The downtime in between projects tends to leave creatives in the indie film world in a bit of dispirited suspension. The quest for the foolproof script, barriers of financing, procurement and scheduling of cast and crew, and a plethora of other variables can warrant long periods of time without stepping foot on set. Then there are external circumstances, such as an indefinite moratorium on the industry as a whole (you know, our past year in a nutshell), that spawn insecurity in every sense of the word. Thankfully, there are many things a filmmaker can do to stay sharp and geared up for the next opportunity to be on set. Think of the following as a self-care kit for the filmmaker.
There are the basics of self-care, to ensure a healthy mental, emotional, and physical state of being. These apply to everyone. Hydrate. Nourish your body with proper food that enables you to sustain energy, while agreeing with your system. Practice appropriate sleep hygiene. Set boundaries. Speak kindly to yourself. Set in motion daily, weekly, monthly, routines. Carve out time for yourself. Find your tribe. Get into nature. The list really does go on.
Then there are the practices that specifically help navigate the complexities of being a freelancer, an artist, a creative mind and spirit. We need a supplemental cocktail of nurturing, guidance, and pacifying of the mind. That is where the following plays a part.
CLEAR YOUR MIND
Thecreative mind is constantly solving problems, innovating, and diving deep into imagination, which can be overstimulating and all-consuming, and therefore, exhausting. Add the anxiety of uncertainty, the melancholia of isolation, and the burden of ambition, and you have a case of an unstable mind. So, the filmmaker must learn to breathe. Not the shallow, everyday breath, but a purposeful, mindful breath.
Exhale fully. Then breathe in as deeply as you can, counting to four. Hold for four seconds. Slowly breathe out to the count of four. Hold for four seconds. Repeat. Focus on each inhalation and exhalation. You will find yourself instantly more centered, and by default, ready to conquer whatever it is you have on your plate. When you become an expert, increase the time for each part of the exercise. Try various breathing techniques, such as the ancient art of pranayama. The benefits abound, from easing neurosis to the detoxification of organs.
A step up from breathing is mediation. Guided or unguided, there are so many methods to choose from, but the basic idea is to empty the mind of clutter in order to induce feelings of positivity. David Lynch has been an avid follower of, and endorses Transcendental Meditation. Oprah teamed up with renowned east-meets-west practitioner, Deepak Chopra of the Chopra Center, to release goal oriented, free 21-day meditation courses. Netflix and the popular app, Headspace, just released a guided documentary series that holds your hand through the entire experience while explaining the science behind the techniques. Speaking of apps, Calm is another popular one that offers simple sounds like rain, or ocean waves, but has additionally recruited celebrities of all ilks to narrate the guided experiences.
Filmmakers need to be just as physically strong and agile, as they are mentally. Long hours spent at editing bays, driving around looking for locations, and loading up the car with gear and crafty, can all take a toll on the body. As most wellness plans incorporate movement, a filmmaker's self care is similarly not complete without some sort of regimen. Take breaks throughout your day and go for walks, hikes, runs, bike rides. Stretch your limbs every few hours. Some simple yoga poses promise to increase circulation, strengthen, and improve stamina all at once.
Here are some basic yoga positions (asanas) to try:
Uttanasana (forward fold): Stand up straight with your arms resting at your sides. Then slowly fold over from your hips, sliding your hands down your shins. Pause wherever it feels most comfortable, tighten your legs, and relax your head, neck and spine. Breathe.
Tadasana (mountain pose): Plant your feet hip width on the ground and pull your shoulders back. Tuck your tailbone so you are standing very straight. Allow your chin to relax into alignment with your neck and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths like this.
Anjali Mudra (salutation seal): From mountain pose, raise your arms above your head until your hands meet. Stretch your shoulders, neck and arms by lifting your chest and looking up. Hold it and breathe. Relax your arms with an exhale to come out of it.
LISTEN FOR INSPIRATION
Music is the great influencer, providing inspiration for generations of artists. But not to be forgotten, are podcasts. On your downtime, between projects, waiting for the world to resume as regularly scheduled, study up. There is a podcast for every niche of filmmaking. Whether you are looking for practical or technical advice on how to execute something, interested in the latest on-set gadget, or just want to hear anecdotes from your favorite creators, there is a podcast for you. We like this DIY minded list curated by our friends over at nofilmschool.
WATCH FOR INSPIRATION
Filmmakers can never have enough fodder for thought. Obviously, watch a lot of content. Even with theaters closed, content is ubiquitously spread out over the multitude of streaming platforms. Give your eyes a break from zoom and watch narrative film and series, documentaries, animation, talk shows, interview series, all the things. And when you are satiated with all of that, go down the rabbit hole that is YouTube and check out storytelling channels like The Narrative Art, or the Hollywood Reporter's Roundtable Series, or any other trade publication's comparable programming. If you have the coin, sign up for Masterclass, but know that there is plenty of content available for free or near free. The point is, there is a lot out there to keep you not just occupied, but fulfilled and galvanized for the next endeavor.
Of course, there are concrete, productive tasks like cleaning up your press materials, writing an actual script, or conducting auditions virtually, that you could be doing to keep yourself engaged and on top of things. But that list is for a different day. This blog was meant to remind you to take care of the creative soul within. Whoever spread the rumor that art is born out of misery, sucks. Cater to your mental, physical, and emotional well being, and it will make you better equipped to handle anything on set when you get there (and probably a better human overall).
Sapna Gandhi is an actor, singer-songwriter, and content creator. In addition to TV credits such as BOSCH, SHAMELESS and SCANDAL, she has appeared in numerous shorts, features, and series, including festival darlings IN ABSENTIA (Raindance) and THUMPER (Tribeca). Gandhi has produced several series and films under the umbrella of her production company Elegant Grotesque (most recently SCRAP, starring Anthony Rapp and Vivian Kerr, and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ STRANDED ON THE EARTH, directed by Mike Bruce). She is also 1/2 of the musical duo, VATAVARAN, was born in England, raised all over the states, studied English and Women’s Studies, and trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in SF.