Melissa Butler is a writer and producer of indie films. Melissa has written for Sunflower Express, RHN’s VR-20, and In Love with Hip Hop. Her current projects include Valla, which is currently being funded on Seed&Spark, and a feature in preproduction.
Psychologists say creative people are especially prone to addictive behavior, risk-taking, overworking and depression. How can a filmmaker maintain good mental health when being obsessive, taking risks and overworking are in many cases requirements of the job?
Insanity of a Filmmaker
Anyone who dares to enter the fray of creating worlds is insane, in the best way. The freedom of making your own film is exhilarating, until preproduction begins, anyway. Meetings, funding, location scouting, casting and the ten million other things that make up preproduction can be dizzying. If you’re not careful, stress will turn your joy into overwhelming pressure.
For me, balancing this dynamic started long ago. When I was a kid, I sat in the backyard writing poetry while others played kickball. As I watched the games, I imagined a battle between two great forces. I saw the world differently then, and still do. The problem arose with the effects of creating worlds from my own mind. I don’t sleep, I forget to eat, lose track of time, and the “real” world disappears. When your work becomes your life your mental state is 100% dependent on the success of your work; the repercussions are rarely positive.
The idea for my current project Valla came from my own struggles with this balance and from watching a close friend suffer as her work slowly consumed her. She would wake up and sit at a laptop for hours writing and planning with little to no social interaction. The obsession left her vulnerable to mental fatigue.
Salvation from the Monster
Everyone says that health should be your number one priority and to always take care of yourself, but it can be hard. In order to keep myself sane I do my best to follow these rules:
Assembling an A-team is paramount. For each project I find passionate people who love (or at least don’t mind) the tasks I hate. This frees up time for me to do the things I am great at. Building a team expands your network and gives you a chance to socialize with like-minded individuals.
Schedules seem to be kryptonite to many creative people. But they really can keep you from burning out. I set time aside time for breaks, to eat, meditate or anything else I would otherwise neglect.
Eating right feeds your creativity. Lack of nutrition is one of the highest causes of sickness, memory loss and fatigue. Our brains are 80% water. Dehydration causes your brain to shut down. It also causes fatigue, focus issues, depression, anger, emotional instability, exhaustion, headaches, sleep issues, stress and a lack of mental clarity and acuity. Drinking water has a near instant effect on your mental state.
Getting away recharges the mind. Some won’t have the time for long breaks, but frequent mini-breaks may be more beneficial. Breaks lower your stress, lessen the risk of heart disease, and increase your motivation. A refreshed mind sees different perspectives, is agile, and recognizes solutions. You’ll become a happier person.
Try to incorporate these tips into your daily life. Taking care of yourself keeps the monster at bay and good mental health is key to success. You’ll love how you feel and your creative process will benefit!