How I Became a Curmudgeon at 25 Years Old

Qtr 2, 2016

I am a professional film editor (Empire, Glee, Burn Notice), and I have lived in the trenches for fifteen years. I’ve cut episodic television, studio features, indies, theatrical trailers, EPK’s, documentaries, you name it. I’ve had a lot of different experiences…all of them the same working environments: Long hours, no days off, sitting in one position, mostly sedentary, in a dark room. For years. And it almost destroyed me.

 

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

About 10 years ago I was cutting an independent film that was deep into director’s cut. Let’s just say the film was problematic: Way over budget and deadline, I was working with a first-time director, and tensions were high.

I spent three months working without a single day off. The director showed up at my house at 9am – seven days a week – and left at 1am each night. And every second of those 16 hours she was on the couch behind me. Anyone that’s cut for long periods of time with someone in the room knows how stressful that can be, and that high level of chronic stress began to add up.

  • I found myself deeply depressed.
  • I lost weight and stopped eating regularly.
  • I was incredibly moody and disagreeable.
  • Seemingly innocuous requests would set me off and start an argument.

To put it simply, I had become a 25-year-old curmudgeon.

THE FINAL STRAW

For a few weeks, while shopping the film to distributors, I got a break. I had a reprieve from the non-stop stress of a deadline and all I could do with my new found freedom was sit on the couch all day long and zone out in front of the TV. I crashed. Hard.

I finally had the chance to get outside, see the sun, be active, but I didn’t even have the energy to walk across the room.

The mere thought of having to clean up the dishes or take out the trash made me break out into tears. I vividly remember sitting on the couch in my edit suite one night with my head in my hands thinking, “I’m done. I can’t live like this anymore.” My brain chemistry was a mess, and I was too deep in the dark to know what to do. And that’s when the suicidal thoughts started creeping in.

HOW IT ALL CHANGED FOR ME

Luckily, I had the wherewithal to seek professional help, and after working with a team of specialists at the Akasha Center in Santa Monica for several months (and now almost 10 years), I was soon on the road to recovery. I learned that instead of treating my sickness, I had to prevent it through wellness. Upon this realization, I decided I would never allow myself to fall into the same routine that nearly killed me (although I’m still no stranger to post-production burnout). So I started researching ways to stay healthy. I was determined to be a successful working editor without working myself to death.

My first “unusual” consideration was switching to a standing workstation. This is becoming more commonplace now, but eight years ago I didn’t know a single person with a standing workstation (with the exception of Walter Murch, of course)…and they weren’t cheap.

Walter Murch Standing Desk

After seeing the above photo of Walter Murch in his book “Behind the Seen,” I knew that was for me. A way to be more active and engaged with my material while getting more physical activity? Problem solved. I decided that merely surviving my career for the next 40 years was no longer acceptable. I wanted to THRIVE. So I had to start investing in myself.

I bought a TBC Console, and I never looked back. I’ve been a standing editor ever since and a little over a year ago I introduced a treadmill in front of my workstation, so now I walk about 15,000 steps a day (around 5 miles).

Many colleagues ask me about my treadmill workstation and my funny shoes (I wear Vibrams to work). I know I’m not “the norm.” I know everyone reading this isn’t going to run out and buy a standing desk tomorrow.

But for me, these changes weren’t daunting or overwhelming. My priorities had shifted, and the changes in my workspace were simply the consequences of this shift. And it was just the beginning…

THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

People in post-production treat their equipment and their hardware with great care and reverence. Their tools mean everything to them. Meanwhile, we rarely invest in ourselves. The number one tool we possess as editors is OUR BRAINS. We should treat them as such.

However, people in our industry routinely treat themselves like a Ford Pinto…just a clunker that can get them from point A to point B…knowing it will eventually breakdown, or worse. I treat myself like a Ferrari.

I have spent years finding ways to improve my diet, get more regular activity, and treat myself like a high performance machine. I finally cracked the code and found that regardless of the hours I was working or the stress level (I’ve now survived 1 1/2 seasons of Empire), my diet and exercise regimen have made me impervious. I can handle just about anything now with ease.

THE REVOLUTION HAS BEGUN

I hear it all the time. Fitness In Post is an oxymoron. But it’s time for a revolution in our industry. Sitting is literally killing us. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. We have control over our working environments, and if we want to perform at optimal levels, we have to value ALL of the tools at our disposal, including our bodies and our minds. It’s time to invest in yourself. It’s the best investment I made in my career.

Be well.

Zack Arnold

Founder, Fitness In Post