Marc Fennell’s is a refreshing view on the media world for journalism students keen to follow in his successful footsteps.
During his visit to Macleay this week it was fascinating to hear from someone who genuinely did not have a “game plan” when he started, and is open to trying anything and everything to see what works, what doesn’t, and how to make an impact.
We constantly hear from various influencing channels, about how we should plan to achieve our goals, yet sometimes trial and error can really work out for you. Thanks for the tip, Marc.
“I had my first television show axed at 21 years old,” Fennell says, referring to The Movie Show that replaced the iconic Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton who had graced our screens on SBS for a quarter of a century before calling it quits with the network in 2004.
“It was the most incredible crash course in film culture and television. You will learn more from television shows that don’t work than television shows that do work.”
Fennell is living proof of that, as the youngest (and only) recipient of the acclaimed Australian Film Institute’s Young Film Critic award: “I was 17 and heard about a competition the AFI was doing. My mother is from Singapore, so I have an Asian work ethic… I entered the competition four times!” He has clearly maintained this work ethic throughout almost 15 years in the industry.
After starting his career in radio and taking on the aforementioned The Movie Show, Fennell grew bored of what he was doing. So in true style, he submitted an application to take part in a comedy festival in Melbourne, approached publishers intent on gaining a book deal and auditioned for an unknown Andrew Denton television project (which later became the Walkley nominated Hungry Beast).
“In the space of a month all three of them were happening. I was committed to this comedy festival show, writing a book and a TV show run by Andrew Denton that had no concept whatsoever… You worked out what you were really bad at and who you worked really well with. It was probably one of the best educations I ever got from TV,” Fennell explains.
From the age of 15, Fennell knew there was only one job he wanted to do and that was to be the film reviewer for Triple J: “I had no plan after that.”
After achieving that he kind of went with the flow. “Sometimes you don’t know what you want to be doing… (so) don’t do one thing, do a little bit of everything.”
Marc imparted an absolute gem that Andrew Denton shared in his time on Hungry Beast: “The best opportunity is the one right in front of you.”
For students like me this currently means forming industry relationships, absorbing knowledge both lecturers and guests impart and making the most of the equipment and resources on hand. But this is a mantra for life.
True to his mantra Fennell currently holds down four jobs: “I host The Feed, I host all the cult movies for SBS, I’m the movie guy for Triple J & I do my show for Radio National”. Fennell makes this work by making it clear to broadcasters that he is not paid enough for exclusivity – an easy argument to make when starting young. “Provided that things came in on time and were delivered on time, they (his employers) would just have to accept that I would do multiple things.”
Fennell’s most recent venture is SBS Viceland’s The Feed. “It’s grown from a weird 15-minute show to winning Walkley’s and Logie nominations. A tiny show on the second channel of the lowest ranking network on free-to-air television,” he laughs.
It is on this show that he utilises a skill he first learnt in his early years on radio: “Put your audience at the centre of everything. When I write for Triple J, I visualise 15-year-old Wayne from Wagga. When I write for The Feed I visualise someone completely different… Think about who it is you’re talking to.”
This is an approach that works well for a man who has an ever-growing fan base of listeners and viewers, an impeccable and varied resume, an awesome and simple interview technique (I’ve tried it – silence really is golden!) and he still manages to have time for a very understanding wife and kids. It’s a hard path to follow but we’ll try, and try again. – Tom Livingstone
Photo by James Mott