Exclusive Interview with Tony Besides

This blog is typically used for business news about my web/graphic design/publicity company Advokate, but I couldn’t resist putting these answers online for other curious fans of the Tony Besides channel to discover.

Tony Oswald was graceful enough to answer all the questions I had about his Vine channel Tony Besides, a “comic’s tragedy” unfolding in real time. Here is the unabridged, unedited interview.

He answered on February 16, and there will be a companion article running in the Glens Falls Chronicle newspaper (website coming soon) on March 6. I wanted to launch this interview on March 6 as well, but considering the rising tension in the Besides plotline right now (Tony just landed in NYC and Katie is on his computer!) I just couldn’t wait any longer to pull the trigger.

1. How long have you been Vining and how did you hear about the app?
I started vining on March 31st, 2013. I saw a HuffPost article that contained Reggie Watts and James Urbaniak vines and they inspired me to want to start telling jokes.

2. When did you start LNPP and why? How has it gone for you? How often are you doing it? How many times have you done a philanthropic theme like Kidney4Matt? How did that come about?
LNPP started as a hashtag before it was a page. It began just as a group of viners doing vines around a unique hashtag (LateNightPajamaParty, LateNightDanceOff, LateNightNerdOff) and was given a name by Jake Holland. I’m happy to be considered an original, but it grew into such a massive community that the page seemed like the logical next step. I developed the current format of the page and I run it with the my great friend Jared Stradling. It was my goal to make it the most accepting community on Vine, so we have different hosts every single night and try to avoid the “clique” label. As such it’s a ton of work to maintain and I’ve definitely slacked off. Most of the time we just try to have fun and encourage community but Kidney4Matt had been in the works for a long time. It was our first philanthropic endeavor but I hope to have more in the future. Just don’t want to over do it because then it might lose its power! We actually got a couple volunteers from our Kidney For Matt night!

3. What’s your back story? Are you from NYC originally? If no, how did you land there?
I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma but spent most of my formative years in the small town of Glasgow, Kentucky. That’s where I call home. I went to college at WKU in Bowling Green, KY and fortunately landed an internship at an advertising agency in NYC when I graduated and I’ve been in the city ever since.

4. How did you and Katie meet?
Katie and I met on a middle school dance floor in Glasgow, Ky. She did not like me. I did like her. I wore her down over the course of 6 years and when she was a senior and I was a junior we started dating.

5. What’s your job title? When will your movie come out?
I am an editor for cooking/reality television by trade and predominantly work on Cooking Channel/Food Network shows. My passion is film and I’ve edited two features and just produced my first this summer. It’s called SABBATICAL, written and directed by my best friend Brandon Colvin and depending on its festival run should be available sometime in 2015.

5a. How does editing film inform your Vines?
I definitely believe it makes me more conscious of story and pacing. I have a plan to edit all of my Besides together and that informs the pacing of my story. I want it to be able to feel good both in real time and as a feature when I am done.

6. What gave you the idea to start Tony Besides? I saw that it started briefly as Tony B-sides, which seemed like an extra account for the “sketchbook” type posts before it became what it is – or was it the Besides story from the start?
It did start as a “sketchbook”, but very early on I began doing these third person narration vines. Initially I would speak the narration out loud, but eventually got rid of that all together and just let the caption do the work, informing and interacting with the visual. I always knew I wanted to create a feature length film on Vine and it became clear that this was both the easiest and most natural way for me to do that. So I began crafting the narrativeand characters toward that end. And when I realized it was a proper character study, I knew I needed to give him a proper name. So “B-Sides” became “Besides”. The name and its origins now obviously have narrative implications as well, given that the traits and thoughts the character exhibits is often the “hidden” parts of his life, or the B-sides, if you will.

7. How many “Besides” fan accounts are out there and what do you think of them?
The last time I counted there were over 1,000 individual “Besides” accounts and that’s just the accounts with the name in it. I must be very measured in my response to it, because I feel both positive and negative. I think it’s awesome that people have connected with my voice/presentation and want to use the app to be creative and express themselves, and I feel honored, humbled, flattered by their imitation. At the same time, I think my voice gets a little diluted in the mass of people taking part in the “style” and then my message or intent gets lost, as generally, I don’t think very many of them understand what it is I’m trying to do. With all of that said, I chose to do this on a social app that allows you to create and present immediately so it’s really a unique problem to have and I’m proud of it.

8. What kind of feedback have you gotten for your Besides work vs. your Tony Oswald account? I’m surprised Besides doesn’t have a bigger following.
I’ve gotten two main threads of feedback from Besides. People either absolutely hate it (and boy do they hate it) and label me a pretentious jerk, or they absolutely love it and call me a genius. I’m not really comfortable with either label. There are definitely those who see it for what it is which is a new form of storytelling with a ton of flaws that’s still working out its kinks. At any rate, I think it has gained me a lot of respect both on and off the app, and generally people are impressed at the novelty of the method of storytelling.

But I post a lot and the pacing is slow and methodical so I think that turn people off who’ve come to the app looking for six second stories. It’s very much about the long haul for me, so not every vine is going to pack a punch.

9. How do Vine collabs work out, typically? Are you guys all friends in real life? Is it awkward? Who takes the lead?
I love meeting people from vine and truly believe that many of them have become life long friends. For me, that is the main reason to collaborate with other viners. Generally it is surprisingly not awkward meeting a viner for the first time in real life because you’ve been given such a broad sample of at least a part of their personality through the app. In my experience, some people come to those meet ups with tons of ideas, ready to vine. I generally just try to get to know people. I NEVER have a good collab idea, but I’m good at building on others ideas.

10. How many takes does it take to get the right shot, mostly? Do you work with special lighting and microphones or just your bare phone?
It depends on the shot and the timing. Because Vine doesn’t have an actual timer you have to delay recording using a setting called Assistive Touch and it can be a bear to manage sometimes. I’ve had very few one take wonders. Generally every vine takes at least 2 takes, and the hardest can take up to 15. I don’t use any special microphones but I have changed all the lights in my home to daylight temperature lights because I didn’t like the orange hue many of my vines were taking on. And lighting is always a concern, but I prefer practical sources, like the light from the computer screen or my phone.

11. Did you plan the Besides story from the start? How is it mapped out?
I did know that I wanted to create a feature length film on Vine and I knew that I was building a character loosely based on my life. But I also knew that the story wouldn’t sustain itself without some form of conflict and ultimate resolution, so yes I’ve mapped out where the character will go and there is a definitive arch. The details are purposefully loose though so that I can take advantage of my surroundings and improvise what fills in the character.

12. How did you end up working with Megan Burke, and when did her involvement start?
Megan was a comedy viner and we’d followed each other for a long time, and began video chatting with other vine friends in the summer. She’s a very smart, dedicated viner and she had started her own Beside account independently with the notion that eventually our stories would intersect. I had written the “affair” storyline independently and expected someone else to play the part, but Megan convinced me it made more sense for her character to be the one, and in the end she was right.

12a. How did you direct Megan from afar, or did you just give her the caption and let her run with it?
Megan and I worked very closely together on her character and the writing process was a mutual one. We spoke every day for an hour to map our where her character would go that day, what it meant for my character and how it fit into the narrative over all. Often I would just ask her to compose a very nice shot and then use it as inspiration to fill in the details on the caption. That’s my preferred method, as I feel the vines are at their best when they completely work together, caption and image, and sometimes there are spontaneous details in the image that I want to really pull out in the caption.

13. Is Katie happy with her character in the Besides story? How is she with all the nudity, etc.?
Katie is only slightly reluctant in that this isn’t exactly her story. But she is VERY supportive of my desire to tell the story in the way that I am telling it and understands the need to tell it in as “real” a way as possible. Obviously all of this is a construct, so it’s not “real”. But the hope is that it feels somewhere in between real and abstract. There’s always plenty of communication and discussion about a nude scene before it happens, and its ultimate necessity.

14. How old are you, Katie and Megan?
I’m 27, Katie is 28 and Megan is 19. Megan’s age was a concern, given her controversial role in the series, but she really did convince me she understood what taking part in the role meant for her and the series and that in the end it was worth it to her. I also think her age plays a huge role in the narrative and in that way makes the dynamic between our characters more complex.

15. How much of your time do you spend Vining? Did/does it interfere with work or your personal life?
I spend a ton of time vining, no sense denying that. It definitely interferes with my life but no more than any other hobby/passion might interfere with someone else’s. It’s a little more complicated because sometimes something will happen in my life that I want to recapture, so that takes disrupting the natural order. But it’s usually not a big deal and I’m definitely able to function.

16. Have you been asked to do commercials like some other Viners?
Nope. And to be honest I’m not sure I would. Definitely not on my Besides account.

17. I just found Easter Eggs on Twitter – extra Besides updates! Is Besides meant to be seen on Twitter or in the Vine app?
I think it is definitely intended to be an interactive experience. I created a telephone number that I released on Besides and I only answer calls or texts to that number as Tony Besides. He has his own twitter, Alana Burkeside has her own Facebook. I like that for different people the experience is different depending on how far down the rabbit hole you’re willing to go.

18. Do your and Katie’s family know about Besides? What do they think?
Absolutely. We make sure to tell them about any potentially offensive subplots or vines that are coming up and talk it out with them. Katie’s parents have been completely fine, but my mother has a little more difficult time with it. She actually cried the first time I told her about the affair subplot. She’s now much more understanding now that it’s actually rolled out.

19. How does it feel being so exposed on the internet?
I feel proud of the story, but there are times I question why I am doing it. I just know that my favorite experiences with any time of art are when I feel the author is being deeply, painfully honest. I hope to bring that level of honesty to the Besides and everything I do.

20. What do you say to the commenters who said it seemed to wrap up quickly with Alana?
It’s a bizarre critique to me, given that I am working in a medium where pretty much every other user tells a complete story in six seconds. She showed up months ago, served her purpose in the arch and then moved on, in a way that I feel was very natural and true to life. But people always want more.

21. What’s in the future for Besides? Is Alana ever coming back?
Well that I can’t say. I can say there’s an end in mind, that it won’t go on forever and that I am excited about moving on to my next project. But no spoilers.

22. What made you want to explore this subplot with Alana?
I knew I wanted to paint a complex portrait of marriage but I wasn’t comfortable putting my ACTUAL dirty laundry out into the world. So I constructed something that felt very real and close to home given my actual fantasies as a man who was married young, and moved forward with that idea. I think it was important to show that Katie and I must deal with actual problems.

23. Are you an artist or do you have any other artistic interests?
I’ve always been a creative person and had an impulse toward art. I was in bands my entire life. Everyone thought I was going to be a musician, I almost when to school for music, but shifted gears my senior year in high school and started focusing on filmmaking. I’ve produced/edited two feature length films, and I have made it a goal to continue to have side projects outside of my work life, as that’s really where I feel the most satisfied. And I guess I’m just lucky to be able to move my hips as well as I do, but definitely not trained. 🙂

Kate Austin-Avon
kate@advokate.net

Kate E. Austin is known for her creative advocacy. She is a regular speaker on branding and social media with educational institutions and Chambers of Commerce. She owns and operates Advokate, LLC. Currently she serves on the boards of the Glens Falls Business Improvement District, the Jackson Heights Elementary School PTA, Lower Adirondack Pride, and is on the World Awareness Children’s Museum’s Advisory Council. Originally from Killington, Vermont, she studied art at Hartwick College and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Art from Empire State College. She is a mother of three.