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.