Mental Health in the Film Industry
Seasoned filmmakers understand that health, wellness, and safety are the key tenets of lasting mental health – and a long career in the film industry. Of course, talent and hard work are essential for getting the next job and progressing in your field. However, if you do not sustain your mind and body, you won’t last years on end working 12+ hours a day on set or in a demanding office environment.
Everyone prefers to dig into the details of a particular project – whether it be the latest tech, story, or strategy – but today we’re going to discuss something a little closer to home. YOU. We explore how to maintain your mental health in the present so you will enjoy the best version of yourself in the future.
Or, if you wish to learn how to spread mental health awareness and discover ways to take action, we recommend our previous article on the subject.
Why is Mental Health Important?
I’m going to start by sharing a little anecdote that breaks my heart every time I tell it. There was a remarkably talented cinematographer who was one of my husband, Shane Hurlbut, ASC’s mentees. Their work was very impressive and they quickly progressed in their career. The sky was literally the limit for this soon-to-be renowned director of photography.
Then, one day out of the blue they quit the film industry altogether. We couldn’t believe it. They were on track for a successful career! What happened?
Well, the talent and work ethic was there but the industry itself wore them down. And this, unfortunately, is not a rare occurrence. Many filmmakers succumb to the pressures of the craft. With sufficient attention to health and wellness, you may not altogether avoid the stresses of the industry, but you will learn how to work with them.
How To Improve Mental Health
For filmmakers, sometimes terms like health, wellness, and safety can sound kind of nebulous. Especially with all of the different roles and jobs that exist under the banner of “filmmaker.”
Let’s review some of the best practices for how to increase mental health and longevity to keep you going for a long and healthy career.
Below are our Top 5 Mental Health Tips to help keep filmmakers feeling clear and optimistic!
“Let’s break the cycle of negative thoughts and patterns!”
We have said it time and again, filmmaking is a collaborative process. So, no matter how hard you try, you will never have the ability to seize total control of your surroundings. You can plan and plan and plan but you will always encounter the occasional curveball thrown your way.
Our initial reaction could result in anger or distress. You might think the whole production is on the line – and it very well could be. But, if possible, stop. Take a moment and breathe. Now, this may be difficult to do while in the middle of the workday. But, we recommend meditating before or after each workday.
Allow yourself to disengage from the stresses of the day, let your mind wander, and give yourself the positive affirmations that you so desperately need. Whether you meditate at home or in the car on your commute, you will feel a sense of pause. This is essential for your mental health.
|PRO TIP: Specialty hertz music is ideal for calming your system. Also, consider daily stretching and deep breathing exercises.|
Learn how to work meditation into your daily routine with Energy Management is Your Key to Success.
“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” – Glenn Close
You hear it all the time – sunlight is critical to maintaining your health. Those who spend their days hopping from set to set may get more than enough. Especially if they live in sunny California. However, there are plenty of filmmakers who work in dark offices behind screens all day long. And when they are particularly busy, say, coloring a film or in the edit bay, they may not see the sun for hours or even days on end.
A lack of sunlight is detrimental to your mental health because your body requires melatonin. Melatonin helps you sleep, reduces stress, strengthens your immune system, and best of all, fights off depression.
So, if you’re stuck in the edit bay, make time during lunchtime and other breaks to step outside and absorb those crucial rays. And, if possible, leave your phone and other devices behind!
“Mental health…is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going.” – Noam Shpancer
While staying organized seems self-explanatory, you may be surprised at how many filmmakers distress themselves with a general lack of it. There’s nothing worse than forgetting or losing a piece of equipment on the job or losing a specific production document, such as a contract. In fact, some of the most stressful moments for filmmakers are a direct result of organizational skills.
We know, organization is a broad term. It could imply the checklists that you create, the way you plan your day, or even the systems that you set in place for yourself to ensure success. One thing is certain, you will get pulled in a million different directions during the day. Then, you will need to make fast decisions. If you make the wrong decision or forgot to order a piece of equipment that you needed, it will impact your bottom line.
Also, think about your team. For example, if you are a UPM and did not provide your team with the schedule for the following day until very late at night, you are causing stress. They must wait on your call sheet. Conversely, if you tell someone the time they will be on set or confirm their day rate but don’t follow through, they will feel cheated. Sure, union workers are covered – but let’s not forget, a vast segment of the industry is non-union.
On the flip side, if you don’t have a managerial position, consider the tools that will help you stay organized. I know a Production Assistant who kept a little notebook and pen on him at all times and wrote down nearly every direction given to him. That way, he never missed a detail and didn’t rely on his smartphone. You never know when your battery will die!
4. REPLACE BAD HABITS WITH GOOD HABITS
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – R. Buckminister Fuller
You may think to yourself – ‘Well, duh! Of course, I want to replace bad habits with good ones.’ But, if the bad habit wasn’t almost a form of medication then it wouldn’t be much of a problem. After work, filmmakers turn to habits that allow them to cope with the stresses of the day. They might drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or eat fast food. That’s because your headspace is in ‘fight or flight’ during high-stress situations.
Whatever it is, filmmakers who turn to these bad habits must find a good – or at least better – habit to replace it with. If you always get an ice cream cone after work, consider a healthier frozen yogurt option. If it’s cigarettes, try and wean yourself off with gum and other nicotine replacement products until you find something else to quench your craving. Are you eating too much junk food? Find the best healthy food options that make you feel better. Initially, you may crave junk food, but in time your body will reject it in favor of healthier alternatives.
Other good habits to improve your mental health could include yoga, massages, reiki, and acupuncture. Maybe you enjoy listening to your favorite podcast on the way home from work to start the unwinding process. Just remember, when you try and stop a bad habit, you should always replace it with a good one.
5. STAY PRESENT
All stress, anxiety, depression, is caused when we ignore who we are, and start living to please others.” –Paulo Coelho, 2014
The film industry is an industry unlike any other. We tend to value ourselves based on our success at the moment. Whether it’s the credits we have under our belts or the stars that we’ve worked alongside, we want to be recognized for the artists we are. And if we have not risen to a certain height of success, we admonish ourselves for it. However, this way of thinking is neither realistic nor fair – especially for sustaining your mental health.
Every day I interact with aspiring filmmakers at Filmmakers Academy. My first word of advice is to stay present and try not to worry about the past or future. Just focus on doing the best you can at the moment. While you should anticipate what is on the horizon, the anxiety of could’ve, should’ve, would’ve will not serve as the engine to your success
Instead, mentally reframe in a healthy way and remember to write down everything you are grateful for each day. It helps your mind let go of negativity and focus on the positive gifts in your life. Understand where you are and create goals to follow in order to land at your destination. Focus on what you have control over.
Oftentimes, we are hurt by things that we don’t have any control over. This could also be a result of our attachment to social media. Just remember, you’re only seeing someone’s best curated moments on social media. It’s not realistic to hold yourself to such a standard. If you feel that your social media feed is damaging, try turning it off for a few days and see how you feel.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As filmmakers, we work in one of the best industries in the world – but it can also be very stressful. Many of us want to be the next Stanley Kubrick, Roger Deakins, or Aaron Sorkin. However, your happiness should not be predicated on your external success, as authentic joy is an inside job.
Meditating, getting sunlight, staying organized, replacing bad habits, and staying present are five mental health tips that will help any filmmaker. While physical stress is something you are aware of, mental stress is additive until you explode.
At Filmmakers Academy, we not only understand the craft of filmmaking but we truly get filmmakers. For a long and prosperous career in the film industry, filmmakers must balance their mental health and wellness. Then, together, we can accomplish anything.
Learn more about how to improve your mental health!
- Jessica Chastain Recognizes Mental Health Awareness in Impassioned Oscars Speech
- Filmmaking Nutrition: Clean Eating On Set
- Energy Management is Your Key to Success
- Healthy Habits for Filmmakers: Sleep Wellness