Boundaries, like self care, has become a bit of a buzzword. A lot of us talk the talk, but struggle to actually walk the walk. And in film, it’s not surprising. Filmmakers constantly get asked too much of. Whether it’s working <12 hour days or trying to juggle a stressful work life with, you know, an actual life, filmmakers tend to let boundaries slip because it’s just another thing you have to keep track of. Before you know it, you have a cold that won’t seem to leave you alone and 20 – okay, try 80 – unread emails. It’s not sustainable.
Boundaries are there to stop all of the above from happening, but they’re not something many of us have. We feel guilty for saying no, for asking for more, for explaining what we deserve. But that guilt is what’s landing you in a vicious overwork-overwhelm cycle, it’s what’s burning you out. And how great can you really be at your job if you’re burnt out? So let’s set some boundaries.
Baby steps: start analysing your time. Your time is your most important asset, so be careful with how you spend it. Go through your regular week and keep track of where your time goes. Maybe you’ll be surprised by how much TV you’re watching, or how much time you’re spending on unpaid work. Once you see it, you can start taking control by setting boundaries for it. Whether that means only 2 hours of TV a week or starting to curb your unpaid work is up to you.
Now you’ve looked at your time each week, it’s time to grab your calendar. I’m a huge Google Calendar convert because I’m all about time-blocking, but grab whatever works best for you. Start scheduling in time off. A big part of having boundaries involves having time off from work (okay, I’m pretty bad at this too). Figure out what time you stop work each day. Do you really need to be answering emails at 11pm? (No, you don’t).
If you’re answering emails at 11pm then there’s a chance you’ve been in this game for a while now, which means you’ll have built up your experience. But I’ll bet you still take unpaid work. Girl, if you have ten location manager credits already then you better be getting paid. Your experience is so valuable, it’s worthy of a wage. Decide here and now what job you won’t do for free from now on.
Getting clear on exactly who you are and what you do is the best way to make sure everyone else is clear (and stops asking too much of you). What’s your job title? What are your rates? What films do you like to work on? Get clear on those three, and stick to them. It’s harder for people to take advantage if you’ve already got it in black and white.
Setting boundaries has been the most important step of my career, so start setting your own and get out of the vicious cycle.
By Charlotte Atkinson
Charlotte Atkinson is a producer and consultant. She makes films about people fighting for their dreams and finding clarity. She studied on the BFI Academy and has since produced multiple shorts, a radio show and coached exciting new filmmakers.