A Day in the Life of a Filmmaker in Berlin

Filmmaker by Eva Ave

Illustration by Eva Ave.

Wow, I have had two of the most incredible days ever. Such highs and lows. This article is for those of you freelancers/creatives who feel frustrated, overworked and under-appreciated — take a deep breath, you got this.

Day one started with an email from a client just after finalizing a contract for an animation job. A simple job: Create a 60-second animation with illustrations already provided by an artist, record a voiceover, and add some music. It was a rush job and needed to be done in five days; it’ll cost them but not a problem, it can be done. In the email the client says they need an additional voice-over roughly one page long and I quote, “I assume it will take 1 hour max to record it. Hopefully, this could be included in the budget.. :-)”.  The client sends me the document and it is roughly eight paragraphs of text.

Wow, so much!! Making movies!! Talk to you soon!

Any of you who have ever recorded any kind of voice-over knows recording and editing an eight-paragraph text in an hour is horseshit, plain and simple. Where does someone get off “assuming” that eight paragraphs of text will take an hour to record and edit if they have absolutely no other reference other than reading the text aloud to themselves? Ok, before this gets out of hand and turns into a full-on rant, let’s put it into context.

The last thing I wanted to hear was more work for the same amount of money. I took the animation job because I need money, not because I need more work. I am deep into pre-production of my first feature film. We’re only three weeks away from shooting and funds are quickly running out. I am completely swamped.

The costume designer needs extra measurements. The model ship designers need to know what color of paint to use. The graphic designers live in Serbia and yes, it seems, transferring money to Serbia is nearly impossible. The Kickstarter campaign is due for another update. All the while, my producer is off scubadiving in god-knows-what ocean. Did I mention set construction was to begin in two days time and I have yet to confirm the rental of our location? This is what I am dealing with. Reading the email from the animation job just adds to the growing pain in my stomach. Did I also mention I had a date that night?

In these moments I think of my ma. She works for MSF, otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders. I think about the photos she sends me of her outpost in South Sudan. I take a deep breath and tell myself, “First World problems, First World problems.” I feel better and I call my dad. He tells me something that seems out of character and makes me laugh. He says, “Just do what (Bill) Clinton does, compartmentalize. Go out on your date, have some fun, and get your shit together tomorrow.”

I had to look up the word compartmentalize.  Here is what Wikipedia had to say: “Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person’s having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves.”

So I closed my laptop and went on my date. We had dinner. We rode the bus for no reason except to have a warm place to eat ice cream and cookies. We bought lotto tickets. We walked till we could walk no more and on a whim decided to get a hotel room. This was a dream date. I had never done anything of this caliber on a date before. I definitely didn’t have an extra 65 euros for the hotel room but I spent it anyways because, fuck it, I was having an incredible time. I put my work out of sight and out of mind, I was compartmentalizing. I’d deal with it tomorrow.

Day two started with an ear-to-ear grin as I rode the train home. I opened my computer, checked my email and made a list. Get costume designer measurements. Email model ship designers. Go to the bank and ask for help with money transfer to Serbia. Call producer. Pray the location owner calls me back. Get it done. By the end of the day I had checked off my list and wrote the following email to my producer:

Hey!

Things are looking great! I just set up our merchandise store and our website should be finished by the end of the week. The location owner sent us the lease for our new space (sent to your office I assume?) and we just need to sign and pay to get the key. The guys are almost finished with the ship, just need to paint. I am putting together another update for Kickstarter with the new ship footage (looks amazing!). I ordered the white shoes and the other shoes (Kickstarter ones) have also been shipped. Our costume designer is almost finished with two sets of costumes (slightly different sizes just in case, she will also be available on first day for fitting). I am about to transfer the money to Serbia for the post cards and they should ship by the beginning of next week, a bit late but will be ok. Are you back in Berlin? We need to have a quick meeting with our builders before we order set materials, maybe you have a better/cheaper source for materials? They can meet tomorrow or Friday morning? Does that work for you? Wow, so much!! Making movies!! Talk to you soon!

Best,
Kaleb

Even though I didn’t win the lottery or deal with the oblivious client and his time-consuming voice-over, I got shit done. I even cranked out the article you are reading now. I am not here to brag by any means but to offer advice. Make lists — make lots of them — and check them off. Ask yourself if your problems are really something worth worrying about. Put them into perspective. Take time to live in the moment if it means just taking a break and reading a book or spending time with somebody who makes you laugh. These things are incredibly important and will make your work easier and worth doing.

Take a deep breath. You got this.

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Kaleb Wentzel-Fisher

About Kaleb Wentzel-Fisher

Kaleb Wentzel-Fisher is a filmmaker from the U.S. now currently based in Berlin. Kaleb has been making films and music since his early teens and went on to study audio engineering and production at the McNally Smith School of Music while teaching himself video production. He has spent the last decade working on motion pictures in the film industry, teaching seminars, workshops and high school while creating his own films and music. His films have been featured in a variety of places including MTV, Canal+, IFC.com, SilverDocs Film Festival, Current TV, Vimeo.com and more. See his work at Supernormals.

3 Comments

  1. Shae on March 1, 2013 at 8:22 am

    This is so good and so true. Thank you!

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