Two weeks ago, Transformation, a documentary about at-risk transgender youth premiered on MTV (watch it here). It was my first professional camera operator gig. So when I first watched the trailer (link) I was surprised to see my shots in there. The trailer wasn't even finished yet when my eyes teared up and I became very emotional. Part of it was, "holy shit my camera work isn't terrible", and the other part was, "holy shit, this is the beginning of my camera operator journey."
THE PROGRESS PRINCIPLE
"Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing." - William Shakespeare
The Progress Principle states that pleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them.
I had spent the majority of my life being outcome dependent. Chasing goals like a college degree, a new job, or more money. Thinking back on it now, I always felt a little empty after achieving goals. That euphoric feeling was always short lived, with me quickly moving on to the next goal.
Intrigued by the progress principle, I began to think back on my journey as a film editor.
MY PERESTROIKA (2009) - starting from the bottom
In 2009, I left home for the first time. Scared as fuck, I moved across the country to NYC to pursue a not fully thought out dream of becoming a film editor. Along the way, I maxed out my credit cards, saw my bank account dip as low at $85, and lived off $5 foot longs - half for lunch, half for dinner. I lived on an air mattress in a rat infested kitchen above a bakery. It wasn't an ideal situation by any means.
In an effort to find work, I went door to door handing out my resume to any production house that would let me in. At Original Media, a producer overheard my conversation with the receptionist and admired my grit. She pointed to an empty work station and gave me an internship on the spot. I almost peed my pants in excitement.
I busted my ass working 9 months for free on multiple films trying to break into the industry. It all culminated in a trip to Sundance 2010 for one of those films, My Perestroika.
When I first saw my name on the big screen at Sundance, I almost cried. The simple printing of my name encapsulated all the progress I made from leaving my parents basement to earning my first assistant editor credit. This experience taught me that when my back's against the wall, I'm capable of overcoming adversity.
WEST OF MEMPHIS (2011) - the big league
2011 brought me the opportunity to work on a high-level documentary with West of Memphis. This was the big leagues. It was Amy Berg and it was Peter Jackson. They were known to demand a very high standard of filmmaking with high pressure situations being the norm. Over the course of a year and a half, I proved my value through hard work and reliability. I learned the craft of editing while building an unbreakable bond with my friend and mentor Billy McMillin. I worked every day for weeks on end in LA and New Zealand and pulled all nighters out of my ass just days before the Sundance premiere. In the end, I realized I could be relied upon at the highest level to get the job done.
THE CLASSIC (2015) - finally making it
The Classic was about discovering my talent as a film editor. I was being trusted to edit crucial scenes and brainstorm ideas with Billy (now director) and producers. One day I showed Billy a scene I had been working on. By the end of it, he was weeping. I gave him a hug for what seemed like minutes. That was the moment I knew I finally made it. After 6 years of progress I finally felt like a film editor.
"Small gains yield above average results" - Adam Gilbert
I don’t think about the actual films very much. What I do think about are the 7 years of progress I made. How each step presented new challenges and new chances to grow. There were times where I wanted to quit. I'm glad I didn't because I would have definitely regretted it.
As I prioritize health and family over work, I made the decision to switch careers. I love film editing but there are too many instances where it requires me to prioritize it over everything else in my life - something I'm not interested in doing anymore. It makes me feel uneasy starting all over again, especially after investing 7 years into film editing. But if there is one thing I learned from my journey as a film editor, it's to let discomfort be my compass. Facing challenges head on is the only way I will grow.
It is only in hindsight that I realize how much fulfillment I got from my journey to becoming a film editor. Today, the Progress Principle helps me find joy in the struggle and value the experience. Whether it's progress in powerlifting or my relationship with Paulina, I know now that it's the journey that brings me fulfillment - not the end goal.