It’s July 26th. In 29 days, I’ll be gone from the industry I grew up in. I’ll be gone from the valley I grew up in. But what do I have to show for all these years I’ve spent here? It’s a hard thing to quantify, isn’t it? Do we talk about it in terms of accolades? Of money earned? Personal milestones? Maybe more abstract concepts of achievement and fulfillment? I don’t know. But I know that as my departure closes in on me, I’ve given it a lot of thought. What’s been gained? What opportunities were missed? How do I do better now? I guess maybe the only way through it is to unpack these things, and hope I write my way into an answer.
I have not achieved what I hoped to achieve here in Utah. It’s a big motivator for this move. I have worked in this industry for 6 years professionally. And while in half the time, people my age or younger seem to have made their place in the local industry, I still feel like an outlier. No amount of blogging, mentoring, or even shooting seems to make much of an impact on that. Not that I do those things to achieve work or praise. But it seems my approach here was all wrong. And perhaps the hard part about coming up in an industry is that too many people have known you at too many stages of your career, mostly for the worst. This is no slight against those who’ve found their success. They’ve rightly earned it. I’m not going to pretend that I’m exceptional and that everyone gets along with me. I’ve squandered plenty of great opportunities in my career by being bold at the wrong times, by not having confidence in other times, and by succumbing to my oft-crippling anxiety too many times.
It’s hard to confront the jealousy sometimes. There’s a part of me that goes “why isn’t that me? What don’t I have that they do?” There comes a point after seeing this so many times that you call your own worth into question. The rational me understands the futility and harm of jealousy and works to convert it into pride in those people for their achievements. But you can’t succeed all the time. I’ve said it before; the self-doubt only exists when you’re not doing the work, and you know it. There are so many great people locally who I’ve always wanted to work with. “Why did they not want to work with me?” God, it was so frustrating. But I had a breakthrough today, and I think I understand better now.
The honest-to-god truth of it is right in front of my face; Was I making an effort to work with THEM? I’ve shot 30-odd movies in my 6 years. Mostly unpaid. Probably like 85% unpaid in reality. But there were opportunities. There were moments where I could have gone to them to join my crews, and ask them to work with me, which may have in turn fostered a working relationship where they would maybe even hire me sometimes. But I didn’t. Some of it was practical; I have amazing mentees who I’ve helped raise who are such an integral part of my crew and I really value. I don’t regret hiring them, but a reality of that decision is making less networking connections in my specialty field. The less practical part is rooted in my self-consciousness and at times rogue social anxiety. I’ve never felt comfortable approaching them because I’ve never felt on their level, and the feelings of fraud wiggle their way into my head. There are tales of (seemingly much more brave and extroverted) people just brazenly reaching out to the people locally they’ve wanted to work with, and finding a way onto their sets somehow. And from there, a network and relationship is built. But I’ve never been the type, much to my detriment, and that’s a reality I have to acknowledge. My mental health has held my career back likely more than I can actually tell.
Moving forward means acknowledging your own shortcomings. And I fell short in initiative, and I fell short in inclusion. My timidity and fear kept me in check. It’s easier to quantify what you achieved by looking at what you didn’t. I didn’t get to shoot a local feature. A few opportunities presented themselves that I couldn’t take when they were offered. I didn’t get to work with my heroes. I didn’t get to make a living here off of just working in film and commercial. The opportunity for those to change exists, but I don’t hold much stock in that.
But what did I achieve? Certainly those 30 short films count for something. I certainly think they do. The people I’ve gotten to work with are of a great caliber of professionals, and I have bittersweet memories of every production I’ve worked on. I have achieved some minor degrees of success in other roles outside of Cinematographer. I did get to AC a feature, Gaff a wonderful short on the east coast, shoot content for Andi Mack, travel all across the country (and Europe) for work. I’ve done things. I’ve gotten offers from things like “Yellowstone”. And I was really bummed that I couldn’t take the opportunity. But like they say, “it was an honor just to be nominated”. There are quantifiable professional successes I can carry with me. It just never feels like enough. And maybe that’s nobody’s fault but my own for having these expectations or hopes for myself.
So what HAVE I achieved? Meaningful human connection with so many people I’ve gotten to work with. How do we quantify the value of that? It means a lot to me, and maybe that’s all it has to be. The human aspect of this role is a core pillar of my entire outlook on filmmaking. I love working with people. I love working with people on set. I love the bond forged in the fires of 12 hour days and intense deadlines. Those little moments in the catering line and on the grip truck. Those connections I make on set matter so much to me. And I don’t show it anywhere near as much as I feel it. But the people I’ve worked with I feel such pride for. I care so much about their well-being. Even if we’re separated by years and distance. That human element drives everything. You can’t really quantify it, can you? But yet it’s so critical. Maybe what’s supposed to matter more when I reflect on it all is that human component, more than any accolade or milestone. Yeah, I think that’s it.
So what’s next then? What does this meandering serve? Hopefully, how I can be better. How I can be a version of myself more useful to others and more unshackled from my self-inflicted restraints. There are lessons here. Maybe they’re useful to others too. I’m moving into a new market where I know almost no one. I’m an even smaller fish than I would be here. And in a way, that’s empowering. Only because this knowledge may lead to better results.
Let’s try and articulate these lessons, shall we?
Lesson #1: Don’t undervalue yourself. Not to say you should adopt a false sense of quality and skill. But that is to say that you are never too worthless to make the effort to reach out to people and express your desire to work with them.
Lesson #2: Reciprocate. If you want to work with your heroes, give your heroes an opportunity to work with you when you can provide that. Who knows? Maybe they want to work with you too.
Lesson #3: Condition your jealousy into admiration. This has to come from a sincere place, and it takes time and practice. But rewiring your brain to see others success as everyone’s success instead of a personal slight will do wonders for your mental health.
Lesson #4: If you wanna be involved, be involved. Nothing is stopping you from getting into your community and just being a voice of support and encouragement. You might just have what someone needs to progress in their journey too.
Lesson #5: Embrace risk. Every next step comes with risk. Every opportunity comes with risk. So why shy away from it? Why not choose to embrace the fragility and danger of it all? Separate yourself from the practical, and recognize the impracticality of what we’re doing here to begin with.
Lesson #6: Arguably the most important; Let yourself be wrong. Fear of wrong stops us from finding what’s right. A question you didn’t ask is a question that doesn’t get answered. Being wrong is okay. What’s the worst that can happen?
I wish I’d learned all these things sooner. Maybe if I had, there would have been a more permanent place for me here in this industry. There’s a lot of maybe’s. Now I have the chance to do it all over again, and take these lessons to heart. Maybe that bears new fruits. Maybe. Maybe.
Guess it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. Embrace the risk. Embrace the possibility of wrong, and make your peace with it. I guess that’s how this new chapter has to begin. Hopefully the chapter reads “he learned his lessons, took them to heart, and great things came of it, and life was grand.” But that’ll only be true if I make it so.
So in summary, none of it is quantifiable. Even the quantifiable awards on my shelf, titles on my CV, and images on my portfolio fail to quantify anything tangible. The love for the people I’ve met on this journey is also unquantifiable. Even with these lessons in hand, the future remains unquantifiable.
Here lies all I can quantify; I’m still here. And I haven’t given up.
Guess that has to count for something.