Optimize Yourself and Your Filmmaking Career (feat. Zack Arnold, ACE)
Award-winning Editor Zack Arnold, ACE (Cobra Kai) stopped by Filmmakers Academy to join Lydia and Shane Hurlbut, ASC on the Inner Circle Podcast. A champion of wellness for his fellow post-production peeps, Zack shares healthy changes that filmmakers can start today that will make an astronomical difference tomorrow. And it all starts with your mindset.
Zack recently semi-retired from his role as a Hollywood film and television editor, with a long list of credits that range from Empire to Glee and Burn Notice. Now in the next phase of his life, Zack transitioned to a career strategist and podcaster who specializes in helping artists and creatives establish balance and sustainability in their careers.
Anyone who works full-time in the film industry knows that creating balance and sustainability is no easy task. That’s why Zack Arnold created Optimize Yourself, developing resources to design the more balanced, more sustainable career that filmmakers deserve.
Zack Arnold even wrote some powerful e-books every filmmaker should keep on their virtual shelf.
IMBALANCED HOLLYWOOD SUCCESS
Now, we use “retired” loosely as Zack is not entirely out of the game. He loves Cobra Kai and plans on returning to edit its final season to see it through to the end.
So, you may be wondering, why would an editor at the top of his game want to retire from the film industry?
Well, Zack considered the peak of his success in Hollywood simultaneously as hitting rock bottom. While this seems counterintuitive to most, there’s good reason for such sentiment.
His moment of clarity happened while editing the first season of Empire. There he was, editing the biggest show at the time. For those who don’t remember, Empire was a cultural juggernaut and broke many records in ratings. In fact, it was one of the last shows to be considered appointment television. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about the show. And there Zack stood in the epicenter as one of the editors of Season 1.
“Looking at the trajectory of my career, it’s like I’ve made it,” recalls Zack. “I’m sitting in this room, no windows, all by myself looking at a timeline. And a week from now 25 million people are going to see the editorial choices that I’ve made. This is what it’s all about. I’m also sitting in the same room putting my children to bed via FaceTime for the 100th time in a row realizing this is not the life that I thought it would be.”
THE NEED TO OPTIMIZE YOURSELF
At one distinct moment, after putting his kids to bed via FaceTime, they thought the phone had hung up when it hadn’t. What he heard severely troubled him. Zack’s son asked his wife, “Why doesn’t Daddy want to put us to bed at night? Why doesn’t he love us?”
“That’s when I said, ‘This is not the life that I signed up for. Like getting 25 million people to watch a show that I have my name on and it’s on all the trades and all the magazines, this is not the life that I designed and the life that I want.”
This is when Zack realized that the definition of success in the industry is different from our own, even if we don’t realize it. Many filmmakers just don’t take the time to define it for themselves.
It wasn’t long after when negotiations came around for Season 2 and Zack realized he had no negotiating power. He needed the paycheck to make a living and support his family. This was a huge wake-up call for him.
He realized that there were certain things about his editing career that he loved, but he needed to start diversifying his skills and finding more fulfilling ways to generate income.
“That was just the deep dark dive into learning about personal and professional development and the power of mindsets and how to strategize your career and how to build a network. Because I never wanted to be in the position again of ‘I have to take a job where I have to choose the work and the paycheck over my kids.’”
FUTURE-PROOF YOUR FILM CAREER
With the strike, we can see just how fickle the film industry can be. One day you’re putting in more hours than you could possibly manage and the next you could be out of work for weeks or months on end. Toss in the prospect of A.I. taking jobs and ask yourself, how sustainable is this all?
Zack saw the writing on the wall eight years ago, which is when he devised his Optimize Yourself program. The way filmmakers will survive is through diversifying themselves in their careers. This is another reason why we at Filmmakers Academy preach the need to learn and master skills in every department.
“It’s not just a matter of how long before I can go back to work,” explains Zack. “It’s will my career be waiting for me when I get there? And everybody else, I think, is collectively having this identity crisis of who am I if the only thing I do is this one job, and I can’t make a living doing it anymore? So I think that what we’ve done and building these different avenues of income and ways to provide value to others. I think that’s the wave of the future for everybody in the industry.”
Start with a change of mindset
We allow ourselves to be defined but what we do in the industry. In Zack’s case, he saw himself purely as an editor until he pulled back and saw himself in a new light. Nevertheless, the long hours and stress led him to feel exploited.
“The business was literally killing me.”
To counteract the nature of the business, he was drawn to learning more about mindset, productivity, health, and wellness. What he discovered is that the strategy and tactics themselves to optimize yourself don’t actually matter.
“If you don’t believe first that you’re capable of doing these things,” he reasons, “I can teach you everything available in the world and you’re going to do nothing with it. So belief is the foundation of all of it.”
This was the toughest bridge for Zack to initially cross. He was an editor, after all! Today, he works with his students to overcome the struggle of transitioning or pivoting in their careers. The mindset they operate from is ‘I have to start completely over.’ According to Zack, that’s not even remotely true.
“If the narrative is this is all that we’re capable of, well, we need to start over to learn something else. And it took me a long time to figure this out.” —Zack Arnold, ACE
TRANSITIONING IN YOUR CAREER STARTS WITH YOUR MINDSET
When starting something new, especially in a creative field, it’s common to feel a sense of imposter syndrome. In Zack’s case, he thought, “Who am I to think that somebody’s going to pay me money to coach them to be healthier when I worked in Hollywood editing my whole career?”
But he re-established his internal narrative and began to see himself as so much more. “I’m transitioning to be a wellness coach and a career coach,” says Zack. “It’s the essence of what I’m really good at.” Now, he uses his editorial mind in taking on disparate, disconnected information, story points, and narratives, then connecting them all together to communicate a larger idea.
“Once I figured that out, it was just, I don’t have dailies that are coming into my Avid anymore,” Zack illustrates through the scope of an editorial analogy. “You are creating the dailies and it’s my job to help you edit them down and construct the narrative that you want for the next chapter of your story.”
People don’t always realize that being an editor is much more than learning Avid or asymmetrical trimming. You juggle many personalities from the director to the producers and need to empathize with everyone to tell a common story. You need to be an expert communicator and meditate on the needs of others.
“Once I connected the dots and realized I’m really good at taking all of these story points, and simplifying and communicating them, and simplifying and communicating them in a really succinct narrative, that’s when I realized I can be a great coach. But it took a long time to connect those dots.”
TIME MANAGEMENT AND MINDSET
As a TV editor, one of the most popular questions Zack receives is, ‘What’s the most important skill?’ It’s all about time management. If you want to deliver great cuts and, as Zack puts it, “be part of the sausage factory,” you must be amazing at managing your time.
Ultimately, when Zack established a better way for himself, there was more time for his family and personal well-being.
“That’s when the transition was made over to coaching because my intuition kept saying, just this voice inside, you’re meant to be doing something different and better than what you’re doing now. But using the skills that you have.”
Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset
This intuition that Zack experienced is connected to mindset. The way Zack puts it is there’s a difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. While a fixed mindset limits one to believe ‘I am who I am’ and they cannot change, a growth mindset allows one to believe they can learn and change any shortcomings.
What Zack eventually realized was to set audacious goals for himself. He describes how he was really out of shape back in 2015. So, what did he do? He decided to train to become an American Ninja Warrior. It was about being bold with his ambitions.
“What I learned through this process is that we spend our entire lives telling ourselves, we can’t do things, and I realized that I am completely and totally full of shit. Because I would say I can’t do that. But then I would force myself outside my comfort zone, to try the hardest version of what I could do, and slowly build upon that. And I realized I’ve been lying to myself my entire life. Then again, it all came from having the wrong mindset, having the wrong programming, and all these limiting beliefs. And it was by putting myself in a position where I was forced to do something really, really difficult outside of my comfort zone, that’s where all of my growth occurred.”
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