September 27, 2012

Why Do We Let Creative Pursuits Take Over Our Lives? A Lesson in Perspective from Linds Redding

I once edited for an entire weekend. I'm not exaggerating -- I went into the media lab on a Friday afternoon, and left on a Sunday night after my girlfriend and some friends dragged me out. I was obsessing about the latest episode of our sketch comedy show, and completely missed one of the best homecomings my college had seen. When I came to my senses, this caused a sense of regret. It was an important lesson on getting out, having a life, and generally not letting creative pursuits ruin my life. 

I needed a lesson in perspective, and in this article by Linds Redding, I get that same feeling. Linds lets us in on a life lived in the midst of creativity, yet shares a simultaneous sense of regret. If you read one article concerning filmmaking or creative pursuits on the internet today, please read this article entitled A Short Lesson in Perspective, and let's discuss below.

The image "Perspective" as found on LindsRedding.com.

I'm going to hope most of you read the Linds' post, albeit a longer read than you were probably expecting. Assuming that you have, I feel his bio from the Egotist gives some important perspective of its own:

Linds worked as an Art Director for several agencies in London and Edinburgh, before emigrating to New Zealand with his family in the mid nineties. He worked for most of NZ's top creative agencies, Saatchi, DDB, Colenso and The Campaign Palace before leaving agency life at the millennium to pursue his interests in Motion Graphics and animation. For the past ten years, Linds has run a successful animation studio designing and producing TVC's for tne New Zealand advertising industry.

 

In late 2011, at 51 Linds was diagnosed with inoperable Eosophigal Cancer. He has since given up work and spends his time at home on Waiheke Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf walking, writing, drawing and making music.

So not only is Linds a creative professional who has the skills to pay the bills, but he's writing from both experience, and a solid retrospective point of view. (If you'd like to read more from him and his ongoing story, his blog is at LindsRedding.com.)

This article begs the question: Why do we do this to ourselves? Why is it that this we let this industry, or the "bean counters" as Linds puts it, do this to us? Is it for "the plastic gold statuettes"? Or just a job?

Speaking of the "gold statuettes", Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler proposes this same question in his documentary Who Needs Sleep?, as well as in this article on the Huffington Post. Here's that trailer:

It's worth noting that ironically, while making the documentary and after a 14 hour day, he almost fell asleep at the wheel himself.

And of course this kind of overworking isn't only present during Production, but Post Production as well. Richard Verrier notes this in his article in the LA Times clamoring for Visual Effects artists to Unionize:

But the artists who create the effects, crouched over computers using software to create digital images, complain they're often employed in electronic sweatshops, work inhuman schedules and without health insurance or pensions.

Now some are fighting back, beginning an effort to lobby for union protection.

Verrier goes on to note several examples of not only overwork, but general lack of dignity, in the VFX industry.

Look -- there are going to be long days in our industry. We know that. Evan Luzi of The Black and the Blue (a great blog written from the perspective of a 1st AC), notes that there are times that we must just "limp on by". And there is definitely something to be said about being able to stick out a job when it gets tough. In fact, if you can't do that, you're really in the wrong industry. But that kind of difficulty should be the exception in my opinion, not the norm, if you're into the ideal of having, oh, you know, a life.

Ultimately, I think this all goes back to having great time management. When I take a hard look at my own young career as a creative professional so far, I have to note that in addition to all my success I've been lucky enough to experience, there have been periods of obsession, isolation, overwork, even despair. Not very healthy things. I remember when I first started freelancing doing commercial/corporate ads and vignettes, I vowed to myself that I would implement a system to counteract unhealthy work-life balance choices I'd seen others make. One of the best ways I could find was to police myself with "degauss days" (a geeky moniker after degaussing monitors). Or more simply put, mandatory vacation days with the acknowledgement that I should probably keep my mind away from work and just... be. When I liken it to Linds' piece, it's sort of like the "Overnight Test". This does wonders for my creativity, and allows me to "possess the spirit of my friends", as Nietzsche said.

And when a company, client, or crew tries to tempt or even force me into a gig I know is going to be abusive, I've learned to say three crucial words -- "No, thank you". If you're a good person, and work hard, there will be better, less abusive, gigs.

I think we can all be grateful for Linds' "Lesson in Perspective". And as you can see in the comments on The San Francisco Egotist, as well as Linds' own site, others are also grateful. I'm particularly fond of this more recent comment from the Egotist:

Timely message heard loud and clear. While beating myself up for the uptenth time about how it can be I have this enviable creative job and yet be so terribly unhappy, I came across this article. This has been the biggest wake up call yet. Time to make some big changes.

Thank You...

A Creative Director

So now that you've made it this far, what's the verdict? Are you doing a good job balancing, or is it time for some big changes? Also, anyone out there police themselves in similar ways to my "degauss days"? And Linds, if you're out there... thanks for the lesson man, and this passed my Overnight Test.

Links:

  1. A Short Lesson in Perspective -- The San Francisco Egotist
  2. LindsRedding.com
  3. Sleepless in Hollywood -- The Huffington Post
  4. Visual Effects Artists Aim to Create Better Work Environments-- Los Angeles Times
  5. Learning to Limp By the Long Days -- The Black and the Blue

Your Comment

15 Comments

Timely read, for me.
At times frustration with how the creative process has been so devalued, makes me wonder if its worth the sacrifice.
I did get a sense however, that Redding's perspective wasn't just in reaction to workplace change,
but also his own accumulated knowledge...
Maybe he just doesn't feel the need to prove anything to himself
anymore.

September 27, 2012

0
Reply
ruben huizenga

Great post Ben and a fantastic & refreshing essay by Linds; definitely a must-read for anyone in the creative field. I for one am walking away from a big part of my business as I found myself brainstorming excuses for not being able to make it as I drove to these particular shoots. I think it was Steve Jobs who said to look at yourself everyday in the mirror and ask "am I happy doing this", and if the answer is "no" too many days in a row, make a change. Easier said then done for some but I have been lucky enough to be able to balance my film & video work with other creative endeavors. One thing that helps me is always taking about a week off every couple of months and being computer & phone free.

September 27, 2012

0
Reply

Amazing article, thanks for sharing.

September 27, 2012

0
Reply
Scott

Sorry, I am too busy pursuing creative things to read this.

September 27, 2012

0
Reply
James0b57

I remember reading Lind's article a while ago and how much of a slap in the face wake up call it felt to me. This also reminds me of a reality show called, "The Pitch" on AMC. It's about top creative agencies competing to pitch on new high profile accounts. As entertaining as it can be, it also stresses me the frick out. You constantly hear about the unhealthy work/life balance, but that's the nature of the industry and anyone wanting to be part of it has to just welcome and deal with it.

On the flip side, there's nothing like the feeling of that "ah ha" moment and executing very successful creative deliverables.

September 27, 2012

2
Reply
Shag

You once edited for an entire weekend?
I once went into the suite 8am on a Thursday and didn't leave until Tuesday morning when the cleaners came in (it was the Queens Golden Jubilee holiday weekend).
That was when my perspective on work/life changed.

September 27, 2012

0
Reply
altnet

This struck a chord with me, since I left my full time filmmaking job in May this year.

I was making great money, working with people I loved, and even had a pretty strict 8-9 hour day, but it wasn't fulfilling creatively, so I took on any freelance jobs I could outside of work that would challenge me creatively. That meant that I was working many 14+ hour days, sometimes more during deadlines. There was a particularly grueling (though higher profile than usual for me) feature film shoot, where I was working sometimes up to 20 hour days, and my wife was miserable the entire month - there were days where I never saw her awake. I called her my Film Widow. But it turns out I wasn't happy either.

I saved up and we moved to an area with a lower cost of living where my wife could find work easier, and now I'm still doing the freelance work, not getting paid even close to my old salary, and even though there's an occasional unpleasant deadline here and there, I feel better now making a sixth of what I was making before, as long as I can survive on it, be creative, and get to have a life outside of work also.

One thing Linds got right in his post was that we creatives don't care that much about money - at least that rings true for me. All I need is enough to get by, and challenges to stretch and grow creatively. Once I figured that out, it was easier for me to prioritize and make changes in my life. I think most of us could be well-served in taking a step back and evaluating what's important to us.

September 28, 2012

-2
Reply
Jesse

well 'I once edited for an entire 20 months' . on one project. and i still am.

September 28, 2012

1
Reply
jay

Amazing article.Thank you for this

September 28, 2012

2
Reply
konstantinos

As a filmmaker and an athlete, I can say with conviction that physical activity does wonders for reducing stress, being more productive, and fostering the creative spirit.

September 28, 2012

1
Reply
David

I can say the same for drugs

September 29, 2012

-1
Reply
Konstantinosstag

hahahaha!

September 30, 2012

0
Reply
Cleon

So, this doesn't apply to the South African film industry. No union, no representation, lots of abuse of power.

October 2, 2012

1
Reply
Keith

It's a tricky thing...having the Overnight Test is important...but having the pressure of deadlines is crucial for me to come up with my best things.

But it's true for creatives...you do it b/c you have to, not for the money.

October 3, 2012

1
Reply
Daniel Mimura

Seeing your vision come to life (no matter the medium) and having people enjoy it is worth an infinite number of long nights and stressful editing sessions.

October 4, 2012

1
Reply
john jeffreys