The timeline is a space beyond the world. We can go forward and backward. We can witness every option. We can audition every word and every action. The sound waves remind me of when I spent my summers surfing in Baja. The timeline is infinite with endless space before and after. The only limit is your attention. You slowly sculpt and refine the timeline. Collecting your experiences, your influences; notes are just another method of helping you uncover your style. Consistent refinement and smoothing out. Until the Show ends and you move on.
And yet there is a discipline to it; a technical, logical component that must be respected. Without intelligent organization, you will fall into Chaos. Without understanding how the system works, you will be dependent on someone else. There are long late nights alone. The hum of the machines and your thoughts in the darkness of an abandoned office. And there will be times of great collaboration. You and your peers gathered around a conference room table, feeling like you are building the great cathedral in Köln. The Show is life because life is a show. There is nothing else. Before or afterward. So you close the door, hunch a little forward, and focus on the timeline. One cut after another. On and on forever.
My path in the business began in high school. In my junior year my days were filled with electronics and computer programing classes and I had some uninspired notion about studying engineering in college. The work suited my logical side, but I distinctly remember feeling ambivalent because some creative spark was missing. As a child I loved to play with Legos, and in middle school my friends were big into role-playing games (Cyberpunk 2020, not D&D, if you must know). These were group activities that blended a rigid systems-type thinking with the more unpredictable nature of creativity.
Everything changed one afternoon when a friend invited me to help him tape his public access show after school. Eric’s show was called Pinhead Nation and he booked local rock bands to perform in his backyard on the deck of his parents’ house. Then he’d interview them afterwards. All I remember from that afternoon is running around to clear off the deck and lay audio cables with intense purpose. There was a feeling of camaraderie that is familiar to anyone who’s worked on a set. It was so exciting to be part of a crew. This collaborative approach to creativity is exactly what had been missing. The feeling electrified me and I was ‘hooked’. By the following year I transferred into my high school’s the television production class.
My high school’s video production program had a small studio with two pedestal cameras, an ENG camera, a control room with A/B switch, and an S-VHS linear editing system. In retrospect, I was lucky to have access to a high school program with so much equipment. At the time (1998-1999) that analogue gear probably cost our school district a small fortune.
The class had a variety of projects, but my favorite was a newscast I wrote set during Roman times. It was a multi-step project. First, I had to write the script in the A/V format (original hand written script). Then I had to tape and edit an ENG package that would be ‘rolled-in’ into the main newscast. From here it was a natural progression to go on to major in video production in college.
In college I gravitated towards documentary production. Looking back now, I think I realized that it was easier to create high quality documentary productions than scripted narratives, because narrative is SO resource intensive. A scripted production requires costumes and sets, in addition to lighting and sound; while documentary, especially *cinéma vérté*, requires so much less. Also, I enjoy learning and a good documentary teaches you something new about the world. It can be creative and emotional while also feeding the logical part of the mind.
In college I also started the FDU Film Guild. A campus club that purchased extra equipment and props to encourage fellow students to get out there and make films. It served the purpose of building a community of people who help each other by contributing their unique skills. One of our primary fundraising activities was filming campus events, creating DVD’s, and selling those DVD’s to the organizations. Event videography, but lucrative nevertheless.
I also spent two years working at a company in New York City called iNextv. It was like Youtube, just 5 years too early, since almost nobody had fast broadband internet at the time. My first assignment on the job was to assist the studio engineer with soldering the remaining cables to their bnc connectors. During my two years on the job I had opportunities to run studio cameras, assist the Avid Media Composer editors, and learn Final Cut Pro. It was a sad day when I came into work and learned that the company had became the latest victim of the first dot com bubble.
The year after graduating college I moved to Washington, DC and landed my first job as an Assistant Editor. But that’s a story for another post…
I recently read a great article in Filmmaker Magazine about Producing and Coping with Stress. The entire article resonated with me. The struggle to maintain balance between work and family life is something I feel acutely. It’s good to hear that I’m not alone. If you have fifteen minutes you should check it out. You should also check out my post On Creative Fulfillment too.
Article quotes of note:
Producing is about support — being everyone’s advocate, from the director to the actor to the crew. … Producing is the effort in the cracks and corners, the tossing in the mornings and nights. Producing is sweating in the dark and smiling in the light.
“The happier you are and the more healthy you are,” Robinson says, “the harder it is to sustain the dysfunction of film.”
“There’s this inherent narcissism of ‘serving the movie,’” Reardon says. “It’s like the movie is the patriarch.” Various forms of abusive behavior can be justified because there’s the sense that sacrifices must be made for the sake of the film.
One of the most important days in challenging how I think about work was in graduate school when I visited an adjunct professor at his consulting office on K St. in Washington, DC. He asked me what I did for work, and I told him that I was working at night as an Assistant Editor. His immediate response was, “Wow, I imagine that the level of frustration in your field is very high, because the jobs that are interesting probably don’t pay the bills, and the jobs that pay the bills probably aren’t very interesting.”
At this moment in time I’m very fortunate to have a job that’s engaging, interesting; and pays the bills! But this hasn’t been the norm for large portions of my career. And I don’t think I’m alone. One of the most common complaints I hear when I work with people on their resumes is how dissatisfied they are on their current show.
I believe that some of these frustrations are just an innate part of the entertainment industry. But perhaps there are ways we can learn to think about our jobs to help restore a sense of balance and value in our work.
Despite how much I hate this advice with every cell in my body I know that it is absolutely true. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to has seen someone less intelligent or less hardworking get ahead of them because of luck, and who they know. Hollywood is the place that invented the term ‘failing up’ afterall.
The fact of the matter is that Hollywood utilizes very little data in its decision-making process. Sure we track box office receipts or nightly viewers, but we don’t actually know why one show succeeds while another fails. I believe that this lack of data on the production process itself creates an environment where irrational decision-making is the only decision-making available, therefore people defer to their ‘gut’ and are lead by perception. This is all another way of saying the old adage:
“In Hollywood, nobody knows anything.”
I think there is also an element of self selection at play. Research has started to suggest that people who need consistency; where it is clear how promotion occurs and when the next paycheck will arrive, tend to gravitate towards stable fields such as civil service. While people who work in the cultural industries have a different set criteria for measuring job satisfaction and may even thrive due to the volatility a life in the arts is certain to entail.
“The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”
Having a good sense of humor is probably the best way to thrive in the business. But failing wit, a more meditative approach might have more to offer the rest of us. The School of Life has written an assortment of articles about work. I highly recommend starting with this one on: The Creative Itch. Learning to identify which aspects of my job bring me the most joy has helped guide me towards new opportunities. It’s also given me insight into what I should steer clear of too!
You can also check out the The Sorrows of Work. This extended essay on the subject of work reminds us that our struggles are not unique, but a plight shared by the entire working class. There are no perfect jobs, because we work within an imperfect system.