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The Tricky Industry Work/Life Balance

The most difficult aspect of working in the industry isn’t the actual work, it’s the schedule. If you’re day-playing and focused on moving up the ladder, your career ebbs and flows with the whims of the industry. When you’re busy, your entire life becomes work. You could have your weekdays (plus the occasional Saturday) booked completely solid for weeks on end. Your personal life becomes nonexistent. You’ll have very little time for extracurriculars like dinners, parties and dates. Your groceries go bad because you don’t have time to cook, and you look forward to weekends because you know you’ll finally have a couple hours free to do laundry. Your joints ache from standing and moving equipment all day, and you’re tired all the time. I remember during one particularly busy stretch last year, I worked fourteen days in a row on separate projects. At one point during that period, I stayed up 36 hours straight and stayed awake by chewing caffeine pills. I was exhausted and barely had the energy to shower by the time I got home, and I had another day of work coming up.

Busy times are basically a race to get as much work as possible before the industry winds shift and you cool off. It doesn’t matter if you’re too tired or the scheduling of different projects doesn’t work out perfectly; say yes to every project and figure out everything else on the fly. Save as much of the money you’re making as you can. You’ll need it in case work suddenly disappears.

The strain of a busy work schedule can be physically and mentally exhausting, but it pales in comparison to the emotional strain of sitting at home with nothing booked. At certain times in your career, you’ll find that no work is coming your way. You don’t know why, but you aren’t getting booked. Remember, this is the natural flow of the film industry. It’s feast or famine. I struggled with my slow periods for a long time. I was happy on set; I felt like my career was moving forward. I was making money, I was getting experience, and I was proving myself to be a reliable 2nd AC. When all of that went away and I had no work lined up, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I got in the unhealthy habit of checking my phone every couple minutes to see if someone had texted to book me. I didn’t feel comfortable taking trips because I was worried about missing an opportunity. I looked at other people working, doing my job, and I couldn’t understand what they were doing better than me or why they were getting calls when I wasn’t. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was making myself miserable.

Because working on set is such a time commitment, it’s easy to make the mistake of conflating your film work with your life and identity. You must learn to separate the two. It’s great to be passionate and take pride in your work, but remember, it’s your job. Who are you outside of that job? Your slow times are an opportunity to nurture that side of yourself. Do you have hobbies? Explore them. Learn to play an instrument, pick up a sport you played in high school, take a weekend trip. When was the last time you saw your friends? If you’ve been busy, chances are you haven’t seen them in a while. My friends joke that they always know when I’m busy because I stop replying to our group chat messages. Get together with your friends. Go on dates. Do all the life stuff you missed when you were busy.

You have limited control over how often you work. I’ve talked about things you can do to stack the deck in your favor like networking, working hard and helping people out for free. After all of that, though, your schedule is somewhat out of your hands. The calls will come in when they come in, and you can’t control when your phone rings. I’ve been woken up at two in the morning by a producer calling to say they needed someone in four hours. Sometimes you’ll need to drop what you’re doing and drive directly to set to cover a friend. Again, that’s your job. Work is work, life is life. Accept the slow times with the same eagerness with which you dive into the busy ones. Just because other people are working and you’re slow doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. Those just weren’t your jobs. Eventually, your phone will ring again and work will come back. It always does. By learning how to weather the work cycle, you’ll find yourself happier and more successful.

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