When You Just Hit the Wall

When You Just Hit the Wall

For the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, I had to cut our shooting day short and tell everyone that I was done. It was day 27 of our 30 day shoot and I just simply ran out of gas. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but looking back at it now, it was the right decision.

We had been doing extremely long drives in Haiti – most of them on very rough and winding roads in an uncomfortable, top heavy, bouncy mini-bus otherwise known as “the barf machine”. This day was no different. We were up at 5:30 am and drove for almost four hours to our location. It was hot, I was tired and the pressure was on to shoot another complete story (basically a mini documentary) about a family living in poverty. It was going to be a long day.

As a professional, you just have to reach deep into yourself and get the job done – and done well. For me, that’s what being a pro is all about – to always deliver your best work regardless of the conditions. When I feel like I’m losing my creative energy I try not to think too far ahead and stay in the moment – just focus on the scene and the shot. If I start thinking about all the stuff we have to do and how many more hours we have to go, it becomes such an uphill battle.

But something about this day was different than I’ve ever experienced. From the moment we arrived I just wasn’t feeling right. Everything was a struggle and nothing was clicking. My brain felt like it jettisoned out of my head in an escape pod. We managed to shoot three or four different scenes but I knew I was starting to compromise. Thoughts like, “that’s good enough” were starting to creep in. I was basically shooting wallpaper rather than art. I had to sit down and ask myself, “Am I doing my best work?”

The answer was no. I was on auto-pilot. Just trying to get the day over with. This is a line I never want to cross. So, after talking with Dean, we came up with a plan. We were just honest with the client. We told them that I was over-tired and creatively drained and to continue shooting wasn’t going to get us anywhere. Our plan was to shutdown, head back to the hotel and I would get a good 12 hours of sleep and reset. We would have to come back early the next day and basically start all over again. And, we would have to do it in half the original time as we had other things to shoot as well. It was our only option.

Well, the client was amazingly supportive. They realized this was about what was best for the project, not just me. Everyone felt it was the right thing to do. I got some much needed rest and I think most importantly, a mental break. And the next day? To be honest, it was our most productive day of the entire shoot. We rocked through our entire shot list and felt really good about everything we were getting.

So, what’s the point of this post? I guess it’s about professional responsibility. The quality of my work is my brand. That’s what I have to defend at all costs – sometimes even against myself.

Have you been in a similar situation? What did you do? I’d like to hear your story.

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  1. Cruce Grammatico
    March 5, 2013, 7:45 am   /  Reply

    I just finished 1/2 of 6 day shoot in rural Michigan. I’m doing sound for a WW1 trench film with a decent budget. The shoots were 12 hours long and the temperatures were below 10 degrees with a crazy wind chill. This was technically my first real sound job so I’m not conditioned for wearing a heavy sound bag all day. But don’t fear, I was getting awesome sound and didn’t complain once. My P.A./boom op. was not the same. I watched people quit simply because of the cold and the long hours. No mercy! Keep the blog posts coming!

  2. March 5, 2013, 10:26 am   /  Reply

    Great post Scot! When conditions derail the creative energy needed to do your best work, youve got to pull the plug for a bit in order to get reenergized. Also, I totally agree that your work (deliverables) are your brand, so can’t be compromised without a hit to the brand you’ve worked so hard to build.

  3. March 24, 2013, 3:05 pm   /  Reply

    Just returned from a week overseas in Asia to a day shoot the next day in Manchester. Big jet lag. Very little prep, decided lots of it was going to be shot steadicam. Ended up being long 10minute plus sequences, my shoulders screamed for mercy. People said I looked tired, I said I felt OK. And I thought I did, at the end of the day I was running with my tripod and camera to get the last shots before the light went while others were shivering in their jackets.

    Only later on the train back looking at the rushes did I realise how little variety of the important stuff I got : I think I’d been running on adrenaline but as a result had become very tunnel visioned and hadn’t really taken any opportunities to step back and spend a few minutes thinking about what would work best. Got very depressed on train back to London and next evening slept over 12 hours.

    In the end the footage hasn’t been too bad, but it’s been a big learn. Firstly don’t get too tired because even if you are tired you might not realise till it’s too late. And secondly, don’t look at your rushes when you’re exhausted either 🙂 Get some rest and perspective.

  4. May 3, 2013, 2:45 pm   /  Reply

    My longest “day” in my career was 36 hours, I ate breakfast twice on the same job. That was a very long time ago and it will not happen again. Today, decades later, I know enough to not work till I drop, and when working alone, I don’t even work a full “day” 12 hours. Now I schedule 4~6 hours maximum, things always happen on location, but I know I’m not going to be exhausted when they do. I have been very fortunate to be in control of my schedule and not have a large crew to feed daily, that would obviously change things, but then I would actually have “help” so the day would not seem so long.

    You cannot do the same things in your 50’s that you did in your 20’s !


  5. Mark A Pritchard
    June 7, 2013, 7:30 pm   /  Reply

    Thanks for posting this; it’s not an easy thing to hold your hands up to. My experience is that once you’ve knocked on the door of burnout a few times you become seriously wary of the impact. It can be similar to have a hangover which stalks you for weeks.

    Filming has started to take over the work I do in adaptive change with people. I think anyone who cares about the craft of things will always pour more intent into work than people might imagine. I now force myself to carve daily recovery time. Having prolapsed a disc last year I head to the gym and call it stretching. But honestly I’m napping/meditating and the difference it makes to both pre and post nap is profound.

    I think finding a rhythm which your body and brain will accept is key to keeping that focus in the moment. At least for me…! I’m off to Korea to film a ship being built next. It’ll be interesting to see if I can maintain the discipline of this away from the base….

    Thanks for the site. It really is a massive help as I plunge further into this work.



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