then we just met in Bali and started backpacking together for like four and a half months. And that was kind of a whole mindset shift for me because it was like, oh, I'm not backpacking with backpackers anymore. I'm backpacking with another photographer. So we both want to get up for sunrise. We both understand that that's the best light, or we both want to get to these photo spots. Whereas when you're with backpackers, they're like, why would I wake up?
Pierre Lambert: Good drink and then wake up at ten.
Emmett Sparling: Exactly. So Jord and I were on the same wavelength where we were like, we want to actually get to the sunrise spot and actually take the photos. And so we started getting way better photos. Cause we were also learning off each other, like bouncing ideas with each other and teaching each other little things in Photoshop, stuff like that. And then we kind of just like met up with other people, and that kind of just momentum just kept rolling. And it kinda, it taught me to like at the time it was right when beautiful destinations put out their whole campaign for the world's greatest job where they were hiring members. And so Jordan and I were both like, are we so sick if we're part of the BD team? And it looked like the coolest thing ever. And so we're just trying our hardest to like, get noticed by.
Pierre Lambert: It was so popular back the thing you have to be posted on.
Emmett Sparling: Yeah. And so I remember Jordan went on a trip with them, and I think he started to kind of realize like, oh man, that's like, they work, you hard, beautiful destinations. And so we, you know, we were just like really focused on that kind of thing. And I think what we ended up learning was like, looking back on that is growing with your peers is way better than trying to grow with your idols. So like, let's say we did start working for beautiful destinations. I think we'd be way further behind than if we just kept trying to work on our own and try and get there ourselves because what we didn't know at the time was that we were really pushing for, like, we were actually learning how to do this whole thing on our own. We’re trying to get to a point where they would notice us. But in reality, we just got to a point where we were able to fully sustain a living, doing exactly what we would have been doing with BD, but on our own terms, which is ultimately way better. And so, yeah, I think that was a really cool thing. Looking back on that, it's cool that we were able to do that. Like after Bali, we went to Europe and road trip to Europe together for a couple of months in a van. And then we flew to Japan right after that and did Japan for a month. And the whole time, we were like, growing together exactly the same pace. Like we hit a hundred thousand followers on the same day. Wow. That's awesome. Celebration time.
Pierre Lambert: Wow. That's awesome. Celebration time. And sorry to interrupt. Did you guys start making any money by that point, in order to in traveling?
Emmett Sparling: All the jobs we were doing basically only paid for the trips.
Pierre Lambert: Okay.
Emmett Sparling: So, this 2017 and everything that we would make would just be funneled straight back into travel. Okay. Or it would just be free trips. So, for example, the road trip through Europe, the van company gave us the van in exchange for photos and stories, shoutouts, and stuff. And so we did that. And then, on the side, I was also taking photos for Sackcloth and Ashes there, blanket company. And so that helped to fund some of my runs with a blanket. So I had to film. Basically, I would carry a different blanket around me on each trip. I think in Europe, we had six or seven blankets because they wanted a video with their blanket. So like, I think it was a one-minute video. In each country that we were going to, and they would pay me, like, I think it was 2000 bucks or something per video. And at the time, that was like, hell yeah. Like 2000 bucks. And I can just bang out these videos, and we're in Europe, so you can hit a different country like every week. And so we just started traveling around like that. I was filming a ton of little videos for Sackcloth, and that really helped fund that whole like a chunk of time in my career, basically. Yeah. It was having Sackcloth support me like that. Cause they were like my very first brand deal. And then it kinda just started snowballing. So like the people that you meet when you travel and start putting yourself out there and posting when you start getting more connections, that kind of snowballs. I'm in Japan this month. And then while I'm in Japan, this company reaches out to me, and then they want me to come to Hawaii next, and I have to figure out like, oh, they can pay for my flight to Hawaii and then they're returned to get to Vancouver or something, so I can kind of get home like that. So it kind of became a game like that. It still is like that. Yeah. Just trying to figure out how you can get around the world for free and it was all just like portfolio building and just really grinding to just try and make it and make more money, and to be able to continuously travel. And so that was like, I was home maybe a month, a year and just traveling, taking so many photos, making so many videos, and I think if I wasn't more passionate about it, I would have completely burnt out. And if I was older, I would have burnt out as well. I think interesting. I was only nineteen. Oh, it's so it was just so easy to do. Like my body was invincible. I could just sit on a plane forever and then hike a mountain immediately after like, nothing would happen to me. But yeah, it was just like unlimited energy, basically. It's amazing. Yeah.
Pierre Lambert: What was a turning point for you? When you're like, this is really working, and this is a career because I imagine that there's that feeling of so true and you're like, well, maybe we're bigger than we think.
Emmett Sparling: So, basically when I got home from Mexico, that first time when I worked before I worked in the glass tile factory, taking photos, I saw I would want to go to film school. Out of high school, I didn't get accepted into any film schools. And then, well, the ones that I wanted to get into were like way too expensive to train and get into than the ones in the States. So I took a gap year, went to Mexico in my gap year, and I kind of had to make a decision, like, do I use like any of the scholarship money that I had in school?
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Emmett Sparling: And put it towards the university and because you can only defer it one year or something.
Pierre Lambert: Okay.
Emmett Sparling: So I deferred it the year, and I was like, okay, I have to make a decision. Do I go to university, go to film school? Or do I keep pursuing traveling and photography? Which really seemed like the bad idea. I was like, I don't want to be broke for my entire life, but this is also really fun. But I had never traveled before I had only gone to Mexico. I hadn't met any other photographers. And then my mom says to me do what you love and eventually the money will come. So like, I'll give that a go see what happens. So I did. and then it took probably three years to for any actual money to start coming in, like good money. So I think the very first job that I got that was like, this is actually good enough money to to survive beyond just putting everything back into backpacking. So I shot the campaign for the Galaxy S4, I think it was at the time. So Samsung, I think they didn't tell me this, but I think their main photographer must've dropped out or something. Okay. Because they reached out to me like a week before this massive multi-million dollar campaign for their phone. And so I was in Turkey. In some cave and capita Nokia or something. And they were like, emailing me, asking for treatment and all these things. I'm like, what the hell is the treatment? Like I'd never done any of this before. I'm like trying to talk to my mom to see if she can send it to them. Because I don't have good enough wifi in this freaking cave in Turkey. I'm like, can you help me do this? And so Samsung flew me to Spain to shoot this thing. It was in Spain and Portugal, and the whole campaign was shot on the Galaxy S4. And so they flew me in. It was like a kind of a James Bond style movie where I landed get out of the airport, get picked up in a blacked-out Mercedes, like no one talks to me. They're just like, holy signs as Emmett Sparling or something, they opened the black Mercedes door I get inside and you get driven to this five-star hotel. They're like Mr. Sparling, just hand me the room keys. Don't even need to check-in. Take me upstairs. There's just an envelope with my name on it filled with like a thousand euros and cash. I'm like, huh? Like I'm a secret agent now, I guess.
Pierre Lambert: Amazing.
Emmett Sparling: Yeah.
Pierre Lambert: And then was there a new ideals, though?
Emmett Sparling: A new passport. And so that job was probably a week and a half of shooting every single day with this horrible phone. It was like, the camera was decent, but it was the beta version. So they were still programming the camera while I was using it. So they had this head technician there. I'd be shooting like, oh, there's grain in this top corner. And in the phone, he hands her a new phone ten minutes later that he had tweaked. I wasn't allowed to put the phone in my pocket ever. I had to hand it to someone who had put it in like a Faraday cage type bag, and then just like seal it. So no one, the phone couldn't be leaked to anyone. And it was all very top secret.
Pierre Lambert: Were you shooting on your own?
Emmett Sparling: No. So I had, like, there was a hair and makeup van. There was a catering van. There was a costumes van, like full production size vans with our talent also. Yeah, there’s talent, and I'm like, I'm using this talent as a silhouette way in the distance of this landscape photo. They don't need to be hair and makeup and costume; it's like they can wear anything. It'd be fine. But I think what it was like was cause the head executives of Samsung were there.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Emmett Sparling: And they were the ones who were paying for the whole shoot. And so, the agency that they had hired in Spain wanted to show the Samsung executives that they were spending the money that they'd given them. So they just went all out and spent a ton of money on these shoots. Like one day we had, they rented out an entire amusement park. So what is this one in Barcelona that was like above the whole city? They rented the whole place out. They got like 400 extras dressed in just basic clothing, no logos or anything to just fill the entire place, and they were on a merry-go-round and everything, taking all these photos with the phone. And then, we didn't use a single photo from that shoot in the file selection. That's probably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on that whole shoot just on that day. And then like all of the Samsung executives. They’re like going around in the merry-go-round, however, in the best time ever.
Pierre Lambert: It's hilarious. That is something that's always surprising is to see how much budget they actually have versus when they reach out to you. And they're like, exactly you're ready to hire someone to take me in a black limo to my hotel, so you can take a bus, you know?
Emmett Sparling: But yeah, so that job kind of opened my eyes to like, oh, there is real money in this industry. I could do this. And that job also paid for pretty much nine months of travel after that because I still just put everything right back into shambling didn't save a single penny of that job.
Pierre Lambert: Well, I mean, in a way, it's like at that age you save to travel. Anyway, I went that I used to save to travel, so that was still.
Emmett Sparling: See it as it was me investing in my future, or just keep traveling, build that portfolio more. Because then later, so that was at the very end of 2018. Then in 2019, that's when things started to pick up a bit more, and I started getting more like sizable jobs. So 2019 was basically make as many connections as possible travel with as many different people as possible. Do as many jobs as you can possibly fit in and just work your ass off. That was what I was doing all of 2019. And it's a pretty good way to burn yourself out. Just like travel with the most random people that you don't get along with and just see who you like, that whole thing. It's important to do,
Pierre Lambert: But sounds like, when to say, throw ideas on the wall and see which one sticks. Exactly. And so I just did that for pretty much all of 2019, just to see what happened. And it went well. It was fun, but definitely not a sustainable way to work or travel. Oh, I guess, no, that would be COVID. I think that I'm talking about 2018.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Emmett Sparling: Or at least half of 2018 was kind of like that. And then 2019, I started to figure out a little bit better who I like to travel with. It's all kind of mixed in it wasn't year by year. But somewhere in 2019, I started to slow down a bit more, and it was like, I'm only gonna travel with these ten people.
Pierre Lambert: Okay.
Emmett Sparling: And just try and stick to that crew we work really well together. We know how each other operates and can travel. So it just makes life way easier. And then, by doing that, you can also start coming up with more creative concepts for jobs and start pitching better things, and you just end up working way better; you can kind of slow down a bit. You don't have to be in a country for three days and then just keep bouncing around like that.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Emmett Sparling: It's more just like let's spend a month here and actually make something really meaningful or really cool. So started doing that a little bit more. I was living in Bali at the time. So, I kind of had a home base there with the whole crew of people around that I was just traveling with and coming up with cool ideas and stuff. And then 2020 came along. COVID happened, and everything started to shut down. But, I think that whole mindset of just stick to the people that you know, you worked really well with was really helpful in that stage of my career because, It helped me not burn out because if I had kept traveling like I was prior to that, it would have been a lot more challenging to keep that sustainable.
Pierre Lambert: Especially when you travel, you spend a lot of time with people, so you better get along.
Emmett Sparling: Yeah, exactly,
Pierre Lambert: For anyone listening, if you've not tried, just travel with people that were slightly off; you'll get it.
Emmett Sparling: Where do you get along for the first three or four days. And then after like two weeks. I hate everything about you. Even though you're super nice and chill, mostly I cannot be with you for long periods of time. Like that kind of thing is…
Pierre Lambert: Is difficult. So that's, and that's something I remember when I met when we met in 2020 and pulling in Asia. So that was the first time we interacted. Actually, guys, we're in pulling Asia right now at the end of our trip of like two weeks plus. And we were on the cruise ship and like in remote islands. Beautiful. But I remember specifically, even what I think I shared that with you, or at least I talked to Chelsea, it was the first time I met you at Chelsea in real life. But I remember after it was like so easy to travel with those guys, like they're ready to wake up at four, you know, to go shoot. No one's ever complaining about it. You know, like literally no one was ever complaining. And then I'm ready to shoot that night also if needed. And I think just having that flexibility and to going with things is, fairly rare. And the other thing I would throw in there is people that don't drink very much.
Emmett Sparling: Drinking alcohol is the biggest way to just burn yourself out when you're traveling and trying to share some good same time. Yeah. Like if you were to have even just like a beer or two every night. Yeah. It was just so like, eventually that just, just makes your sleep worse. It just makes everything just start to go downhill. And I think like it's obviously fun sometimes, but know doing that while you're traveling and working is just the easiest way to kind of self-sabotage.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah, absolutely. I remember like, throwing a lot of, days out because of that one. It was very young, but I wasn't into photography.
Emmett Sparling: When I was living in Bali, That was like, oh, there goes a whole month of my time, just partying.
Pierre Lambert: How did you get into the filmmaking part? Because you did like really cool shorts, uh, with Chelsea when we were there. I mean, you guys created three shorts. I was the boom mic on one. I’m joking. But you might have seen if you're listening to the, behind the scenes of, uh, even when you were shooting and like all the photos we got, but I remember you two had such precision in what you want to shoot a laser focus. You know, like this is exact shot we want, this is how we're going to get it. How did you arrive to that point? Because I imagine it wasn't, if you're doing photography, it's also very different from filmmaking. So how did the filmmaking come?
Emmett Sparling: So, I started making films before I got into photography. Okay. First, but like at the same time, the films I was making were just horrible. They were like, but obviously, they're horrible. It's like when you're starting out. so I started because every year my whole family at Christmas time would do an activity of some kind. And so one year this activity that we did was make a stop motion film out of Lego and like plasticine or something. And, and my uncle is in the film industry so he kind of knew how to edit it all together. So we made this short film just stop motion. I was like, oh, this is pretty sweet. It was like maybe ten or something. And then I just got our family point and shoot when it was some friends made this little action movie thing. I could probably find a link for it as we get up at this holding death. And that was kind of just like my first step into making these little home videos and just funny action movie things. And I really enjoyed doing that. And then in grade nine at the middle school that I was at when you're so great, now it was the final year of the middle school. And in your final year there, you get to choose a project to do for the full year it's called masterworks. And so you end up spending the whole year focusing on this one project, and I chose to make a movie for that. And so they bring in like external mentors to help you. And I had just so nice. Yeah. So I had these two mentors that were like really established in the film industry. Um, but they lived on Bowen Island, which is where I was living. And they kind of helped me along with it. And I ended up making a short called between the lines and it's set in World war I. And it's like in the trenches and we went and dug a trench in this like a muddy field on Bowen, like a fog machine and just smoked out the whole place. And like, it actually looks pretty sick. We were shooting on it like Canon T4i, and all the costumes were from value village. The helmets were papier-mache, and it was very running gun, but it honestly looks quite good for.
Pierre Lambert: It must have been so much you can make your costume.
Emmett Sparling: I was watching some of the behind-the-scenes of making it, and there's all this video of me trying to direct it.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Emmett Sparling: I'm the most clueless person or looking back on it. I was like, holy crap. I was a horrible director. But obviously, I was in grade nine. But I think that definitely taught me a ton, of how to make some kind of a short film. Like for example, when I first started making that, I was like creating all these dialogue scenes between the characters and the soldiers. And then once you start making it, you realize creating outdoor dialogue scenes with like five characters is so hard to do; just cut it down. So just cut it down. There's no dialogue in the whole thing. And then just trying to tell a story with no dialogue and everything is a much more realistic thing. So we did that. And then, from there, I went to high school and then in high school. So, it was in grade 11. Well, I'd made a film in grade 10. That was fun. It was called Somnium. It was just kind of an experimental film that was sent in medieval times, my friend Shane and I made it in a week and just ran around the island with my friend, Rachel, who was dressed in medieval armor and had a sword. And she's basically trying to find the heart of the earth. It was just some experimental film, but it looked really good. It was really fun to make. And so in grade eleven, I was like, okay, I want to do another film like that. What's a cool story I could tell. And so this story, this is the one about my dad. So Brain Maker. So basically, the day after my parents announced they were pregnant with me, my dad had a seizure and was diagnosed with an inoperable malignant brain tumor. And so, how he coped with that was he imagined he was an astronaut. So this film follows that story, and it's half set in space in his imagination and then half in reality in the hospital. And so now, he's 23 years clean of cancer, 24 years clean of cancer. And he basically just put himself in this mindset of, for example, he saw the parallels between being an astronaut and being a cancer patient. And they're both at the pinnacle of human knowledge and achievement. Like everything that the people around you are trying to do is to keep you alive. And all human knowledge is trying to keep you alive in the various aspects. And then, it's also the parallel of like you're getting needles poked and you all day tests run on you. The main difference is that an astronaut has the mindset of hell. Yeah, let's do this. Let's go to the moon. Whereas the cancer patient feels like he's going to die or he's terrified. Well, the astronaut actually has a way lower chance of survival to like stroke. So the odds are not in the astronauts' favor yet. Their mindset is confident, is excited, all this stuff. So my dad put himself in that mindset of hell yeah. Let's, let's go to the moon. Okay. Even though he was dying of brain cancer. And so the film follows that story. And so, that was a pretty ambitious story to tell in grade 11, I imagined as a third film ever made, but we actually, we crowdfunded $20,000 for it. Wow. Which was huge, but it also disappeared really quickly. But at the same time, that basically allowed us to do what we did. And like, for example, we built a full-size Mercury space capsule in my backyard, which actually looked pretty sick that we built a full control panel that all the buttons lit up. We like soldered the whole.
Pierre Lambert: Really.
Emmett Sparling: Yeah.
Pierre Lambert: Wow. Do you still have it?
Emmett Sparling: Yeah. My friend's got it in Calgary. Wow. And then we, like NASA, has all its spaceship bloopers. Royalty-free online. Yeah. So we just downloaded the mercury spacecraft blueprint and then just made it to the exact measurements that the actual spacecraft is. We just built a frame out of wood and then put like car floormats over the whole thing, aluminum panels. And then we cut out a window and had rivets and everything. And then it was kind of a cross-section. So it was like, basically the spaceship cut in half so we could shoot inside.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Emmett Sparling: Half of it. And we rented a spacesuit, and we rented a whole bunch of hospital equipment. And then we turned my old middle school into a hospital.
Pierre Lambert: Wow.
Emmett Sparling: It had the like linoleum.
Pierre Lambert: And they cool with it?
Emmett Sparling: Yeah, it was summertime. So we were shooting in the summer, and the headmaster of my middle school was one of my advisors on the film that I did in grade nine. He was all, he was stoked on it, and I was like, oh, you're still making movies. Let's go. So he let us shoot in there for like a month in the summer.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Emmett Sparling: And then we had like, it was a crew of probably twenty people of friends and family that I had just gathered. Like you come home, like, I need someone to hold a boom pole. It's like, so that was really cool. It turned out really well. I would like it if you want to watch it.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Emmett Sparling: It kind of gets slow in the middle. There are tons I would change. Cause I was like 17 when I was making. But the last, I'd say seven minutes of the film is really good so we can watch it. Yeah. So it's about a 20-minute long film. And then, I think I was 16 or 17 when we finished that I was in grade twelve, which meant that I was still young enough to enter it in student film festivals, like high school, and it destroyed like every festival we put it in, it won every single award.
Pierre Lambert: I'll make it.
Emmett Sparling: I remember I went to the BC student film festival. And they started announcing the awards, and they announced like Emmett Sparling Brain Maker. They bring me up, and then they just hand me a box and tell me to sit at the front. And then like ten more trophies was like, ah, and they're like these big Oscar-style trophies, and they're just loading up this box. I'm just sitting there. Everyone else in the theater is just like, we hate him.
Pierre Lambert: How did it feel that moment for you?
Emmett Sparling: It's like, that was cool because it was like, oh, all this hard work I put in actually resonated with people. And I think that's definitely a driving force. And the stuff that I create is like, yes, I'm doing it because I love to do it. But the whole other aspect that I love about it is showing people and stuff that I make. Yeah. And just seeing their reaction or seeing how it affects them positively, hopefully, you know, creepy movies, you know? And so, I think that was definitely one of the biggest film projects I'd ever done. I think it's still is probably the biggest film I've ever done because it was 20 minutes long.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Emmett Sparling: It took a whole month to shoot, and there's complex dialogue. It wasn't set in some beautiful travel destination. It was like actual movie sets that we had to build and create a hospital environment or create like a whole spaceship. So that was something that was pretty challenging. And so I basically put that whole side of what I love doing on hold, just cause I'm like, that was a ton of work. I want to go traveling start getting more into photography. So that's when I started doing more photography and focusing on that just because it was a lot easier to do. And it was a lot of fun, and I pretty much just enjoyed it just as much. And then, I had gained skills with the camera to be able to work with video. I knew how to edit. So, I was able to travel and take travel videos now as well. So that's kind of how that all started. And then, I basically photography took over for a couple of years, and then I started doing more travel video stuff recently. And then I think the beginning of 2020, or even 2021, is kind of when I started getting more into the short films again.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Emmett Sparling: And so this year, my goal is to make six short films. And I want to just dive more into the fictional concepts and just like come up with these fictional stories that have no real-world anchoring. It's more just like these cool stories that I want to tell that are just fun to make and kind of go down that path a bit more.
Pierre Lambert: This something that strikes me because those projects are so long that you said one month to shoot, building everything shooting, then editing.
Emmett Sparling: Brain Maker was two years start to finish.
Pierre Lambert: Would you still, nowadays now you have like more popularity with the photography, and it works, and you make an income, all that. Would you take that time? Like, would you do that again?
Emmett Sparling: I think it depends on the project. I probably wouldn't do a 20-minute film right now.
Pierre Lambert: Okay.
Emmett Sparling: Twenty minutes is like, that takes a while to make. Especially for like a fictional thing.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. Like if you're building like an adventure film where you're documenting is a lot easier to hit that 20-minute mark, but yeah, I have a blog, and you have a blog is like, you can hit 20 minutes easy, but yeah. So creating a fictional film that hits twenty minutes and keeps the audience entertained for the full twenty minutes is really hard to do that. So I've started just doing that, but on a more micro-scale. So I've tried to just really master the three to four-minute mark.
Pierre Lambert: Okay.
Emmett Sparling: And just try and really nail, keeping someone fully glued to the screen for three minutes. And just try to tell a really complex or really meaningful story in three minutes, or try and create an emotion in a three-minute window.
Pierre Lambert: And I think that that's key personally, does it a lot of travel videos. I'm like, man, whatever.
Emmett Sparling: Yeah, exactly. That's kind of what I, the reason I got into more of the storytelling side and, you know, creating these fictional films and stuff was because travel videos get so repetitive. It's just like, oh, here we go. We're in here. Meet or abolish yet. Here we go. So yeah, I think creating these fictional stories was definitely it feels more fulfilling yeah, doing that kind of thing, just because of. Like the next, so after Norway, which is going to be more an adventure style film, you're going to go to Oman, and I'm going to film a medieval comedy.
Pierre Lambert: Wow.
Emmett Sparling: At least they're going to try to. So me, Josiah Gordon, Karl Shakur, Connor McCann, we're going to go to Oman. And there's this market that we found last time we were there that sells full suits of armor.
Pierre Lambert: Oh wow.
Emmett Sparling: We're going to buy a full suit of armor, and we're going to put Josiah in this full suit of armor. And we're going to go out to the desert and we're going to film a comedy about these two explorers that are looking for like the, I forget what the treasure is called, but they're looking for treasure.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah.
Emmett Sparling: Looking for treasure out in the desert. And they basically, so they find it on this map. They started digging, and then they realized it's protected by this desert night. And so the desert night comes out of the sand and climbs out. And so we're just going to bury Josiah in the sand, and he's going to climb out in a full suit of armor. And then it turns into like, he takes his helmet off. He was just coughing up sand. He's like, oh God like I've been here for like 700 years. He's just like, it just completely goes downhill from there. And it's going to be hilarious because Josiah is like this tall skinny dude, and we're going to get a suit of armor that's way too big for him. And he just kinda like, like, there'll be hilarious just seeing it spiral from there, but we've written the whole script for it. And we've got everything lined up and we're going to try and shoot it in probably the beginning of May. It was your size hilarious. And Karl's hilarious. So I'm looking forward to seeing that. Yeah. So that's the next fictional film that I'm going to do? That's amazing.
Pierre Lambert: I love how you actually take the time to do those. And that's something that, well, personally, in my work I do YouTube videos, like in case no one knew, but, but it takes a certain mind space, but the moment you're trying to create something crafted from A to Zed is really activated a different way of thinking. And you kind of have to put everything aside, at least for me. Yeah. I've even if it's a 32nd ad, which sounds ridiculous. But even just doing that, I had to put everything aside because I don't have the bandwidth in a way to exactly this, and I want to get the shot and I want to get the BTS at the same time it's just not possible.
Emmett Sparling: I think what really helps something that I've really noticed and learned pretty early on, I think is don't try and do everything yourself delegate and it makes your life so much easier. So, like take on the director role, if that's what you want to do. Don't take on director, cinematographer, writer, even though that is pretty much everything I do. Like, it's kind of like, depending on the scale of the project, you want to just delegate as much as you possibly can. So for example, the desert night shoot, I'll probably be acting in it just because, and then Connor is probably going to be filming. Karl's probably going to be acting in it, and we'll have someone else shooting behind the scenes. So we're not going to be trying to do everything at once, so it'll be a lot easier in that sense. But yeah, I think that's something that I see a lot of people struggling with is trying to do every single thing. And cause they want to do everything, which is fun. And like doing everything is important to learn, but at the same time, your life is going to be so much easier if you just get a crew of people that help you.
Pierre Lambert: And it sounds like, through your own experiences, you've always had that support or like had help in a way on other with, from I mean from the first one you said like twenty people got in the school was helping in a way just providing it. Meaning you were like asking at one point, someone had to write.
Emmett Sparling: I learned early on in high school, suck up to your teachers just a little bit, get them to like you. Cause then you can pull out that card later on. It's like, Hey, you want to be in my movie? It's like my art teacher. For example, my high school art teacher played my mom. The Brain Maker film. She like took a month off her summer vacation to be in the smell. That's so, yeah. Then my old English teacher was played my dad in the film.
Pierre Lambert: Oh wow.
Emmett Sparling: I just like pulled all the strings from high school. It was great.
Pierre Lambert: That's great. Yeah. I think, I mean, in high school there's a lot of resources and the teachers are, I think the passionate at the beginning of the career. So you can reignite it a little bit dead passionate about like, oh my God. Some kids went to do stuff.
Emmett Sparling: I think if teachers see that their student is passionate about something and really wants the teacher to be involved, then I think they really like it also.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah, that's a good point. I don't want to take up too much time because we're going to be in the dark and in within fifteen minutes. But what kind of advice would you give to someone who is older? Not younger because I think your story is a good example, but like, if someone's older, from your point of view, what would you say holds people back in those? And what kind of tip or advice would you give them?
Emmett Sparling: For like starting in the travel industry or?
Pierre Lambert: Going that to Europe, yeah, following that photography or even that filmmaking, I feel like filmmaking has so much more friction than just because…
Emmett Sparling: Yeah. Filmmaking is definitely a bigger undertaking, just cause it takes a lot more effort. What advice? I think there's always some kind of barrier to entry where, whether it's a mental barrier or a physical barrier, it's always like, oh, I'm not going to have time to do that. Oh, I would never be able to do that. Or, oh, I don't know how to use the camera well enough to do that. It's like if you've got a really cool idea or something some of the best films, like, it doesn't matter what the video quality is at all. If the story's there, it's going to be amazing to watch. If you know how to tell it just from like, if the story is strong enough, it doesn't matter what the filming is, but that is not the best advice I think. Well, that's one, I don't know. I think that's maybe one, one piece of advice, but I don't know. I'm not very old.
Pierre Lambert: Let's try it again. Would you start with small project or commit to something bigger because then you're more committed in a way?
Emmett Sparling: No. Do not commit to something huge at first. Yeah. Start small because that's going to be where you see the biggest progress. Okay. and by seeing progress, that's how you're going to get more stoked on it. You're not going to get burnt out and you're going to just keep, you're going to stay interested in it. If you can see progress, it's like going to the gym. If you go to the gym for three months, you see no pro progress. You're not going to want to keep going to the gym, but you start to made it three months. That's already good. Yeah. But if you start seeing progress, you're gonna want to keep going. So start small and that allows you to kind of keep building off these smaller projects. So, like what I'm doing this year, try to make six short films in this three-minute window. So maybe next year I can start making like a 15-minute short film or something like that. So starting small and then really mastering your craft with that small, those small projects, whether that's photography or video or whatever it is. And then you can start building on those skills and take them to these bigger projects that you might have down the road. So for example, in 15, 20 years, one day I want to make Brain Maker again, but with like $20 million budget or something, and like a full feature length film of it would be really cool. But before that I've so much that I need to figure out how to do before I just go look for $20 million to make a film.
Pierre Lambert: That's for 20,000 the first time.
Emmett Sparling: Yeah, exactly. So I think that was one element. Start small, I noticed this a lot with people, especially on social media. They want to get from picking every camera to make you a bunch of money in traveling. They don't really see how many hours you need to put in to actually getting good at photography. Like I've been doing this since I was like 12 years old taking photos. And like my 60 that I had, the shutter eventually shattered because I had took two hours on it. And so I looked at the shutter count on it and it was like, it's like 500,000 or something which is way beyond what. So I, but I did the math. I was taking like 400 photos a day for three years or something.
Pierre Lambert: And that's would anyone’s burst.
Emmett Sparling: Yeah, and that’s like burst mode. So that's like, that's a lot of photos, and that's pretty much practicing every single day. And that was only my first camera. And I've had like five cameras since then. And so, that is kind of the amount of work you've got to put in. If you're wanting to actually succeed at this, or if you want to, stand out. And like, you gotta have that drive. You have to have the passion. Otherwise, you're not getting get all the way there. Some of it might be talent, but it's all, it's definitely mostly hard work, and just like talent comes out to ten years. Talent comes after ten years of hard work. There you go. That's a good quote.
Pierre Lambert: I mean, every time I tell him, I was like, oh, you sit down and dominate. Uh, I don't think he saw how much I worked on that.
Emmett Sparling: Exactly. I'll take it. Yeah, totally overnight, bro. Yeah. That's awesome.
Pierre Lambert: Okay. There's like a million directions. I would love to go deeper. We'll do a round two, 100% because just the story of your family and, and it felt like your parents, you were saying that the backpack, your grandparents were backpacking with your parents. Yeah. I felt like this just also like run through your blood.
Emmett Sparling: Yeah. And like, my parents are definitely very supportive of it all and very like, we're very similar. So like my mom, she was born in Zambia because my grandparents were backpacking through Africa and the 1960s.
Pierre Lambert: That’s crazy.
Emmett Sparling: And then my mom, like when my mom was 18, my grandparents took her and her two younger brothers backpacking through India for like six or nine months or something.
Pierre Lambert: Wow.
Emmett Sparling: In 1980, which is like, they said it was, they were the only white people in the entire here. So it was a completely different world. And then they went backpacking through Asia and all this other, all these other places. And then my dad, his parents died when he was in his early twenties and he took that inheritance money and, and went backpacking and traveled a whole bunch. And then when my parents met each other, they bought a Westfalia, the camper van, and lived the van life for a couple of years before it was trying to afford it trendy. They drove to Alaska and did all sorts of things like that. They were very, very traveler-oriented people.
Pierre Lambert: Do you feel they are more hardcore than you?
Emmett Sparling: Sometimes.
Pierre Lambert: Sometimes. Yeah.
Emmett Sparling: Well, I'm getting there.
Pierre Lambert: You're getting there.
Emmett Sparling: My grandparents, though, they are hardcore. Like, so I went part of that trip in Mexico that I did very first trip was my grandparents. I was with them. And so we were backpacking together through Mexico, and they'd like, get an Airbnb that was in some shed, like in the back of some field of someplace in Mexico and just be totally chilling. I'd be like, oh my God, I need a hotel. But so they're not like crazy travelers. And now, they look at all the places that I go to, and they're like, oh, how is Japan? And then they'll book a flight to Japan.
Pierre Lambert: Oh, that's amazing.
Emmett Sparling: I love testing all these places for them now.
Pierre Lambert: That's great. Yeah. I love that. It's amazing. Uh, Emmett, we have to wrap up. It's totally dark now. But thanks a lot for sharing. I definitely want to dig deeper, uh, on a lot of things. I think it's fascinating just to warrant how you grew up and like how it's influencing the work you're doing now. If you guys have not seen any of it short, absolutely go watch it. Uh, one of their, um oldest feature. I'm joking. But there are three we made where we're in a French Polynesia that you and Chelsea made. One last question, before we wrap up, do you have a tip for people who want to write a script? Like, do you write it on? Do you have a set of software? Do you have a way notebook? Like what do you use?
Emmett Sparling: Yeah, I'll give you a rundown of how I make a three-minute film. Okay. Because this is how, because you can't just write a script and then go make a movie. Yeah. There's a little more that goes into it. So I'll start off with a rough concept. Yeah. Like just a brief sentence of what I want the film to be about. And then if it's a, let's say it's a narrative film, so I'll write a narrative. And then I'll time myself reading it. So I try and make sure I hit that three-minute mark. And then, I go through each line of the narrative and figure out just visualize shots that could go with each line of the narrative. And they're just like, really like obscure shots that aren't set in stone. It's just kind of like a shot of Josiah slowly floating down in the water, and it's like, that can be shot anywhere. You just need some water. That's clear enough to see him or something. So pretty ambiguous shots that are easy to get, and then that's kind of your shot list and with your narrative and you go out, and you try and shoot it, and you try and get all these different shots, and then you try and piece it together. And then obviously, while you're shooting, you're going to get better stuff that you didn't plan for. So that helps to take the film to the next step. And then, from there, the editing is super easy because you have your script next to you, and you just plug in all the footage of each shot that you've written for each line of the narrative. So you record the narrative first. You have the narrative there, then for each line of the narrative, you just plug in all the footage, and editing becomes so much easier. So that's a narrative film and then more fictional film with like dialogue and a different style like that. Like Voyager, for example, that one. Yeah. That one I wrote it in pages. I just downloaded a template for a script, like a script template or whatever. So it could be more of the traditional movie script format, which just really lays it out really clearly of how to write a script or keep it in that format. And then I basically just wrote it and then read it back to yourself. Make sure the dialogue sounds like actual dialogue. Yeah. Cause that's something that is so obvious when it's written dialogue. When you read it back, it doesn't always sound like actual people talking to each other. Like people interrupt each other. They stutter. They have these gaps in their sentences. Whereas, sometimes the dialogue sounds absolutely perfect, Pierre.
Pierre Lambert: Absolutely Emmett. Yesterday I was at the shop.
Emmett Sparling: Oh, what kind of shop where you at?
Pierre Lambert: It was the shop that was on fourth street.
Emmett Sparling: Oh, my favorite shop on the floor. Like, yeah, it just sounds robotic. So you want to read it back? Make sure it sounds real. And then come up with a storyboard really, really helps. Yeah. So I'll like for this fictional films, I'll actually storyboard it. And then, just try and stick to that storyboard with the actual script in my hand. So you have the shot list, you have the storyboard and you have the actual script on set with you while you're shooting it. And then that makes it so you don't miss anything and there's no holes because it's so bad when you get to editing and you've missed a shot and you're just like, oh no, what are we going to do? Exactly. So that's pretty much. Right. The two different styles of films.
Pierre Lambert: That's awesome. Thank you so much for sharing. Everyone, please go check out Emmett on Instagram.
Emmett Sparling: At Emmett underscore Sparling.
Pierre Lambert: At Emmett underscore Sparling. Link is in the show notes to all the shorts and to more infos about Emmett and his work. Emmett, thank you so much for taking the time.
Emmett Sparling: Thanks for having me.
Pierre Lambert: And onto the next trip.
Emmett Sparling: Yeah.