In my 20’s, I was acutely aware of the need to know my “voice”. As a director fumbling my way through film school, much emphasis was placed on expressing one’s thoughts with both gravitas and artistic merit, as though my self-understanding lay buried in the pages of French New Wave and Auteur theory.
When thrown the question, What do you want to say?, my mind would struggle to expel some erudite observation, yet filtered through latent religious hang ups about the disconnect between who I imagined I should be and how life had actually unfolded.
My father father mused once that each decade is better than the last. That with the shedding of years comes also a shedding of I don’t give a fuck what people think of me anymore. Emphasis mine. He would never speak like that.
Last night I visited a gallery in Red Hook. Some hipster art event in an impossible location with an exquisitely manicured back yard with a fire pit, and a refurbished factory space hosting a band. I was with two friends, and the three of us dovetailed around each other, exploring the art, music, and hipster folks, each on our own journey.
There was a moment I was standing alone in a room full of people, listening to the band and watching the extroverted few dance up front. I became aware of my body, my ability to relax my shoulders and to dispel any niggling worry about what people must think of me (because people probably didn’t even notice, let alone care).
Instead, I was able to observe the rhythmic energy of the drummer, his movements rising like a dance above the hide, and the joy whirling through the audience. And despite standing alone, I observed my ability to be connected… for their smiles to be transferred to my face. Mirror neurons are what I’m referring to. From this came the ability to focus on what I do have around me, rather than do not have: the things in life that make the present moment satisfying, and the feeling of having enough.
Quite simply, I am who I am. Wonderful and complete. I really like myself.
I don’t believe in the notion of a person being where they’re “meant to be”, or that things work out they way they’re meant to, as though the road were predestined. Rather, the numerous junctures along my life-path led me to where I am today, in New York. One decision after another. All valid experiences. And one node pivots on to the next to create the context of my unique life story.
This is what voice is – understanding that my meta narrative is a valid human experience, unique among the billions, worthy to be communicated to others, in the hope that I may be known, and that they may glean something from it for themselves. In turn, it allows me to appreciate the uniqueness of other people and their stories.
So as I pause in this moment, about to propel myself with abandon into the rabbit hole of my 30s, I’ve discovered my voice does not begin with the reverberations of my lungs. My voice begins in my silence, my stillness; my ability to simply be.
Getting creative with random kids in Bali… I found myself alone on the west coast of Bali with time to kill. If you’ve been to the island, you will know that every single sunset is spectacular: vibrant, detailed, textured. I have a camera & an off-camera flash… time to play!
Exposing for the sky at sunset will make your foreground subjects silhouette
Silhouettes are great. Their shapes can be simple and distinct, and allowing your subject to go completely dark to expose for the sunset means the colors will remain rich and saturated. You’ll retain the details in the sky and present a more accurate mood. However, if you want to get the detail of the person in the foreground, you can either create a HDR image with multiple photos, or, use a flash to fill in your shadows.
The light was changing rapidly and a local crowd gathered to watch me muck around with a number of setups. This kid (top) wandered into my frame, so I picked him up to use him as a prop! This photo would be a silhouette if not for the flash, so if you’re interested, here’s how you would accomplish a shot like this:
Set your camera to manual exposure, and place it on a tripod. Make sure you are shooting RAW instead of JPEG so you have maximum latitude in this high contrast setting.
Adjust your ISO, aperture, and shutter speed until you have a correct exposure for the sunset. My settings here happen to be ISO400, f8, 4sec.
I’ve set the focus manually to a spot I marked in the sand, and f8 will keep the image sharp so I have a little latitude to move around.
Place your flash to the left or right of camera to get more shapely shadows. You’ll need a wireless trigger on your camera to trip the off-camera flash. Put your flash in manual mode, and test out how much power output you need to expose the subject.
I have a remote shutter trigger in my right hand on a 2 sec delay. This allowed me time to pick up the kid before the camera fired.
Because the burst of the flash is so instantaneous, the kid and I are sharp even though we’re moving. The black shadow beneath me is the trail of my silhouette over the remaining 4 seconds the shutter was open to expose for the sky – basically me putting the bewildered little guy back on the sand and returning him to his mother.
I’ll write another post soon about how to shoot a similar setup during daylight, as there are some basic principles you can follow to get your settings in the ballpark before fine tuning for the particular environment.
To finish off, here is the actual image I was going for… something I could use on a website to illustrate a photographer in action in a dramatic location (despite that – if you know anything about speedlites – I’m “adjusting” the wrong side of the panel, and, really, you should never look into a firing strobe in the first place….). But it pictoralizes a “behind-the-scenes” nonetheless.
Setting a speedlite to manual power to compensate for an exposure set for the sunset
It’s my little bro’s birthday today. When I say “little”, I mean in age, for at 6’5, I am one inch his little bro. But, with nine years life experience on him, I’m hoping I can offer some insight about stepping out and taking charge of his work life.
I remember what it was like job hunting post-university in my early 20’s. The work you’re offered is usually far from where you want to be, with no clear path of the steps to attain your long-term goal anyway.
My first job was working in breakfast television as a production assistant. While it was reassuring to have a staff position, I only lasted a couple of months before I got itchy feet. I packed the job in and took off to Brazil, Europe, Africa.
I’ve always had the sense that time is limited. As time passes, I’ve also come to understand it as one of our most valuable assets. For me, it makes sense to take the risk to explore the world and find something I’m passionate about, rather than stay put and wonder what might have been on the other side.
When I returned from my world travels, it also made sense for me to go freelance, and in more recent years, start a business. The reward of owning my own time, choosing priorities, and being proactive in my growth, outweighs the consistency of full-time pay.
My bro is currently between government contracts and said he was waiting to hear back about the next one. But, he also made $500 this month designing custom drawers for a 4WD and reworking a Harley Davidson. That’s the origin of a business!
So on his birthday, I wanted to share 6 insights I believe are critical in taking a proactive attitude towards success.
1. Present your future-self to the people you meet.
Americans do this well.
I’ll meet a person at a function who will introduce herself to me as an actress. She’ll give me a card with a headshot and tell me about a recent film she was in. I know she works in a bar. That is her main source of income, but at this point, that is irrelevant.
Our common point of interest is making films, and the priority of our conversation should be working out if we have cohesive personalities, values, interests, ideas, sense of humor, etc. She would do herself a disservice if she opened with the line “I work in a bar, but I really want to be an actress”.
Other people often give us more credit than we give ourselves, so put your insecurities aside and just speak freely about your current work and aspirations. You might inspire your new friend.
2. People always want to put you in a box. That’s fine. Just give them 9 different boxes.
In my early 20’s, there was a brief time I was a “slashie” — writer/ director/ producer/ actor/ model/ TV presenter/ photographer/ cinematographer/ editor. I’m young; the world’s an exciting place; I want to try it all!
However, it gets darn confusing when you throw so many variables at someone. They’ll leave the conversation with less of an idea of how you might be of interest to them than when you met.
The fact is, in your early 20’s you’re probably going to have many different “hats”, or boxes, as you experiment and find what you enjoy doing. This is good! Even established entrepreneurs and businesses continue to diversify and experiment with new ventures. Just make sure you present each skill or business or idea with clear parameters.
Create different business cards and portfolio websites for each venture. You as a person are the umbrella to bring all those facets together, but you decide on a person-by-person basis the relevant identity to present. On social media like LinkedIn, present only your core role.
You’ll see I’ve reduced this website to two core facets: my direction of moving images and still images. Many of my other “slashie” skills and experience are now utilized under my umbrella role as a director.
My business advisor Monica Davidson gave me this advice, and it’s been instrumental in refining the presentation of my skills over many years. If you’re in Australia, I recommend her workshop for creative businesses: freelancesuccess.com.au
3. Create an online portfolio website.
Less is more. Present only your best work.
Search Engine Optimization aside, I think the initial value of a well thought-out website is not traffic from random strangers, but comes from the people you meet In Real Life.
You meet someone, they like you, you give them a business card. It looks good and stirs their interest. They look up your website. They’re impressed by a clear and simple demonstration that you can execute in detail the task you were discussing in person. Having this forward-facing entity establishes credibility and a history. They’ve already met you, and now trust you enough to hire you or buy your product.
This is essentially refocusing the old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” to understand that the people you need to know are already in your address book, not the cold-calls you think you have to make to powerful people.
In short, make a list of 100 people who have some level of mutual friendship/ acquaintance/ concern for you. Also list 40 goals you want to achieve, big or little, business or personal (it’s important to be specific). Then match the dots. Who can help you with what goal?
Your 100 people have their own network of 100 people, giving you potential access to 10,000 people. You only need 1 person to open the right door, so you have good odds.
Pride and fear keep us from asking for help from friends, but all successful people are able to ask for help. Whatever you truly want in life, it will always involve relationships. Instead of cold-calling strangers, it’s better to be “doing life” with your friends. Friends are naturally prewired with a desire to help you anyway, and you them.
This tip comes from Bob Beaudine who wrote “The Power of WHO!” (gotta say that like an owl). A random book I perused while subletting a stranger’s apartment in New York City.
5. If you want different results, try something different.
This one is simple, yet people continue with the same activities, expecting opportunities will magically shift in their favor with the passing of time. They won’t.
I mean, they might, but you’ll probably be dead by then. Rather than wait, take a calculated risk.
The important note here is that it doesn’t have to be seismic life-shift that turns your world upside down, like quitting a full-time job. Beginning small is the key! And, like Jullien Gordon in his talk “Side Hustlas” at TEDxMidwest delves into, start your venture as something you hustle on the side — in addition to your other job.
This brings us down to the question, “Why are you doing what you are doing?” Maybe you are simply doing your job to make money. That’s great! However, in the long-term, even that money to sustain your life has to funnel into a more intrinsic value system to carry a sense of fulfillment.
6. Know Thy Self.
What do you want to do?
If you don’t know what you want to do… how do you find out?
I’ve always known I wanted to direct, yet it took a good portion of my 20’s to feel grounded in my craft. There’s always more to grow into, as well as the deeper question, What do I want the films I direct to be about?
I’ll leave this post with words from the late British philosopher Alan Watts, who asks “What makes you itch?”:
What would you like to do if money were no object? Do that. Become a master of it. Then you will get a good fee for it.
Happy birthday, bro! My prayer is you take that risk and try something new, that time be on your side, and that you sense fulfillment in what you do.
Under a building titled 1930 Falcon Laundry, of red brick and a graffitied roller door, sits a man in a white long sleeved shirt, charcoal pants and dust-worn boots. He turns a magazine pullout over in half and straightens both his arms to support his weight on his knees with palms of his hands. He glances up and down the street. It’s empty.
He stands up, mounting one foot on the arched drainpipe he’d been sitting on and swats the wall with the magazine roll as though he were in a fashion photography shoot. A little Chinese girl passes him, walking her greyhound: black with white booties. The man stands straight against the wall, observing her.
Finally a van labeled Construction rolls in at an angle to the curb and a big smile crosses his face. An arm extends from the driver window, a pair of keys dangling from fingers. The man shoulders his bag and saunters over, retrieves the keys and unlocks the side door. A third man in a battered purple polo shirt jumps out the passenger side and enters the Falcon Laundry also.
A moment later the graffitied roller door recedes into is coil and the van squeezes through the dark of the narrow opening. The man in the white long sleeved shirt appears one last time with a metal rod in hand. He hooks it into the roller door, and in three steps, draws it shut. The street is vacant again. The day has begun.
The icons of the New York skyline so familiar through recess of memory and the window of film, now examined through the window of a taxi sailing the BQE.
I want to find my notepad to write all this down, but my girl is nestled into my chest. She’s usually fetal with her back turned by 9pm, so I’m reluctant to disturb this spring communion when an isolating city surrounds.
In the morning I wake early and climb the noisy wooden stairs to the rooftop. The panoramic icons glisten in a sunlit post-rain lineup: Liberty, Freedom Tower, Triborough Bridges, Empire.
It’s an outer body experience: like a spectator automated through the motions of another person’s life. One foot after another on a trajectory to I-don’t-know-where.
However, devoid of routine and permanent residence, I choose to let all sense of confusion slip by and acknowledge simple facts: I’m alive, healthy, well-fed, and have an exciting future to build.
My parents and I rode our bikes down to the ANZAC Day ceremony at the Australian War Memorial today. My brother was playing saxophone in the military band for the royals who were only 20m away! I love how casual security details are in Canberra.
I’m on a father/son motorbike trip through Samoeng & Mae-Se, northwest of Chiang Mai. It’s Strawberry country!! Strawberry shakes, strawberry wine, sweet strawberries, sour strawberries… and every farm we pass has a giant strawberry mascot out the front. It’s one of Dad’s first times on a motorbike… so I’m glad he’s still here to take a selfie with me.