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Life Balance: Is It Possible?

Rituals and Routine for Filmmakers

Summer is the perfect opportunity to slow down, reflect and consider a new way to produce fresh storytelling. This is the time for creative bursts and idea generation. It is also prime family time with children out of school and vacations scheduled. With more demands on time than ever, it is important to reflect and analyze how you are spending your time each day.
 
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Completing a project requires more than wonderfully creative ideas. How many times have you had a great project idea and then gotten pulled by a shoot or your never ending to do list? Over time, it may feel as though creativity is getting compromised. Your artistic imprint on the world is getting more elusive and time is passing quickly.
 
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Three keys to solving the problem:

  • Consistency
  • Self-discipline
  • Creative organization of time

In his book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, Mason discloses the strict routines of brilliant and successful creatives with the premise that if we understand how they organize their time through daily rituals, it would reveal how they were creatively productive.
 
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Currey asks 3 important questions:

  1. “How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living?”
  2. “Is it better to devote yourself wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day?”
  3. “And when there doesn’t seem to be enough time for all you hope to accomplish, must you give things up (sleep, income, a clean house), or can you learn to condense activities, to do more in less time?”

I believe these questions apply to filmmakers who are brimming with creativity, but may not pay attention to time. Many of the creatives in Currey’s book have strict daily rituals to support their best creative expression.
 
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To quote Ingmar Bergman: “Do you know what moviemaking is? Eight hours of hard work each day to get three minutes of film. And during those eight hours, there are maybe only ten or twelve minutes, if you’re lucky, of real creation. And maybe they don’t come. Then you have to gear yourself for another eight hours and pray you’re going to get your good ten minutes this time.” Bergman had a strict routine and schedule that allowed for his creative expression. Without that work and flow, he would have been a self-proclaimed lunatic.

The dance choreographer Twyla Tharp held a rigorous schedule to form consistent work habits to support a high level of creativity. Tharp admitted her schedule was “actively anti-social and pro-creative.” In my personal experience, a creative artist needs laser focus and chunks of time to complete a project. When Shane breaks down a script for a feature, it involves long hours with extreme attention to detail in the notes for his crew. Essentially, 4-6 months of his time with little time for family, focusing on nothing other than the movie.

What are your daily rituals and how do they increase your creativity and inspiration? Creativity takes cultivation and discipline to stay on top of your game.
 
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Shane and I both have creative rituals and understand the importance of routine. My day begins very early, around 5:45am, with meditation. I begin the workday at 7:50am after dropping my children at school. Writing is always done in the morning when my brain is fresh. Strategy, idea generation and important meetings are always scheduled around 11 am or 1pm and tend to be 30 minutes to an hour. Too many meetings in a day means I have no time to create. My day is a balance of strategy and new ideas, sprinkled with questions and clarification for my team. Crystal clear communication and systematizing for our team with clearly defined roles prevents time wasting.

Mid afternoons are devoted to our children starting with school pick up and driving to their various extracurricular activities. I check emails sporadically throughout the day in 20 minute bursts: mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon and again early evening. With Shane traveling so much of the year, we decided long ago that if we were going to have children, we wanted to be hands on. I am lucky enough to make my own schedule. It takes a lot of juggling, communicating and flexibility with constantly shifting schedules.

I do not believe in balance because it is never achieved. Life is in flow with time being devoted to equally important but different areas depending on the day and time of year. Some days, work takes more time. When we shot The Ticket, it was every waking minute for five days straight and just six hours of sleep per night with a babysitter for a week with Kyra and Myles as we have no family locally. However, those production projects only happen sporadically.

Routine and ritualistic behavior sounds BORING, yet it is vital for success, follow through and project completion. The most successful filmmakers I know have strict rituals for prepping, scouting, pre-production and shooting.

The movie classic, Rain Man, starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman directed by Barry Levinson, illustrates the importance of routine for people on the autistic spectrum to feel secure and decrease anxiety. You don’t need to be on the spectrum to benefit from rituals and routine. It is important to notice subtle gifts and how they impact your creative process.
 

 
What rituals and routines do you follow? What works for you?

Author: Lydia

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10 Comments

  1. A great posting Lydia on an area I have struggled with in my work. Thank you for bringing to light this critically important area for creatives like myself.

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    • Cliff,
      So glad this post resonated! Thanks for sharing your thoughts

      Post a Reply
    • Lydia,

      Thanks so much for this post!

      It really get crazy for me. Feeling unfulfilled.

      So many ideas but an overall feeling of not doing anything cause of so many aspects.

      Thanks!

      Post a Reply
      • Paolo,
        You are welcome! I understand feeling pulled in many directions at once. Have patience with yourself. Just try to do one change at a time, not all at once.
        Have a wonderful summer.
        Lydia

        Post a Reply
  2. Lydia,
    Thanks so much for this post!
    It really get crazy for me. Feeling unfulfilled.
    So many ideas but an overall feeling of not doing anything cause of so many aspects.
    Thanks!

    Post a Reply
  3. Well written article. An enjoyable and informative read. All the best to you, Shane and your family. Cheers.

    Post a Reply
    • Ron,
      Thanks for the support and kind words. All the best to you as well. Enjoy the summer!

      Post a Reply
  4. Great article. Since I am just starting to get deeper into filmmaking by starting my Master soon I kept wundering how to handle this topic. This clears it partially. I’ll try it with routines.

    Post a Reply
    • Raphael,

      Thank-you for the nice comment. I am glad you found this post helpful in some way.
      It is so unique for each person depending on individual circumstances and time commitments. A consistent routine is a great start. Best of luck with your Masters program.

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  5. I need posts like this. So thank you.

    I’ve spend the last two years fully immersed in filmmaking both for personal projects and freelance work, and my girlfriend can get a bit tired of it! There are some days that I can think of nothing else but this project or that project and I can find it difficult to draw a line under it oftentimes.

    I’m going to try and work on developing a routine!

    Liam

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