It was around this time 3 years ago I was entering into an editing session over the weekend, and before the session even began I was livid. The people in the room were friends and fellow filmmakers, so I struggled to identify where this rage was coming from. Ultimately, I realized there was only one factor in all this that it could be and it was a sign I had been turning a blind eye to for some time until then - it was the weekend.
Being a freelancer does not always mean you are free.
To build myself as an independent filmmaker at the beginning, I began by working one weekend a month on my own projects. One weekend morphed into multiple weekends, until I found myself having crossed a boundary into a life that could be labeled as a workaholic. I was more productive than ever, working on my first feature length documentary while balancing day playing on a network television show. But as I sat in that edit room on what was one of the only weekends Americans try and safeguard, Thanksgiving weekend, I knew I needed to make a change.
On Turkey Day, I made the decision to go cold turkey on working on the weekends in the New Year.
That first cold January weekend I remember literally sitting on my hands to avoid touching my laptop, binge watching whatever my roommate had on the tv, and counting down the hours until Monday. Productivity doesn't always need time off, but I found creativity does. If I was to continue on this path of self-shooting and producing my own work, being my own boss, it meant the boss inside me needed to demand time off. Time to let the ideas come in, and to make my work better.
You cannot measure the benefit of time off in your work, but you can feel it.
Fast forward to over a hundred non-working weekends, and I find myself again as livid as I was post-Thanksgiving in post production. I just recently filmed my first immersive film in the Philippines. After two weeks of working remotely with my editor I had been working with a very basic radio edit thanks to my translator. I had a very busy schedule beginning tomorrow heading to Eastern Ukraine for a shoot, I was running out of time to book in a voice over artist with a Tagalog (language used in the Philippines) accent that could record with me in London by last Friday.
I tried to crowd source a VO artist, but with the clock ticking I ended up turning to goLocalise, a company that seemed to have recording capabilities and a catalog of voices to work with. I found a woman named Vanessa in their catalog and I felt it was similar to the voice of the young woman I filmed with in the Philippines. I sent off my email with the script to request a quote, and got an automatic video reply on the website saying a woman named Chiara would be handling my quote. It all seemed too easy, because it was.
Time is money, except when it's not.
My quote went unanswered, and I should have taken that as a sign that this is a normal practice of the company. I followed up with an email the next day, and instead of Chiara I received a reply from Lucio who gave me a quote of over £800. I was expecting a high price tag, but it was a cost I would have to cover as the project had a fixed budget and this would come out of my earnings for it. Still the clock was ticking, and I had to make a choice - if I did not record this week I wouldn't be able to be present for the recording since I would be in the field or up at a film festival and would not be able to deliver on time the following week. So I went with it, had confirmation we could record at 1pm on Friday and paid the cost.
I arrived early on the Friday, and had a friendly woman greet me and give me a cup of coffee just before Vanessa arrived. We ended up doing three different passes, and the entire session only took a half hour. The sound engineer chatted with me asking if I had other deadlines that day and I tried to rack my brain of all the plates I currently had spinning. When I asked when I could receive the files, he said he would email them to me before the end of the day, which was exactly what I needed and wanted to hear. So feeling accomplished and satisfied even if my wallet was lighter, I left goLocalise onto to continue the rest of my day spinning plates.
The rest of Friday flew by, and it wasn't until I was home and going over my day that I realised I hadn't received my files. I immediately sent an email asking when I could expect the files, and another one before the time reached anti-social hours - both with no reply. I began my Saturday with a serious anxiety, using capital letters in an email that began the subject with URGENT. Eventually this forced someone on the email chain to nudge Lucio who emailed back claiming he received my email 'after office hours' and my contract did not specify I needed the files by COB Friday. I immediately replied saying that was unprofessional to not have received the files in the time as the sound engineer said he would deliver them, and that I absolutely needed the files before I was about to enter a conflict zone and be out of communication without being able to forward them onto my editor. I received only one more email from him on his weekend, stating they would forward the files onto my editor on Monday - ignoring the fact that as a Director I would be unable to review the files before sending them to the editor with any notes. I once again demanded the files by end of day Saturday, but it is now Sunday morning and again my email has been unanswered. It is the weekend after all.
URGENT: WHEN YOU FAIL IN YOUR JOB, IS IT ACCEPTABLE TO TAKE THE WEEKEND BEFORE YOU FIX IT?
When I work with so many humanitarian settings, I know sometimes the people and emails I wait for don't come in until the weekends because - they're doing more important things during the week. A couple of months ago I had a job waiting to deliver footage to me that took so long to upload from their location, the footage didn't come in until Friday and the email concluded with, 'I hope I can see a rough cut of this over the weekend.' Naturally I cringed, just like I do whenever there's an email that pings to my phone when I'm walking my dog and the last thing I want to do is be thinking of work.
We all need boundaries, but when ranking boundaries one that any reputable and dedicated businessperson should adhere to is if there's an easily corrected error that can be done in this digital age - JFDI.
I should have had written confirmation from the sound engineer that I would receive the files on Friday, but I took him at his word that he would share them with me by the end of the day. I should have emailed before the close of business on Friday. But when you freelance, your business never really closes and it is hard to accept that of others, especially when you've paid £800 and things go wrong.
As someone who has worked hard on many weekends and worked hard not to work hard on many weekends, I appreciate the need to detach and clock out and think its healthy and important. But the most important thing about boundaries is also knowing when it is acceptable to bend them. Clearly, goLocalise do not work know how to work with freelancers. Deadlines in the film industry don't rest on the days of rest, and I would not recommend goLocalise to anyone again based on their inability to simply deliver a digital file, even if it is the weekend. But it also has made me reflect on my expectations of companies with high costs, and how companies like goLocalise will eventually suffer from their lack of foresight and customer care for not delivering on these.
Lauren Anders Brown is an independent self-shooting documentary filmmaker who has just finished her first immersive/360 film from the Philippines called 'You Cannot Argue With A Flood'. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram@LABCollaborate.