Welcome to Vibrant Visionaries with Heidi Bennett. I’m bringing on a longtime friend who, well, we’ve just really reconnected recently. I want to welcome him on and then we’re just going to kind of let things bubble up and flow as they go so welcome Bryan. This is Bryan Darling.
Well, thanks for having me. It’s been a while.
Yeah, it’s been a while. I’m so stoked to talk with you. We caught up about, I don’t know, a month ago or so.
And I was telling my husband how much I enjoyed our conversation. I said Bryan was on the move and I think he went to a taco truck and got lunch and maybe went and got some coffee and did some banking, and I felt like I was just riding along with him. When you say you want to reconnect with your friends, I don’t think there is any way better to do it than to literally jump right in there and be on the phone with him while they’re going through their daily routine.
Totally, yeah, no, it’s funny. It’s not uncommon, my friends and I do that all the time. I feel like especially in L.A. you’re always on the go, you’re always doing something so it’s very common that when we talk to each other on the phone, we’re driving oftentimes or doing something. You’re multitasking.
Yeah, totally, I do that a lot myself too. In fact, I was thinking about how there’s these images out there, I guess they call them Flat Lay images where you’ll see like an image of an iPhone with headphone sticking out of it. Like your headphones there are usually those little tiny ones that I don’t ever use that come with your iPhone if that’s what you have. And then it’s sitting next to somebody’s little mug of coffee or something, and that’s supposed to represent, I don’t know, somebody who listens to podcasts. I think I’ve never ever, ever listened to podcasts that way, and I was thinking about that the other day because I was running around and doing things and actually I don’t put small earphones into my ears because it hurts my ears.
I either wear really huge earphones or obviously I listen to podcasts in my car and stuff but when I’m just around the house I’ll just carry my phone around with me, and go to use the restroom I take that phone and throw it on the top of my laundry basket and I was thinking, “Now that’s the snapshot.” Like wherever you’re out there listening to this podcast, maybe you’re in the bathroom on a toilet and your phone is on top of your laundry, like-
… that’s not the cute little image that is put out there.
No, absolutely. [laughing] We’re off to such a good start here.
Yeah, just to give people a little tiny bit of background, you and I know each other from when we both lived in Sacramento, California and that was quite a few years ago. Time flies but it was at a pivotal and adventurous time in my life, I won’t go into too many details but I was single and in my 30s and having a lot of adventures and working at a coffee house. One that if you have seen Lady Bird, it is the one that she says she works at. She gets a job at New Helvetia and I was the manager there, and I think we met through New Helvetia. Is that how you remember?
We did. Yeah, we did. No, we did because I used to do the movie nights there or at least I started doing movie nights in the backyard on a 16mm projector, and I remember I needed a place to live and we talked about it and you were like, “You need to check out my apartment building.” And then we became next door neighbors. Do you know what’s funny is I would look back then, I was thinking about rent. One of the most favorite sort of topics to talk about and complain about all at once and sure I think my rent back then was $425 a month or $450, something like that, between $400 and $450 for a two bedroom apartment. I remember that being a lot of money, feeling like a lot of money and I had a roommate and being so worried about being able to pay rent.
When you’re starting to talk about that, I was thinking the number four is definitely coming up in my mind and I was living … And mine was a one bedroom so it was a slightly different layout than yours but it was still a pretty roomy little apartment. It didn’t feel like a hovel, it felt nice, a nice decent sized kitchen and cute bathroom and it had its typical those cute tub and shower combos and some vintage tile. That’s the thing that I definitely really enjoyed about all the different places I lived in Sacramento. I mean, some location’s better than others but those little vintage charm of the bathrooms and the kitchens and stuff but yeah I think mine was around $425 or something like that.
Do you know the year? Because I do. I remember the year.
No, go, tell me. What was the year?
It was 2001.
Oh my God.
And the reason I know that is because we were living there when 9/11 happened.
Oh my god, you’re so right.
So that means that I was living there before that, how far before that I’m not sure but definitely 2001 because that was in September obviously. I remember that because I remember that very vividly, it was also the time when as watching … I would go to Tower Video on Broadway and I would always rent all these silent movies and I was watching a ton of VHS silent movies or multiple cassettes and sitting there. But, yeah, no, I remember that very vividly and that’s how it all started. By the way, we would, I don’t know if you remember this, but we would always go on little jog walks around McKinley Park.
Those jogging shoes at the time were brand new for me, I think those were my first pair of jogging shoes. I only got rid of those about I think three or four years ago, that’s how long they lasted/how much I used them.
Yeah, that’s hilarious. That is hilarious. Yeah, it’s funny. I have specific memories about that apartment and with you and even certain ones I think maybe only ever happened once or twice, but I remember we went grocery shopping once and got everything to make pancakes or waffles or something. And then came back to your apartment and made up a bunch of tasty waffles, and then probably went out on our little jog down to the end of the street.
This morning my friend comes over, she’s moving here, she’s a costumier and she’s transitioning to L.A. and she came over for breakfast and I made pancakes.
So awesome, that is awesome.
So it’s still around.
I remember you did a movie night at least once too at that apartment complex because I remember watching cartoons or something in the back.
Oh, in the back. Yeah, I forgot about that but that’s right, yeah.
I remember having my band play there back there once too so it was like the parking area and so we just invaded that whole space, and had a party and barbecue. I remember somebody brought popsicles and they were just like, “Here’s popsicles, everybody eat them right now.” Because there wasn’t a freezer available or anything.
Yeah, Sacramento was great. It was a great place to grow up and to figure things out and to incubate, and you could do whatever you wanted. It was really very free, it was like that for a long time until I left in 2009. But there was this really magical time, it was very inexpensive to live there. I remember right before the recession all kinds of people were opening up shops like young people opening up all kinds of shops. It was like the rise of hipsterdom in relationship to buying used clothing and then turning it into something, turning it into fashion like redoing it into something … I forget, they used to have a term for that.
That sounds fancy, I’m not sure but it was a very creative time, I made a lot of film, I made a lot of films, I had a studio gallery for a while and bands would play, and it was a really great moment. I’m very thankful for it. I feel like Greta Gerwig with Lady Bird really captured Sacramento and its energy and its city psychology quite well.
Yeah, I thought she did as well and it definitely brought, that movie, brought back a lot of memories about … Because when you are paying that much rent and I do remember another place I rented for $325 and three of us lived there. [Laughing] It was I had lived there earlier on in the, I guess, it was the early ’90s with my boyfriend, Vince DiFiore, who later on went on to be in Cake. And then he and I broke up, I moved out of town and then when I moved back into town he was looking for a roommate and it ended up that we took this two bedroom apartment complex or apartment that was in this space above somebody else’s little apartment. We said, “Well, if we take this front room and turn it into a third bedroom then we can fit this other friend of ours in.” It had two bathrooms and so the three of us were splitting $325 for this place.
That was the magic of it back then too. When you’re young you don’t care, it’s all about money and then at the same time it’s fun to hang out with other people.
Yeah, we had cats, we had a couple of kitties, I had my own bathroom in that bedroom so the guys could have their dude bathroom-
Yeah, that’s a luxury.
… and I could have my girly own bathroom. Yeah, I was in a band, I was working at, I think I was working at the muffin bakery at the time so I was having weird hours, and then going and recording late at night at the Crest Theater. I don’t know, yeah, it was, there was something very freeing about not worrying. There’s a sense of having not all the money that you want but rent isn’t usually the biggest worry.
Yeah, when the cost of living is so low and you’re not struggling per se to make rent or to put food on your table or anything. You can be very creative and do whatever you want. It’s really about learning, you’re discovering yourself and what it’s about, and it’s in a place where you can do that. I think that to me was the magic of growing up there at that time, it was a lot of fun. I think something to take into consideration too like the kind of apartments and the kind of houses we used to live in, a lot of them are older buildings, a lot of Victorians. I lived in a Victorian for a while or at least a really older building so you’d have these very spacious places where you could create lots of bedrooms because it used to be like a den or a separate dining room and there’s all these doors.
So you could literally just pile in a ton of people and everyone would have their room and you’d still have space. Yeah, it was good.
Yeah, it’s funny, now that you say that I remember when I first moved in with Vince and we got that apartment initially as a couple, I was moving out of living at a house that over time we had occupied with I think at certain points there were as little as six of us but as many as eight or 10 of us living in that place. I had had first dibs because I was the person who’d put my name on the rental agreement so I had my own bedroom.
All that seniority.
There were people definitely sleeping in the living room, we had a whole basement that two people had moved into, and yet had again two bathrooms. I think two bathrooms makes a big deal when you’re trying to fit a lot of people in there, and that was across the street from Dorothea Puente before she had been arrested.
Oh, yeah, I remember all of that. Oh, I remember the story now, I remember I was talking about this, yeah, Sacramento.
So, yeah, we were talking a little bit before we started recording I was asking you how should I introduce you, what it is that you do and we laughed a little bit about that because I said I wanted to start this podcast to really talk about what it’s like to be a multi-creative, and what I call I consider multi-creatives, “vibrant visionaries” is the moniker that I decided to use because I feel like, well, first it sounds really nice and positive.
It does, I’m like, “Yeah, I want to be one of those.” That sounds awesome, my ego really wants to be one of those.
Exactly, so there is a little bit of that put in there, and I love alliterations and I thought it would make a nice logo and everything. But I also feel like because I think we can easily stigmatize ourselves into thinking like, “Well, what am I? I do a little bit of this, I do a little bit of that.” Or on a different day you might ask me and it’ll be a different answer. Yeah, so today what are some of the things you identify as “I know I am this and this and this”?
Well, look, I think for a long time it’s been pretty simple, and that is I’m a filmmaker. And then I would say let’s see how long ago, I mean around the time just before I moved to L.A. So just to back up real quick, I moved out of Sacramento in 2009 in May and I moved to San Francisco to basically go back to school which a lot of people did during the recession. This is the height of the recession, I looked around and I was like, “I’m not,” in 2008 I had just turned 30, “I’m not doing the things I set out in life to do.” I had a business, I had made a few short films, I had a relationship, and I had been photographing in these really cool Sacramento gay bars and meeting all kinds of people.
In 2008, I was 30 and I was in a relationship that I wasn’t happy with, it had been just over three years. There was a lot going on but I looked around and I’m like, “I’m not doing what I wanted to do,” which is I wanted to be a filmmaker since a young age. Writing scripts at 9, and I felt like I’ve got distracted or off track. A friend of mine, after I broke up with my boyfriend at the time, a friend of mine’s like, “You need to go to Burning Man with me.” I was really scared, this was so far, I was really scared to go but a few people pushed me to go so I did, I went and it was a very life changing event for me. Mainly in that I really learned the way that people could express themselves and connect with each other in a very personal and emotional way, which was new for me. So it really opened me up when I came back, I just looked around and I was like, “I have to make changes, I have to do something.”
Within a week, I decided to give 30 days notice on my apartment, I bought tickets to backpack in Europe the beginning of the following year. I also decided to apply to San Francisco State to go back to school to pursue a degree in film. I had always been like, “Oh, artists you don’t go to art school or you don’t go to school for it, you just do it.” I made all these changes and within a month had enacted a lot of this. So following my trip to Europe where I went solo for six weeks which was really amazing, staying on people’s couches and meeting all kinds of people there, I moved to San Francisco, I went to school there. At the time I hadn’t made a short film for about six years, I met this 20-year-old who was really precocious and really amazing guy, Patrick, and he pushed me to make a short to the point where he would sit on me and force me to write and come up with these ideas and it bounced off him.
But, yeah, he really forced me to write and he produced it. That film started to go into festivals while I was in college, and then during that same time I made one more short film. So both those films were going into festivals. I had never submitted my work to festivals before, and they were being well received, and in turn I met a director who was making his first feature and asked me to come on to consult with him. I did that and that turned into me becoming the editor and taking over the editing on that. That’s how all of a sudden my direction shifted and I became a film editor. The next thing I know I’m being approached to do a documentary and one thing leads to another. So the last several years I moved to L.A. in 2012, January, and the next few years I worked professionally as an editor making a living but knowing all the time that editing is not what I want to do as a career but really filmmaking is what I wanted to do.
Making/directing films, but I felt by editing I would learn a lot about everything from structure and story, and also to see where directors succeeded in making really great choices but also in learning where problems arose, where challenges, where things that you don’t see because in the edit room you really do see all of that. It was a really great learning space.
When I think about that too I would think that since you’re getting the unedited obviously versions of those films, you also get to see how much is there before it’s edited. How many hours I would imagine that would be also something useful if you’re going in to make a film to know, “Oh, this is kind of the norm or this is-“
Yes, well, also one thing to consider, I was working on a lot of first time filmmakers projects or like a lot of the work I’ve done is mostly with first time filmmakers. So you’re right in one degree but actually what you also pick up is you learn a lot of what they didn’t get. It’s in the same way that we often hold up people like the masters are very successful oftentimes, and success can be more than money for sure but a lot of times the people that we hold up are successful both critically and commercially. Oftentimes these days they’re still alive. They used to not be so they’re commercial critical but a lot of them were. Where was I going with this? Why did I say that? Oh, right, so oftentimes we hold up these masters as these examples of what to be and what success is, and look at their paths, how did they get their? Those are the paths that we should try and follow.
But I find oftentimes you learn far more from people’s mistakes and failures to give you a quick instance. Right before I jumped out on my own in 2004 to go into business, I was working at a business and I had had experience in that field and I actually started a new division for that company. But I watched that business who had an enormously loyal customer base and a really loyal employee base, and I watched what happened when the owner couldn’t let the business be more than himself. So he could never allow the customers and the employees to be the business and he had to control microly everything. Well, what happened over time very quickly I left and a friend of mine, who ran another part of business, we both left to start a business. And then slowly people started to shift and other people started to leave and then customers started to go.
Now because of both technology and other things, that company is a shell of what it was and at its height it was a really amazing community actually. All kinds of events from bands and art shows and everything was going on, movie nights, all these things were happening. It taught me a lot about how to be successful you have to really be able to let go and you have to allow whatever that thing is that you’re doing whether it’s a business, whether it’s making a film, a piece of art, whatever it happens to be, there is a time where you have to allow it to be more than just you. You’re giving it over to those other people whether it’s the viewers or your audience or it’s your customers or it’s the people that are helping you make it.
It starts to become a collaboration because I feel like there’s something out there that I think of it as holding lightly. Like when you’re meditating and you’re being mindful, you’re holding your moment very lightly so you’re letting things drift through ideas but you don’t want to be too attached to those, you just want to let them flow by. But there’s part of you that also or maybe a message you’ve gotten from inside or from outside that’s saying, “Follow your vision, right?”
How do you follow your vision? And yet also once you start to put your vision out there see how it may be evolving in a way that you never expected that could be something quite beautiful and different and that is a collaboration with the customers, with certainly your employees. I’ve definitely worked at places where I’ve thought the initial vision of this person was great but it is starting to shift and similarly that it’s going to die because they’re not seeing the opportunities. They’re there so attached to the outcome that they thought was the true outcome. That actually when I moved to the Bay Area and I found myself working at a coffee house again which the short tie into that is that she had a vision of serving coffee, tea, organic really great high quality stuff.
A few pastries maybe from a local bakery but people started to want to come for the food and I pushed some of the food ideas. And then she started to latch on to the food ideas, and then she got so passionate about serving the community really delicious wholesome food that now she’s opened a restaurant and that restaurant has been open for a year and has been very successful over in Oakland. She started in Alameda with this one idea and then the community rallied around her and gave her some other ideas, and she did go with that.
Well, to me what you’re describing and it’s something that I talk a lot about and it’s something I’ve had to learn and it’s been a focus, a lot of focus of my life which is listening. Really what you’re talking about is she listened to her customers, she listened to her employees, she listened and listening is in my opinion the most important element of the human experience. I’ll give you an example because I would think Vibrant Visionaries and about art and the multihyphenate, we … I’m just going to refer a minute here and you can do it as you please-
Go for it.
… but I think there’s a lot of challenges here. I identify myself in a few different ways, I can look at what the common themes are in my life and that is film and photography. And both come from a place of curiosity, they both come from a place where I want to learn something, I want to learn about the person who I’m interacting with. So, for example, when I’m photographing I photograph a lot in gay bars and queer spaces especially night life. Now that connects to me because it started out as my process to go through to uncover what it meant to be a gay man, what it meant to be in a gay community so it was tied to my understanding of trying to understand my identity in a way that felt both probably safe and creative and just what I connected to.
And so photography became that and it was this avenue that I could go out and escape from other parts of my life and go out and do that. But the people that I would approach, at the time there was a lot of transgender women in going to the Mercantile in Sacramento, and I never knew transgender women, I never knew transgender people. At the time the language was also different and so I would go up and I would start talking to people there and I would ask them, “Hi, who are you? What’s your name?” Now they weren’t used to this, a lot of the people I met were not used to someone just striking up a conversation with them. I think that a lot of times they were used to people wanting something from them, oftentimes sex. But there was this really interesting community that was going on at the time and I was really curious to learn who are you? What are you about? What’s life?
So it taught me a lot and in turn only when it felt right after talking a little bit I would ask, “Could I take your portrait?” Now going forward, all the film projects I’ve worked on as an editor the way I choose the work I do, I want something that is going out there and that is what is empowering people, what is adding something to a conversation all in a creative way. To me everybody that I work with like the key is I have to listen. As an editor, I have to know and one of the first things I do when I’m interviewing I ask a lot of questions, I want to know what the director’s expectations are. I want to know what they want out of this, what they’re looking for. I want to know what the producers want, what the actors want. I want to know, I try to understand as much I can about where everyone is coming from. You understand a lot more of like why things were done the way they were done and also what people’s expectations are when they see this.
So I can use that when I’m editing for instance, and let’s say the scene isn’t what … the scene that they have in mind or what they expected it to be didn’t come out that way and instead I have a different way, I have to justify why this way is better than that way. For me it’s also been a lot of understanding how to communicate and if I know where they’re coming from, so if I know for instance this director wants to go off and direct television, I know that this producer actually wants to be a writer. I know that this actor wants to go to be on television, I know that this producer wants to go on and do movies. These things let me know and so I can be like, “Look, you want to be a writer, editing the scene or keeping the scene this way or making the scene this way will for instance really show the writing in a strong and powerful way. Everyone’s performance will be more strong and on point.”
Yes, maybe that piece of information or that thing you felt was important is not there, but actually in the scheme of things it’s not as important as you think and more so it actually takes the strength away from everything else that’s already so strong here. So what I’m doing in a roundabout way of saying all of this is you have to really be attuned in listening to those that are around you. As an instance with customers or with clients like a great example is this, I’ve been making a documentary for a couple of years now. We started live streaming our editing sessions on Facebook. Now nobody I know was doing this and I wanted to do it as a way to connect to the audience, to find the audience, connect to the audience for them to feel that they’re part of the process because they are. So in turn I started doing this and people started writing what they thought, what their thoughts are, what they felt was missing or what they think it should say or do here or there.
Some people who are creative will be, “Oh my,” like, “Oh, wow, I cannot handle that, people watching me, giving feedback.” To a degree, I can totally understand that. I like to open myself up but I also feel comfortable that I know how to balance or I can balance between what I think is important but also keeping open and knowing that I’m making something for someone else. This is to communicate an idea, is that communication occurring? Is there something I’ve missed out on? So what’s great is I’m getting this direct feedback and these people are now part of the process, so they’re taking a sense of ownership and interest in it. At the same time I’m getting information that’s either validating what I’ve been working on or perhaps there’s another idea that I’ve missed and I can incorporate. Or I can also get a lot of mixed signals which means that this is going to do things for different people and there’s probably no right or wrong just to kind of keep that in mind and keep moving and seeing what happens. Does that make sense?
All of that makes so much sense. I think you started all of that with using the word curiosity and listening and how important listening is. When I think about curiosity and listening makes me think about something I’m really passionate about which is what I call compassionate communication. And that’s a huge part of compassionate communication is being able to be still enough and out of your head enough, your own had enough to be able to listen and truly hear what it is the other person says. But if you’re not quite understanding, being able to articulate and ask more questions so that you really clarify that you understand. And then you quite eloquently then talked about how beneficial that is to you as an editor you get to bring in your own intuition and your skill and use what you’ve learned and heard from these different directors that you’ve worked with, what their goals are.
You’re helping them achieve what it is that they want to achieve because you started by truly understanding what it was that they wanted, and that can be really useful. But the examples you gave that overarching, say value that they’re trying to get out of it. Like I frame a lot of things and like what our values are. If their value or their goal is to become somebody that’s working in television or the different examples you gave, you’re saying, “I’m aligning with that value by doing this. This is why I made this decision because of what you said.” And then they can articulate back to you, “Oh, wow, thanks, I forgot or I get sidetracked easily,” or, “Oh, my values have changed, actually, that’s no longer as important to me.” But you starting by listening to them makes you a great asset, and part of their collaborative process they get to start trusting you more and more as they go.
And then I think you talking about coming in with curiosity to some place like the Mercantile and asking questions that are very open-ended, in your head you may know five steps from now I’m hoping to take this person’s portrait but let’s start with this, who are you?” Saying that in an open and friendly way you know somebody might be closed off and might not want to have anything to do with you. But you’re also giving them an opportunity to share how they see themselves in the world and not you placing, “I can’t tell if they are a trans person or how they like to be …” We can get really uptight or feel confused when we’re not sure who people are or how they identify, and it can be quite easy if you do you just say, “So who are you?”
I love that idea but, yeah, all of it comes down to this listening part which is why I love podcasting. I want to hear people’s stories and sure I’m going to come in and bring in my point of view or my response to those stories but I’m really here to learn from you.
Yeah, I think life at least my sort of philosophy on life is life is really a learning experience, and it sounds so cliche in a sense but I really truly mean like life is about learning and discovery and it is full of anxiety. Most everybody I know who is creative has anxiety and I would say that I didn’t think that most people actually have anxiety, I think most people how it expresses within themselves that’s different for sure. I think that being creative and trying to live a creative life for whatever that means and that’s a whole thing really what it means about is living in an unknown space. In turn, that unknown space can really trigger anxiety, and to me it’s about living with an anxiety.
So I think like the more that you live in a creative space in life, the more that you have to come to terms and really think about and process your anxiety. Now I know people who run a very large spectrum from this and I’ve experienced it, I have my own versions of this, but I’ve also experienced other people’s versions. So a lot of what we’re trying to do I think … again all this when I say what we’re trying to do it’s like what I’m trying to do.
But is really trying to figure out how do I put that anxiety away or how do I utilize that anxiety in a way that’s productive and creative because oftentimes that same anxiety that we’re trying to get rid of or we think is bad or a weakness is actually what fuels or is connected to the fueling of the creative expression. So whether that comes out through painting or whether that comes out through writing or podcasting or in my opinion even business is this way, entrepreneurship. I think the learning experience like life whether we use these different tools, like listening is one tool that we use, are really about finding out how we can live a life where the anxiety doesn’t overpower our ability to succeed as a creative person in whatever we decide at that point in time is our version of expressing that creative life. Does that make sense? It’s a very like new to balancing between up here and down here.
Well, I think that’s what it is, though, I think it is the balancing out because people are going to hear me use the word compassion a lot because that’s something that I have been studying and then playing around with and practicing. The shorthand version of what compassion is, is just is paying attention to and understanding that there is suffering going on. When it comes to anxiety, anxiety can oftentimes feel like suffering and it’s not about being balanced in life like this crazy life, “I want to feel a sense of balance and everything.”
Yeah, I don’t believe you’re ever going to find … Not to sidetrack you for one second but I have a lot of friends and we talk a lot, it’s also I live in L.A. This whole life, spiritual, work balance thing, I have friends who are very successful business people who spent a lot of time trying to figure this out. Their entire life is trying to figure that out and I think one thing you learn is, and whatever your religious spiritual connections are, I think what you learn is that it’s processed. Meaning you never obtain it, when you obtain it, you’re dead, right? In my opinion, you could never fully obtain this perfect balance, that’s the whole point. The point is to continue to work towards, it’s a process.
Yeah, I love those words, process of discovery, I also think of a word that I heard a lot and now feel like I understand a little more is maybe achieving some resilience. When I think of resilience, I think, “Okay, I still may feel anxious or I still may go off the deep end at a certain point but I have learned tools or ways to check in with myself so that I am not there as long as I used to be.” I’m not in a state of paralysis or depression for as long as I was before, it is about going through the emotions. Part of working for yourself, even with scheduling and such, is that there is a lot more of that that you’re aware of, that combinations of imposture syndrome or feeling guilty because you have time to think and process that other people don’t.
You need to get comfortable with the discomfort, the unknowing, the emotional responses that you’re not quite sure what they’re going to be until they’re sometimes just upon you or waving, cresting and waving over you.
I think of that more as resilience and knowing some of the process is going to be discomfort and pain and sometimes you can use that and hopefully you can use that to propel you forward and accomplish many things. And then other times you want to find those restful times that can help you move forward in your business goals and all those kind of practical things.
Yeah, I would say connected to what you’re saying about that, it’s also like you have to give yourself permission to feel depressed, to feel anxious. You have to in the sense of like it’s okay because the only way that you’re going to get through it is by admitting it to yourself and allowing yourself to go through it. I’ll tell you like I’ve been going through my own version for a little while now. For me, it’s interesting, right before every year happens and I’ve noticed this over the last few years, something happens because I think about the year coming. There’s this time of year in December … November, December where all of a sudden the year in review things start popping up everywhere, right?
I start thinking about what next year is going to be like, what my year had been like, what my next year is going to be like, and I have this prediction of what every year is going to be. For instance, going in one year, one year I had edited this web series called Her Story which surprisingly got a nomination for an Emmy. It was the first year that they had done Emmys for digital series, that’s what web series are called, and so we were very excited to go. It was very magical. By the way, just so you know, you have to pay to go. It’s very expensive overall. It’s like I was like, “I don’t have a suit, I need a suit.” Anyways, I knew that this year was going to be a very good year because of all these things that were happening.” It was going to be a very high year. I was going to feel very high, things were going to happen.
And then coming out of that I felt like, “Oh, things will be a little easier now that this thing’s gotten an Emmy, work will be a little easier.” But time goes by and as it’s like now I’m like, “Oh, it’s not going to be quite that. I’m going to need to get back into the hustle and figure things out.” That next year which I believe was 2016 I was at a point where I was looking for something, to edit something, more. What I mean by more is I had a lot of freshman projects with freshman directors and I was ready for something a little more median. I thought, “Oh, this will be easier.” But it wasn’t kind of happening. At the same time I was making a film and I needed something and so in the end it’s going through and work wasn’t coming and I was getting really anxious. It had been a couple of months or so and I was offered a position to come in as an associate editor in a documentary.
Now this was this director’s fifth movie maybe. Now I wasn’t going to be an editor and I was upset about that, I was like, “I should be the editor.” But the deal that I ended up with I turned it down about three or four times but the deal in the end was that I would make as much as I did editing at the time and that I would be working under this really cool editor. To be honest with you, it wasn’t creative like it wasn’t a creative job, it was a really technical job. Now I’m really good at the technical but the money was going to be very consistent and very well for almost the rest like nine months. So I made a deal with myself, I said, “You know what, look, you can take this, you’re going to take this but you have to make this other movie. You have to make your own work, you have to do this because if you don’t you’re never going to get it done.
So I used it as an opportunity because what it didn’t do is it didn’t take up a lot of my creative energy. When I worked on editing other people, I had to give everything of myself over to it, this I didn’t, and what it left is it left room for my creative self to work on my own project. Now was I able to devote 100% of the time to it? No, but I was having a consistent income that wasn’t requiring a lot of my creative energy and I felt very comfortable, it was very good actually. I have this consistent income, things are okay, I’m not stressing out, I can work on this, and I also didn’t need the film that I was making to have an immediate income like raise money for it and have this money and really feel like it needed to support me.
I came out of that year and I took off. I took off for four weeks traveling in Southeast Asia, I now have a rule, I try to spend one month a year traveling and usually January is the year because it’s the slowest. But I went and I really thought about things and I came back and I devoted almost pretty much full time for the next year to the documentary that I was making. But I still needed to make some money and what I did is I said, “You know what, I don’t want to edit other people’s movies anymore. I don’t want to edit other people’s stuff because of the requirement of how much creative energy I have to spend in it that leaves me depleted from my own work.” I transitioned into doing corporate video work, something that before I’d be like, “Oh, no, that’s awful. I’ll never do that.” But the rate of pay was much higher actually than independent film, especially, if you can make it consistent.
The consistent part is more difficult because especially what I was doing was I knew I was transitioning, it was a year of transition in a sense where I was transitioning into another field of which I had no network for. I had to build a new network, it’s like starting a new business in a way. But, meanwhile, I was able to put so much energy and move the movie forward in a really great way. Now coming near the end of last year, 2017, the movie was not where I thought it would be. Movies take a lot of time, they generally take five years and they can take more or less but roughly they usually take about five years. You have to allow it to take as long as it takes, you need to keep moving forward with it but you need to not rush and you need to listen to it and you need to be willing to change and to be fluid about it.
Anyways, it came out that year and I was like, “Wow, so I went on another trip as I did.” I had, literally this time though, I had no money, no work, no money, no prospective money coming in but I was able to get a ticket for $150 because I had points. I just went and I went some where over in Southeast Asia, it’s very inexpensive to be there. I went because I just felt like, “Well, hell, I don’t have any money, it’s not going to cost me really anything, and I’m not going to make money while I’m here so I might as well just go.” But I realized that the next year, this year, was going to be a year of building, and that’s what I called it. It was I’m going to be building a lot of new things.
So here I am, I am days away from my 40th birthday. I look back, it’s like, “Am I where I thought I would be when I had this same discussion at 30?” The answer is, “No, I’m not.” But the difference is, is that I understand the process more and my expectations and what I want out of life has changed somewhat. So now I stand on the verge, I’m still working on these films, it’s going to take a while, I need to make money, I don’t want to edit other people’s movies anymore. I have my photography which I keep mostly for myself, although, I’ve just recently launched a wedding photography business because it’s a space where I can express myself and connect with people and do it in a unique way that I can also generate an income from but that takes a while.
In the meantime what I decided is you know what, I saw a position at a company, a startup media company, a new content company that’s very exciting and I noticed they had a creative producer position open in L.A. My friend had recently gotten a job in San Francisco doing this and I was like, “Well, if he can do it I can do it.” So I reached out to him and he immediately connected me with the recruiter. The next day I had a call, it went very, very well. They were like, “But you have a lot of post-production background and not a lot of producing background.” Well I said, “I know but that’s a big asset and also having made films and making films and doing these docs, I have to create pitch decks, I have to do a lot of research. There’s a lot of I have to negotiate contracts, I do all these things. I’ve done business, all this.”
They gave me a project to do, I did that project, turned out they loved the project and through the hurdles I have one last hurdle, it keeps getting pushed back. The last interview it was supposed to be Thursday and now it’s Friday and all through that. But it’s the first I was like, “Wow, there is the chance of me being able to do something else and go in a new way.” And normally I would never do this because to me it’s like, “Oh no, it’s a corporate job. Oh, it’s just failing.” I’ve had a lot of talks with friends and other people, and as a side note one of the things that I wanted to say is your support network is so critical. I have friends who are very wealthy, I have friends who are very wealthy in life experience. I have amazing artists, amazing business people, and just regular old people that we just talk about silly things and play UNO together.
But it’s really important because it provides perspective and a support in those times where things you don’t know like where I’m at, what I’m doing, what do I do. I had some conversations, some people are like, “You’re framing this wrong.” Yes, you could look at this way but really if it gives you an emotional security for a little bit, that’s fine. You don’t have to do it forever, which is true you don’t. But more so it’s going to introduce you to a whole next level of networks and contacts. These people that are in Hollywood, these people that are in making things on a scale that I’ve never been able to work on before because it’s the freshman work. But all that freshman, all that work that I did, I would never be able to go after this job if it wasn’t for all of that other work that I had done. Where will I be a year from now? I don’t know, I’m still working on my films, I still love my photography, I’ve been encouraged to have a show, we’ll see.
But I think instead of everything having to be a very concrete product, a very specific, “You must have a show, you must make a book, this movie must come out on this date, this thing must do that.” The minute you can be maybe it’s not so much about these things, these product-based goals, but maybe it’s about learning-based goals. Maybe it’s about what I learn and how I get there and what I do with it and checking in to see, “Am I happy about that?” In turn the more that I take that approach, I will reach those same goals, I just may not reach them on March the 24th.
There’s so much written about how to reach your goals and it’s usually productivity hacks.
Yeah, there’s no hacks in life by the way.
That’s a thing I think what you’ve … we’ve spent just about an, oh my gosh, yeah, just about an hour talking and you’ve covered a lot of wonderful areas about this creative process and that I think those milestones somebody else might see you and say, “Oh, so Bryan, I ran into him the other day, he’s got this corporate job.” Like there might be somebody judging that, but if you’re not judging that and that you’re seeing what the opportunities are, what I’m hearing consistently from you are making decisions that aren’t from fear and making decisions that are have opportunities in them and that you are also saying, “Oh, wow, there’s all these different skills I’ve learned because of these different jobs I’ve had and they’re going to …”
This editing job, you so eloquently laid out for us was an opportunity for you to edit for somebody else but also have a timeline for an amount of time you’d also be able to work on your own project, and not be thinking, “This other project has to be the money maker.” It’s a combination of giving yourself parameters but also being flexible with the process and not knowing how long that process is going to take. That’s how we make the best art.
Yeah, and I think just to bring this to a boiling point, there’s so much pressure to tie what we do creatively into a financial success or into allowing us to make a living this way that we connect small business or being an entrepreneur into connecting that with our creative work. Look, it can totally be done, there’s nothing wrong with it but at the same time there’s nothing wrong with it not being that. I think we place a lot of expectations on ourselves, I know I have, that in order to be a successful person, creatively, I need to also be able to derive an income from that, that supports me. That way I’m living as an artist, I am an artist, or I am a filmmaker. It’s very tough. I think that it’s not to say that it can’t be done, it totally can.
People are all over the spectrum and I think that what’s more important is to understand that just as much as anything else as this is all a process, it’s all a learning experience, and how long that process takes to get to a tangible product on the other end that you feel meets the expectations that you set up. How long that will take? No one can tell you. You don’t even quite know and I think it’s about giving yourself this permission of flexibility, you still keep working on it but you have to be flexible. It’s a very fine balance because there’s other times you can just like, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Then in that case well I’ll just not do this.” The only way you’ll know is by doing it and having those experiences where you burn out, where you succeed, where you fail, where you … you have to have all of that, and that’s really what it is.
You just keep going and you figure it out and you have people around you who really support and care about you even if it’s only one person and they’re on the internet somewhere. You have to find something out there. I was really lucky, mine were mostly teachers. I would have a teacher here, a teacher there that really saw something that really supported me and that really made a huge difference. I think we try to find those things. It’s, yeah, you have to listen to yourself and give yourself permission to not be perfect and to screw up and to have moments where life is going to be really high and really awesome and moments where it’s going to be so low and you have no idea where the rent’s going to come from. But you just keep doing it, you’ll figure it out, you’ll figure your version of it out.
Everything you’re saying is so important. You talked about your community, your supporters, and there was a certain point in my life where I finally was in a position where I said, “Oh, now I can lead a band and that will be my occupation. I will be a band leader, I’ll get together some great musicians here in the Bay Area. We’ll do weddings, we’ll do corporate, we’ll do clubs, all these different things.” I know the music that I want to play, I’m not a writer but I like to cover more obscure rhythm and blues and soul and stuff that people really like, oldies and jazz, oh, the kind of stuff people love at weddings that are crowd pleasing music.
The long and the short of it is once I started working on it, there were certain elements that were satisfying but ultimately I realized, “Oh, this isn’t what I want to do.” That was shocking to me, it was shocking to people around me, and then people identified, “Oh, you’re Heidi, you’re the singer. You’re not doing that, then who are you?”
Yeah, your identity. That is a whole-
I don’t know how to identify with you and there’s these little deaths that came around that. Yeah, and then rebuilding through working with mentors and friends and working with a coach which is what I did for a long time and ultimately how I decided I wanted to be a coach. I couldn’t do any of that without my own personal resilience and then also having friends around, and when I didn’t have enough of that network around it was dark times. I was depressed and lonely and it was rough.
Yeah, we isolate ourselves because we feel like we need to solve this stuff ourself. We’re independent, we’re this person, we don’t want to trouble people, also it proves to us that we can do it but the key is that nobody does anything in a vacuum and everyone is supported. Some people are supported through trust funds and they can go out there and do whatever they like. Some people are supported through a contact you have at a company who can help you get a job or contact at a venue who can help you secure that gig as a photographer or as a wedding band. I think something that you touched on, and I just want to pick up real quick, is this thing where you were like, “I’m going to be a band leader, no, we’re going to get these jobs, we’re going to get corporate, we’re going to get wedding.”
It’s very easy to play these stories in our head, “okay, I have this idea like I’m going to be a photographer, like I’m a photographer. That’s what I do, so I need to make money so I’m going to do weddings, I’m going to do family portrait, I’m going to do this, do that.” Now that’s great and we start to imagine and we see it in our heads, we see ourselves taking pictures or singing music in front of these people. But what’s so interesting is to then take that and to translate that into reality, there’s a lot of hard work. You and a lot of other people out there want to be bandleaders and want to play this. You and a lot of other people out there who want to be a photographer and will do weddings. I’ve been researching the wedding market, it is so saturated and everything looks the same. How do you do it? You go, “Well, I’ll differentiate myself, I’ll look different.”
But it’s more than that, you have to do a lot of research and a lot of work, it’s a full time job, it’s a job. It’s never going to be 100% pleasurable ever, no, nothing you ever do is going to be 100% pleasurable. If it’s so unpleasurable or so disillusioning or so taking away from it, that’s something to listen to. It’s not that you can’t be a bandleader, it’s just that maybe being a bandleader and doing weddings and doing it professionally in that way might not be for you, there may be something else. And it’s finding what you connect with that you can do in a way that supports yourself that you can even through the hard work you still feel like you’re getting something out the other side.
Now whether that’s a life coach for artists, creatives, where it’s becoming a lot of your life and will become … that you’ll holistically live that way, or whether it’s that you have a different way that you make money through some other job and you go and you and your band practice on the weekends and at night and you play gigs and you have a great time, or you photograph in the bars.
I think this has just been a totally fascinating conversation.
I think just there’s just certain words I heard over and over again from you and I love the idea of finding your community and being flexible and taking these trips. I think taking a trip out of the country if you can also just changes your perspective so much and then getting wisdom from friends where they’re saying, “Hey, here’s a different way you could look at this as an opportunity.” That starts helping us see, “Oh, these different things are opportunities, they’re potential opportunities.” That’s huge when you’re making these decisions about what it is you want out of your year and I like the idea of choosing words too like building, “This is going to be a building year.” It really helps frame out that year in an exciting way that is open to interpretation and then open to who knows what.
Yeah, I completely agree. It’s just so important I mean when we were talking before about there’s so much out there about hacks and how to do this and how to do that, and the easy way. Oftentimes, what they’re really doing is trying to have you reframe your mind or giving you these tools, these little like spend five minutes a day or 10 minutes always writing just whatever comes to mind. These are really good but you have to zoom out and look at again this holistic way of how you look at yourself. I just think in the end there’s just this way that you have to give yourself a lot of room to maneuver in life. So much of what we take in from television and the media and everything around us like social media is such a prime way of this. Social media is branding like we’ve all become really good at branding and storytelling and short ways.
So it looks like, “Wow, that person’s always traveling.” People look at me like, “Oh, you’re always traveling.” I’m like, “Well, no, I just spread my images out over the course of several months because that’s how I curate my platform. That’s a form of expression for me is Instagram and it’s a space that I get to do whatever I want and I don’t have to worry about it. But when you hear these stories and I went out and did this and I got that, and it’s all very curated and edited and it sounds great. I’m just going to tell you that most of the people that I know when you actually sit down and talk about the process about how they got to where they are or what that thing how they’re like, “Oh, I’m here or there.” It’s so unsexy, it’s so much more full of a much longer story that’s tied to so many things that have come behind them.
You don’t get all of that in an image of a tweet or when it’s #blessed, which I can’t stand. It really is and so in the same way that when we’re young and we grow up with movies an we’re like, “Oh, this is what romance is. This is what relationships are.” It’s not that way and life is never that way, and the moment that we can really admit that or find a place for that where there’s a peace with that, then it makes it easier to start doing the more long-term work of getting where you need to be and finding those little moments along the way. It is those little moments on the way, what I call the little successes like as a quick example, making this documentary I’ve been working with a friend of mine who’s never made a film. He’s used to things happening, he’s a graphic artist, so he creates something and it’s done within hours, days, or a week or so.
This idea that a film like he’s like, “When will the film be done? We need to be done this year.” I’m like, “Well, actually, we just shot an interview or actually we just booked an interview or we got said no to.” No is a success, no is a success in knowing that that’s not going to happen so we’re going to find another way. It’s having a shoot or having a phone call or making a partnership or those little things, that’s the markers of success. At the end, when you have the movie, I’ll just tell you this because I know this, when you have a movie and it’s on a screen, that’s not the success, that’s actually the let down.
Because you’re done, it’s over with, it’s out of here, you’re like, “Oh, what am I doing next?” The problem is some people already are on to the next thing before they finish the first thing. But fundamentally by the time the big thing that you thought was “the it” is out there, they’re done, “Oh,” and you’re like, “Whoa, what now? Whoa.”
Right. The process is the thing.
Process, that to me in the end life is the process, life is the journey, it’s-
… as much as I always find these cliches with it, that it’s so true, I know. It’s the thing I want to share so much when I talk with friends who I see struggling and we all have our moments, and it’s just like breathe and let it go and always know I’m here for you.
Yeah, that’s great.
We’re all going to make it, we’re all going to do it, and I think the more that we do that for each other, we’re never going to have this magical land where everyone gets along and there’s no war. But the more that you keep doing this type of thing and be there for people and listen, look at things as a process and a journey, and the more that you have a chance of leaning a little bit into that, getting a little closer to that place. And everyone else gets to go along with each other.
I like that. Well, let’s end on that nice little note there or slip. Let that be our button.
Sounds good to me.
So, yeah, speaking of social places, you mentioned Instagram, where is it that you like to point people when it comes to sharing what it is you’re doing?
Yeah, we’ll call it a day and thanks again Bryan and I’ll definitely would love to have you back and hear how these projects are working for you.
Awesome. Well, thanks Heidi. You know what, I’m just I’m so excited for you and for the podcast and for what you’re doing in life, so congratulations, it’s awesome.
Well, thank you. Thank you so much. All right, we’ll see guys next time.