Mental Health & Why it Should Be Part of Your Creative Process
Mental Health & Why it Should Be Part of Your Creative Process
Who would’ve ever thought a simple smile could change everything. That’s right, just a smile and nothing more. That’s not so hard, right? Did you know that smiling releases endorphins and dopamine in the brain? A natural antidepressant and all you have to do is turn that frown upside down. I’ll admit, that was a bit cheesy but hell, you get the point.
What if I told you, a smile could also help your neighbor. Did you know a smile is contagious? If you don’t believe me, next time you have a moment, go for a walk at your local park and the first person you come across, look them in the eyes as you pass and smile. They’ll smile back, they can’t help it. This means you just helped yourself to a little antidepressant and you helped some stranger in the park. The ol’ two birds, one stone.
Look, mental health is nothing to mess around with, especially in the filmmaking world. Here you are trying to pursue something you’re passionate about and every step of the way you hear “no” and you get the door slammed in your face, metaphorically speaking. Next, when you finally catch that break and you ACTUALLY get to create something, someone on the internet shits all over it because they have nothing better to do with their time.
It’s important to be mentally strong if you want to survive in this world and it all starts with practicing good habits along the way. Yes, that’s right, practice. It’s not enough that you have to practice your craft, now you have to practice mental strength too.
The entire process of a film is taxing on me. I start with an idea, it grows into a plot, then an outline, and finally I sit to write FADE IN. Next thing I know, I’m 45 pages in, lost, and hate everything I wrote. Oh, the joys of writing. Finally, you break free from writer's block and put a nice little bow on 110 pages (or however long your script is). Finally, it’s time to move on.
JUST KIDDING! Now you get to let those beautiful pages sit on a shelf and marinate for a week or so. Then you pick that bad boy up and give it a read, only to find out it’s not that beautiful. What the hell did I write on page 12? What is this on 62? Oh my god, this thing stinks. Lace-up those boots and grab a shovel ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to pick up the shit.
Following your 12th rewrite, you’ve cleaned the yard (yes I'm sticking with the dog shit reference), and it’s time to get some rest. Call in your husband or wife and have them admire your handy work. Go through it, pat you on the head and tell you what a good boy/girl you are. Wait...are we the dog now..? I don’t know, let’s just move on.
After submitting to several screenwriting competitions and hearing no or not winning, you get to admire your 110 pages in all it’s failed glory! So what is one to do? Start casting, obviously. Speaking of casting, I spoke with Chiara McCarty, star of the upcoming feature film What About Molly?, about casting to understand the process from an actors point of view.
A notification pops up. It's either an email from my agent, Actors Access, or Backstage, and it says I've got an audition. That is always followed with excitement, joy, and a "yay"! If it's an email from my agent, it's always exciting because I know it's an opportunity in front of a significant casting director. But that excitement also comes with the pressure to do well.
Next, I open the email and look at the project details - is it a short, a feature, a commercial? What's the role? When, where, and what time is the audition? Is it a self-tape? Then, I read through the sides objectively to understand what is going on. I do my homework and prep.
If it's an in-person audition, I try to show up 5 - 10 minutes before my audition time. If it's a self-tape, I try to send it in at least one day before the deadline. After the audition, I try to forget about it. At that point, it's all out of my control. As long as I did the work and did my best, then there is nothing else I can do. I've been doing this for long enough to know that if I am not cast it is not necessarily because of my ability or talent. I could be the greatest, most talented actress in the world, but if I don't look the part (to the casting director, director, producer, writer, whoever), then there's literally nothing I can do. This is especially true of commercial work.
If I'm not cast and I receive an email with the bad news, I ALWAYS respond simply by saying, thank you for letting me know, and thank you for the opportunity to audition. Always be kind and professional. Do not go on about how they made a mistake, and how you're very talented, and all that. Casting directors/directors/producers are people, just like you. They are working hard to do their job, and if you are not cast, it is nothing personal against you.
I think my main stresses are fighting against trying to get the audition "right" or working against pushing the scene to go a certain way, and agonizing over what I could have done better. Hence, why I try to forget about the audition afterward. The majority of casting directors (and anyone really) wants to see YOU in the audition, but, for me, that is accompanied by the stress of believing I am enough. Is the work I did enough? If I bring myself to the role I'm auditioning for, will it be enough? Am I interesting enough? Basically, all the bullshit that comes with believing in yourself.
With casting finalized you now get the pleasure of navigating through finding locations, discussing wardrobe, gathering props, working around people's schedules and everything else that comes along with making films on a budget. It’s question after question, issue after issue, stress on top of stress.
The entire process, from start to finish, is an emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved. There’s excitement, disappointment, anxiety, self-doubt, stresses, laughter, joy, soul-crushing news, and a few dreams to come true. You need to be strong. You need to hold it together. You need to incorporate good mental health practices into your process.
Chiara and I thought about the ways WE practice good mental health and the benefits that come along with these practices. Below is our combined list, in no particular order.
As I alluded to above, smiling releases dopamine acting as a natural antidepressant. It’s simple, it’s contagious, it’s easy to add into your practice. When you start to have a moment and get down on yourself, take a minute, think about how great you are, and simply smile. Remember all will be okay and allow the moment to pass. Smile baby, smile.
It keeps you fit, it’s good for your heart and it’s good for your head. Exercising (doesn’t have to be strenuous) for even just 30 minutes can really help to relieve stress. Similarly to smiling, exercise releases endorphins, acting as an antidepressant in the body. Take time, step away from the computer and exercise. Chiara and I both agree, this one is huge. We try to incorporate it daily.
Unless you’re a vampire, get your ass up and get outside. Sunlight equals vitamin D and vitamin D equals happy artists. We need happy artists. Low levels of vitamin D is directly correlated with increased anxiety and depression. Can’t get away from that script? No worries, just take it outside for a bit. I like to take several 10-minute breaks throughout the day. Instead of heading for the refrigerator, I step outside.
Ever notice how happy you are when you accomplish something? By trying something new (a recipe, an exercise routine, a hobby, a new artform, a home project, etc) and you finish that task, you will get a sense of accomplishment. You feel good about something you did. You feel happy. I prefer to cook a new dish. I get to feel accomplished, full, and distracted from the things that were getting me down. This is one of my go to’s.
Highly recommended by Chiara, as she has plenty of adult coloring books. It’s fun, it’s creative and it’s a great distraction. This quick and simple activity can help take your mind off the stresses of life and focus on something creative, beautiful, and fun. Take a break, tap into your inner child, and color something fun.
Been working too hard? Burning the candle at both ends? Have you achieved a hustle level so high, nobody can touch you? Tone it down a bit sparky. Studies show that people who are more rested work with a clear mind, are more effective and more efficient. Take a break, take a nap and THEN get back in the game.
I am NOT talking about drugs here people! I prefer a good movie, Chiara picks up a good book. Whatever you choose, just escape. Get out of your head, out of reality and into someone else's creative world. Hell, isn’t that why some of us are in this game anyway, we create so others can escape? Let the work of others help you escape.
Chiara and I both practice this one as well. A lot of stress and anxiety can be accompanied with negative thoughts. You think about all the ways you're down and why you’re not good enough. Stop that shit. Take a moment, breath and think about all the amazing things you have to be grateful for. Your health, your imagination, your loved ones, your friends, your ability to create, your drive, your motivation, your thirst for knowledge and growth. Always remember, you’re great and amazing as you are. Take a moment to appreciate that.
Who the hell doesn’t like a dog? More of a cat person? Either way, get yourself a furry companion. Pets help fight the feelings of loneliness and improve your mood. They give you greater purpose than yourself, because now you have something to take care of. Also, when you pet your furry friend, they get happy which in turn makes you happy.
This one is newer for me and now at the top of my list! By creating The Failed Filmmaker, I’m able to blog and write about the things on my mind. I can educate and inspire, knowing that I’m directly impacting someone else as they come across my content. This puts a smile on my face and we all know what smiling does!
The bottom line is this, we all have stresses in our lives. We all know what a shit show the film world can be. The highs, the lows, the yes’s and the no’s. I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam I Am...Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
The industry can be cut throat and soul-crushing. You need to be mentally strong and practice good habits to combat the emotions you’re going to go through. Don’t be afraid to take a break and walk away. Be selfish for a bit and focus only on you. What do YOU need, because without YOU, the world doesn’t get your art. Trust me when I say this, the world NEEDS your art.
About the Author
The Failed Filmmaker - An independent artist with over 10 years of experience. Find out more at www.thefailedfilmmaker.net