The second day of shooting my short film ROADTRIPPING WITH DIA was easily one of the top ten most stressful days of my life. With the cast and crew all on-set (and on my dime) for sixteen hours straight, the challenges, tech and creative decisions soon compounded into a roaring wave of self doubt that nearly crushed me into the ground and dislocated my heart.
I thought the wooded path I selected to shoot the first scene was an ideal spot. Hardly any people, in a wide ravine, with a twisting path and a ton of trees everywhere. But somehow I missed something very important on my scouting mission— the trail was literally right underneath Seattle’s flight path. As it turns out, the ravine amplifies the sound. And our lovely airport was just named the fourth busiest in the country. That translates to a jet engine roaring overhead every sixty seconds or so.
This obviously didn’t work, so we cruised across town to another park. This spot was dead quiet. Perfect. Except half the crew got lost getting there. Then, when we were all set up and ready to shoot, four shiny school busses pulled up and dropped off a hundred screaming fifth graders. I shit you not.
After filming at another part of the park, we headed back to my place to do the scenes in my apartment. Apparently my neighbor thought this would be a great day to do some pressure washing. At high volume.
Ya know that feeling in your heart, or maybe in your belly, when you’re staring down into the abyss? You’re not there yet. But you’ve got a clear view. One more step and you’ll tumble into something that’s not easy to get out of— the dark heart, the despair, the feeling of absolute overwhelm.
Sometimes the world just hands us these moments as we’re going through our days. Sometimes we kind of ask for it.
In this case, I asked for it. In fact, I worked for months on the script, casting, and everything else to make this day possible. I want to make movies. And this is how it’s done. But several times during this particular day, I felt like quitting. Crying. Running far, far away. That’s what it feels like from the edge of the abyss.
Sometimes this is the appropriate response. Usually it isn’t. The decisions we make and the action we take in these moments define our lives.
When I was a fifth grader, I played a game of kickball with my dad, my bros and a few kids in the ‘hood. My team was getting destroyed, slaughtered, decimated. It was something like 34 to 2, with two innings left. I couldn’t take it anymore. I stormed to the sidelines in disgust of myself, my team and the humiliating score of this particularly memorable sporting event.
My dad pulled me aside so the other kids couldn’t see. He got in my face. Bigtime. With a thundering voice that meant business. “Never quit until the game is over! You give it everything you’ve got even if you’re losing! Do you hear me?”
I heard him. And I haven’t given up on whole lot of things (before they were over) since that fateful day.
When it became obvious that it wasn’t gonna happen under the flight path, and those kids clouded the quiet with a hundred unstoppable voices, and the guy with the pressure washer was blasting the crap off the side of the building at full volume, it would have been much easier to quit. But somewhere in my little freaking out brain cell I heard my dad’s voice.
I stepped away from the group. Breathed in real deep a bunch of times. Remembered that this is just a moment, an experience, a little piece of the story called Jeff’s Life. And then I made a conscious decision to become the hero of my own movie. Instead of quitting or running, I was gonna problem solve this thing to the finish line. We were gonna make this movie one way or another. Even if it sucked.
Another deep breath and I was back in the game. We kept filming until close to midnight. We finished just minutes before another neighbor called the cops.
I have no idea what’s gonna happen with this project. Film festivals? Maybe. Academy awards? Not likely.
In a bunch of ways, the future of this thing doesn’t really matter that much. What matters is making it.
When it gets hard in your life, in your creative pursuits, in whatever… step back and breathe. Overcome the overwhelm. You can do it.
We’re all so much stronger than we think. And when we make these decisions and take these actions, we push the edge. We become bigger. We become winners in whatever games we’re playing. Even if there might be some screaming kids on the soundtrack. Or you get your ass beaten to the ground in kickball.
What strategies do you use to overcome the overwhelm?