4 Work/Life and Work/Work Balance Mistakes I've Made As An Indie Filmmaker

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(Bri Castellini) #1

Welcome to my series about failure! Because I’ve made so many mistakes on my filmmaking journey, every once in a while I’ll share some of them with you so you don’t have to! Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Today’s series of failures have to do with balance, because no-budget filmmaking is incredibly difficult in the best of cases and the best of cases is rarer than a racist losing their TV show. Hashtag topical. Below are four mistakes I’ve made relating to balance within filmmaking and balance between filmmaking and the other parts of my life.

Saying “yes” too quickly

This is a pretty typical mistake for Type A Obnoxious Overachievers, and I am certainly no exception. The rush of people asking for your help can be addicting and incredibly dangerous, because you’re so swept up by validation you forget you actually have to, like, do stuff. While you’re doing other stuff.

I love saying yes to people, especially now that I have an office job where I’m online 24/7 and can sometimes help with things during the workday. It expands my network of people I work with, allows me to stretch new filmmaking/marketing muscles, and I know how hard it can be to do all this work alone.

However… I also have a lot going on, and if I can’t give something 100% of my energy, it’s unfair of me to say I can. And yet, I do this constantly, forcing me to choose between mistreating myself or flaking on people I’ve promised things to, neither of which is a good situation. More often, I discover a secret third option where I do nothing at all and avoid emails or looking at notifications so my read receipts won’t rat me out for the coward that I am.

The worst is when I say yes to a select few projects several months apart, and then because of scheduling and other circumstances, they all happen at once. That’s no one’s fault, but I didn’t push back, I just pretended everything was fine and proceeded to not sleep or relax for 6 months straight, a state I’m still very much in.

LESSONS

  • Be honest with yourself about what you have time for.
  • Be communicative with collaborators about the reality of your situation
  • Don’t leave people hanging, no matter how consumed by anxiety you are. Send a confirmation email at the very least.

Saying “no” too quickly

Because I know I’m an Obnoxious Overachiever, sometimes I also overcorrect. When presented with the opportunity to work on something awesome and having a full month free of commitments to play Fallout 4, especially if the work opportunity is big or scary, I’ll choose the latter. I use my history of saying yes too quickly to justify my answer, but in reality I’m scared. I’m scared to fail, scared of overcommitting, scared of missing out on free time, scared I’ll lose my Fallout 4 momentum, scared of taking a professional risk.

There are many valid reasons to say no to an exciting opportunity, but fear and laziness should never be among them. Taking a week or a weekend off for your own mental health should be more acceptable in our industry, but taking two months off because the only things you’re offered scare the hell out of you is a waste of two months.

LESSONS

  • Don’t give an answer too quickly- really think about your decisions before you make them.
  • If something’s scary or challenging, give it a try. Nothing that’s worth it comes easy.
  • Fallout 4 Survival Mode is a very fun game setting but is no excuse to decline exciting job prospects

Over-scheduling

During the summer of 2015, I had a brilliant idea. My two roommates and I all had web series we wanted to produce before our second semester of graduate school started. What if, and stay with me here, we did them at the same time? No matter that they were literally the first times I’d ever been on set, no matter that I had no idea what the difference between a director and a producer was. We had three web series to make in three months, and we were gonna do it!

We did not do it. We finished two by the skin of our teeth, with the third sadly still incomplete, but that summer was one of the worst things we’ve ever done to ourselves. It nearly ended our friendships, which would have been extra awkward considering we’d just signed a year lease right as the summer began.

The worst week was the week where we had 8 days of shooting scheduled in a row. For me, this meant that during the week I’d awake at 4:30am to get to my barista job by 6am, work until 2:30pm, then head straight to set for a few hours before finally getting home around midnight and doing it all over again. Some days would be my web series, where I’d have to learn my lines and somehow not look like I’d worked a full shift in a cafe, and other days I’d just be producing, where I’d need to coordinate with cast and crew and hold a boom steady after a full shift on my feet at my day job. The weekends meant I wasn’t working and could thus be on set for even longer. As you might expect, this was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

LESSONS

  • If everyone still has day jobs they’re working around, don’t schedule more than three or four days of shooting in a row
  • If by the grace of God you’re able to shoot when everyone is on a break or vacation, you still shouldn’t shoot more than four or five consecutive days in a row.
  • Take turns producing projects as a team, but make sure everyone actually does get their turn.

Agreeing to be script supervisor

One of the projects I’m proudest of is Relativity, a time travel thriller you can watch in three orders written and directed by my good friend and muse Chris Cherry. I executive produced this show, among other things, one such thing being script supervising.

I did a real bad job.

Relativity is a show predicated on continuity easter eggs, where episodes needed to flow perfectly into three other, unique episodes, a complicated task for a web series with literally three crew members. Because the other two crew members were the writer/director and the DP, respectively, keeping track of continuity fell to me. I said yes quickly, because I knew we needed someone to fill the role, but I didn’t really understand the responsibility at the time.

I’m not going to point out to moments in the series where I made an error that cost us a cool visual moment, but there are several, and they’re literally all my fault. Yes, we were all trying to keep track and we three were all somewhat responsible given the condensed shoot and the multiple other roles we all held, but I was the script supervisor. My entire job was keeping the continuity straight, but I’m not good at focusing on things as boring as continuity. Chris, when it’s not his show, is incredibly good at script supervising, and often fills that role on my projects. Unfortunately, I could not return the favor and I really regret not being honest about what I should have known about myself beforehand.

LESSONS

  • Don’t take on jobs you’re not good at. It’s not doing anyone a favor if you’re bad at it
  • Be honest about your own skills even in times of desperation
  • Script supervising is an incredibly important and thankless job and those who exceed at it deserve all the praise in the world.

When and Why to Say Yes to a New Project