Earlier this month, we hosted a session at Sheffield Doc/Fest: Pulling Focus: A Spotlight on Directors’ Wellbeing.
Our expert panel — consisting of directors Ashok Prasad, Ben Steele, Natalie Hewit, Xavier Alford, Rebecca Day and Adam Jessel — discussed the physical, psychological and emotional challenges filmmakers face, and shared some tips on how to handle them.
If you weren’t able to make it to our session, don’t worry! The session was covered by TBI Magazine, and you can catch up on some of the great advice our panel provided below. While the discussion focussed on factual directing, a lot of these tips could apply to you whatever genre you work in.
1. Build downtime into your schedule. Some directors feel that they always have to be available for work, so don’t plan for any time off — but being considerate of your own mental and physical health is essential if you want to sustain a long-term career.
2. Being nicer to yourself and reducing the pressure you put on yourself is important. The demands of filming (particularly a long-running series or a complex film) are significant in themselves, so pushing yourself on top of that can be counterproductive.
3. You probably already share your victories with your network, but consider sharing those really tough days too. You’ll be surprised of the support you get.
4. If you’re dealing with difficult material, it’s important to talk about it as a crew. Despite our resolve, some subjects can penetrate our professional shields. Take a little bit of time to acknowledge it together and support each other. Everyone can be affected by difficult things; we’re only human.
5. When you make a mistake, fix it if you can, apologise if you can’t and try not to dwell on it. Cut yourself some slack if you make a mistake – everyone does it at one time or another.
6. In some genres there can be an unhealthy ‘machismo’ culture, where enduring long hours and poor conditions can be seen as a matter of pride. Discourage your team from reinforcing that behaviour. Working at that level is unsustainable in the long term and can compromise both your mental and physical health.
7. Sometimes things go wrong or your plans get thrown into chaos. It’s okay to take a few moments to mentally step back, draw breath and consider your options. Try to roll with the changes.
8. When you’ve been immersed in filmmaking – particularly if you’ve been working with traumatic material — it’s important to take time for yourself when it’s done, to release yourself from the work.
9. Ringfence time in your personal life to do the things that really matter; spend time with loved ones, exercise, enjoy a hobby and yes, even sleep. Working long hours can be stressful and you need time to support your own health and wellbeing.
10. When working in factual, pay extra care to your contributors. Keep checking in with them to make sure they’re okay, and ensure that you have their informed and rolling consent. If you don’t have to worry about them, you’ll feel less anxious about documenting their story.
11. Work hard to build a good relationship with your producers and try to work with those who care about your wellbeing. Mutual trust can reduce the stress of production and help everything run more smoothly.
12. Directors are not taught how to manage their physical wellbeing and directing can be a physically demanding job. Eating a healthy and well-balance diet, stretching before a long day of carrying heavy equipment, or using Yoga or other exercise to keep in shape can all support your well-being.
13. Don’t view risk assessments as a burden of pre-production — they’re there for a reason. Use them to get the support and equipment you need to reduce the risks of filming, so everyone is safer at work.
14. Everyone knows that money and time to shoot are both scarce. In production, everything gets pared back so when you spot overscheduling, use your expertise to try to open up conversations with the production team about what is actually realistic in the time available.
15. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength as it shows a responsible attitude to identifying and resolving problems.
Do you have any go-to wellbeing tips? Leave a comment below, and share them with your fellow directors.