Saturday, February 21, 2009

Old Friends and New Beginnings

My friend Jim directed a commercial shoot for REI yesterday, and asked me to bring some Mama products and set up my festival booth for the shoot. The commercial is about sustainable living and shopping locally - Mama fit in perfectly, and I was happy to participate. Especially because I got to set up in front of Sevenanda, a local grocery co-op. They've been on my list to contact about carrying my products.

My calltime got incrementally pushed three hours because the lead actor had fallen off of his bike and had to go get stitches. By the time they got to me, they were rushing to make their day because they still had several more locations to shoot and they were running out of daylight. Also by that time, the health and beauty buyer had gone for the day, so I didn't get to meet her but I got her card. This is the first shoot I've been on where I haven't been working, and I found myself more than happy to sit back and do my little part while everyone else rushed around with their hair on fire.

I had the opportunity to catch up with some old film friends I hadn't seen in a while. Everyone was super congratulatory about "getting out" – of the film industry that is. It made me feel like an anomaly (in a good way). People don’t get out of the film industry very often. Partially because it's good money and partially because most of us have resumes that don't translate well into other industries. Which is funny, because film people are some of the most hard-working, intelligent, clever and capable people I've ever met. And they are used to getting more done in a day than most people even think about getting done in a week.

When I sat down to write this post it was going to be about putting yourself out there and things coming back. That's been happening lately with Mama on many small levels, and I'm paying attention. But as I was writing, reflections on my film career and where I am now kept rushing through my head. So I think I need to have a little therapy and write about that.

Film work is made up of planning, anticipating, reacting when your plans go awry, and then pulling a solution out of your ass, all in a very compacted amount of time. It's high stakes, and especially stressful if you're the one responsible for the money part. When I started producing, I did music videos, which are the worst of the worst. On the way home from a shoot, I would get a natural high – almost giddy, because we actually achieved the impossible and got the video in the can. I guess I thrived on the intense ups and downs. And I know that I largely defined myself by my job. There was never a shortage of drama, and it was fun for a while, but the process and the drama stressed me out so badly that I got sick after almost every job. Commercials were better and I got into a comfortable pattern working with the same director. But nonsense is still nonsense, and I found myself getting less tolerant of it all as the years went on.

I was miserable toward the end, and pretty much left while flipping a mental middle finger. I thought it would be a huge relief, and it has been to a large degree. But most of my reflection has been about all of the bad habits I developed – necessary protective measures, but things that went against what I believe in and want for myself. And frustration that it took me as long to break away as it did.

Someone recently asked what I had learned from it. I completely surprised myself, because I couldn't think of an answer. I'm someone who is constantly thinking about things, and thought that I was someone who learned my lesson. But it usually happens once a situation is behind me. This led me to realize that my film career isn't behind me yet. I've been so hyper-focused on moving forward that I haven't tied up the loose ends that I left behind. I haven't honored the transition that I'm making right now. Or rather I haven't honored my years in the film industry, and part of that is seeing the good in those 14 years. Once I started thinking about it, it wasn't too hard to find.

I developed numerous skills throughout my film career. I learned budgeting, scheduling, time management, organizational and people management skills as well as how to work with clients - and that's just the short list. All of these are essential skills to have when running your own business, and most of them are things I never knew that I would or could do when I graduated from college. I got to go places that most people would never be allowed to see (ever been inside a morgue?). I got to meet and mingle with many exciting and well-known people. I got to travel. I made good money and had time between jobs to start my own business. And I met so many great people. Film work is very gypsy-like, and film sets become insular little worlds where friendships develop quickly. For many years I thought I had the best job in the world. I need to remember that.

Change was inevitable, and the prospect of change was and is very exciting to me. But now that I'm going through it, it's been harder than I anticipated. This is going to be an interesting year - I have a lot to learn, and a lot to unlearn. As of my 2nd month out, I haven't had an easy time of it. My worst-case scenario producer planning can be debilitating, as far as knowing what steps to take with Mama and what to wait on. I am a company of one, and I miss having a team to bounce ideas off of, and to help execute the plan. But I am slowly becoming part of a network of other small business owners who are filling that gap. After years of crazy hard work with downtime in between, I'm having to learn to pace myself. Not quite there yet – I still collapse with exhaustion at the end of every week. I'm pretty single-minded, and tend to do best when I can focus on one task and marathon through it to completion. So I’m having to learn compartmentalization - this is a concept that still feels completely out of my reach. Most of all, I’m trying to learn to get out of reactionary mode, which for me has become synonymous with crisis mode. Film work has a "drop everything you're doing and do this" mentality, and if I could pick the single thing that drove me completely insane about my job, that would be it. It made running a small side business very difficult because I couldn't plan in advance, and it was a source of endless frustration. And even though those calls aren't coming anymore, I still find myself anxiously waiting for something or someone to come along and screw up my plans. This makes little upsets become big upsets, and generally isn't very productive. So I have my work cut out for me, but I'm starting to see little flashes of what will be. Little breaks from the chains that bind me, which are mostly in my head. Slow and steady wins the race. And maybe someday I'll believe that.

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