Note for the readers: During my cross country trip I found myself momentarily stranded on the side of a Texas highway, in the rain. The video version of this post starts with footage from that crazy experience. Check that out when you get a chance.
That was me, somewhere in Texas, trying to figure out what was wrong with my car.
“Your whole life out here is figuring out your life.”
That’s what my friend Amanda told me when I gave her an update on my career pursuits. She moved out here from the DC area about a year ahead of me. And she’s right.
About once a week I have this existential crisis. I wake up wondering, “what am I doing here?” because literally, I would be guessing what I should be doing every single day. Sometimes the crisis would end a second later when I remembered what I had been working on. Other days I’d just keep repeating it to myself, still unsure what to do after breakfast.
Changing plans on the fly has never been easy for me, but it’s become an almost daily part of my life. I’m good at planning for the long game, so that’s what I did before I moved, but big chunks of that plan have changed.
The Rules of the West
I set my sights on moving here and simply rebuilding my networks in a new city. I ordered 500 business cards before I left Maryland. They all introduced me as a director, editor and DJ, but this market doesn’t want people with multiple skills. The people I’ve met have made it really clear: people here want you to do one thing, really really well, and nothing else. That way they know you’re great at it, and when they need that, they know who to call. So I threw away all my business cards and ordered new ones. I’ve almost completely stopped bringing up my editing, and only talking about cinematography. I’m refocusing to only highlight videography in my demo reel, my website content and social media.
The part that hurts the most is turning down opportunities to edit. I’ve looked at what those gigs pay, and my earning potential would be crazy, but if I build a reputation as an editor, I’ll suffocate my efforts to be recognized as a DP. Also, the time it takes just to stay competitive in editing, let alone do the work, would eat into my time experimenting with my camera and lights and developing original ideas. I go back and forth about this almost every day. I’m consciously taking a severe pay cut and working a job that’s not in my lane, in order to preserve one of my ambitions.
So this is really just a battle off the mind right now. Every day I have to choose to suppress my potential in one area in order to protect my growth in another. While I’m still far away from the goal, it’s really hard to care enough to make this kind of sacrifice, even temporarily. Nonetheless, I’ve made great strides in bringing some sanity to my journey. I’ve identified four parallels for constant maintenance that I believe will make it easier for me to figure out how I’m doing at any given time for the foreseeable future. I call them parallels to remind myself that they all need to be happening simultaneously. There’s certainly more to consider but this is sort of my first phase of restrategizing.
The first parallel is sanity. This is all about maintaining my spiritual, physical, social, emotional, and financial health. Even though the other parallels are important, nothing else happens without this.
Creating is the second parallel, and it’s only second to the sanity parallel. I absolutely believe I can create great work with just the resources I currently have on hand. I just have to spend more time thinking through how I use my resources. I have a lot of ideas that may never find expression if I wait for someone else to ask me for them, and constantly creating also gives me more experience for when someone does present an opportunity to work together.
Fundraising is putting money aside specifically for paying talent, crew, and rentals for my own projects. These are projects intentionally being made to show my skills at the highest quality possible, as well as express my own creativity and ideas without client restraints.
I need to be intentionally seeking and making myself available for opportunities to connect with people who can help me get further on my path to becoming a DP. Networking is an important parallel, but not as important as sanity or creating. It’s equally as important as fundraising, but is enhanced by having well-funded material to present when networking. Knowing the right people is important, but constantly sharpening my skills and having a sharp portfolio makes the best of those opportunities.
So…. how’s it going?
Well I’d say there’s a lot of room to grow. I haven’t found a church yet but I’ve met some cool believers and have some more places to check out. I’m barely taking care of myself physically to be honest. I pretty much only eat and sleep because I have to and I know I look like it lol. I take my days off pretty seriously though. I’m vowing to do better so I don’t take myself out the game early. I try to connect with friends as much as I can. Most days I’m just in my own head too much. I’m creating stuff. Released my first cinematic wedding film. Helped shoot a short for a teen program, and I’m about to start editing an original commercial concept I shot back in October. Of course it’s taking longer than I’d like to get done. The fundraising parallel is struggling right now. Freelance work is bringing in a tiny bit of money right now but not enough to save for extra stuff like original productions. Networking is going great. Meeting very cool and helpful people and trying not to be overwhelmed by the prospect of keeping up with them all.
Some things have progressed pretty well while others seem almost forgotten. Starting this ritual is helping me see where I’ve been distracted or where I’ve been negligent, so at the very least I’m much more aware now. Would love to hear your ideas on staying focused and how life is progressing for you. Drop me a message or hit me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and let me know how you’re doing too. Peace.