📜 The Storytella Story

From millions of views to having nothing to lose.

Told by Kristian Michail

Founder, Storytella.

Executive producer of PLGRM and creator of 75+ documentaries that reached millions of viewer around the world.
Reading time: 15 minutes

It's 2019. I'm 26. Unemployed, uninspired and uninterested in the life I have fallen into. The voice in the back of my head now screams "failure" on the hour like an alarm clock. A few years earlier it screams "success." Office. Employees. Revenue. Reputation. A dead end. Nearly two years is spent out of work. Peers seem well ahead of me. High paying jobs. Living overseas. Their first property. In 'perfect' relationships. The lucky ones. Life seems so simple for them. Not for me. Torture. Empty on the inside. Lost without a map. Bored out of my brain. Feeling like I just wasted ten years of my life. Unable to look at myself in the mirror.

It's 1993. I'm born. My parents choose not to vaccinate me. Dad reads the newspapers daily. He watches for propaganda. His father escaped a civil war. He believes in freedom. He hates political correctness. He questions authority. Follow the money he says. He cares a lot about humanity. Mum is into Dad. She likes the way he thinks. She rarely admits it. It's funny to watch. Marrying him was her wildest leap. Courage. They are one team. “Keep that needle away from our baby.” It appears I am a minority when it comes to these needles. I wonder if they make me sit at the back of the bus one day. So be it if they do. The back of the bus is where all the fun is had anyway.

It's 1994. I'm 1. We live in the suburbs. A family of migrants in the land down under. Dad is a Greek that grew up in the projects. Mum is an Italian that was not much better off. Survival. Small business. Enter the rag trade. Dad is the vision. Mum is the last line of defence. Marriage and business. They run a network of Italian Menswear stores. Before anyone knows what Armani is. Innovation is not enough though. If only it were. Overexpansion. Inexperience. Natural order. They make bank super quick. They lose it even quicker. The brutality of business. Two babies to feed. They start again from scratch.

It's 1995. I'm 2. My brother is Batman and I am Robin. He leads and I follow. My hero. He was then. He is now. He just doesn't know it. The impact of the family business takes its toll on him. Pain. He sees it all. He hates the yelling. He seeks comfort. Food helps. He makes a promise to not be exactly like mum and dad. To find his own path. To be his own man. This is why he is my idol. This is why I am honoured to be his best man. A Mediterreanean prince marries a Jewish princess. A perfect storm. A work of art.

It's 1996. I'm 3. Time for the cartoons. All weekend long. Breaks only for lasagna. Grazie Nonna. The imagination begins. Characters. Story. Adventure. My first realisation. If you can hold their attention then you can hold their hearts. If you make them laugh they are yours. If you make them cry you are theirs. Mr. Bean shows me how simple it is. Disney, how colourful it is. Seinfeld, how ridiculous. Life. The great big show about nothing. My greatest philosophical discovery. My scariest insight also. Unable to resist it’s beauty. A storyteller is born.

It's 1997. I'm 4. Enter Kindergarten. A highly supervised fortress. Sleep now and play later. I eat sand in the playpit. I love the taste. I hate the crunch. I keep going back for more. Hungry for exploration. My first angst of feeling locked in a cage. These other kids listen to me. They hang on to everything I say. Maybe they will follow me. I gather the troops. We plan an escape. Let's jump the fence and run for freedom. I go first. I look back. I'm all alone. Cowards. The prison guards catch me. “Naughty little boy.” You better believe it.

It's 1998. I'm 5. My Greek grandfather barbecues meat for a living. One of the first food trucks in Australia. Outside the arena of all arenas. 100,000 people. Before it was trendy. "Peasant." That's the treatment he copped. 30 years later they are telling us how to cook. 30 years later they are spending every summer on our islands. 30 years later and I'm grateful. Survivors. All of them. The heroes that left everything behind. Not a word of English. No influence to their name. To give us life. To give us a chance. I love you all. Thank you for spitting on us also. You made us stronger too.

It's 1999. I'm 6. It's the Grand Final. South Melbourne takes on Sydney. The Greeks verse The Croats. Flares. Roars. War. The world game. Football. This is no sport. This is religion. One of the last ever games these two teams will ever play. No heritage clubs are allowed in the new league. Clubs with ties to the motherland are banned. A corporate franchise is to follow. We copy the American system. We kill our authentic story. Australia loses three generations of soccer supporters. It gains an identity crisis instead. Australia shows it lacks a voice. Live without a voice and you are as good as dead.

It's 2000. I'm 7. I have been born with the killer instinct on the soccer pitch. I score goals and I win games. Feels like I was born for the centre stage. Cheers from the sideline. Praise in the locker rooms. Nothing like the feeling of making an audience boom. Mum screamed her head off the most though. She was the loudest of them all. Tell her to be quiet and she would elegantly tell you to fuck off. No one gets in the way of her babies. She has no idea how much strength she gives me on that pitch. She has no idea how much strength she gives me still today.

It's 2001. I'm 8. Classclown is an understatement. I was a little shit. A smart one though. It gives me great pleasure to test my teacher's boundaries. To see what they were made out of. The girls either love me or hate me. The boys respect me. It doesn't matter what comes out of my mouth. I just love being front and centre. Trying to be funny was the only option. A skill that gets me in trouble as much as it protects me. When the going gets tough it is humour that calls my bluff. For what is a life without a good laugh.

It's 2002. I'm 9. This little smart allic develops a watchful eye. My older brother is bullied at school. The cooler kids mock him. His teacher taunts him. My parents don't know what to do. These animals wage war on me and my family. Words become my weapon. Innocent bystanders become my target practice. Readying myself for battle at any moment. I grow aggressive. I turn defensive. I become the bully I feel my family needs me to be. To protect us. To keep us safe. My outlook turns a little darker. My trust in people a little colder. Why does the world have to be so real?

It's 2003. I'm 10. The cheers from soccer is one thing. The attention from a woman is another. The bad boy and the naughty girl get together. A dangerous duo that won't last. We tease, flirt and hurt each other. She orders her friends to hold me down and eat tambark. I accidentally sprain her wrist in a play wrestle. Her teenage brother blindsides me one day to get an apology. No adults in sight. He beats me up. I piss my pants. She is expelled from the school. I don't leave the house for a month. Completely paralysed. Not even the court order could get rid of my paranoia.

It's 2004. I'm 11. My conviction begins to fade. Scared. Weak. A part of me feels broken. Team mates will go on to play for Australia at the World Cups in Brazil and Russia. I begin my descent out of the game I love most. Trauma. I lose touch with my body. I become slow, lazy, and unfit. I'm not the star of the show anymore. Self-loathing begins. I feel like I have wasted years of my parent's life. Investment lost. I play with a fake smile, an agonizing hip and a defeated mind. I hide all injury. A broken boy too scared to ask for help.

It's 2005. I'm 12. Enter adolescence. An expensive grammar school for boys only. I'm the youngest in my year. One of the shortest also. I don't have any pubes. So I grow an ever louder personality. They nickname me Kritter. A name I never like. It cheapens me. A payoff I choose. Get the affection of being a pest or get no attention at all. The teachers see something in me. The older boys don't bother me. The establishment invite me into their mansions. Tennis courts, swimming pools and cheese platters. Don't be fooled though. Everyone is hurting. No one is immune to the suffering of being human.

It's 2006. I'm 13. My first proper house party. Boys are competitive. The name of the game is pretty simple. Meet girls. If you come back empty handed you risk looking like a loser. I meet someone. It's super dark but I have a feeling she aint that pretty. We kiss. The lights come on. I see her face. My face goes white. I run from the evidence. Cruel scenes. Time to play dumb. I walk proudly back to my mates to get my round of applause. Intercepted. She tracks me down. I pretend I don't know her. My mates question me. The fear of social humiliation outweighs my regard for this girl's existence. I lie, she cries. I can't even look her in eyes.

It's 2007. I'm 14. Middle school. Finally some proper subjects. American Independence. The fight for freedom. The end of the slave trade. I don't need another lecture on Hitler being "evil." I get it. No one else's shit stinks. No mention of the genocides in Rwanda, Armenia, Cambodia or Australia. No mention of the hidden benefits to all this madness either. Science and Religious Studies don't like to meddle with History. Too dangerous. Too raw. Maybe that's what Art class is for. Creating from the chaos and revealing the hidden order. Life. A perpetual drama. A never-ending comedy. Should we laugh or should we cry?

It's 2008. I'm 15. My love of music takes over. House music. Simplicity. The greatest form of complexity. I start a blog. Follow my instincts. Buy turntables. Start playing house parties. Get paid to do what I love. The smile on their faces. No wonder Donald Trump said if he could have chosen anything it would have been music. The lefties won't like to hear that one. The righties won't even understand what that means. That dance floor though. The great equalizer. Where everything disappears.

It's 2009. I'm 16. My world is now green. Light that shit and smoke it. My brain is on steroids with this stuff. Get this man a microphone. There is no way I tell my parents though. "Drugs" are a big "no" in our house. Telling the truth is just going to limit my freedom. Their house. Their rules. It kills me. I sit on the fence. I crumble. I'm not man enough yet to own my truth. To deal with the consequences of owning my convictions. The world is too scary without them. I hide it from them instead. Let the lies begin.

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It's 2010. I'm 17. My first film. It's dark. It makes adults cry. Suicide. Addiction. Violence. Adultery. What business does a kid have with these issues? I go on my first overseas trip after high school. I break up with my first girlfriend before I leave. A sweet angel. I want freedom though. I don't want to string her along. I don't want to break her heart and cheat either. I leave. It breaks anyway. Along with my innocence. Europe is much harsher than Australia. Drugs, dirty dancing and pounding techno music. How am I going to explain this to mum and dad?

It's 2011. I'm 18. My first year of law school. A special kind of stupidity. A $50,000 lesson that teaches me very little. A void piece of paper. No one tells me I will end up jerking off more than gaining anything useful. It has its benefits though. It becomes the smokescreen to my secret life. Perpetual travel. Wild experimentation. Justified existence. I make a tradeoff. Play their game and you get to play yours. A crucial mistake. There is an alternative. It just takes me ten more years to figure it out. Play your game properly and they will want to join you instead.

It's 2012. I'm 19. I'm heading up promotions for the market leader of electronic music in Melbourne getting $2 a head for everyone that walks in the door. It goes to my head so hard that I ask my boss for a percentage of his business. He politely tells me to fuck off. Reading books becomes a double edged sword. A fine line between inspiration and delusion. I fantasize about global industry. About world influence. Fast roads to fortune. Overnight success. Without doing the heavy lifting. I miss the point completely. The master loves the journey. The amateur begs for it to end.

It's 2013. I'm 20. My love affair with music is turning empty. Partying becomes more important. My parents notice this. They go into shock. I come home after a bender. Phone and wallet lost. A flight overseas in a few hours. "You need help." Maybe I do. I register for a self help weekend. I discover my life is full of lies. Full of upset. So much that I don't even know where to begin. The realisation is a blessing and a curse. I could never go back to music now. It's just not the same. I could not turn a blind eye either. To my greatest revelation yet. That your self expression is a matter of life and death. With that, PLGRM was born.

It's 2014. It's 2014. I'm 21. My first PLGRM documentary for $5000. Covering my old bosses techno festival. A no brainer I thought. Combine my two interests of music and storytelling. I notice that VICE started out as a punk magazine. This gives me validation. We were even labelled “Australia’s answer to VICE.” I loved to hate VICE. They were a bigger and better version of who I felt like I needed to be. Not wise to compare yourself to a billion dollar company. Envy is ignorance. Imitation is suicide. I hide my jealousy behind the narrative "VICE is ignorant, PLGRM is aware." Delusion of the highest order. Let the suffocation begin.

It's 2015. I'm 22. PLGRM starts to make a global name for itself. This attracts a lot of attention around town. From women in particular. A double edged sword. Do they like me for who I am or what I am? This both confuses me yet energises me. I objectify them, they objectify me, we objectify each other. The story of man and woman. A bittersweet dance where the music nevers stops. Love seems to be the cruelest game going round. One girl in particular nearly breaks me. Her rejection is one the greatest gifts someone has ever given me. "Kristian, you think you want me but what you actually want nobody else can give you."

It's 2016. I'm 23. The first smell of actual money. YouTube views don't translate into cash. Even with millions of them. It's much easier to sell a bag of cocaine. We pitch a big documentary. The story of an Aussie's billion dollar exit to China. We sign the contract. $150,000. We get an even bigger office. We buy the fancy equipment. We make a few stupid hires. One of them even steals from us. Quickly in. Quickly out. We blow all the money in less than 6 months. I don't even rate the quality of our work. It's become desperate. I'm praying for this to end. My partner has the courage to speak his truth. We part ways. A well needed lifeline.

It's 2017. I'm 24. Documentaries make my skin crawl by this point. Thousands of hours for very little in return. I need to get out of Australia. I am missing a piece to the puzzle. America. My lifelong dream. If not now, then when? I pack my bags. 3 months on the road. Red Bull flicks me a contract in LA. Perfect timing. I need the money. I crave the validation even more. A show is put on for me. Mardi Gras in New Orleans. SXSW in Austin. Eric Prydz in Brooklyn. Louis CK in Manhattan. John Cusack naked in a Chicago bathhouse. I meet someone. I stay with her for two weeks in NYC. We play husband and wife. She breathes life back into me. She has no idea she does either.

It's 2018. I'm 25. When I think I'm out they pull me back in. An opportunity to produce a TV show. One of the biggest celebrities in Australia. It was either that or sit on the couch feeling sorry for myself. I call my brother. I need someone I can trust. We try to revive PLGRM. Another crack at the dream. We give it our all. The pilot is decent. It's just too on the edge. Blocked from every angle. We try for a second show. And a third. The universe is telling me I am off course. I get angry in the process. I take the frustration out on my brother. He sets me straight. He forgives me like only he could. I have tried everything. PLGRM is dead.

It's 2019. I'm 26. Unemployed, uninspired and uninterested in the life I have fallen into. I'm not a kid anymore. So failure is far less cute. Living at home. Not paying rent. Slumped to a new low. "Go see someone." I do. He is tender and brutal in the same breath. "Get a job, go to the gym, move out, start again." I do. I start the rounds at the cafes first. This seems like a lesser defeat than getting a corporate job. I swallow my pride. A sales role opens up. My first proper employment contract. My first share house. My first gym membership. My first year of being a normal adult. A return to sanity. Head above water. A chance to breathe.

It's 2020. I'm 27. The year the world stopped. A glitch in the matrix that brings me back to life. Cut the shit. What do you really want? I want to live before I die. I want to laugh as much as cry. I want to love as much as fuck. I want to get paid to run a muck. I want to learn as much as teach. I want to listen as much as preach. I want to be silent as much as scream. I want to fulfill my family's dream. I want to write as much as speak. I want to express my inner freak. I want to channel all the rage. I want to spill blood on the page. I want to help you tell your story in all its fucking glory. If you want to experience the same then it's time the world knows your name.

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