In film a shooting ratio is how much footage we shoot relative to how much of it we end up using in our finished production. Back when we shot on film and there was no way to see what you had just shot (and the risk was subsequently much higher), we still shot a small fraction of what people currently shoot.
What does a filmmaker’s shooting ratio have to do with mental health? Because it acts as a metaphor for what too many of us do today, which is generating large amounts of busy thinking.
Today someone can literally have a 30 to 1 or even 150 to 1 shooting ratios, which means going through 150 minutes of film to find just the one minute you need. Meanwhile, people in their 50’s will often have ratios closer to 1.4 to 1 or 2.8 to 1 etc. simply because that’s what they’re used to. They work with less fear and more confidence.
An actor’s director like Clint Eastwood doesn’t like to wear out his cast, so now with video where 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. It’s cheaper, faster and calmer.
That practice reduces his workload considerably once it comes to editing the film together. By making more careful, present and considered choices in the moment of filming, he leaves himself with manageable options in the editing room. His mind isn’t overly busy with the unnecessary. There is no FOMO about what might have been done.
Transfer this to the regular world and today we are bombarded with much more information, broken into shorter and faster chunks. Add in many more distractions, responsibilities and uncertainties to that and it makes sense why everyone feels rushed and tired.
There are so many things outside of us and out of our control that demand our attention that it’s as though the editor that works in our mind is overloaded with footage and it’s getting hard to tell the useful stuff from the stuff we were better to have never even recorded.
Part of our challenge is that when we are faced with ‘too much,’ we tend to first think about getting rid of feelings we tell ourselves are negative, but that isn’t a useful sorting tool because it can leave out some beautiful and profound experiences that involve pain or struggle.
Clint Eastwood isn’t better because he cuts together all nice scenes, his talent is that the lead character’s story is so thoroughly absorbing that we actually enjoy the challenging scenes too. It is possible to feel that way about ourselves and the story of our own lives.
Rather than trying to ‘shoot our way around’ all of the painful emotions by gathering more and more of what we like, we are better to gather less and simply accept some negativity along the way.
Quality negativity is much better than the useless negativity generated by too much choice. We don’t want to give our Memory Editor a deluge of everything because it wears our editor out. Even funny scenes get tiring if we have too many of them.
In short, we need to be more careful about what we invest our attention on in the first place. In the real world of mental health we’re not so much looking for fun moments as much as we are looking for fully absorbing ones.
If we pay closer attention we will notice that as long as we’re thoroughly involved in a moment or ‘scene,’ we won’t really even notice the time passing regardless of the scene content. We don’t need to be happy as much as we just need to be present and fully alive within that experience. In this way even emergencies can be exhilarating.
Rather than burying our Editor in meaningless footage, we need to get a more judicious Director of Photography regarding what you’re going to commit to the film of our life. The lens is like the metaphor for our attention. Where we focus it will tell us what kind of shot we’re going to get. If you shoot sad scenes we should expect a sad experience. Likewise for happy ones etc. etc. etc.
If we focus on conflict-laden scenes then that’s what our day will be made up of and that’s what we’ll have to review in the editing room (in bed) at night. It’s why so many people have trouble falling asleep. Less really can be more.
Remember, Clint Eastwood can have a seemingly risky (though Zen-like) shooting ratio and yet the proof is in his record: as of this writing 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 sets quiet and slow but efficient and cooperative. That’s a good model for a lot of things.
Clint will still film both joy and sadness, pleasure and pain, gain and loss. Again, the profound living is less so in the tone of the content and more so in the depth of our appreciation of that content.
Even in 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. His films feature tragedy and pain just as much as joy and redemption, and yet we love the entire film. We can feel that way about our own lives, in much the same way.
With whatever we’re doing we should be wary not to ‘shoot too much.’ We can see being busy-minded as being equivalent to a high shooting percentage. And, if we’ve gone out and shot a bunch of depressing footage then we shouldn’t be surprised if our editor (our ego, who puts words and emotions to all of our experience), ends up depressed.
Too much busy thinking or too much sadness is not good because it makes shooting the next day harder, and if we aren’t careful we’ll develop a habit of shooting only life’s crap instead of also including its 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.
Then we can know for sure that we didn’t make our film for anyone else but ourselves, and that’s good because that was entirely the point. We were meant to live our lives, not judge them. Replaying our own films is just memory-based ego. But the making of our films is our life. For that reason, it is worthwhile to be very mindful of the movie we are always making with where we choose to focus our attention.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.