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Oliver Daniel

Health and Filmmaking - discuss

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Everyone has pretty much heard that term.... "suffer for your art", but when does this become a bit silly? 

We have been talking about this in the studio a bit because we are all run down, have some kind of seasonal illness and are frankly putting a lot of strain on ourselves, so videos can be delivered as promised and deadlines are met. 

Many shoots can be very very long, in tough locations, in tough circumstances. Sometimes if you really do feel unwell, you make yourself do the work anyway thus causing a potential downward spiral. Everybody needs to push themselves to do better things, but how often do you push it too much? 

I've "suffered for my art" many times. I remember when I was 18, I had eczema that bad I couldn't even bend my limbs as my skin was that dry. I also had insomnia and asthma and could barely do anything at all. Over that particular weekend, I set up some shoots I HAD to do to meet my project deadline. I wrote, produced, filmed & edited a trilogy of films over 3 weeks where I felt by far the most ill in my life. I'd produced by far my best work to date and passed the year, only having to return home soon after due to health reasons for an entire year. 

Now being in charge of myself, health & filming gets even more tricky. Some days, you may feel totally and utterly incapable of turning up to shoot due to total burn out - but the client & crew is on their way to the location having made payment of several thousand £££/$$$ - so you go against your need to rest and throw yourself in there, only to crash for the rest of the week and fall behind schedule. It's the vicious cycle many of us go through. 

I think it's a topic that nobody really discusses, but it's very important and health has a massive influence on the quality you're able to produce. Shooting in the cold (with a cold) for long, long hours, not sleeping much, editing for 14 hours straight without much of a break, doing anything to get the shot (even if that means lying in a puddle), not resting whatsoever, carrying heavy things for long periods of time after a sleepless night... is all of this familiar? 

What experiences and interventions do you have? Is health a big consideration with the rigours of the job? Do you go for certain jobs to work around any health issues you have? When does suffering for your art become significantly not enjoyable?

Discuss. :)

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I was just in bed for like 2 weeks...it happens every year, my body just shuts down. A few years back I was skateboarding for 1/3 of my time, the rest was filming and playing in a band and I was out for like 2-3day in a row max. Now it`s 2/3 filming and it`s starting to show. Filming is phisicaly demanding but not in a healthy excercise kind of way...I started cycling to work and I feel better now, I guess you just have to try and stay/live healthy as much as you can.

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I think working 8;30-6.00 + travelling an hour each way to get to the same office job day in-day out, then drinking and snorting cocaine to forget their boring life (or worse, having to fulfil the needs of a partner who does the same, - on your two days off going to the super market, clothes shopping, does more damage to the body and soul than a lifetime of sporadic long days on set.  Not that I've had much experience on set but from my handful of situations where I've been involved in film making on a production basis I hated with a passion the art of collaborating with hopeless wannabe film makers.  I expect I;d have enjoyed working as a runner on a Kubrick movie since there was method to the madness, but when you see just how dumb, jumped up and backstabbing most of the people involved at the lower end of the spectrum are, it is draining.  Noisy and self important 'creative director' females unable and unwilling to carry gear are the biggest drain on the creative process when working on crap jobs.

 

The main problem with film makers is that they all seem to smoke and drink lots of coffee.  This ain't gonna help their already confused sleep patterns and stress.  I think if I ever direct my own film I'll ban coffee and cigarettes from set and instead make people drink lemon water.  Everyone would be a lot fresher and positive 5 days into a crap job.

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I had a bout with stress dealing last year with a bad client and it put things into perspective for me.

Heart problems arose.  Not fun.

Personally, I'm not sure, for me, that the idea of of a suffering "artist" (or, in my case, "craftsman") is worth it.  However, I do get the sentiment of why suffering for art is noble.  An artist desires to be emotionally invested under high stakes for their creations to have a particular energy behind it.  Finding philosophical truths and paradoxes can be an emotional difficulty; much less figuring how to bring them into an existence that fits one's oeuvre.

But, not all storytelling needs to come from that sort of place.

Also, I'm not into the idea of being a work-a-holic.  The notion of being prolific because you have to express yourself is okay.  But the notion of being prolific because you want more jobs and more money is somehow morally wrong to me.  I don't buy into that at all, be that at a cultural level or at an artistic level.

I guess I could understand busting my ass and sprinting hard to work on something like "Ida", for instance, but I wouldn't feel good about myself if I did something like that to help create the next Transformers movie.

And that's not saying that "Ida" is a great piece of art.  But it does have a certain quality in it's craft that gives it more value --to me.

As it is, I float in my little pond content on being the fish I am --and aspire to be.  As long as I progress on my terms, I'm cool with it.  Other creative's muses may push them harder and down a more tortuous path, but we're all different and tell the stories we're gonna tell.

Everyone would be a lot fresher and positive 5 days into a crap job.

I wouldn't want to be around for those first 5 days.

Noisy and self important 'creative director' females unable and unwilling to carry gear are the biggest drain on the creative process when working on crap jobs.

How about the self-important males that do the same?  Do they get a pass on being idiots or something?

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How about the self-important males that do the same?  Do they get a pass on being idiots or something?

Come on, obviously not.  I've just personally had more instances where clueless ladies have been the brunt of the problem - getting more stressed, uptight, flapping around etc.  it's the stress, not the hard work that tires me out.

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I was just in bed for like 2 weeks...it happens every year, my body just shuts down. A few years back I was skateboarding for 1/3 of my time, the rest was filming and playing in a band and I was out for like 2-3day in a row max. Now it`s 2/3 filming and it`s starting to show. Filming is phisicaly demanding but not in a healthy excercise kind of way...I started cycling to work and I feel better now, I guess you just have to try and stay/live healthy as much as you can.

Glad to hear that exercise is helping you :)

The main problem with film makers is that they all seem to smoke and drink lots of coffee.  This ain't gonna help their already confused sleep patterns and stress.  I think if I ever direct my own film I'll ban coffee and cigarettes from set and instead make people drink lemon water.  Everyone would be a lot fresher and positive 5 days into a crap job.

I don't smoke (anything), but I think I'd be lost without coffee. Production set experience is a weekly thing to me, and coffee rather annoyingly is absolutely necessary. As is a nice gasp of fresh air or just a moment to actually put the camera down. Or taking a moment just to rant about the latest Hollywood films! :D

I guess I could understand busting my ass and sprinting hard to work on something like "Ida", for instance, but I wouldn't feel good about myself if I did something like that to help create the next Transformers movie.

Sometimes I get that sinking feeling that I've pushed myself too hard on a project that's not very good, and the following great project ends up not as good because my energy has disappeared into the realm of nothingness. I'm getting better at it, but sometimes that very demanding client really pushes you near the edge of questioning the entire benefit of doing the work. I've learnt to stand up to most of them though! (few are clinically insane, but they do bite every couple of years). 

Come on, obviously not.  I've just personally had more instances where clueless ladies have been the brunt of the problem - getting more stressed, uptight, flapping around etc.  it's the stress, not the hard work that tires me out.

I'm the guy who people tell to stop doing as many things. Thankfully, the women I work with are all hard grafters and carry gear around as if their carrying featherweight sandbags. I don't work with the people you describe, but I know for some that they have little control who they work with on set. Models in particular are an absolute nightmare, whereas the make up lady has just brought a box of Kino Flo 4-banks up 5 flights of stairs without any complaints!

 

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I think working 8;30-6.00 + travelling an hour each way to get to the same office job day in-day out, then drinking and snorting cocaine to forget their boring life (or worse, having to fulfil the needs of a partner who does the same, - on your two days off going to the super market, clothes shopping, does more damage to the body and soul than a lifetime of sporadic long days on set.  

(...)

The main problem with film makers is that they all seem to smoke and drink lots of coffee.  This ain't gonna help their already confused sleep patterns and stress.  I think if I ever direct my own film I'll ban coffee and cigarettes from set and instead make people drink lemon water.  Everyone would be a lot fresher and positive 5 days into a crap job.

Apologies for possibly taking things a bit out of context but I'm really, really hoping that you're not being serious. 

Drinking lemon water instead of coffee and cigarettes will affect your health positively because you don't consume caffeine and other toxic crap. It's not going to change your attitude towards your job, help you deal with insecurities, affect the social support you receive from friends and family etc. Working a regular 9-to-5 job doesn't neccessarily have to be sh*t. You're well-aware that it's not a dichotomy, right? 

There's surprisingly very little research about the way your psychological and physical health are affected by characteristics that usually go along with creative jobs. Lots of research has been done about job characteristics and their affect on health, happiness, work attitudes etc. but usually the sample consists of people working in regular jobs. That in itself is a big issue because "creative" people are extremely dependant on their personal health because you usually don't get paid when you're ill. Certain job characteristics are different compared to regular jobs as well and some of these characteristics will have a negative affect on your health, too. Plus job uncertainty most likely has a very negative effect on mental and physical health, job attitudes, job satisfaction and ultimately life satisfaction. 

As I said, there's surprisingly very little research about it but it doesn't mean it's an issue that should not be taken seriously. 

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Another thing is the size of your equipment, personally after shooting with the d800 and a 70-200 for an hour, my neck fucks up completely and I start to have blurry vision, and this is for stills where you can stop all the time, video is far worse. This made me use primes more and more, and it's another reason why I'm moving to a A7, small camera and tiltable screen, this will literally save my neck.

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Apologies for possibly taking things a bit out of context but I'm really, really hoping that you're not being serious. 

Drinking lemon water instead of coffee and cigarettes will affect your health positively because you don't consume caffeine and other toxic crap. It's not going to change your attitude towards your job, help you deal with insecurities, affect the social support you receive from friends and family etc.

Yes, but dependence on cigarettes to chill you out and coffee to wake you up is certainly changing the way your mind works.  the amount of time wasted on smoking breaks is out of this world.  the amount of damage to sleep patterns because of dependence on coffee is devastating to our ability to think and act cohesively.  I say this being a 100% caffine junkie.  when i'm on coffee I need it to function.  when off it i work 1000% more efficiently and feel less stressed

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I've just personally had more instances where clueless ladies have been the brunt of the problem

I've actually witnessed the opposite.  My circle consists of some pretty assertive females, so my reality is a bit different I suppose.  Ultimately I'd say it's one of the things one runs into when dealing with inexperienced young people; some trying to figure out what they're gonna do with life in general.

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Another thing is the size of your equipment, personally after shooting with the d800 and a 70-200 for an hour, my neck fucks up completely and I start to have blurry vision, and this is for stills where you can stop all the time, video is far worse. This made me use primes more and more, and it's another reason why I'm moving to a A7, small camera and tiltable screen, this will literally save my neck.

I've strategically took a "break" from the FS7/F55 and almost exclusively shot on the A7SII. Very regular handheld work with the bigger cameras started to really, really hurt. Not that the A7SII is anything like the bigger cameras, I've just been shooting a little differently so I don't wear myself out too quickly and get decent enough IQ. Before anyone says, I've not tried an Easyrig yet! It will be soon as the Ronin-M for over 5 minutes use bloody kills too. 

You must master your art, or it will master you.

It certainly bloody does! ;-) 

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I've strategically took a "break" from the FS7/F55 and almost exclusively shot on the A7SII. Very regular handheld work with the bigger cameras started to really, really hurt. Not that the A7SII is anything like the bigger cameras, I've just been shooting a little differently so I don't wear myself out too quickly and get decent enough IQ. Before anyone says, I've not tried an Easyrig yet! It will be soon as the Ronin-M for over 5 minutes use bloody kills too. 

It certainly bloody does! ;-) 

It sounds like you are running a successful production company, which is fantastic. Congratulations :)

However it also sounds like the business revolves around your skills, dedication and sheer hard work. If you end up ill and unable to work for a lengthy period (as you said happened at Uni), then your business is really at risk. Should you be thinking about taking on some more staff to take some of the pressure off you?

Sure, it'll involve more costs and management hassles, but it could be cheaper and preferable than losing your business through ill health. 

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I've actually witnessed the opposite.  My circle consists of some pretty assertive females, so my reality is a bit different I suppose.  Ultimately I'd say it's one of the things one runs into when dealing with inexperienced young people; some trying to figure out what they're gonna do with life in general.

yeah, when we crew up, we are very careful with who we hire. you'd be surprised how many people are forthcoming when you ask them, "tell us how you handled a stressful situation on a previous production". so many people are happy to admit they flipped out, or made a bigger mess of the situation. we've been very fortunate to have avoided any major drama on our sets over 7 features. most of that is due to my producing partner. he's great at finding good people.

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I was in a touring band for a few years that was extremely grueling and tiring. We didn't make much money at all but were able to be on some decent tours. Mostly stayed in people's basements or couch at night. After 5 years of that I decided to settle down, and get married. When I started doing my personal video work I decided to grind it for a year and get a portfolio/some clients. After that I decided to go full "quality over quantity." Not saying my work is QUALITY, but just working bigger jobs that pay more and are less rushed. Once I started doing that I noticed huge jump in my health/energy/mood. I have some good friends who are actually stressed out when they're not working the grind and I can appreciate that. Just not for me.

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It sounds like you are running a successful production company, which is fantastic. Congratulations :)

However it also sounds like the business revolves around your skills, dedication and sheer hard work. If you end up ill and unable to work for a lengthy period (as you said happened at Uni), then your business is really at risk. Should you be thinking about taking on some more staff to take some of the pressure off you?

Sure, it'll involve more costs and management hassles, but it could be cheaper and preferable than losing your business through ill health. 

Thank you. 

It's quite apt that you mention this, as we are currently looking at bringing another person in. It's the first time we've been challenged by general health matters, and as the company are pretty much a main two, if one of us croaks then that's 50% of the operation down.  Both of us? The ship doesn't sail. 

Music video production is exceptionally battering these days. The cost has gone down and the expectations have gone up. So to meet budget, you have to come up with some wild (yet creative) solutions just to meet budget. As our development has also crossed into commercial work, the work is far less physically demanding but the process can be mentally rigorous. 

My daily tasks involve shooting, lighting, full editing, grading and media management, gear prep, gear maintenance and repairs, treatment and pitch writing, shot lists, visual research, sales and quotes, client admin and management, web design, social networking, driving, purchasing, location scouting, financial admin, meetings and other random bollocks. I can just about handle it. 

yeah, when we crew up, we are very careful with who we hire. you'd be surprised how many people are forthcoming when you ask them, "tell us how you handled a stressful situation on a previous production". so many people are happy to admit they flipped out, or made a bigger mess of the situation. we've been very fortunate to have avoided any major drama on our sets over 7 features. most of that is due to my producing partner. he's great at finding good people.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was "you are only as good as the people around you". Previous to that advice, I had to carry a lot of productions literally single handed as others were either not pulling their weight or were undermining the project. Not all, but plenty. Since, the team I have around me are very positive, supportive people who look after each other immensely. It's a big deal. :) 

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Being happy in your personal life and your job is one of the keys to physical health; not downplaying chronic problems or genetic issues, but if you want to maximize your health, cut the stress, find people and work you enjoy, and take as good care of your body as you can.

As for smokes - yeah, I have 3 or 4 a day (nights with a drink, you don't wanna know - I do like my scotch!) But for me, taking that 5 minutes, getting away from the desk... I've had the best ideas, the best sudden solutions to problems, the best insights. Some of that is the drug itself I'm sure, but most is just taking a minute to breathe (ahh, fresh air filtered through a camel!), taking a minute for myself away from the screen.

I'm not getting younger and I'd like to be around for my kids for some time so thinking about those smokes - and I suspect that just taking a 5 minute walk around the block would be just as effective... working on that. But hey, we all have moments watching that render bar cross the screen - get AWAY, get OUT, even for 5 minutes, even if there's 5 million things to do that seem important. YOU'RE important. Set your phone to remind you and do it. Try it for a week, and no matter the weather, go OUTSIDE and WALK 100 steps or so. Try it for a week - do it 4 times a day and report back...

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Suffering for one's art is one thing, suffering for work is another.

If any work conditions, imposed or self-imposed are making you unwell, physically or mentally - get out of that work....or re-evaluate and change. Chasing unrealistic deadlines, spreading yourself too thin and underbidding others to get work is exactly what feeds the vicious cycle.

The biggest investment as a freelancer is yourself, without being able to work efficiently due to poor health from too many hours or stress situations - is literally killing your own business. A production of any worth should never expect (or be legally allowed) to push consecutive hours that endanger the health of yourself or others - if they do, walk away. 

If you are on a non union/ indie project that requires excessive hours, tight deadlines and poor conditions - negotiate to get those conditions changed, or at least get heavily compensated with increased pay... if they don't, walk away. For every time somebody accepts work conditions that harms them, it sets the precedent that it is acceptable. If these unhealthy conditions are self imposed due to wanting/needing to secure work - make sure it becomes a rarity, not the default.

Suffering for your art on the other hand is completely fine. Set yourself on fire, take drugs, never sleep, cut yourself, drink yourself to death...whatever, It's all been done before. 

As long as you create art as good as Beethoven, Bowie, or Botticelli - I see no problem in having to suffer for it, if that is what it takes.

 

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Oliver have you read Den Lennie's book business for filmmakers? TBH I think the guy is a bit of a plonker, but it sounds like you're at the right point in your business to implement the stuff he talks about. It's basically about how to move from what you are doing to having more control over your work life (and make more money). I don't get on with his approach myself, but there's no denying he knows what he's talking about and there's loads of hard won advice in it. I really recommend you read it if you haven't it may be just what you need right now...

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this is an interesting thread

i think theres a point to be made about the dichotomy between "suffering" for ones art... and just suffering lol

some say that suffering, in a word, informs your work and makes you more interesting as an artist, a storyteller, as a person. whether youve battled a deadly illness, transcended a life of crime and wretched drug addiction, or risen above abject poverty that you were born into, that story is interesting to people, and moreover gives you life experience which informs your work regardless of its literal subject matter

so...thats a benefit. a benefit of going through tremendous pain, perhaps the only tangible one that i can think of: through this suffering comes wisdom; a point of view you can share through your work. but this suffering doesnt have anything to do with practicing art per se

the other side of this discussion is "suffering" that comes literally from your art practice itself

the number of hours you work. under extreme stress. extreme pressure. many of us are familiar with it. hell, its a thing here in LA that PEOPLE LITERALLY DIE IN CAR ACCIDENTS ON THEIR WAY HOME FROM LACK OF SLEEP. THATS A THING NOW.

how does that inform your work? living that lifestyle? i dont really think it does. dont get me wrong, *I* am that person who respects your work ethic, your fighting spirit, who knows how underpaid and overworked the majority of us are. but putting your physical and mental health at risk, so youre under constant strain, impairs us creatively in the worst way, and may take actual years off of our lives. stress kills

hollywood will work us to death without concern and rape our dead bodies – from PAs to gaffers to vfx artists, we all know this. and theres this underlying unasked question, this rhetorical, "Well, if you want a normal job...[just get the fuck out of here then]" that is in my experience an ingrained part of every niche in the entertainment business. and although there are reasons for that, and a history behind it, if we dont stand up for ourselves we fall into the category of people dying on their way home in an accident caused by nothing more than fatigue. that is insane

on a personal note i just got over the flu – ive never been so sick in my adult life – and as soon as i started feeling better after a week of not eating or sleeping properly, running a fever, the MINUTE that i woke up with some appetite i IMMEDIATELY decided that im quitting my job. ITS BEEN MAKING ME SICK. I HAVE BEEN ILL FROM STRESS rendering my creative mind INCAPABLE OF FUNCTIONING. its a little ironic that it took a trip to urgent care for me to put immediate change into action. if only solving these problems was as easy as taking five days of antibiotics

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