Pre-production, resistance, and finding the antidote

Yesterday I had a thought, which I tweeted: the pre-production phase of filming feels like waking up every day to find I’ve been poisoned while sleeping and have to find the antidote.

I don’t know if that’s the perfect metaphor. What I do know is that trying to schedule cast, crew, and locations (for the web series I’m making) at the same time drives me to a new form of anxiety that I’ve never experienced.1

It’s not even that it’s not going well–it is going well. For the most part, the actors I want to work with are available and so is the crew. But every time I look at my scheduling spreadsheet I feel a wave of resistance, like this thing, making it happen, is impossible in some way.

And then I step away from it. And I don’t think “I wish this would go away” or “I want to give up.” I just think “oh god, I have to finish this, why can’t I finish it?” I think that it’s the multiple moving parts that are getting to me. Normally, if there’s something I want to do, but don’t particularly enjoy doing, like a boring project at work, I just sit down and force myself to plow through it. It’s boring or it sucks for a few hours or a few days, but then it’s over and there’s relief.

With this, I can’t just plow through it. I have to send an email to an actor and then follow up if they don’t respond. I have to wait a few days for people to respond. Then I have to talk to someone at a location to ask if we can film there. Then I have to make sure the actor is available that day. If something doesn’t line up, I have to go back to one or more people to ask if they can shift to a different time.

So while the actual work of it might only take eight hours or so, those eight hours are spread over weeks. And that’s why I feel like every day I have to go out and find the antidote to my poison. But each day, there’s only a little bit of the antidote. It takes three or four weeks to get it all. And then it’s done and I feel good again.

I think that this pre-production stuff, the arranging and scheduling, it’s just a fundamentally different muscle than writing–partly because it relies on other people (not that I don’t enjoy collaboration–I love collaboration on the set for instance). But it’s not something that I enjoy and would much rather have a producer to handle it. There’s no flow state in scheduling. There’s no joy in it, only the recognition that the pain of not doing it is greater than the pain of doing it.

I’m writing this out for two reasons: one is to just let it out of my system and think through it. Two is to show my appreciation for producers (and project managers in other realms of work) for the work they do, I’m truly in awe and I think they tend to be under-appreciated.

  1. What!? A new form of anxiety!? Guess I’ll have to update my almanac of anxieties. Let’s see, I think I’ll call it “the anxiety of multiple unknowns,” which is really just a sub-category of “the anxiety of a future project going unrealized” and in this case is mixed with “the anxiety of creating something that may prove to be foolish and stupid.”