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Comfort Zone: Stay at Your Own Risk

  • September 26, 2018
  • Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Comfort Zone: Stay at Your Own Risk

Do you ever wake up in the morning and say, “God, I don’t want to go into work today…”?  Believe it or not, I have those days too. There’s those days that you work on jobs that the director’s not very nice, or the job is just not the greatest. You thought it was going to be amazing and it’s just a real downer. Do I have a lot of those days? No, but I do have them probably a handful a year. The rest of the time?

…I jump out of bed with a spring in my step, ready to rumble! How do I have that? How do I keep that?

CRACK.

Lots and lots of crack…

Ha-ha, I’m joking, but seriously, everything must feel like you’re doing it for the first time. I’m constantly challenging myself. That’s the key to an exciting and fulfilling career, to always be challenging yourself, always pushing forward into new territory, pushing the boundaries of what you knew you could do, taking yourself out of your comfort zone.

BTS from McG’s new film: Rim of the World

I do that on a daily basis. That’s what challenges me and it keeps me sharp. It keeps me with a very positive attitude and a humble attitude as well.

When you get comfortable, you get cocky.

You don’t know everything if you’re constantly challenging yourself. That’s what’s going to create a very long career, where you’re always trying to do something different. Finding new ways to light, new ways to lens, prep for a shoot or communicate your vision. The world is always evolving, so why shouldn’t you? Work in ways that are really unique and different from what everybody else is doing. I think that approach is what inspires this attitude where I say, “Every day I wake up and I feel like I’m a 5-year old.” When you’re a 5–year old, everything is BIGGER, and everything is BETTER. The light might actually just be white, but to your 5-year old’s eyes, it’s golden and glowing. Everything is new. It’s fresh. It’s alive. That’s how I try to treat every day I go to work. It’s a new day. I’ve never done this before.

Let’s use this Wiz promo I did for an example. Well, the whole camera crew had never worked with Red Dragon cameras. We were shooting this in New York, where Alexa rules, at the time Alexa was ruling everywhere in the world.  I’m there with my Red Dragons and we’re firing them up and they don’t know how to do the different settings and they don’t understand how to put the right color space on the monitors, and they don’t know how to black shade – they don’t even know what black shade is! They didn’t know how to do any of the basic and crucial things you do to properly prep a RED camera.  So, I take them onto Google and find Black Shading for Dummies and take them through it. I did not want to just do it for them, because if I just went in there and did it, they’d never be able to learn for themselves or know how to adapt to something similar in the future. They had to find the process. Luckily, we had a good hour and a half before we had to shoot, and they had the time to figure everything out, get all of it in the right place, and deliver the right imagery and the right signal to my monitor and the right signal to the card, and all the things that were ironed out and correct for post.

So much about this attitude is being a trailblazer, as much as it’s about taking yourself out of the comfort zone. This is how you keep every day fresh. If you know how to do it right, you also can help spread this (non)comfortableness to others, which I also do daily. Every time I walk on set, I always have some new piece of gear or some new way of doing things that everyone feels like an alien ship just landed on the stage floor, or the location that we’re in.

MoVi Operator Chris Herr makes adjustments with MoVi Tech Luke Wyatt

It’s a lot of fun, and that’s what keeps me young inside. I’m in my 50’s now, but like I said, I’m a 5-year-old at heart. Having this attitude and being open about it – is infectious. Here’s an example…

When you’re on set, and you set up a shot and the director says,

“Okay, so what are we going to do here?”

What I don’t say…

“I’m going to put a little light here and a little light there … “

You know what I’m going to do? I say..

“I’m going to bring in this 18K that’s going to put these platinum shafts of light that just blast into this room, and it’s going to explode off the floor. Then, when they come around the corner, their going to have this under light that makes them kind of glow, and in the background, I’m going to blow out that window, so they have this ethereal quality around their head.”

You need a lot of haze to get those shafts of light – check out this article on haze.

That is the way you describe stuff. You don’t just say…

“Oh yeah, I got it, it’s going to be good …”

I really get into what I do. I love what I do, I love how to describe light, I love how to lens light, I love to tell stories and emotional stories that really connect with the audience. You need to find that love – and share it!

Director Gabriele Muccino and I blocking out a long take one’r.

These are the kind of things that you can do to keep your motivation and keep you sharp. If you’ve done other careers, and you keep on going back to the film industry, then the film industry is where you should be. You’ve just got to hunker down and believe in yourself and go for it. You can’t just sit on the sidelines.

If you’re going to sit on the sidelines, you’re going to dabble, dabble, dabble, and suddenly you’re going to turn back and look at yourself at 65 years old and you’re saying, “Why didn’t I make that jump?”

“But, what about my family and my bills, and my…”

Your family is going to understand. Any family that sees how excited and how alive you are when you’re doing something that you love, will be behind you all the way. That deep respect that they have and caring nature that they’re going to have towards you? They’re going to just let you do it, because you’re going to be so different at home. If you’re stumbling around everything that you don’t want to do, the odds are, at home, you’re not going to be the most vibrant, the most inspiring, and the most fun person to be around, because you’re not doing what you love.

(CAPTION: My beautiful family with my wife Lydia, Daughter Kyra, and son Myles)

I could not imagine that, doing something that I didn’t love. The opportunity to be doing something I love motivates me, drives me, and continues to inspire me to do my very best – every chance I can.

Last day of Principal Photography on Rim of The World with some of my kick ass crew

I look back at my career and where I made so many mistakes … I jumped up the ladder very quickly and with that jumping up the ladder, I didn’t get to learn a lot of the essential tools of leadership and respect as much as I should have. A lot of my crew members had difficult times working with me because I was young and didn’t respect them. Only looking back can you say, “My God I made so many mistakes…”

Me as a young whippersnapper sometime late in the last century.

You’ll make mistakes too, that’s part of life. You’ll fail, you’ll have tough times, you’ll question your decisions, and you’ll wish you had done something differently. Trust me, the grass always seems greener on the other side, but the only grass you can count on is the stuff you’re standing on. You don’t need to regret any of those decisions, because they have made you who you are today. So yes, you will have tough times, but you’ll have great times too. Nothing compares to the feeling of doing what you love for a living, of being part of something bigger, and of building comradery with your fellow crew.

Writing this is funny because I was just recently in a production meeting on this new movie and the head of production of New Line was sitting right across from me. She had done semi-pro with me. After the whole eight-hour production meeting, she turned to me and goes,

“You are so different.”

I go, “Well, thank you. Yeah, I think I’ve finally grown up and understood who I am and what I’m about.”

She goes, “I cannot wait to do this movie with you. Your inspiration, your attitude, everything about it is completely changed.”

That really grabbed my heart. I was like, wow, this business is so crazy sometimes. You just, kind of, look at it and see how far you’ve come and how many people you’ve met and worked with. To hear those couple sentences really made my year. It made me realize that I am growing, that I am changing, and that I am being a better leader and a better cinematographer, and a better inspiration to film makers all over the world.

We are all constantly growing, evolving, learning, and hopefully pushing ourselves to be better versions of ourselves because, as artists, we are honestly never fully comfortable with where we are. That’s ok. That pushes us to grow, to challenge ourselves, and to stay out of our comfort zones.

So many of you have helped this transformation for me. I cannot thank you enough for helping me be a better leader, a better mentor, and a better filmmaker… It has gone full circle within the Inner Circle. I started the Inner Circle to help you and the community and in doing so I’ve learned so much more than I ever thought as a leader and filmmaker. All of you have ended up helping me become who I am.

Get the hell out of your comfort zone, then let me know how you did in the comments below.

Peace,

Shane.

  • Cinematography
  • Director of Photography
  • Leadership

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