Frame of Mind: Boundaries

I’ve been kicking around ideas of what to write about for the next installment of Frame of Mind. And, while I have several ideas/topics I want to discuss, I don’t yet have a cohesive sense of how to articulate those ideas… Yet. It usually takes a little while for the ideas to fully formulate. However, while eating breakfast this morning, per my usual routine, I was looking for a good cinematography breakdown to watch before I commence the day editing, emailing, etc when I stumbled upon a great four minute video from Director of Photography, Oliver Stapleton, BSC courtesy of one of my favorite YouTube channels, CookeOpticsTV. The title is “How to Build Endurance In the Film Industry”. Honestly, I thought it was going to focus on the issues of getting knocked down nine times and getting up 10. In a shocking turn of events, I was wrong. Who’d of thunk that?!

Boundaries are wildly important. Especially for me. Unfortunately, I tend to apply no boundaries for myself which has led to a lot of very frustrating situations (this is one of many reasons why I am currently in therapy). Having a life outside of work is also very critical for me, too. I’ve been in this shit professionally (being PAID by clients full-time) since 2007. It’s now 2021. That’s 14 years. In that 14 year span, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go, or get sucked up into the “culture” (by culture, I mean the cool guy club) and become a very different person from who they were when they started. Roger Deakins, ASC and his wife James were just talking about this very thing on a recent episode of their podcast with Nomadland cinematographer, Joshua James Richards. It’s vital to have a life outside of your work and to be a normal person. 

While I’ve always been a pretty quiet and shy individual which is often perceived by others as me being a colossal dickhead, I’ve always been very good about having a life away from the camera (I think). Growing up in Huntington Beach, CA, going to public school, and racing dirtbikes, I was pretty much removed from the moto scene. We’d practice on Saturday and race on Sunday. RARELY did we ever go to the track during the week because I was in school and the adults in my life had jobs. And, thankfully, we all knew I wasn’t going to be Jeremy McGrath. Growing up, I was always very small and, usually, the smallest in my class. Nobody believed I raced dirtbikes because I was so small, so I had this weird double life: go to school and hangout with my friends during the week, and then go to the track on Saturday and Sunday. It’s always been this way. Even now in my career, I keep to myself. I show up to whatever shoot I have, get it done, and then head back home to my wife, dog, friends, etc. I don’t run in any cliques in the moto film scene, I don’t really speak with anybody in my field. I just do my thing, keep to myself, and leave. It’s mostly because that is how my personality is, but It’s also partly by design.

‘Ol Art Dog himself on a dirt scooter. Circa 2004, 125 intermediate, at the former El Cajon Zone in El Cajon, CA. Look at that style ladies and gentlemen.

My two best friends from high school are still my two best friends to this day. We met our freshmen year of high school in 2001. They’ve been through it all with me: the girlfriends, the jobs, the racing, the film career, my short-lived and utterly failed attempt at community college, and more. One reason they are my best friends: they knew I raced and that I took it very seriously, but they didn’t give a shit. Not in the sense of them thinking it was stupid, we just never made that a topic of imperative discussion. Even now within my cinematography career, they are aware of what I do, athletes I work with, etc. Yes, we talk about it, but it’s more like a quick check in to see how things are going and then we move on to important topics like dick jokes and how we need to start a Blink 182 cover band that we’ve been talking about since 2001. It’s very important for me to have that separation and remain grounded. Because, at the end of the day, we are a bunch of nobodies pointing cameras at almost somebodies who think they are untouchables. 

One more of Art Dog on a scoot scoot. Circa 2005, still a shitty 125 intermediate, but we switched brands for ’05. Also at the former El Cajon Zone. Photo: Will Topete

So, four paragraphs have been wasted on my latest diary entry and I am just now getting to my point, which is based off of the interview from Oliver Stapleton about endurance in the film industry. The job that we have has a physically demanding element to it. We are often lugging around a camera that is far too heavy and far too expensive at a dirt lot in very extreme conditions. Hot, cold, rain, snow; you name it, we are in it. Walking, running. Running, walking. We put in miles. When I was racing, I was in great shape. When I quit racing, I was no longer in great shape. The cheeseburger diet was out of hand and a pouch grew where my stomach once was. Over time, that has diminished, however, my cardio was completely lost. I remember being on a DC Shoes shoot circa 2013, hiking up some hills while shooting Tyler Bereman alongside stills photographer, Garth Milan. I was completely gassed. Breathing heavy, no energy. I knew I needed to make some changes. But, those changes still took a long time for me to fully implement. And, by long time, I mean like years. 

In his interview with Cooke Optics, Stapleton talks about the importance of physical exercise and also a form of meditation. I will argue that a scripted narrative set (as a DP) maybe a bit more physically demanding and mentally demanding then going to Pala for a dirtbike shoot. A scripted narrative gig is usually a 12-hour day and then you add in some overtime and you are pushing 14-to-16-hour days. Yes, we here at also pull these types of hours. However, in the narrative world, you aren’t responsible for just yourself. You are also responsible for your entire camera department and your entire grip and electric department. You are working closely with your director at all times to talk through a scene, a shot, a lens decision, a lighting decision; I could go on and on. You are working with your production designer and art department to make sure everything is in the place it needs to be. Essentially, as a DP on a narrative gig, you are at the tip of the Speer, always, always, always in communication with somebody to answer or ask questions. And, this doesn’t include the prep process prior to production. That’s a whole other animal. There is a level of intensity and creative output that is widely taxing and, when that feature, short, or episodic wraps on that last day, that is when you realize you haven’t taken a breath in a four days, a week, a month, six months; however long your production is/was. Basically, it’s a proper situation. 

Director of Photography, Oliver Stapleton, BSC, talks about the importance of your physical health in order to stay active as a cinematographer as you become older.

Exercise is important in general, but within our line of work, I would argue it’s very imperative in order to help you keep moving throughout a long day on any set. It wasn’t until 2016 that I really started to work on getting back into some sort of shape. By 2017, it became VERY consistent to the point where it is now a part of my every day routine. In doing so, I lost about 12lbs, which was my goal. I am a big runner. Not fast and not great, but I really enjoy running. There is a suffer to it that I appreciate. In 2019 I ran 400 miles for the year. In 2020, I ran 600 miles total for the year and knocked out a goal to run 100 miles in one month. In 2021, my goal is to run 800 miles for the year. This is a boundary that I’ve created for myself over the years. I knew that in order for me to be more efficient at my job, I needed to get back into shape and step up my cardio. Not only that, it’s an insanely important aspect of removing myself from the stresses and pressures of my job. My runs are a place where I put in my headphones, blast my music and ignore all texts, emails, and calls and mentally, emotionally, and physically reset myself. 

Art Dog putting in fit bod miles as he attempts to reach his 800 mile running goal for the year. Yo, Art Dog, real men run 10-miles a day at a sub five minute mile. Get it together!

The older I become, the more I realize how imperative this aspect of my life is. Not only for my overall health, but also for my health within my chosen career path. It allows me move through the longer days with a little more ease and a lot less huffing and puffing. I will have to admit that since I started seeing a psychologist early this year, it has been a mentally and emotionally taxing process that has caused me to do more emotional eating of fast food then I would prefer. It’s also caused me to fall off of my training regime a little bit. But, my therapist made it clear this would potentially be part of the process in order for my brain to begin its healing process and, she was not wrong. I am working on getting my emotional eating habits under control, getting more consistent with my runs (I am currently at 259 miles for the year. I have some work to do to hit that 800 mile mark come December 31st, but I’ll get there), and shedding the little pouch that has reappeared a bit in 2021. 

Art Dog has been candidly and openly sharing his mental health journey via Instagram. Give him a follow to see how his journey is going, and don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions if you have them.

Moral of the story: set boundaries. Go exercise. Don’t let your entire life be dominated by a singular thing. Letting this job interfere with family, friends, your physical health and your mental health is not at all worth it. This job as come very close, several times, to completely destroying some of my personal relationships because I couldn’t tell this job no. In therapy, I am learning that I need to be able to say no and that it is okay to say no, and that my lone wolf mentality of not running in the cliques and keeping to myself is actually okay. In the words of David Goggins, “Nobody cares what you did yesterday. What have you done today to better yourself?”

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