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10 Harsh (Sometimes Disturbing) Realities of The Indie Lifestyle (Pt 1)

July 21, 2016

• Michael DiBiasio

It took years of work to pack this theater for our NYC premiere.

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already know that independent film is hard work. Filmmaking in general is hard work. In many ways, it’s an insane task. In taking it on, we’re basically claiming to be good enough to recreate reality, towards convincing and effective results.

As a low-budget filmmaker (for the sake of argument, let’s define that as someone producing a film at a ratio of less than $1,000 per finished minute or running time), I have built up about a decade of experience piling extra insanity upon this general insanity, by trying to recreate reality with limited resources. Again, if you’re reading this, you might be familiar.

Regardless, this pattern of behavior has unsurprisingly put an inhuman amount of pressure on my body, spirit, and mind over the years

I would add “social life” to that list, but to do so would lead you to think I have one. What I've got at present is more like a little ragged social wind-up toy. From time to time I twist the creaking key that juts out of its back, and my social life animates for a short while before sputtering back to a stop and collecting dust in the corner. Welp...I tried.

This is somewhat okay with me, because I’m in the thick of releasing my first feature (completed at a ratio of $365.85 per finished minute). Luckily, those ten prior years of experience have taught me to respect the magnitude of such a task, even if (despite the above and the below), I’m also constantly working to balance things out, such that my wife and pets don’t leave me, and/or so that I don’t burn out or miss out on enjoying the experience and the pride of such a momentous life event.

Still, I have nonetheless suffered. If you’ve made a low-budget feature before, while at the same time trying to live life and to take care of business and yet create something memorable, perhaps you’re familiar with the realities of indiependent filmmaking that I list below. If you haven’t and thus think that everything is peachy and you're going to get out unscathed, consider this your warning.

In fact -- everyone -- considered yourself warned. Much of the below is not pretty. But, for better or worse, it is the truth.

Here’s a list of ailments and unfortunate events that arose over the past several months of work on The Videoblogs. [Trigger Warning: Scatalogical Travails Included.]

  1. Insomnia: The Series!

Sleep is at a premium when you’re an indie artist.

I used to suffer from regular sleeplessness. At one point, I went on Ambien. Then I saw a ghost while on Ambien and went off Ambien. Over time, though, especially once I started taking better care of my mental and physical health, the issue diminished to a mostly manageable once-monthly occurrence. But it returned with a vengeance, as a daily occurrence, during post-production for The Videoblogs.

I accepted this. I tried to befriend Insomnia. That worked for a bit. It allowed me to continue my goal of finally watching every single episode of Star Trek: TNG on Netflix. Then, the friendship stopped working. I started mixing herbal sleep aids into Insomnia’s diet of night cereals. Insomnia found out. We fought. Ultimately, I just had to accept that we were going to be together again, for a little while. Eventually, it went away again. Or it moved into the extra space in my belly created by the night cereal.

  1. The Cold Water Pinky Corollary

For the pain and the indigestion and the chocolate cravings.

Several months back, in the midst of editing The Videoblogs at night and on Saturdays, in between working a full-time job (we went slightly over budget with production, and so I cut out what I had planned to spend on an editor), my right arm started hurting. Then, my left arm started hurting. Figuring it had something to do with the 60 hour work weeks, I tried to pace myself. Still, there were deadlines looming. All were self-imposed, and thus movable in theory, but at the same time they weren’t. We’ve always had a plan, and I wanted to stick to it.

So I soldiered on. Finally, I was in a lot of pain. I got checked out, and learned that I had developed cubital tunnel syndrome in both elbows. Cubital tunnel is like carpal tunnel (oh no), but less common (ok, sort of cool) and with a cooler name (coolness jackpot!)

I have a long history of working my way into strange ailments. I wasn’t surprised when the elbows kicked, but it was frustrating -- though ultimately also a good lesson in scaling back. Anyway, after much time and two braces and a ton of Advil and some boundaries set by physical reality -- I’m mostly better. Still, sometimes, on long days, I still feel residual pain or discomfort.

At one point during all this, I kept experiencing pain every time cold water hit my pinky while doing the dishes or filling ice cube trays, because my nerves are still a bit twisted up and pinched. To me, this was also a sign that I needed to additionally scale back on doing my share of the dishes, which didn’t go over well with my wife.

  1. Continued Digital Extreme Temperature Malaise

Sonic the Hedgehog called for his hair back.

While we’re talking digits, at one point during post-production and marketing, I also poured scalding hot tea on my toes -- twice in one week. I was both exhausted and, relatedly, in a rush to drink copious amounts of tea. In addition to teaching me that tea does not absorb well pedically, this was also a sign to pause and catch up on rest.

  1. No All-Nighters for Old Men

My all-nighter gave me this sunrise, which was nice...but sleep is better.

Over the years, I have pulled several all-nighters to hit various sorts of deadlines. Up until The Videoblogs, however, I had not pulled one while in my thirties. Now, I have.

It was awful. For a few moments, before I passed out, I thought I had killed myself. It felt like my old friend Insomnia was sitting on my chest and punching my stupid head. There was still that one moment of feeling immensely proud -- of finishing a major step of post-production, which was when it happened -- but the problems continued the next day. I woke up hungover and cranky.

Then, that same night, I got food poisoning at one of my favorite restaurants. That was probably just bad luck, but the thing with bad luck is that it always comes, so we’re better off facing it having not first intentionally put ourselves through the wringer.

  1. Men Should Be Able to Hit The Bowl

“You're short, your belly-button sticks out too far…”

One day, I was so tired that I sat down to pee. Men do that sometimes, but we don’t like admitting it, even though it’s also a common way to pee when you’re in the process of using the toilet for...its other primary function.

Anyway, I have a small New York City toilet. Sitting down to pee in it requires some tucking. Due to my exhaustion, I mistucked. Mistucking is a mistake. Let’s just say the hose missed the pool, and I had to then wash the floor.

*****

Read Part 2, then watch The Videoblogs on iTunes!

Read more by

Michael DiBiasio

Michael DiBiasio is a Writer/Director living in and working out of Brooklyn, NY. His first feature, The Videoblogs, was funded on Seed&Spark and screened nationally for Mental Health Month in May. The Videoblogs hit VOD (iTunes, Amazon, Verizon Fios, Frontier Cable, Seed&Spark) in July.


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