Don’t work with assholes. Ever. No matter what they’re offering, no matter what they bring to the table. If they’re the sort of person where the phone rings at 10 o’clock at night and you wince because you see that it’s them, then don’t do business with them. One asshole will ruin your life. I’ve managed my entire TV and filmmaking career to work with people I like and respect. If the point comes where I don’t like or respect someone, I don’t work with them anymore.
As we are exploring the happy filmmaking life further, I would like to start with the first part: the happiness. We will explore the filmmaking, too, don't worry. But there are already a lot of very valuable tips out there about the technique and technology, the tools of the trade. Important to know. But all the tools in the world won't make you a happy filmmaker, if you are not happy first. Truth. (It's a bit like you won't be happy in a relationship - only for a short endorphine-fuelled high at the start - if you are not happy already. Truth that one, too. Trust me. Tried it.)
With happiness I don't mean permanent cheerfulness, ignorance of life's more difficult aspects and neverending energy that is on 24/7. If you are after those, you might have to try cocaine or for a cheaper option that doesn't land you in prison, try sugar.
If you are after what I would define as real happiness, read on.
Happiness to me means a certain balance where you feel most of the time that things are working out, you find, that somehow life and work are in some maginficent order and you just have to show up to be part of it. Things might go wrong sometimes, or are a bit flat, but beneath all that, there is a permanent hum of happiness inside you, of happy stillness and peace of mind.
That to me is succeeding in happiness. First requirement for being a happy filmmaker.
There is a great quote about success by Arnaud Desjardins:
Everything depends on Love. If we have professional success, we feel that Life loves us, that our employers, bosses, colleagues are no enemies. Love, love; do the first step!
I have found the following to be a good definition of success as a filmmaker: if you feel loved by your audience, you consider yourself succesful. Success as a happy filmmaker also includes the love of colleagues, financiers, commissioners, producers, anyone you might depend on to do your work.
Regarding my films, people often thank me for the places they have transported them to. Be it the physical place of a small Greek island or the places in our imagination and ourselves, the feelings the films evoke and the inspiration people derive from them. Audience members have thanked me for taking them on a journey to a place they didn't even know existed and giving them inspiration, hope and an idea to try out in their own life. (If you would like to check that for yourself, you can watch THE ISLAND BUS, the documentary that elicited these comments, here.)
You cannot imagined how loved I feel when someone tells me these things. Bamm, success!
In a wider sense, not necessarily related to any of my film or video work, people usually thank me for my kindness. Which again makes me really happy, cause the Dalai Lama's postulation that kindness is THE thing to get right in life ranks high on my list of priorities.
Friends also often thank me for listening to them and for sharing advice I have found to be useful for myself regarding any situation they find themselves in. That is an absolute win-win situation because - I suppose you have guessed it from this blog - I am rather excited about sharing the things I am excited about. (And I love a bit of DADA in my phrasing, too.)
Then there are those skills that I might possess but those around me not to such a high degree. Can be something simple: in a foreign country, surrounded by speakers of other languages, my native German skills are often appreciated. This obviously depends on the situation I find myself in. In Berlin, those skills might be of a little less value to the crowd around me. In the company of professionals of other stripes, having a photographer's eye and the technical knowledge to create images that speak to the viewer has earned me profuse thanks from those who were in need of these images for whatever it is they wanted to be photographed or filmed.
Then again, there are professional skills that I have received thanks for: actors who appreciated my way of directing as it allowed them to bring out their best and shine, fellow artists who appreciated my input on their writing, editing and filming. (In a way, directing is mostly that: giving those creatives working with you feedback. What I try to do is leave room for their creativity - even if I don't understand yet what they are aiming for - to come out and do its best.)
I am listing all these things not to tell you what an amazing person I am. (If you have read this far, you either appreciate my writing yourself, so at least you would agree on that one, or you simply wonder what the whole point of all this is. Let me tell you:) This list of what people thank me for is again a guideline for me to decide what work to do, how to do it and for and with whom.
And that's important to know if you want to be not only a filmmaker, or if you don't just want to be happy, but a happy filmmaker.
Find out what the traits are that elicit the love Desjardins talks about: the love of colleagues, financiers, employers, and your audience. Find out what people thank you for! Chances are, those are your greatest talents. So find those out, and then do more of that.
See you on the small or big screens of the world!
This morning, with the news from the new Paris attacks steadily ticking in, it feels incredibly sad to be writing anything here - and even worse not to write.
I feel sad with compassion for the victims and those who love them, for their suffering and shock and despair. It is the same sadness that I feel about the victims of the horrific violence we are witnessing in various parts of the world, further away and very close by. Yes, of course, I feel a stronger pang of fear for those I know and I know to be in the vicinity of immediate danger. It doesn't matter whether these people are in France, Lebanon, Syriah, Turkey, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan or the Aegean Sea... the list goes on. It is only natural to hope that your friends are safe and to reach out to them first - but my imagination is strong enough to fathom that those people who I have never met because they have not crossed my path yet feel the same fear and shock, it's not hard to imagine that they, too, love and despair about the loss of loved ones and violence directed at them.
And there is another sadness that is oddly mixed with anger: sadness and anger about the fact that a film project about religious or racially motivated violence would possibly now get so much more attention and interest than this film about the culture of the very same region and countries I mentioned above and about the fact that there are artists who manage to transcend the stereotypes, the hatred, the stigma and work and play side by side.
I don't care whether you think it is selfish to write about my documentary on a day like this. I know that if anything, this film is not selfish, this attempt of mine to bring something of what I experience in this music and in the people performing it to you, is my way of contributing to - peace! Yes, nothing more and nothing less.
A friend who is living with his family in Paris wrote on Facebook this morning "we're fine. Prayers for the victims. Switch off your TV, terror for your mind, not peace." I hear him. I know what he means. Yet, I don't want to switch off my TV (I don't have one, anyway), I don't want to recoil, resignate - I want to change the content. It is my job. I make that stuff you watch on your TV and in the movies. I make movies.
But you can change the content, too. The world is what we allow it to be. No, we must never turn a blind eye to injustice, we should stand up for what we stand for. I stand for the fact that humanity is more than the crap we are seeing. We are all better than the image of ourselves we allow to show up at the moment. And, yes, lots of what is east and south of the Mediterranean shore is so much better, so much more human than what we allow our TV programs to broadcast.
Switch your screen back on and change the program. Yes, my suggestion would be to try the documentary about the musicians of Labyrinth Musical Workshop that I am preparing together with Victoria Trzeciak and the team of Tola Films. We are running an Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds for filming a concert of Ross Daly, Kelly Thoma and Marijia Katsouna at Carnegie Hall in December and are looking for support from you. It is my suggestion and I stand for it.
Having met Ross Daly and getting to know his work and music has for me personally - and countless others who I have talked to - been nothing less than an eye-opener, a new path into the world of the East so many of us know so little about, has rung so true to what humanity should be about and - I will continue to believe - at its core is. I - personally, as Sibylle - find it worthy to get made. If you join me in this conviction and have the means to do so, please consider contributing to the project. You will find all necessary information if you click on the link below.
With great hopes that we can turn the world into the place we want it to be, thank you!
Peace and music to you all!
...or How to make your brain switch from colours to counting (in 37 degrees)
(NOTE: This post first appeared on the blog to my feature documentary THE ISLAND BUS in June 2012, but it tackles subjects that are very much part of the Happy Filmmaker's disposition. So I take the liberty to "recycle" the article here and make it available to a fresh audience. Enjoy!)
"While racing through my filmmaker’s life lately – fortunately at the moment the private life takes place on a reasonably remote island with a beach at my front door, so not much racing is needed there (and maybe that is intentional…) – so, while racing through my filmmaker’s life, I noticed that a): I love it and b): there are actually quite a few “brain modes” you go through while making a documentary. I have recently worked on a short TV report where those different modes followed each other in quick succession, but they are all part of making The Island Bus, too.
The Gut Feeling –
is what first attracts you to a documentary subject or any creative project, and is named after the body part where you experience it. To explain it to those who claim they are not creative – there is no such thing, read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, but anyway – this bears a lot of similarities with falling in love: it hits you in the most unexpected ways, is totally irrational and sometimes even hard to put into words, but your curiosity is triggered and chances are you will go to some length to make it happen. (And it’s exciting and scary and fulfilling and fun, all at the same time.)
The Pitching Stage –
is when formally or just to friends and possibly interested collaborators you start to put into words what you want to do. This can reach from: “I think it would be a great idea to make a film about life on Tilos by just driving around on the bus all day and showing the different things Pavlos does” – which is (you guessed it) the first sentence about The Island Bus that ever left my lips – but can also take the far more formal and articulated form of a written proposal in which you tell the whole story as you think it might happen. It is incidentally my least favourite part of the whole process. Because I don’t like writing about films. Don’t get me wrong: I love writing (hadn’t you noticed!) but I don’t like writing about something I want to show in (moving) images. It never seems right. I think this is a sentiment shared by many filmmakers and contested by producers and financiers who – for good reasons – want to understand what your gut feeling is all about.
The Numbers –
once you have convinced anyone to actually pay for that film you want to make (and even more so if you haven’t but are bankrolling it yourself), you need to calculate how to do it. Sums, counting, logistics and a lot of rational thoughts are involved to work out the best possible way – and how much all this is going to cost. It’s actually more fun than it sounds – as you get to spend some time trawling travel booking websites and looking at nice cameras and other geeky stuff – an activity that never fails to excite me.
The Hectic –
can occur at any time during the process but seems to hit me most often once I got the go-ahead and realise: this is really going to happen. For some reason, things seem to speed up at this stage and I find myself wanting to go to that beach very very much… Best survived by thinking of the beach – but starting the project.
The Colours, Shapes, Sounds and Movement, in other words: the Flow –
when I’m out there with a camera, capturing those moments. I sometimes really feel – David Cronenberg would like this – as if the camera and I turn into this hybrid creature: it is an extension of my arm that feels natural and feeds my eye images, a flowing, floating process, very hard to describe. In fact, words are difficult at this stage – see The Pitching Stage – which means that interviews often interrupt this flow. Especially when conducted in a language that is not so familiar (and – shame on me – even after all those years Greek is not familiar enough), I really struggle to speak while I’m filming. Apparently there is a brain research explanation for this. There are ways to get around it, little tricks that make sure I can create images and elicit words at the same time – luckily, really. How else would The Island Bus ever happen? In general, filming (like writing for the sake of writing) feels like swimming: a moving, flowing action that is best not thought about too much.
The Edit –
I love it. The more often I get to edit anything, the more I learn and the more I discover and the more I love it. It is really “writing a documentary”, but this time you have got those colours, shapes, sounds and movement and can use them to form – a film. You can completely lose yourself in an edit – and it helps when there are thoughtful people near who remind you that it’s a good idea to eat sometimes…
The Round-up –
yet another rational moment when it’s time to deliver what you’ve worked on and have to make sure that it is really all there. Constant checks and balances and a lot of technology involved – which usually fails. In fact, as I write this, I am fighting it out with a little virtual animal named Cyberduck – a program used to connect to an FTP-server to upload my work which does not just do what it should, but needs to be prompted now and then. A patience test.
The Socializing –
filmmaking in general is collaboration and when making a documentary you have the added bonus of being thrown into worlds very different from your own. So there is lots to discover, a lot of communication to be done and you feel overwhelmed as a default setting. At some stage you will also feel very tired from all those wondrous things you see and the constant decision making.
The Utterly Distracting Life –
which is usually when you are confronted with the fact that there is a whole life to be lived that has very little to do with your filmmaking. It’s usually a baffling realisation. Re-entry into that life can be confusing. It’s worth it, though, because you finally get to go to that beach – and get more material for the next documentary project and more chances for one of those unexpected moments of gut feeling…"
(NB: first published 22/06/2012 here)
Lately, I have had quite a few things to celebrate: apart from a birthday which turned out to be pretty spectacular in a unique way, there was a world premiere of THE ISLAND BUS, and another one, this time in the form of the Internet launch of Catalysta.org - career catalyst for the common good - and the web docu series DREAM JOB I have been working hard to help create for over a year now, there was a memorial retrospective art exhibition of my late mother's paintings, there is a national premiere coming up, a festival screening in competition and an avant-premiere that is promising to be a wonderful gathering of friends, supporters and total strangers who will join me for the first ever screening of the director's cut of my first ever feature length documentary. In other words, the filmmaker in me had quite a bit of happiness to share and go around.
I like sharing my happiness. I go around like a three-year-old, bouncing up and down, squeaking: "Isn't this wonderful? I am soooo pleased. I really am." An ex-boyfriend likened me to a puppy, he said: "You get so excited and happy - and then sometimes something dampens your mood and you are upset for a bit. But then you bounce up again and run around in circles wagging your tail - figuratively speaking - and are all smiles and happiness again." While I leave the hobby (and studied) psychologists among you to decide what his simile said about our relationship ;) and while the image might not be congruent with the classy, lady-like appearance that another part of me likes to display, a lot of it hits the point.
Yes, I do get excited about my successes and yes, I like sharing that excitement - for one simple and very pure reason: cause it is a great feeling and I want others to participate.
I am not entirely sure how this participation can work, there is no chemical process I could control that transmits my emotions to others, so a bit of empathy and willingness from your side is required. But for sure I do want you to feel happy about this. As happy as I feel. If I could cut my happiness up like a birthday cake and give each of you a slice, I would.
Years of happy experience and being a figurative puppy have taught me that this doesn't always happen the way I imagine it. In fact, one of my strongest childhood memories regarding sharing my happiness about an achievement contained the very opposite reaction.
I was playing with a friend at her house, we were seven (me) and six years old, respectively. We went to the same primary school which for some reason had an extra class reserved for exceptionally gifted children. It was a few extra hours of school every week, so not exactly something any child would look forward to. Yet, as I had discovered, in that class you got to do the really cool stuff cause the students were allowed to choose the topics they wanted to deal with and all those fields I felt thoroughly neglected in my regular education (like theatre, films, Ancient Egypt - yes, sorry, those were my preferences as a seven year old, but I am sure rugby, car engines and photographic mechanics would have made the cut as well) were now in reaching distance. And I had recently been deemed worthy of attending. (The whole process of selection I found deeply suspicious - no doubt influenced by my psychologist and educational expert mother whose ideas of education looked somewhat different, more nourishing than controlling.) But nevertheless, it was a promising achievement - mainly for what it would allow me to experience.
So I told my friend V, not forgetting to add: "I am sure, next year you'll get to do it too!" And I was sure. I totally believed in her capacity to be selected for that stupid class and therefore experience the fun of widening her horizons according to what she liked.
Enter the voice of her mother who was a primary school teacher at another school and had overheard our conversation. She said a single word - but that left me speechless and it has taken about twenty years until I recognised it fully for what it was. All she said was: "Show-off!"
I didn't defend myself. In fact, I didn't even know what I had done wrong. I just went home and let the comment "show-off" sink to the bottom of my consciousness - and ferment there for a few decades.
These days I like recalling the story and I feel a lot of empathy for the mother who wanted to protect her child from the exaggerated expectations and disappointment that "failure" could mean. I feel empathy for the teacher who felt resentment against someone who seemed to effortlessly achieve something and boast about it while she might have struggled with other children and their capacities herself. Yet, non of those feelings justifies spoiling the party of a seven-year-old who was genuinely happy to have the opportunity to occupy herself with something that interested her. By the way, the class turned out not to be that spectacular after all. I don't even remember what we did there. (Or is that maybe just my denial mechanism that was scared of enjoying too much after that dampening comment? ;) Maybe the puppy hadn't leapt up again yet.) In any case, it was a very impressive lesson about the sweet smell of success - and how it can stink like faeces to others.
This morning in my meditation, the same topic came up again. I am on headspace.com's Happiness series at the moment, and the topic is - very fittingly - enjoyment. Our own capacity of enjoying not only our own happy moments but equally the happiness of others.
"Do you genuinely feel happy with them if those around you tell you about something that excites them?", was one of the questions. "And imagine now what it is like if others genuinely share your happiness when you have something great to tell them. And what does it feel like if they are a bit indifferent or maybe even resentful?" Those questions of course provoke the realisation that as much as it is lovely if you have people who can genuinely join your celebration, it is as pleasant for them if you can genuinely enjoy their success. It just makes for more happiness all around. Full stop.
The meditation exercise is designed to enable you to enjoy the success of others as much as you would (and are enjoying) your own. And the funny thing is: once you have learnt to be happy for others, you can also easily get rid of the feeling of guilt if you have something to celebrate yourself. Everyone allows you to celebrate your birthday - it's something we all have, so no fear of anyone being in advantage, heaven forbid. I would suggest that we should start allowing anyone to celebrate anything, every tiny little bit of achievement is worth making a big noise about it.
So here I am telling you while I have lots of things at the moment to worry about, I also have a few wonderful achievements to be grateful and happy and - yes - proud of. I know exactly who those people are who helped with them and they know it, too, I hope, and one of those people was I, myself. So I am celebrating and I invite you all to my party.
Film schools and the film industry with its competitiveness can be pretty daunting places to celebrate success without fearing a stab in the back - or so we are told. But here is what I found: those colleagues I really relate to and whose work interests me happen to be also the ones who seem to be most genuinely happy and excited about others achieving what they had set out to do or even more. So I dare suggest that in order to become really interesting and original filmmakers, we should start loving the success of others as much as our own. That way, we certainly also become happier filmmakers.
Here is to the sweet smell of things well achieved and celebrated! Raise your glass to all of us!
Sibylle, a very happy filmmaker
As I write this, my house is in utter chaos and clutter. One half of it has to be renovated, and not in the usual cosmetic style of splashing some paint on the walls - even though that usually feels stressful enough and chaotisizes life for a while - but in my case, the walls had to be stripped down to the naked stones, have to be re-plastered, then painted because they suffered so much from the humidity. The beauty of living right by the sea. I'm not complaining.
Doors are unhinged and standing forlorn in the courtyard, the windows are gone, there is cement dust everywhere (it even covered the cats's food plates much to their dislike) and my camera gear, books, and other belongings build mountain ranges in the living room and my emergency office (the only sanctuaries of clean air) through which narrow canyons lead where I traverse from front door to bathroom to desk to kitchen.
I have been away for two weeks and the plan was to get this done while I was gone - and of course the plan didn't quite work out (by about four weeks we will be missing the target). But that was to be expected seeing the amount of work that is necessary.
While I was away, when thinking of the house, I would go through the stuff in my mind and plan what to sort out and give away or sell upon my return. Ever since I have come back, stacks of random belongings stare at me, begging to be sorted or given a new place to live. Wherever I go, I could pick up immediately and find a useful occupation that would keep me busy for the rest of the day.
Yet, we are launching the preview site of Catalysta next week, I have emails to follow up with people I met at the Cross Video Days in Paris, the last episodes of Dream Job are getting ready for the site launch on 1 September, I am editing some of the preview content to go online on Monday and the festivals that will be screening The Island Bus in the next few weeks and months are expecting press material from me. Not to mention my personal and family affairs that require some attention.
As you can imagine, my to-do list runs roughly the length of a Dostoyevsky novel. Those are the moments when I discover that odd thing about time: it really is relative.
Yesterday, I edited for what felt like 20 minutes - and the day was gone. Bamm! The sun set, the cats were hungry. So was I - but I only noticed when the last of the clips rendered and there wasn't anything left to do but listen to my rumbling stomach. On my phone turned on silent, I had a message from a friend asking me to call her back which I had promised to do "in a bit". The message was 6 hours old. Editing does that to me. Most of the time. I simply lose track of any time outside the timeline of my FCP. Writing has similar effects. I have noted this down for only about 2 minutes and already an hour has passed.
When inspiration strikes, the nice plan that a to-do list represents usually goes out the window. The flow and ease of concentrated creative work is a blessing that should not be tampered with. But it is useful to keep certain checks and balances in place (no one likes skeletal cats staring at them in reproach or dying from dehydration themselves).
With filmmaking being such an explosive combination of creative play and of meticulous planning, finding and re-gaining this balance is key to being a happy filmmaker. It is also the reason why I advocate meditation and have been practicing it myself.
If you are claiming to be the "creative type" while you are drowning in chaos, you will sooner or later get on the nerves of those around you and - more importantly - you will start annoying yourself. Neither does sticking to your to-do list like it was set in stone work out in the long run. The two strokes of inspiration that went into the teaser edits yesterday and delighted the producer so much were totally unscripted and would not have occurred, had I not allowed myself to get lost in the creative play. You might not even notice them when you watch next week, but without them, the pieces would feel slightly off. Such is editing, such is filmmaking, such is life.
I have learned to accept situations like the one I am in during this week as normal. You don't necessarily get those bubbles of calm and clarity in which you launch your greatest artistic works unhindered by outer influences. Directors probably work on the final cuts of their works while 37 weeks pregnant, writers finish books during the loss of a child or a favourite uncle, painters put exhibitions together while splitting up with their spouse and moving house or preparing birthday parties for their best friend.
Life is sometimes messy and chaotic, sometimes ordered and calm. Both are necessary and have their place and time. In an art form that has more potential for chaos than most others because of the complex logistics involved in most filmmaking, the demand for structure and reliability runs understandably high. But the unpredictable is where the "magic" usually happens. Surfing the waves and regaining balance between the two is what matters to the happy filmmaker.
Off I go (90 mins later) to tick "blogging" off my to-do list...
These days I am not only a Happy but also an Excited Filmmaker cause I am off to the Cross Video Days in Paris!
The city of love, light - and fashion: is there a better way to present Catalysta's web docu series DREAM JOB with its first season focussing on Eco Fashion?! DREAM JOB - which I am co-directing - has been invited as one of 59 projects selected for the CVD content market - and I am the lucky girl who gets to attend the conference.
The Cross Video Days also have a section especially for bloggers to get the latest on topics such as "Learning in the Digital Age" or "Multi-Platform Storytelling serving the audience". Expect some insights into what's happy-making about all this - hint: the immediate connection with the audience, for starters - and the one or the other pic of the Eiffel Tower, just for good measure. See you next week in Paris!
Just recently, I had a chat with a camera woman who has been working in the UK film and TV industry for 13 years and felt utterly tired of her same-same job. She is working on TV talk shows which feels to her like boring routine and she was happy to hear about my enthusiasm for the docu series I am working on. While I wondered whether it wouldn't be nice to have the regular salary that she gets from the big broadcasting company that employs her.
When I tell people that I make films, apart from the guaranteed interest and the follow-up questions about what the films are about and for whom and how I make them, there are usually two kind of reactions: either my opposite is very impressed and concludes that I am making a seven-figure income - or they ask: "Can you make a living with that?"
I always find it interesting when that second question comes. Honestly, would you ask someone who has just told you that they are a dentist or an accountant or a nurse: "Can you make a living with that?" You probably wouldn't. But why not? I know lawyers who had to go into debt to open their practice and are struggling to make ends meet. Nurses are notoriously underpaid. Yet, if someone tells you: "I am working as a nurse on a children's ward.", you would probably not enquire how they earn their living. So why is that?
Presumably because all those other professions are meant to be bread-winning first, fun-bringing later. Yet, there are kindergarten teachers who tell you how much they love their work, there are public servants who revel in their tasks. This is a true story. Yes, they also do their bit and complain about the routine just so that we don't think they are in it for the fun. But there are people who have chosen these jobs and enjoy them. So clearly they love their work. We should ask them, too, whether besides personal satisfaction they also earn their upkeep.
Cause that - I suppose - is the underlying assumption behind the question: "Can you make a living as a filmmaker?"
Here is the answer: if you are doing it to make a living, you can. It is sometimes easier, sometimes harder than in other professions. And it entirely depends on the path you choose. If you secure a job in a corporation - a broadcaster, a big media production company - you are more likely to have a regular and stable income than if you freelance. The same goes for carpenters and pharmacists, by the way.
The media corporations tend to downsize and jobs there tend to be temporary. But the same can actually be said about universities and hospitals.
Yet, without a doubt, there is a money issue involved in filmmaking. The German documentary association AG DOK has conducted a study in 2012 revealing that most documentary filmmakers working in Germany earn salaries somewhere around the poverty line.
I am not a hundred per cent certain whether I like the public discussion of that study - even though I am permeating it now myself. As it seems to bring little more than the basis for the same old question again: "You are making documentaries? Can you make a living with that?"
Hell, yes, if you pay for my work, I very well can. That means everyone from the person whom I work with to the audience that wants to see my work. If you pay for it accordingly, meaning: you pay for what you get, then yes, a filmmaker can make films - and a living.
Which seems to be the crucial thing: when it comes to money, we seem to divide into two separate groups - those who are good at asking for things from ourselves and those who are good at asking for things from others.
The first group - which I belong to - would not compromise personal fulfilment, integrity, ideals and wealth for a secure paycheck. All those are personal things that you have to demand of yourself first. You have to be sure to live according to you own values and be accountable first and foremost to yourself. And you might end up compromising on your income.
The second group which is good at asking for things - in this case: money - from others would not go without making sure they receive a fair amount of something (money in this example) in exchange for whatever it is they are doing and would take no crap in that area, they would rather walk away than stand exploitation of their work. They do tolerate to a certain extend compromising their passions and ideals though.
No one of these is better than the other. They just both seem to come with certain advantages or disadvantages. And - you guessed it - a lot of filmmakers seem to belong to group one and - if funds are tight - seem to be willing to compromise income for ideals, aka heart projects. A lot of artists in general, I think, can be counted among those.
Then there are others working in the industry who are better at demanding a decent pay for their work who usually end up in a staff positions on bigger productions. Whether or not the amount of payment they receive there is appropriate for the hours worked is debatable - and always debated within the unions. Praised be they.
But those employees seem to do better financially and also rise higher on the career ladder - while sometimes complaining about the lack of inspirational projects in their work slate.
So what to do?
Basically, first you could identify which of the two groups you seem to belong to.
Have you got a tendency to follow through with the ideas you are passionate about, working on low to unpaid projects because you believe in them (or in yourself)? Do you tend to wonder how you will pay the rent, but feel proud of your work and what you have achieved creatively?
You definitely make living to your standards and ideals a priority and compromise on the payment side. You first and foremost demand things from yourself and tend to let others get something from you even if the payment is low.
Do you work hard for high profile projects, make doing a good job and your professional reputation a priority? Do you build on your previous job to secure a better paid job the next time, working the same crew position but with a better company or on a higher profile project? Do you steadily advance your career within the terms the industry sets, but wonder sometimes when you will finally get to work on something that you would actually want to watch yourself?
You are striving for a fair remuneration for your efforts and are good at selling yourself and what you have to offer, knowing perfectly well how you want to advance your finances and reputation. You are good at requesting a fair exchange from others but compromise on your ideals and dreams if the paycheck is right.
As I said before: both of these are "right" - and ideally, they balance out. But knowing your tendency can also tell you how to strike that balance.
So if you feel your finances are a bit over-stretched, maybe it is time to use your capacity of demanding things from yourself (aka your discipline and enthusiasm) to apply it to the money side and get passionate about your earnings.
If you feel bored and frustrated in your work by uninspiring projects, maybe it is time to use your talent for setting the right value for yourself for looking for work better uses your skills and "pays" you better in terms of creative satisfaction.
In essence, both of these approaches are about self-worth and what we think we deserve. The Happy Filmmaker knows they deserve fair pay AND fun and work, because then what they deliver will be a pleasure to others and - depending on the project - might even advocate more fairness (and fair pay) in the world in general.
Here is to making money and making films and making the world a better place - all in perfect balance!
It's not about sparing myself. As I wrote this last night, I had been up for 22 hours, written work emails from 2:36 to 4:00 AM, then travelled by boat to the next island to sort out some household stuff, returned 12 hours later, got straight to the computer to watch the final cuts of episode 2 and 5 of the docu series I am co-directing - and to receive an email with pretty amazing news related to said series which led to another hour on Skype (hours 21 to 22 of time awake).
The entire day had been spent on totally exhausting myself to make the combination of both happiness factors - film and life - come to their fullest.
Of course, I cannot go like that everyday - and I don't. But it just serves as a reminder that the path of the happy filmmaker doesn't mean shying away from the impossible and taking it slow and easy always.
Sometimes it means allowing the craziness. But you need to know why, you need to know your boundaries - and even more importantly: your priorities, and they need to be balanced.
What is it you want to achieve and what's important for that? A little priority adjustment can go a long way - and even let you get by on too little sleep. Once in a while. ;-)
Just this morning I realised that it is actually quite useful having learned to be stubborn and stick to something: all that discipline of not giving up let's me show up every day for my meditation, for my gratitude, for noticing the things in life that make me happy.
Since my work belongs to them, it also makes sure I stick to it even at times when the challenges seem a bit overwhelming. There are days when collaborators give up, money doesn't seem to flow, or if it does, it seems hard earned regarding what is required in exchange.
On those days, the "discipline" of choice is self-love. Instead of resenting and going all sour, go out and count the daisies. For five minutes. Breath. Drink a cup of your favourite tea or coffee. Get some sun or some air. Take a photo of what makes you happy. (Or a little video on your phone.) Dance in your cubicle or in the bathroom. Write out what you are grateful for.
And make sure you are disciplined enough to practice that every day. The more you do, the less "discipline" is required. Promised.
PS: and should you have clear skies tonight and still be at work after dark, give yourself a break and look at the sky to see whether you can see some of the Eta-Aquarides meteorites. Apparently they are having a party up there today which looks from down here like shooting stars. Time to act on a wish.
Non-attachment and directing seem to be paradoxical. But as a recent article about the 10 paradoxical traits of creative people suggests, for a filmmaker combining opposites in your personality is quite normal.
So how about non-attachment?
What I mean by it in its broadest sense is the ability to let go and let unfold. To NOT cling to your first idea. To be able to relinquish control. And if you read this list, it all sounds a little more sensible, doesn't it?
For a director, the very term seems to suggest that you should give directions. So it can be very easy to feel the responsibility of "making" it happen.
This may be even more so for that new breed of filmmaker - a very general term that basically means a micro-entrepreneur, oftentimes a one-man or one-woman band who conceives the idea, develops, shoots and edits, sometimes with the collaboration, help and support of creative partners in one of these areas, more often than not alone in at least one of them because that is what the media landscape and the - oh, so elusive - funds dictate to get anything done that is not totally the norm (or invented by others whose direction we have to follow). For these self-reliant "content creators", it can be very easy to get stuck or frightened by the sense of control that we feel we need to exercise. And even if it is just control over ourselves: getting the motivation up to continue with a project that we believe in.
Whether it is for the purpose of meaningful collaboration or simply for the health of yourself - and the project: non-attachment is a wonderful thing.
Let go of that great idea, open yourself up to the possibility of alternatives and watch what happens. (If you develop your project through any pitching workshop, you will be told so anyway.) Sometimes, you will find something stronger. But what's even more exciting is watching how letting go gives that idea a life of its own. If regarded as common good, like the idea of someone else, all of a sudden, you can see that your life doesn't depend on tiny details - and you can experiment with improving them.
Non-attachment seems to be vital to our ability to calm down. A calm, happy and friendly communication is so desirable in the workplace, even more so when you are trying to create something that your audience should love and enjoy.
Let people who want to work with you have their say. Listen to your idea through the lens of their perspective - you might find something useful.
As a director, your main job is anyway to be the catalyst that spurs on everybody's creativity and coaxes them into bringing their best talent to the film. People might joke that you are dispensable since you aren't physically doing anything, just standing or sitting around and watching. Little do they know. You are like the compass, magnetic North, you are the ship's stewart, there to make sure the project travels on course. So you need to be able to de-tach yourself a bit from the details and get the bigger picture once in a while. Non-attachment again.
How you reach non-attachment will be a personal thing. Actually it is a term that is used a lot when talking about meditation and that happens to be my own preferred practice - among others. As I mentioned in the very first blog entry, I will share with you here what I have discovered. So having started a daily meditation practice just about 6 months ago with the aid of the wonderful Headspace Journey, I find it more and more useful for my work practice. A calm fierceness or a fierce kindness is what I am trying to apply to my work these days. And when I manage, not only does work feel like play - it also gets lovely results in much shorter time than before. Then I've got to deal with the trouble that I feel like a cheat cause I "haven't really done that much" - apart from showing up every day and practicing - but that's another story.
In fact, for those of you a bit more technically-minded who find the concept of meditation to sound like hocus pocus, how about thinking about it like maintenance for the mind? You clean your lenses, dust the connections and check out your cables, too. So how can the human brain and mind and being, one of the most complex "machines" on earth on which most other machines are modelled, be expected to function day in and day out without a practice to maintain its vitality and happiness?
Don't take my word for it, try things for yourself. I am not re-inventing the wheel here, simply trying to merge my two passions: that for filmmaking and that for having a life full of happiness and love. Trying not too hard seems to do the trick.
Pondering the Happy Filmmaking conundrum, I feel there seem to be two target groups: on the one hand those who feel stuck in a treadmill job (inside or outside the creative industry) who are longing to get to the things they are really passionate about, on the other hand those who already do what they are passionate about (I count myself to those lucky ones) but are in need of maintaining the balance in order to make this work. Either by making sure that the figures add up and the dream job is also the one that pays for you living the dream, or by making sure that you don't burn the candle on both ends and find yourself burned out.
The Zen for Ten challenge of the people from Do What You Love for Life is one of those things that helps to maintain the balance and at the same time aims to free you up to find out what you really want to do in case you are not doing it yet. The daily email is already on Day 2, but you can dowload the free pdf with all the materials and complete the ten days at your own leasure.
Today's motto was "Make space and simplify" - which couldn't have come more timely for me. This is my de-cluttering system. There is nothing like a bit of a life detox to free yourself up for new projects... Happy Zen!
Interested in composing music for film? Indie film maker Sibylle Meder shares some valuable advise! Sibylle is a filmmaker of fiction and non-fiction projects. 2014 will see the premiere of her feature documentary The Island Bus. Sibylle talked with Local band on all things film in this revealing interview.
Click the link to read an interesting article pointing out some of the things that might be obvious to those working creatively - but still not the norm in society in general.
"Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities, but it may also change based on situation and context. Inspiration and ideas often arise seemingly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we most need them, and creative thinking requires complex cognition yet is completely distinct from the thinking process."
Carolyn Gregoire then gives examples of 18 habits of creative people.
I especially like "They lose track of time" - one of my favourite parts abourt being creative. Not a popular one with your social network - the real life one. I am still working on a balance between immersing myself in a film edit and showing up in time for the cinema date or giving the cats their dinner.If you have a solution, please let me know! :-)
I find that only a few things in life are as exciting and stimulating as the energy boost you get from creative work and working in a team of like-minded creatives when things go right. It can feel almost physically addictive, because it is certainly releasing a lot of happy hormones. I tend to compare my own experience of this with the act of swimming (and pounding the waves smoothly with your limbs) or body surfing - being engulfed and carried by the elements around you, yet in control of them,
It's what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called "the flow". The flow happens when a person is fully immersed in what they are doing. When actors play off each other and merge with their roles, they are in the flow. When you film a documentary scene and you manage to frame exactly the right action at exactly the right time, you are not thinking only and pre-planning shots, but you are in the flow, you react to what is in front of you and you control the camera with your reaction but that again provides more for you to react to. I sometimes don't realise anymore that camera and my arm are separate. It is almost like turning into that hybrid being where the arm supports the machine bit that feeds the eye - David Cronenberg would like that.
It is a state to cultivate and even practice as it is so essential for creating useful work - yet it isn't always easy to manage. As we know, filmmaking is to a great part scheduling, planning, calculating and in general being very adult and rational about things - lest they go wrong.
Being an adult is also a bit tiring - I don't know whether you had noticed. At some stage, you start to become standoffish and short, giving commands and feeling like people around you either don't realise what's important or treat you somehow wrong. In other words: if you are being very, very rational for very, very long, you will paint yourself into a corner of unhappiness.
Enter a tool that I am finally discovering to its full potential and which I realise is extremely useful on the quest of being a happy filmmaker: meditation.
I had wanted to start with meditation for a long time, but somehow didn't quite get the hang of it. It worked, sort of, to sit still and try and let thoughts come and go, focussing on the body - but somehow I hadn't really got the right guidance.
Then I stumbled over a website that appealed straight away to the busy, multi-tasking geek inside me:
I signed up for the guided meditation practice that the guys over at Get Some Headspace offer and I admit it, probably mainly enticed by the wonderful animations across the site and the fact that they even offer an app for my phone.
On a more serious level, the fact that Andy Puddicombe, the Headspace founder and fully ordainned Buddhist monk, set out to bring meditation to über-busy Westerners intrigued me. And they got me hooked.
I am about 4 months into the experience, where their year-long daily meditation program now delves head first (literally!) into the realm of creativity. There are lots of thoughts, feelings and insights bubbling up - and I am planning to share them here once in a while.
Today's mediation, which was the second of a series of visualisation techniques, made me think about that energizing effect that creativity has on the body. Interestingly enough, meditation ties in very nicely with that - as it can have the same effect. It is also extremely good for recharigng your batteries: like a hot foam bath for the mind.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when I ask you to describe a typical filmmaker? What is the work environment you picture?
All too often, there will be ideas of selfish and authoritarian producers, manipulative directors, "difficult" actors and snobbish and cynical technical crew only waiting to see any of the big wigs fall.
While this is fuelled by some - admittedly entertaining - satires about the "business" from within the business (off the top of my head I can think of "State and Main", written and directed by David Mamet who I suspect likes a good story about intrigue and betrayal), there seem to be a great lot of people working within the industry who are anything but back-biting monsters.
In fact, those people I am thinking of are in it for love - they do what they do with a passion - because if they did it for the sure paycheck or the riches to be earned, they would be working another job. They also do it for the people they want to work with, and the art they want to bring about. They love filmmaking and they want to be happy doing it.
I am one of these people. And I know a whole lot of others who would whole-heartedly agree.
It doesn't always work out well and happy - which is partly due to the crazy hours worked, the tight finances, the "fear" of the audience and its supposed whimsical taste. And some of those filmmakers who seek happiness at some stage quit the industry and open up a B&B or become a yoga teacher. While I love B&Bs and always enjoy the company of yoga teachers, the greatest love of my life (well, one of them ;-)) is filmmaking, creating images, especially the moving one.
But I also decided to live my life happily.
So this blog is to explore the ways in which you (and I) can combine the two. Because, as one of the most inspiring people I know rightly says: what you think, you become.
Films can inspire, filmmakers can inspire - and they also need inspiration to keep going.
Instead of bemoaning the state of the industry, here is to a collection of thoughts, ideas, programs and resources for the Happy Filmmaker - to keep you fuelled with your passion and let you work that passion in ways that benefit yourself, your environment and "the industry" alike.
It is a random collection of the things I find on my path to be helpful, and I hope you enjoy it and will find inspiration, too.
Keep creating tiny miracles of moving images on screen!