Q&A: FAUSTINA AGOLLEY – TV Host, Producer & Writer

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Faustina Agolley is a TV Host, music journalist, producer and writer. Faustina’s work includes Australia’s top rating entertainment program, The Voice where she bridged the gap between television viewers and online as the program’s social media reporter. Prior to The Voice, Faustina hosted Australia’s flagship music program, Video Hits, for five years. Faustina travelled the world to interview music’s biggest entertainers including Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Adele, Gotye, Bruno Mars, Rihanna, Dave Grohl and Pharrell Williams.

How do you build your contacts and maintain a great relationship with them? Has this helped you get from step to step in your career?

This is an interesting question “Building contacts” or “Networking” really doesn’t have to be gross if you’re well meaning. I used to think it was schmarmy, even though I was naturally doing it anyway. For me it’s just being curious. And I’m always asking myself, “how can I help you?”, rather than asking “how can you help me?”.

If I went about my life and therefore my career thinking how every interaction with others could allow me to take a step forward in my career I would be a very different person with a very narrow set of friends and it would limit who I’d be open to. There’s a terrific book called “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi. The main guts of it is being generous to others. And generosity to me means giving without conditions or expectations. So therefore I find the second part of the question a tough one to answer cause I don’t see it all that way entirely. Naturally, work begets work.

Perhaps this is an overused word, to the point that for some it may have lost its meaning but I like to think I build my relationships organically. By that I mean I’m not too crazy for making a bee line towards an Executive Producer or and Chief Programmer of a company and forcing a relationship with them, it can come across as quite desperate.

There’s many ways I connect with people – there’s the obvious, reaching out to people blindly via email, a phone call or a hand written letter to ask for a general chat over coffee or a meal; meetings set up via one’s respective agents; connecting with people via social media or just from staying open in social gatherings or links through friends.

Some people I get along with swimmingly, other’s not so much. That’s just life.

Socially, I like to talk to people about them, beyond the titles that sit next to their names. I love to talk to them about and their passions. A lot of people can be really put off if you just ask them about their work because for many of us our work doesn’t define us, and then we feel boxed in. I know I’d feel that way if I’m only asked about hosting and music. I think the key to all this is being a bloody good listener. So many people aren’t. I think being a good listener in conversations is where the respect lies. That’s when you get to heart of people, and you can assess their character and if they’re the kind of person you’d like to be in your orbit.

One of the main frameworks I use in meetings, general chats, especially those that are initiated by me or set up through an agency is by using the scale of abstraction, or the mountaintop theory. It’s keeping conversations at an ideas level – top of the mountain – because that’s where people are likely to understand one another. If you’re too specific, too detailed (bottom of the mountain conversation) that’s where you lose people.

The other thing I like to do is not revere people. I think it can undo you in conversation and you enter the meeting with an apology in your body as if you’re not worthy of sharing time with them. The meeting is set up so speak as equals  and talk ideas. I’m naturally optimistic so I keep it positive too and try and keep my off days at bay.

For example, recently I had a meeting set up by the UK agents with a well respected Independent film producer. I never had a film meeting before and it was wonderful. One of his films had Meryl Streep as the lead. I don’t watch a lot of movies but I had seen that particular movie three times. I went onto explain to him the larger themes of the film that resonated with me, as well as what the craft of acting means for the actor and for audience and as a humanities – all recent realisations as I’ve been learning the craft. That’s mountaintop theory. That was just part of a very broad conversation, but there was mutual respect for each other’s ideas and work ethic. Recently I emailed him a film idea that he may be interested in buying the rights to. That’s where the generosity comes in, as he did with me with connecting me with introducing me to presenters and directors in London. I didn’t ask him, he offered.

Back on the point of living a life of curiosity and willingness – this has allowed me to have a broad set of friends and connections. I’m friends with people who just happen to have different professions. Most importantly I just like them and I enjoy their company.

No matter the person, no matter the position, no matter their age. I still will make that 2 hour phone call while in London to a friend in Sydney who was a runner of the Season 1 of The Voice to talk through career and visa options. I still will have long personal email exchanges and have dinners with friends that have now become big wig TV execs.

And my friends/people that I know are anyone – entrepreneurs, barristers, diplomats, brand consultants, journalists, doctors, engineers, designers, painters, academics, actors who have had big breaks, actors who are starting out, photographers, producers, DJs, writers, other TV presenters, camera men, visual FX artists, financiers, managers, publicists, agents, models, hair and makeup stylists. Literally anyone.

It’s a joy to help people out a link them to like minded people. By asking myself “how can I help you?” I’ve connected a painter and a photographer friend together, now they’re best friends and they did a joint show together at The Standard in West Hollywood, I’ve connected an Australian music journalist with a friend who’s a senior writer at The Hollywood Reporter, I’ve sent TV and movie ideas based off books to producers to buy the rights to, I’ve linked a screen writer to someone at an Australian funding body. I don’t expect these people to give back the same kind connections in equal measure and nor should they ever feel that way. Naturally some of the people I’ve known have lead me to wonderful opportunities or to other people that have broadened my world, professionally and personally.

How have your found the overseas transition? Biggest hurdles? Tips for branching overseas if you work in the media?

I’ve always wanted to work overseas. I think really working out what drives you makes you leap over or bash through the biggest hurdles. That’s what has kept me going over the years. Media is hugely influential, it can be the ultimate humanities, no matter the platform. And that means I can execute that in many ways, as a producer, creator, writer and now maybe actor (who the hell knows, that’s what keeps me in class) –  you can communicate so many messages to people to uplift, inspire, entertain, embolden their lives. That’s why I spent 18 months looking into the right immigration lawyer for the United States, that’s why I’ve frequently gone to London and left without an agent or a TV show slated for release, to only in the past few months having landed an agent and therefore greater connections with production companies. That’s why I keep coming to the U.S. time and time again til I have more of the conversations that resonate and less bottom mountain ones.

I used to suffer really bad anxiety with transitions, I looked to Cognitive Brain Therapy (CBT), or in other words, positive psychology. I got the idea after reading the book The Brain that Changes Itself. The idea is that our brains can re-wire to work to our utmost potential, if we train it. I found Dr. Tim Sharp, a Sydney based positive psychologist. Sessions with him along with chipping away with visits to the U.S. helped with my confidence. I now naturally think in a way that took me months and years of mental training. My experiences of new places, people, circumstances changed when I changed and became more open and willing.

You can look at a new territory or medium and freak out or you can see it as opportunity. Anything that’s new is therefore unfamiliar, requires effort and for us to humble ourselves to learn something different. This takes work, an investment in time, money, relationships. It’s not laborious, it’s actually quite adventurous. I look back now and wonder why I freaked out so much. I guess people generally don’t like change. Though change is where the grandest opportunities can happen for all of us. I can’t imagine life being so routine or static now otherwise I feel like I’d regress.

Who are some women who inspire you and why?

There’s definitely an overarching theme to the women I mention (below). They all work extremely hard for what they love, despite whatever the obstacles may be.

Firstly my mother, Philomena. My father passed away from a car accident when I was seven weeks old, and my Mum was left in our commission flat in London with my seven year old brother and me. All my family wanted was a roof over our heads to call our own and a decent education for me and my brother.

When I was 18 months old we migrated to Australia. My mother worked three jobs. I also had the great love and nurturing from my Grandparents and cousins, we all lived under one roof for my entire childhood.

Now, my mother owns three homes in Melbourne, my brother wanted to be a doctor from age five, now he’s an orthopaedic surgeon. Mum raised us with so much love and support. Without that we wouldn’t be living our passions in life.

Another really obvious one is Oprah. A woman who has come from nothing. Grew up in the South in the 1950s. Knew that education, the ability to read and write would give her freedom. She’s literally squashed every conceivable hurdle that other people would give reason to stay stuck in the situation they’re in. Not Oprah, she dreamed big and she’s still living it today. I’ve leant so much from her talk show, I purposely skipped school many times to watch her on Network 10. I’ve learnt a lot of life lessons.

Then there’s my peers. Women who work bloody hard in the line of work their in. One top woman is Nina Agzarian or Nina Las Vegas. She’s beast mode. From Wagga, has given so much to Triple J and to her own personal endeavours as well as running her own foundation, Heaps Decent which nurtures the creativity of underprivileged and Indigenous young people. She’s now creating her own music. Expect even more form her.

Sarah Wilson, friend, journalist, creator of the I Quit Sugar movement, is another woman that works ridiculously hard but also lives a fulfilling personal life. She’s freakishly intelligent and I’m so happy that IQS – something that started organically, as a response to her illnesses, has turned into a big business for her where she’s hired other likeminded, committed women. Spending time with her and chatting broader ideas in person or over the phone has taught me to stay true to myself and speak up in any environment to maintain my integrity.

Then there’s my best friend, Marija Ivkovic, she’s a Melbourne based photographer. She’s the voice in my ear telling me to follow my heart and if I don’t try I’ll never know. She’s also the first truly generous person I’ve ever known that works in the vein of Keith Ferrazzi.  She didn’t get the marks to get into photography school as a kid. Now she’s shooting Melbourne’s Top 100 most influential people, covers and fashion campaigns.

Musicians – Alicia Keys, M.I.A. and Janelle Monae are all inspirations to me. I can relate to their life stories, especially Alicia Keys and Janelle Monae because they came from families with not many material possessions, just hard working loving families. With M.I.A. her messages are social and political.

What’s your plans for the next 6 months?

It stems from my long term plans. Working on programs that are in line with what resonates. I’m glad that I can work in three major territories (Australia, USA and UK). So I may be back in Australia to work on projects from time to time.

The reason why I’m based in Los Angeles and have branched out to the UK is two fold. Firstly, to work on projects as a host/interviewer, creator and producer. Projects that I like. When it comes to creating, co-productions with the right companies. I’ve not pursued a number of expressions of interest here in LA just because they haven’t been the right fit, if I just came with the view of wanting a job I would have been working right away, it would have taken me away from my main goal.

Secondly I’m setting up my own production company and eventually online networks. I’m currently researching the likes of Ted Turner (creator of CNN), to financiers of tech start ups. I’m also curiously and critically researching other networks that have started up in the past 5 years. With my media studies background I can see where they’ve failed and where they’ve triumphed. And taking the advice of Jamie Oliver’s business coach, Khoi Tu, one must have a Superteam – this takes time, this is beyond 6 months work. I look many years ahead and it informs the day to day discipline and the projects I take on.

About Author

Amanda Lee
Amanda Lee

Amanda Lee started her career in the media 10 years ago working for various companies including Working Dog, Southern Cross Austereo and NOVA Entertainment. During this time she has been an Announcer, Promotions Manager, Producer, Music Director and Assistant Content Director. Amanda created The Broad Side as a support network for women in media to discuss and share their obstacles and successes in their industry.