I’d feel better if I could just puke right now

Deadlines be damned – at least every now and then. We're CRAZY DEEP in major life transitions at the moment so this week's Monday post is being pushed out on Wednesday night. It's all good though seeing how I'm emotionally and physically wiped with everything going on. Oh, I also had a super quick shoot just outside St. Louis, MO, Monday & Tuesday of this week.

Freelancing means taking what you can when you can. What that sometimes looks like is me running so hard in the Houston airport Tuesday night that I needed to puke once I got the gate agent to re-open the jetway and let me on the plane. My flight out of St. Louis was delayed and I had to seriously hustle if I wanted to make the final Oklahoma City bound flight out of Houston that night. In full transparency I didn't end up throwing up on the plane, but good lord I apologize to anyone who heard me and my unsuccessful attempts in that tiny airplane bathroom.

With all that being said, I'll be quick with this week's post: Monday & Tuesday had me out of town with a longtime client. They reached out with a new batch of shoots the next few months and our first was just outside St. Louis, MO. It was a simple two camera talking head with additional b-roll for the edit.

The project had me shooting on their Canon 7D as well as me flying out with my Canon 5Dmk3 package and basic lighting kit. There wasn't a scout ahead of time, so I just packed what I had and hoped for the best. I've had that camera and lighting kit for years, but this was the first shoot with my new SmallHD 702 Bright monitor. I'd rented them over the years as needed, but finally replaced my aging 7" Marshall monitor thanks to a recent ShareGrid & AbleCine sale.

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The interview setup was very straight forward. We shot next to nearly floor to ceiling windows on a balcony overlooking a large lobby area. We had mostly clear skies that day and the wall was a patchwork of glass with a few of the windows having a blue tint to them. We also had tungsten lighting overhead, so basically a mess of color temps going on the whole time. My best option was to use the existing daylight blasting through the windows and try to augment the look with my small lighting package.

Having to wrangle the mess of color temps had me adding a blue gel to my tungten lights to try and get closer to the daylight pouring through the windows. I also set the white balance in each camera to something like 4800k to try and come close to what was happening in the space light-wise. I'll normally shoot a flat color profile on DSLRs so the image can be more easily fixed as needed in post. These two shots ended up being a bit more green than I'd expected, but not a big deal.

I will say I'm digging the SmallHD monitor so far; For sure feels lighter than the dinosaur of a 7" Marshall I've been rockin’ since the early years of the Obama administration. One of my favorite features from that Marshall monitor was the false color option. Unfortunately that psychedelic godsend finally crapped out on my relic a while back and I was forced to judge exposure by eye like some kind of monster. This fancy pants SmallHD monitor has multiple false color options, but the corresponding IRE color representation is a bit different than the Marshall so I'm still getting the hang of it.

Oh, and a couple side notes: One, my rental car was brand new and literally had five miles on the odometer when I got it. And B, go find Sump Coffee if you're needing a caffeine fix in St. Louis. They're doing the Lord's Work out there.

Film+Music 2018: Everything Else

Jumped the gun a couple weeks ago in thinking I'd have a good deal of content to share from the 2018 Film+Music Conference. Absolutely worth the price of admission and then some in hearing from solid speakers and connecting with such a hotbed of creatives from around the world, but looking through the rest of my notes from the event I figured I'd give a single shotgun blast of what I'm holding near and dear.

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GENERAL NOTES

I kept a running list of general notes throughout the conference; Rough ideas, discarded gum wrappers, and random tidbits all got thrown into the pile. Here's the condensed version:

  • Write another story

Following the experience with my 2015 short film Nora I'd kinda given up on the idea of seriously leading another narrative short film. Considering the amount of money and resources I'd dumped into that short, the return on investment just wasn't there. "Boo-hoo" and "woe-is-me," but I learned quite a bit in the process and had a great time making something with good friends. But again, I spent too much of my own money. 2016 brought an opportunity to direct a 48 Hour Film Project in Oklahoma City. That short, Illustrator's Anonymous, – again alongside Producer Amanda Hyden – was a much better experience, WAY the hell cheaper, and garnered a much better reception.

All that being said, being around such incredible creatives who're out making stuff and pushing forward was the prodding I needed to not give up on story. It's about time I get my nonsense together and move towards another narrative project with my name somewhere on it.

  • Connect with production companies

Surely to those in the know, this is a given. Oklahoma is a small market and production companies hiring out freelancers isn't a thriving thing here – at least in my experience. The majority of my DP, Director, and/or Production work comes directly through ad agencies, PR firms, and directly from businesses and non-profits. I get the random contact from out of state production companies for work now and then, but those are the outliers. More often than not those groups are phoning in their direction and I'm a "one-man-band" or simply running a 2-3 person crew.

Moving forward, I plan to keep the work and take the phone calls I'm already getting, but I absolutely see the value and built in infrastructure associated with production companies that are more than one or two people who got a bank loan for some gear and became a "Production Company" – i.e. Tanner Herriott Productions, LLC.

  • Fake it till you make it

This goes without saying. I was on a shoot not long ago where the client asked me directly if I'd "worked with (insert specific thing)." I'd literally worked with (insert specific thing) for the first time the day before so I wasn't "technically" lying, but I was for sure sewing the parachute together after jumping out of the plane on that project. Looking back at it now, that was exactly what needed to have been said and the project turned out well.

SPEAKER NOTES

Robert Legato was the opening speaker and is a VFX Supervisory wizard. He's been on major films like Jungle Book, Hugo, and Titanic. He pulled back the curtain on some of the technology used in those major motion pictures. He also talked about how "making something that's meaningful to you [being] at the heart of what we do" and "doing your thing and hoping someone likes it." In the end, "If they don't, well...that sucks." There was also the well-earned wisdom of "figuring out your 'work around' to get to the level you're wanting to reach. If something's on a high shelf, you build a ladder."

DP Laura Merians Goncalves's first of two breakout sessions focused on the creative- and career-oriented side of cinematography. Everything seemed to focus on being patient and kind to yourself throughout the process. Please keep in mind that anything that'll last is not built overnight. Looking again through my notes I highlighted "Just keep shooting" and "Rest well and keep going." There's also the point of "You've got to get out there and make connections and maintain those relationships," an important fact with which I'm constantly struggling. There's more in my notes below if you're up to check them out.

The breakout session from the Evolve Studios leadership further pushed the importance of a production company. They spoke about growing slowly and having the "infrastructure in place to further your career and get bigger opportunities." They also stressed how as a professional creative, you're in the service industry. "Protect your clients' interests and they'll keep hiring you."

Franklin Leonard of The Black List fame basically did his own thing and blew up any idea of what we expected to hear from a speaker at an event like this. You don't need me to tell you, but America is in an unusual time in its history with all that's going on politically, racially, socially, etc, and in no way was Franklin Leonard there to make us feel comfortable with what's going on. You could hear a pin drop as he spoke the truth in love to a roomful of creatives who're able to contribute to the needed change in the industry and otherwise.

"If I keep talking about how dirty [the world] is out here, someone is going to clean it up." - Tupac Shakur

Q: "As a white male filmmaker, how can I contribute to change?"
A: "Step out of the circle of people who look like you and invest in other people... Talent isn't concentrated among the people who are just like you."

Q: "Should someone from a majority race approach telling stories of minorities?"
A: "It's important to 'write what you know,' but equally as important to 'write what you research.'"

Again, seriously a solid event that I hope continues to grow and help shape this generation of filmmakers and creatives. Already looking forward to next year's conference.

Slam Dunk - The Bayr Show

Meet Bayr. He's the Bayr from The Bayr Show. Here's the first short I got to shoot in NYC this summer to help kick off Season Two of the show.

If you've followed along for any length of time, you'll have already been introduced to the puppet wizard David Bizzaro. He's the one you literally won't see making the magic happen. Back in July we hiked down to a park not far from his place in upper Manhattan to shoot "Slam Dunk" along with fellow puppeteer Jake Bazel.

After a bit of a hiatus The Bayr Show is back up and in pre-production with plenty of crazy down the road. I've done a few projects with David and Bizzaro Studios in the last year or so and they've asked me to DP Season Two of the show. Shooting with puppets is whole thing in itself and after we get a few more projects done I plan to share what I've learned in the process.

For more information about the show, go check out The Bayr Show Patreon page.

"The Bayr Show is a 10-minute surrealist comedy series that celebrates joy and reminds everyone that they are awesome creatures. Bayr is the host of the show interviewing crazy guests, dancing and singing to original music, and going on mind bending adventures."

Film+Music 2018: Making a Monster with Diego Contreras

You up for some of creative nuggets I picked up during the 2018 Film+Music Conference? Over the next few weeks I'm planing to share some of the highlights and my major takeaways. First up, Diego Contreras and his "Making a Monster" breakout session.

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Big fan of this guy. Pretty sure the first time I'd heard of Diego was through Khalid Mohtaseb around the time of their Lincoln "Bloom" spot. Or maybe it was The Sandman via the Films About Numbers days.

Diego is legendary in terms of writing treatments and Film+Music had him out this year to do a breakout session. Most of the talk focused on his recent project with Facebook.

My experience hasn't had me around too many project "treatments" over the years, but more recently I've been intentional about writing out the ideas and concepts for a project and putting together production notebooks to help keep clients and crew on the same page throughout production. Hearing from someone who seems to know what they're doing in terms of "writing a treatment" still feels like hearing from someone who's actually seen the Lost City of Atlantis.

Diego's talk for sure wasn't the cure all or definitive text in writing treatments, but his ideas about busting your tail and putting yourself into it vs. being lazy and just doing what you're told, setting the tone of the project early on, and especially writing before looking for visual references were gold.

He also pulled scripture into the talk in referencing 2 Timothy 1.7: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." I'm assuming he's going after the idea of not being afraid as a director to pour yourself into a project and be okay with making them deeply personal when appropriate.

The takeaways in terms of bigger ideas from his talk were "Making your own opportunities" and "Using every 'No' as an opportunity to get better." Sure, they aren't really concrete ideas in terms of "writing a treatment" but still solid.

All this fanboying on my part does come with a few very strong caveats. More than once Diego talked about how much of his life is consumed with his work: Not sleeping for days on end while plowing through new treatments; Fully owning up to flaking out on personal commitments when new work came knocking. There's also the fact that all the projects he writes on short of his personal work come through his director representation – not really a problem the rest of us plebeians face. All that being said, I still respect this guy and his work. It's always up to the individual to take in what they've learned and apply it to what they're already doing.

My quickly scribbled notes – misspellings and all – plus stills from his talk are included below. Some of the text in the stills may be hard to read, but I'll include it in the picture description.

Not a Normal Week

Hi Monday, it's Tanner. Hope all's well.

Sorry I wasn't able to get back to you last week; It's been nuts the last few days. Turns out you're supposed to move out of house when they're doing renovations. Either that or you just live in the house without a working bathroom and sleep next to piles of sheetrock dust. Nah, I'm good. Let's go stay with Anne's mom for a few days.

I will say changing things up hasn't been entirely awful. I discovered the glory of the self-service dog wash. You literally pay a place $10 and use their bathtub, water, and supplies to wash your dog and then THEY clean up afterwards. Clara the Dog was nowhere near as impressed.

Oh, and I wanted to mention that I got to speak on a panel during an event for Oklahoma college students studying broadcast journalism. I got a call a few weeks ago from a nice woman from the Oklahoma Broadcast Education Association asking if I'd be interested in speaking about my experience as a freelancer and "alternative career paths" during their OETA-OBEA Student Seminar Day.

Panel Moderator: "What is one thing you'd have done differently in college?"
Me: "Study engineering...?"

Needless to say, it went well. Thank you for asking.

In terms of "actually working," my desk, editing setup, and camera gear were all packed away during the house renovations, but there were a few things this week.

You remember David Bizzaro? He's the puppet guy and director I've connected with up in NYC. We've shot a few things and he hit me up about DP'ing season two of The Bayr Show. So that's rad. If you're in NYC October 15th there's a screening party at the Made in NY Media Center to kick off the new season.

Oh, and I got to fill in as 'DP for the day' on a feature a long time buddy of mine is directing out in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. You should go give Ryan Staples Scott a follow.

The plan is for us to move back into our house early this week, but we'll see how that goes. Hit me up if you need something; I'll still be around.

Thanks again,

tanner

Becoming an Old Freelancer - Community

Community is fresh on my mind following this past weekend's Film + Music Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas. If you've not heard of it, it's worth booking your tickets now for next year's event.

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My experience as a freelancer has me spending the VAST majority of my time alone. On a typical weekday, I'll help get Anne the Wife and our two boys out the door and off to school/work just after 7am. By 7:30am, I'm at one of my regular coffeeshops in the Oklahoma City area reading, writing, and plowing through emails thanks to a cup of coffee that'll typically be cold before I'm finished. Around 9:30-10am it’s back to the house to continue working until Anne and the boys get home by 5pm. On most weekdays my local coffeeshop is literally the only time and place I'll see someone other than my wife and kids.

Obviously there are production days, errands, and face-to-face client interactions, but having that much alone is something I didn't expect when leaving my last full-time job back in January 2011; Unquestionably I miss having that built in work family. They still hire me as a freelancer now and then and though it's been almost eight years they still feel like extended family members.

My work family now is a loosely connected group of other freelancers, clients, and vendors mostly in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, but also across the country. There are seasons where I'm on the road with clients and crew anywhere from a couple days up to multiple weeks at a time. Those shared experiences allow you to develop stronger relationships, but afterwards you each go your separate ways not knowing if and when you’ll ever see each other again. Thankfully I've kept in touch over the years with those I've connected with across the country and around the world, but it takes intentional effort maintaining those relationships through email, text messages, phone calls, etc.

Events like the Film + Music Conference are gold to me. You're able to sharpen your craft by learning from industry leaders, but connecting face-to-face with other creatives is where it's at. Networking events still make this self-described introvert cringe, but the immediate urge to vomit and curl up into a the fetal position has lessened the more I’ve forced myself to suck it up and introduce myself to new people; It helps to know they're probably feeling the same way at the same time.

I'd love to say that this is an industry based on merit and ability, but it's one of relationships and self-motivation. You’d better believe I read and re-read this New York Times article about How to be Better at Parties before heading off to last weekend’s conference.

Becoming an Old Freelancer – Mental & Emotional Health

Originally, the idea on sustainability and becoming an Older Freelancer dealt mostly – I thought – with finances. I'm on the back side of my thirties at this point and spending more and more time thinking about what this line of work looks like into my 40s, 50s, and past that.

Not sure what this looks like to you, but if you're planning to stick around as a freelancer – especially if you're married and/or have kids – you’ve got to be intentional about keeping your mental and emotional well-being in check. Obviously freelance creatives aren't the only ones susceptible to depression and anxiety issues, but as a freelancer myself I've gone through it, I know that it's a thing, and learned ways to cope with it.

I do want to add as well that I'm happily married to my best friend and we've got two young boys; My mental and emotional health very much impacts our home life as well as our friends and family and the people I get to work with.

By no means am I a qualified medical and/or mental health professional, but there are people who are and they are literally there to help. I went through a season of deep depression after college and came out in a better place thanks to a licensed professional counselor. I've also gone through a short season of taking prescription medication to help with depression. I've had quite a few conversations with other freelancers I've worked with over the years and I know I'm not alone in dealing with anxiety and depression. Thank God I lucked out and got a wife who can read me and knows when I'm close to my mental and emotional limits.

There are seasons where I’m a hot-mess emotionally and the winter and early spring are typically the toughest. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing. The aftermath of holiday bills is a thing too. Oh, and the typical client work and cashflow slowdown after the holidays isn't helpful either.

You've got to figure out your thing. For me, my mental and emotional panacea during the winter and early spring is running. Those first few years in full-time freelancing were especially tough and I started running as a mental break while preparing for the LSAT exam. I figured law school would help me to become an adult and get a "real job," but the best things to come out of that season of studying were knowing I didn't need to be in law school and the importance of healthy mental breaks now and then.

Since I started running in fall 2011, I've run two full-marathons and six halfs. The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon is in late April, so the training schedule starting January 1 each year with the OKC Running Club is quite the antithesis to my seasonal depression. Running allows me to veg out and just focus on breathing and not falling down vs. being mentallly overwhelmed by family, personal, and professional responsibilities. I know all those things will still be there when I finish my run, but that break is a godsend.

Some less physically demanding coping mechanisms are spending time with friends outside my family and work circles, my Moleskine notebook, and foam earplugs. As a parent with young kids I don't get as much time outside work and family, so those times are gold. Journalling has always been an outlet for me to mentally work through the good and the bad of whatever is going on. The ear plugs are there when I need some quiet and help focusing.

Another means of keeping myself in check knowing when to shut off the social media. Theodore Roosevelt's "comparison is the thief of joy" is a much more eloquent way of saying "comparison is a bitch." I typically distance myself from people who're self-promoters and opportunists, so I tend to not follow accounts that are the same. I saw a couple Instagram Story posts from Oren Soffer the other day dealing with anxiety that I thought were helpful.

"...[don't] let yourself get overwhelmed with how big the pond is[.] You just have to focus on your own work and making your own little corner of the pond as prosperous and enjoyable as possible, and avoid as much as you can getting bogged down with comparing yourself to any of the other fish."

"...someone once said that a cinematography career is a marathon, not a sprint. ...when you run a marathon, unlike a sprint or another foot race, you're not actually competing against the other runners; you're only competing against your own best time. ...remind yourself to stay in your lane and focus on your own career, and not keep looking at other people's marathons..."

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Becoming an Old Freelancer – Finances

Sustainability as a freelancer is something I don't think gets enough attention. It's not flashy and for sure doesn't make for a good Instagram post. Still, to stick around you've got try and figure out what works for you and your situation.

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If you know me at all, you'll know I'm always up to talk about money. Not in the "Hey plebeian! Look what I've got!" way but more in the mindset of "You're in this hot mess too?! What are you doing?! Is it working? Is there a way we can learn from each other?"

The last few weeks have been a welcomed whirlwind. I've broken record'd the battle cry of "oh man, I'm so busy" and I'm absolutely aware of it. What's freakin' awesome though is the fact that money is coming through the doors and for that I'm insanely thankful. Freelance is "feast or famine" and I know the financial spigot could shut off for a season at any point.

Turns out it's expensive AF to be a freelancer, especially as you get further into your career. The amount of overhead I've accumulated over the years running this freelance operation is DUMB. Thinking back to when this whole thing started as a side hustle back in 2004-ish I'd have never imagined the amount of money it takes to keep this up plus trying to be intentional about the future.

At times it feels like I'm working just to keep up: Gear and business insurance, health insurance for me and our two boys, plus life and disability insurance. Then there's the money set aside for taxes and retirement accounts. Oh, then there's paying off bank loans, paying myself every two weeks, phone and internet bills, and on and on and on. It's dumb.

Positive side note: I paid off my car today – several months early BTW – so that's rad.

The biggest leg up I've had in terms of money management as a freelancer has come from a book I read back in 2010-11-ish – The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed.

Here are some of my biggest take aways from the book:

"If you’re trying to create financial security as an independent worker, but you are following guidelines that are designed for traditional workers, you’re going to get yourself into trouble."

"They [percentages] are the best - and really only - way to save consistently based on what you actually earn, especially when what you earn varies widely and doesn’t arrive on a predictable schedule."

This was the biggest thing for me. As a former full-time employee, I was used to working on a very specific budget with close to exact numbers. Unlike my wife's very reliable paycheck each month, there's not a way to know a specific amount that my freelance work will be bringing in each month. I've already written about using past records to help me predict my busy and slow seasons, but that's still just an educated guess. In planning ahead financially, I stick with setting aside 15% of my profits to pay my taxes as well as 10% to put towards retirement. I've been slowly and steadily stashing money into a RothIRA since I was 21 as well as another RothIRA under my wife's name as I max out the first one each year.

"If you don’t pay yourself first, you probably won’t do it at all."

"Debt is by far the biggest threat to both your career and your stability and stands between you and your success."

"Debt is sucking the money from your present to pay for your past at the expense of your future."

"If you don't save for your retirement, no one else will."

"Being an independent worker means you have to save more, plain and simple."

Paid Work and Demo Prep

I've spent the last week keeping my head down working through a handful of shoots and editing my guts out on another couple projects. On top of that I'm also working to get a new demo reel out before the end of September. Happy Labor Day ya'll...

Working on a demo reel ranks right up there with cleaning up curdled dog puke from between your car seat and console in the dead of summer. It's bad. I don't like doing it, but it needs to happen or things will get worse. I'd honestly rather get angry jalapeño juice in my eye.

"No, I'm not being dramatic; You're being dramatic."

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As usual, the vast majority of the past year's shoots won't end up as part of the bite-seized representation of the year. You kill a good deal of your darlings in culling through the good stuff in order to highlight the better stuff. But then you do that again, and again – and then again – till you're too numb to know otherwise.