The film industry is an inherently high-intensity environment, and maintaining composure can be a daily struggle. We asked our colleagues to share advice and methods of keeping calm amidst the challenges of filmmaking.

Teresa Mastropierro

“Don’t waste your time thinking about how things should have gone. That’s just a dead end that wastes everyone’s valuable time and energy.“

Mark Garner

“As a department head, I have to show that I am a leader and a problem solver. I have to earn respect by giving respect.“

Maria Djurkovic

“I thrive on pressure - if I didn’t, I couldn’t do the job.”

Lisa Myers

“Stress is a constant factor in my life, and learning how to process and live with it is an unrelenting struggle.”

June 10, 2016

How do you keep calm under pressure?

Teresa Mastropierro

Teresa Mastropierro has been working for the past 10 years with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock on the award winning comedy series “30 Rock,” for which she was nominated for an Emmy, and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
Other film work includes “New York, I Love You,” Daryl Wein’s “Lola vs.,” Ira Sachs’ “Forty Shades of Blue,” and Tom Di Cillo’s “Delirious.”

Usually, if I’m feeling a lot of pressure at work, it comes from a sense that there is not enough time to get the work done. Deadlines are a part of our job, but still, we don’t want to let anyone down or fall short of the director’s expectations. I try really hard to identify the source of the stress – if I am just worried that I will look bad, I try to put that aside right away. It just clouds your thinking and gets in the way of solving the problem at hand.

Even if I am nervous, I think it is really important to stay calm for the sake of the crew. I have been in their position before, and I definitely remember getting anxious and losing focus if I saw the designer begin to panic. We all need to collaborate as a department, and nobody is at their best or most creative if they are too busy thinking about all the things that could go wrong.

When I started out as a scenic artist I received some great advice that always helps me. Don’t waste your time thinking about how things should have gone (if the schedule hadn’t changed, or the paint hadn’t spilled, or the crew had been bigger, etc.). That’s just a dead end that wastes everyone’s valuable time and energy.

On a practical level, I think it helps a lot to be aware of what the worst- case scenario could be, and to have a Plan B. Everyone just feels more calm when they know there is a backup plan. It also helps me to take a half an hour or so to make a list of priorities and a rough timetable for the work. It seems obvious, but it can be hard to resist being rushed into making a bad decision that you will have to remediate later.

Maria Djurkovic

Maria Djurkovic was recently nominated for an Academy Award for her work on “The Imiation Game.“ Other film credits include Stephen Daldry’s award-winning “The Hours“ and “Billy Elliot,“ “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,“ “Mama Mia!,“ “RKO 281,“ and “Vanity Fair“ among others.

I thrive on pressure - if I didn’t, I couldn’t do the job. Sadly, at work, staying calm has always been a challenge but I always manage to maintain control of everything and pride myself on doing the job as well as I possibly can.

I don’t think that anyone who has worked with me would describe me as calm. Passionate, enthusiastic, opinionated, argumentative, perfectionist, confrontational, uncompromising,
forceful, undiplomatic and honest, would be adjectives much more likely to be used. I probably deal with stress by being a little too aggressive. If I was a man, this would be considered quite uncontentious.

I am always in awe, but also rather irritated by people who can maintain calm at all times. I am incapable of wearing a mask. and I find that I seek a good dose of confrontation to give my adrenals an extra kick, to keep me fully stimulated. I am often astonished that I have career at all...

I have worked with Tatiana McDonald, my Set Decorator, on 19 films now. She is far more placid than I am, but certainly not calm either.

We discovered, to our horror, that we were known as ‘Manic and Panic’ within the British Art Department. Probably I am ‘Manic’ although I am sure that it is quite interchangeable. Therefore, finding a calm Supervising Art Director is all the more important to me. I realise that all this is quite relative. Last year filming in Thailand during the monsoon, a river burst its banks and drowned my main set under 12' of water, washing away $150,000 worth of greens. The problem seemed insurmountable, but we rebuilt a 5 week build in a different location in 1 week...
I am not quite sure how we did it...maybe I am being too tough on myself. Now, that’s another subject...

Mark Garner

Mark Garner started in the industry as a much sought-after set designer on such films as “My Girl“ and “The Notebook.“ He worked his way through the art department as an Art Director and now Production Designer. His most recent production design work include “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,“ “The Choice“ and “The Longest Ride.“

A mentor of mine many years ago would tell me that worrying about it would not get the job done. Today, as a Production Designer in film and television I can attest that this is true.

I have been in the entertainment business for 26 years. I started as a Set Designer, then Art Director and now Production Designer. My years of training and experience have taught me many things but one of the most important is how to keep calm under pressure.

Our business can present unpredictable and stressful situations daily. We are placed in unfamiliar surroundings with people we do not know but have to trust to help get the job done, sometimes under very difficult deadlines. We deal with directors and producers that often make us feel as though they have no idea what we really do in the Art Department. Just when you feel you may have a handle on these ever changing situations they hit you with a major schedule change!

How do you remain calm under these circumstances? As a department head, I have to show that I am a leader and a problem solver. I have to earn respect by giving respect. If I were to allow my emotions to get the best of me and lose my cool then I have devalued my character and risk not being able to lead my department. I can’t say that I have any tricks to keeping calm, just a few simple rules I try to follow to get me through the daily grind and pressure that go hand in hand in our business.

First of all I have to say that I am always grateful. I love what I do and I don’t ever want to take it for granted.

I try to take things in stride, even if that stride is a running gallop!

Homework! Keeping up with script and schedule changes keeps me informed and allows me to adjust to those changes without stressing over them.

I choose my battles. I always believe in my ideas but that doesn’t mean they will all fly with the director or producers. Stressing over everything is not going to help. Choosing what is most important and letting the rest go allows me to move on.

I think most importantly for me is to stay positive If a crisis arises and I approach it with a negative attitude, I am cheating the production and myself of the best of me. As that mentor of mine would also remind me, it’s only a movie folks!

Lisa Myers

Lisa Myers designed award winning independet films “Concussion,“ “The Land,“ “My Blind Brother,” “Manhattan Night“ and “I Dream Too Much,“ among others.

Often to my shock, people will come up to me and comment on my calming presence and demeanor. Full disclosure, there’s a good chance I’m in full panic mode but have exceptional internalizing abilities. But I suppose there’s some merit to that even if it’s not fully my own truth. Maintaining a steady calm encourages that same energy in those working around you. Stress is a constant factor in my life, and learning how to process and live with it is an unrelenting struggle.

Part of my struggle is that I believe a certain amount of stress can be healthy. It can be a great motivator and is often a result of caring deeply about what you’re doing. There’s stimulation and growth in taking risks, and risks are stressful. The difference is how you manifest that buzzing energy; if you can focus that stress into productive forward movement instead of letting it overwhelm, then I say stress on. The real trick is being mindful enough to draw that line.

I don’t practice mindfulness in a formal way, but I try to be conscious and engaged with the moment. I do not repeat a mantra or meditate, but I do put effort into being aware of the following and in doing so I am able to stay grounded:

Do everything with passion and dedication but be able to release it. Be passionate at work; be equally passionate about lying on the couch and reading. We all love our work, but because our work is also our art there’s the danger of being consumed by it. Show the same dedication for your personal time as you give to your work. I believe in rest. Productive work, productive living, is not possible without rest. I try to reserve long hours for rare circumstances, and I’ll fight to protect that. I believe in play. Make time to enjoy the art and enjoy the people you’re making it with. If you are a good leader and trust your team, the work will be accomplished. During that journey, you can choose to stress and panic or you can choose to be calm and steady. It is a choice.

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