In film your shooting ratio is how much footage you shoot relative to how much of it you end up using in your finished production. Back when we shot on film and had to worry about hairs etc. getting into things during film-loading, and there was no way to see what you had just shot, we still shot a small fraction of what people currently do. What does this have to do with your mental health? I’m getting to that.
Today a 25 year old can literally have a 30 to 1 or even 150 to 1 ratio, while people in their 50’s will often have ratios closer to 1.4 to 1 or 2.8 to 1 etc.. An actor’s director like Clint Eastwood doesn’t like to wear out his cast, so now that he can see what he just shot he’ll often only shoot a single take and he’ll do that for 30 to 40 percent of the film.
This is a good metaphor for minds today. Bombarded with much shorter edits in the media their minds get trained on, add many more distractions and responsibilities, not to mention and overall busier lives everyone’s leading, with many more schedule activities, texts etc. etc, many young people today are understandably taught to hyperthink, leaving them to be tortured by their own whirling thoughts. There’s so many decisions in a day now; so many things outside of us and our control that demand our attention, that it’s as though the Editor that works in our memory is overloaded with footage and it’s getting hard to tell the useful stuff from the stuff we’re better to leave on the editing room floor.
So how do we feel better? We slow things down. We don’t give our Memory Editor a deluge of stuff–especially if it’s negative–because it wears us out. Even funny scenes get tiring if you have too many of them. So in the real world of mental health we’re not so much looking for fun scenes as much as we are looking for absorbing ones. As long as you’re thoroughly involved you won’t even notice the time passing regardless of the scene content. You just need to be present and in the Now.
Another way to help out is to take control over your Director of Photography regarding what you’re going to commit to film. For the filmmaker the film isn’t so much in the showing of the film as it is the making of it. So your day is what you shoot. And the lens is like your attention. Where you focus it will tell you what kind of shot you’re going to get. If you shoot sad scenes expect a sad experience. Likewise for happy ones etc. etc. etc.
In daily life everyone around you is performing improv so life is less like a movie and more like “Reality” TV. The reality TV that currently gets watched focuses its lens on tension, conflict and challenge. That’s what appeals to the most common part of all of us. But again, you have been the viewer but this is about breaking the wall and inviting you behind the screen, where you can Direct.
If you focus on conflict-laden scenes then that’s what your day will be made up of and that’s what you’ll have to review in the editing room at night. But if you focus your attention on what you’re grateful for, then that’s what you get to spend your night with. And if you want those nights to be peaceful then don’t overshoot footage during the day. Don’t comment on things that don’t benefit from your opinion. Don’t judge yourself or others. Have a quiet mind. Have a low shooting percentage.
Remember, Clint Eastwood can have a seemingly risky though Zen-like shooting ratio and yet the proof is in his record: he’s Directed five different actors to Academy Award wins and he himself has been nominated for a dozen and won five. And he’s known for liking his Set quiet…
Clint will still film both joy and sadness, pleasure and pain, gain and loss. Again, the profound living is less so in the content and more so in the depth of our appreciation of that content. Even in the sad scenes we can authentically feel that Clint loves his work, he loves the people he works with and he loves his stories–and it all shows in his incredible track record. Your life can be the same.
Don’t shoot too much, shoot a high percentage of footage that is enjoyable to experience whether that’s someone jumping out of a plane, getting a new puppy or enjoying a great conversation. And if you’ve gone out and shot a bunch of depressing footage then don’t be surprised if you and your editor end up depressed. And that’s not good because it makes shooting the next day harder, and you’re going to be more likely to develop a habit of shooting the crap instead of the beauty.
Start today. Focus your attention on the film you want to make, not on the one you’re afraid you might make. And the healthiest choice after shooting is to do like a lot of big cinematographers and never see the finished film. That’s the healthiest of all because then you know for sure that you didn’t make your film for anyone else but yourself, and that was entirely the point. Because replaying our own films is just memory-based ego. But the making of our films is our lives. So it is worthwhile to be mindful of the movie we are always making.
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.