Planning Ahead

I'm a planner. I like maps. I like to know where I'm going, especially if I've got people (my family in this case) with me. With that in mind, what does this hot mess of being a freelance filmmaker look like five, ten, or twenty years down the road?

Freelancing isn't necessarily the most conducive or predictable means of making a living if you're down for long term plans. Sure, you can make plans but that doesn't mean they're foolproof. I'm pretty sure no plans are absolutely foolproof.

A good deal of my conversations with peers lately have wound up around what our lives and line of work will look like down the road. In general, these conversations address cashflow and finances, long term health,

By all means if you can't make the numbers work, you can't keep doing the thing. I've talked about finances before and know that the topic absolutely occupies an unhealthy amount of time in my life. Still, I think there should be more open conversations around finances in freelancing and how to improve your financial health – notice I didn't just say "make more money."

Looking back on my first year in New York I can say that while writing this post 54% of my revenue is from new clients I've connected with here in the city, 19% is from stock footage licensing, and the remaining 27% is from existing clients (only 13% of those existing clients are based in Oklahoma). My monthly profits are up 4% from my averages and up 1% from last year. I've got a ways to go in order to make here in such an expensive market, but feel like things are moving in the right direction.

Other conversations have focused on physical health and being able to keep up with the demands of the work. Thankfully I'm still healthy and in good shape, but absolutely know others who aren't. I'm turning 38 soon and know in time my body will physically not be able to swing a camera or gear around as well as I can now. Recently both of my shoulders reminded me that I'm no longer in my twenties.

I had a shoot recently and got to meet and work with a stills photographer named Richard Drew who's been working for the Associated Press for forty years. He's the photog behind the Falling Man image from the Sept. 11th attacks and was also one of the four press photographers in the room when Robert Kennedy was shot and killed. This guy is in his early 70s, has been working professionally for more than 50 years, and seemed to have no intention of retiring anytime soon. He looked MUCH younger than he actually was and talked about how the physicality of the work has kept him young. I've met a few people like this over the years and pray I'm one of the lucky ones to make it that far.

While we're at it, I'll throw in the fact that I talked about Becoming an Old Freelancer right around this time last year. Along with Finances, I also wrote some nonsense about Mental & Emotional Health as well as Community.

One thing that doesn't come up though in these conversations about what our professional world will look like down the road is gear. Still, I nerd out at times and look forward to the new tools available to help us do the thing. I'm heading out to the NAB show here in New York later this week to check out all the stuffs. Plus there's this Arri interview with Roger Deakins and his experience with the new Alexa Mini LF. Seems like they should've shot it on LFs instead of a couple Amiras.

Elena Goddard - Nemesis pt1.1

So this one's been sitting on a hard drive since July. Elena Goddard and I did another music video this summer and it finally released last week as the track made its way to the different music streaming platforms.

WRITTEN & PERFORMED BY: Elena Goddard
DIRECTOR/DP/EDIT: me
CAMERA ASSISTANT: Kyle Vines

She'd wanted the imagery for this music video to have her in a wide open space to lean on the song's idea of her feeling alone and isolated. Turns out find a wide open space is easier said than done here in New York unless you're down to shoot at the beach – thanks Coney Island.

My planning, prep, and pile of reference images were all well and good, but I swear there was nothing easy or forgiving about this project short of Elena's grace and understanding about everything. Again, she's self-funding all this nonsense and had just under $400 for this shoot. We used my camera package and lenses and the budget needed to cover an incredibly discounted AC rate as well renting an EasyRig, 1/2 ProMist filter, and two Gold Mount batteries. For the sake of them ever seeing the light of day, here's a bit from my original notes, references, and scouting images (R.I.P.).

There was a bit of a hot mess regarding a gear rental falling through and then me scrambling to secure what I was needing. Crazy thanks to New York Camera Company for absolutely hustling and coming through in a pinch; looking forward to working with them more down the road.

We were working with Elena's work schedule and at the time she was only available Thursday afternoons. The weather forecast here seems to change wildly by the minute and we'd gone days with our weather apps saying we'd be fine and have clear skies during our shoot, but we got the short end of the stick on this one. Still, we'd committed our time and resources and weren't up to waste them.

Once we got out to Coney Island we ended up having a 90 minute window before the rain was too much. That time frame got us a few takes and a rush of b-roll I prayed was enough. We also shot a few minutes with her in the ocean that I dug but ended up not fitting with the edit.

Post-wise, this was the first in a bit where I tried digging into DaVinci Resolve. I'll normally do any kind of color correction and grading just inside Premiere Pro but wanted to try something else. By all means I've become a fan of Resolve even in my short time in the software, but there's a considerable learning curve in getting even close to knowing what you're doing.

At the end of it all, I'm glad we got what we did and I was able to try some new things. Crazy thanks to Elena Goddard for reaching out about doing another one as well as to Kyle Vines for making a rough shoot day run as smooth as possible. We shot another music video this past week that's a bit of an opposite to this project so I'll post more on that one down the road.

This Past Week

So this past week felt like a bit of a hot mess and I'm pretty sure that's okay now and then. There's good times and there's bad times; that's just the way it works. In a world where there's huge swings – financial, creative, personal, emotional – I'm a big fan of keeping track and using that information to gage the averages. Good grief it's important to step back and take in the bigger picture vs. putting your entire self-worth into what's immediately in front of you.

I'm a habitual journaler and I'd be mortified to be caught without my black Moleskine notebook and pen. That time spent writing in my notebook helps me process my experiences and step back to look at things more objectively than I would otherwise. I also keep very detailed notes of the money coming in and out of various accounts so it's easy to keep track of where things are financially. I've got a few unpaid invoices out right now and I figured out a means via spreadsheet (shocker) to quickly see how far out they are in comparison to how quickly those clients have paid up in the past.

Another thing for this week that felt like a big deal was the idea of "just keep paddling." I've mentioned it before, but I'm a fan of the idea that it's easier to steer a boat that's moving. Terry Storch had included a quote from James Clear in one of his recent dispatches that felt right on.

"Your 1st blog post will be bad, but your 1,000th will be great. Your 1st workout will be weak, but your 1,000th will be strong. Your 1st meditation will be scattered, but your 1,000th will be focused. Put in your reps." - James Clear

2019 Climate Strike – NYC

Surely you're here, dear reader, to hear me out on political opinions and polarizing topics. Surely you're curious as to whether or not I’m on the side of believing climate change is a real thing and if I believe we as a whole are largely responsible for it. I'm guessing too you're curious about whether or not I'm one to stand on a platform and raise my voice thinking it’ll change someone’s mind.

The Global Climate Strike this past Friday claimed four million participants around the world. There was a reported 60,000 (mostly young) New Yorkers out in force to say their piece and join other like minded people in demanding world leaders take real action towards combating climate change.

CAMERA/EDIT: Me
MUSIC: "Four Thirty" by Matt Lowery

It’s terrifying to see the environmental changes taking place, but easy for me to move on to the next thing on my plate. Climate change is a huge, worldwide issue that demands our attention, but oh man it’s awesome I can order dog food, toilet paper, or any number of things on the internet and have it delivered by the next day without even considering the environmental impact of what goes into making that happen. If you've followed along for any period of time you'll know I'm a fan of contributing more than you consume but that's so much easier to say than do. Still, I'm pretty sure the daily habits to consume less are more helpful than not. Kudos to the few jobs I've been on recently that have completely cut out plastic water bottles – looking at you Vevo and Hilton Hotels.

I've been to plenty of demonstrations, marches, and protests over the years but this one felt different. How do you change the opinion of someone in power who’s already made up their mind? Will another protest, march, or strike be the one to finally tip the scales?

This is the world we live in: Punishing heat waves, catastrophic floods, huge fires and climate conditions so uncertain that children took to the streets en masse in global protests to demand action.

But this is also the world we live in: A pantheon of world leaders who have deep ties to the industries that are the biggest sources of planet-warming emissions, are hostile to protests, or use climate science denial to score political points. - > NY Times

It's inspiring to say the least to hear from Greta Thunberg and read about #FridaysForFuture. I absolutely agree with the idea of education being pointless if you're not around to use it. Good grief what an amazing message and optic seeing her sail from Europe to NYC on a zero-emissions yacht instead of flying because of airplanes' high gas emissions. After all she was invited to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit.

Sitting next to Mr. Guterres, Ms. Thunberg took the microphone and said the millions of young people who protested around the world Friday had made an impact. “We showed them we are united and that we young people are unstoppable,” she said.

From Mr. Guterres came a hat tip. “I encourage you to go on. I encourage you to keep your initiative, keep your mobilization and more and more to hold my generation accountable.”

Whether the youth protests can goad many world leaders into changing their policies is a big question mark at best, said Michael B. Gerrard, a law professor at Columbia University. Some of them are closely linked to fossil fuel and extractive industries, he noted. Others have a record of crushing protests. And so the outcry, Mr. Gerrard said, may well fall on “intentionally closed ears.” - > NY Times

Refresh, Refresh

It's Monday and I'm practically floating following this past week. It was a busy and fulfilling one both personally and professionally so I didn't have much time to sit and fill journal pages like I normally do – that's a good problem to have at times. That being said, this'll be another short post as I dive into this week.

I've started plowing into another book after finishing my last one. I'd been wanting to dig into Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids since seeing her interview with Stephen Colbert way back in the day. Side note: it drives me bonkers seeing this YouTube clip in the wrong aspect ratio but not enough to embed the version from Comedy Central's website.

I'd come to learn of Patti Smith via the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (portfolio – some NSFW images BTW). I'm about two thirds through her book at this point and good grief these two were absolutely in the thick of it amongst the NYC creative scene of the late 60s and early 70s.

I've nerded out reading about her commutes on the same F train I ride almost daily as well as a couple mentions of the early days at Electric Lady Studios considering I've been able to shoot there a couple times already with Contrast Films for VEVO and Spotify projects.

Anne and I absolutely had more money and years to our name than Patti Smith did when we got here and we’ve been able to lean into that, but it’s crazy easy relating to some of the struggles she faced during her early years in the city. It’s tough being away from family, especially with kids, but we’ve met and connected with some outstanding people here who are in the same boat and up to do life together. Financially I’m still working to get my legs under me as a freelancer and I’m VERY much a small fish in this giant pond. I know what it’s like to drink black coffee and nurse a cheap beer at social events while some of my new peers have the financial means and margin to spend more. There’s also the thing about having and needing space to work as a creative. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fervently covet a studio space, but for now I’m down to work at a coffee shop behind a laptop and notebook with a plain black coffee — typically the most inexpensive item on the menu.

It's stories like Patti Smith’s that keep me excited about being in New York City.

At twenty years old, I boarded the bus...Today was a Monday; I was born on Monday. It was a good day to arrive in New York City. No one expected me. Everything awaited me. - Patti Smith

End of Summer

Well, it’s kinda gone from 0 to 100 the last little bit. Work has picked back up again and thankfully I’m booked all this week. Sunday had me working a music shoot in the city, then off to Florida Monday through Friday for a corporate job in Orlando, followed by another music shoot back in NYC on Saturday.

It’s comforting to be back on sets and even more so to hear from other crew members also harping on how slow things have been the last couple months. One of the DPs I hung out with recently mentioned spending his down time at the beach and surfing all summer; another buddy along with his wife and kids spent the last few months back with family in Texas. Oklahoma summers were slow, but this year as a newbie in the city was brutal. Now that I have at least a rough idea of how the year works here Saint Anne the Wife and I are already planning ahead for next summer.

Feast or famine. Feast or famine.

One thing I'll say about my summer down time – plus a kick in the pants from this documentary about bookstores and reading – is I’ve had the opportunity to plow through more books than I have in years. I just finished reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and some of it felt appropriate in how I’m feeling right now. I’m not looking to mass produce populations, further a caste system, or sell you on the virtues of soma, but I still believe in the idea that nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

My freelancing experience is crazy unpredictable and absolutely rough, but at times can be insanely rewarding. The worlds I get to personally visit where I’d not be allowed otherwise along with the flexibility, sense of adventure, and rush of doing good work in a high pressure situation make those panic attacks and stressful periods worth it.

Here's a rough recap of Brave New World if you've not read the book or it's been a minute since you have.

Mustapha Mond: "The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave."
...
John the Savage: “But I like the inconveniences.”
Mustapha Mond: “We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
"All right then, said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."
"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly...; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow..." There was a long silence.
"I claim them all," said the Savage at last.
Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. "You're welcome," he said.

Just a heads up: it doesn't end well for John the Savage.
Another heads up: I'm not John the Savage nor do I plan to be.

Elevation Worship with Contrast Films

So this was a fun one. Back in May I got to help camera op a live recording with Contrast Films for an upcoming album from Elevation Worship. It was a quick trip, but the shoot was at Elevation Church's campus in Matthews, NC. The first video from the night was released a few weeks ago and surely the rest are to come.

As a former musician in the church world and a Life.Church alumni I couldn't have been more comfortable in this environment. There was a mental shorthand I'd not used in a while that immediately came flooding back.

190902-00.jpg

In addition to the crew Elevation and Contrast put together for the event, the camera department was a beast with Chase Smith as DP, ten camera ops, and a small army of technocrane techs, grips, and ACs. We were all shooting on ARRI cameras – mostly Amiras and a few Minis – and nice glass. Not sure of all the other camera lenses, but the Amira I was on was one of a few with Angenieux Optimo 24-290s. A couple of the cameras were also kitted out with the ARRI Master Grips to control the lens iris and zoom. Fantastic option as a zoom, but I'd have much rather been on a manual follow focus seeing as how I was shooting at the far end of the lens most the time at a pretty wide open T-stop and pulling focus across the length of the stage.

Small Groups and The Power of Habit

You'd be hard pressed to separate yourself from small groups. For as long as I can remember I've been interested in how they work, both as a participant and being responsible for some. As a teenager I was in all kinds of music groups and bands, school groups/teams, and had a small group of very close friends. College had me spending a great deal of time as a touring musician here in the states as well as around the world. Professionally I'm constantly in and out of small groups. I'll be on a project with different groups anywhere from a few hours to on and off for weeks or months at a time. By far the most important small group I'm part of is my immediate family (wife and two boys).

This past week I wrapped up reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It'd been on my reading list for years so don't jump me for being late to the game on this one.

Couldn't be more a fan of this book and there's quite a bit to unpack. Absolutely dug the author's ideas on the habits and routines of small groups and organizations, specifically on how they could relate to independent contractors working in film production environments.

I'm absolutely interested in how freelancing impacts the skills necessary to run an organization. Whether we like it or not, our experiences with prior teams impact the groups we'll work with down the road. We're no question shaped by the people we work with – both for the better and worse.

“The best [organizations] understood the importance of routines. The worst [organizations] were headed by people who never thought about it, and then wondered why no one followed their orders.” - Paul O'Neill

As an independent contractor hopping from job to job, there aren't always set routines in each new group. Most of the jobs are too short for major group routines to develop specific to that production. Where this idea does work though is in how you take what you've learned from past projects and apply them to others down the road. It's those routines you pick up with experience that – in my opinion – make you more valuable to teams you get to work with later on.

There's absolute gold in this book in terms of how to lead and participate with teams and I simply don't have the time to share as much as I want. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy if you've not already. In the meantime, you can download a PDF of my notes.

Central Standard (NYC Unit)

Oh hey, look at that... It's Thursday (afternoon). Surely a far cry from Monday's 10am deadline, but you're not the boss of me. It's been a hot mess here in the city the last few days and I've had things going on. With that out the way, on to this week's thing...

So this one kinda starts in Southeast Asia way back in 2013 and getting to work and travel with DP Lance Kuhns on a project and somewhat staying in touch since then. Fast forward to September 2017 and getting to meet his girlfriend Kaitlin Scott while we were all at the Film+Music Conference in Fort Worth, TX. We'd thrown around emails since then did a couple coffees after I'd moved to New York. You should probably go check out their websites before we move on... I'll wait.

Ok? Cool.

So Kaitlin was off directing her first feature out in Texas with Lance DP'ing all the beautiful nonsense. They along with some other crew members had posted some BTS of their Central Standard shoot to Instagram and I'd reached out checking to see how things went. Kaitlin got back to me and mentioned they'd be doing a few more days with a NYC unit later in the summer if I was up to come hang out.

Yes, I was up to come hang out.

Turns out that was this past weekend and I got a chance to be a gaffer on the shoot. Lance ended up having to take on another project and they brought in another DP named Agustina Biasutto. It was a small crew and we had a good deal of script to cover in those two days so most of us played more than one role on set.

By all means I've gaffed over the years lighting most of my own nonsense and a few other projects, but not being directly behind the camera on a narrative project like this was new. Part of moving out to New York was to get a chance to connect, work, and learn from new people.

Absolutely grateful for this group of people and them giving me a chance to play a small role in the project. Not sure when it'll come out, but in the mean time you could check out the Central Standard Instagram account as well as the IMDB page.

Oh, and I mentioned it being a hot and muggy mess here the city – hot enough for paper tape to not stay stuck together and for me to nearly pass out more than once on set. Turns out too I'm becoming more and more a fan of the Astera LED tube lights. Once I got a hang of the app these lights by all means these Astera AX1 Pixeltubes were a workhorse on set.

Intentional Time Off

Freelancing has allowed me a ton of flexibility over the years – sometimes by choice, sometimes because I'm not landing any work. I'm wired to work – just ask my wife. The days I'm not on a shoot I'm normally leaving the apartment by 7:15-7:30a and off to a coffee shop to start in on the day's reading, writing, and emails. If there's no pre- or post-production issues to address the rest of the day, I'm filling my time with busy work or at least trying to be productive. Thank goodness for my wife and family for basically dragging me away on a trip out of the city now and then. Without them I'd otherwise be constantly working myself into the ground and not coming up for air.

This week has us out in southern New Jersey to spend time with family and friends. Anne's mom is in town for the week and we're staying with some close family friends at their home in Cape May Court House. The last time I was here was nearly ten years ago when Anne and I got married. Honestly it was crazy seeing our two boys playing in the exact same part of their back yard where Anne and I exchanged vows.

We've only been here less than 24 hours and good grief I'm glad we were able to get out of the city. Outside a few shoots here in there the last couple months the summer has been pretty slow. Typically the fall is crazy busy so I'm totally down to spend a few days with my family in such an incredibly calm and peaceful place.