Armed with the wisdom of his 94-year-old friend, Ande Schurr discusses how freelancers can prepare for the ups and downs of their profession by drawing close to history.
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I’ve started seeing a 94-year-old.
There’s something about her that the girls my age don’t have.
It’s the confidence that comes from riding a horse to school when you are six-years-old.
It’s her quick wits and sharp head, however, that in particular endear her to me.
She makes calculations in her head about dates and people’s ages without the need of a smart phone - and her recall is astounding.
My favourite recollection is when she and her friends discovered a cave beneath Mt Smart, when it was a volcanic cone some 87m high, and found a cold blue underground lake that has long since disappeared; turned into a quarry years before they built the Mt Smart stadium in the 60’s.
There’s just one problem with seeing a girl this old - she can’t see me. Her vision has gone on all but the brightest lights and oh yes, there’s one other problem, she’s quite happy to live the rest of her days in a retirement village. That’s where I meet her, volunteering as part of an initiative to document the resident's life stories, and I was partnered with her.
To be fair however, her contentment with staying put has been rightfully earned.
She has seen New Zealand go through the economic depression in 1928, the Napier earthquake in 1931. Then there’s World War II and dealing with the threat of the Japanese in 1941, doing ‘black out’ patrol, up and down the streets, alone in the dark as a teenager in Whangarei.
She was there in 1952 when the population advanced beyond two million kiwis (having climbed from one million in 1908), in 1959 when the Auckland Harbour Bridge opened, in 1967 when the decimal currency was introduced.
She was there when colour TV was introduced in 1973, the NZ Film Commission was established in 1978, Air NZ Flight 901 crashed into Mount Erebus, Antarctica in 1979 and when the Springbok tour riled our nation in 1981.
May we all have her good fortune to keep our wits and an accurate memory in our old age!
However it may not be so easy.
Riding the Waves of Change
The world that we live in is markedly different from hers. Ours moves so rapidly that we are in danger of living in a ‘now’ bubble, quite removed from history. Ironically this doesn’t make us more present. We worry more than ever about the future because of increasingly unpredictability and in doing so gloss over important events, both now and historical, and their relation to our current opportunities.
Take the NZ Film Commission for example. We didn’t have one 40 years ago. In just a few decades we have a structure that has helped set many top directors on their path.
Just 25 years ago, in 1989, NZ On Air was established on the back of the reality that it costs more to make local productions than to import them from overseas, so public subsidy became essential.
When we take the time to look at history we lose our negative tinge on the whole situation of struggling to make it work as freelancers.
We can see that in a short period of time new industries arise, develop and mature before becoming unsettled and taking yet another form. It makes sense that change is happening around us at a phenomenal rate; that more is happening ‘in-house’ than before; that budgets are smaller because of cheaper technology; that clients expect more for less. That is progress.
What we can do is be available and ride the wave of change.
That being said, for all the things that change, some things will not.
It still takes years of effort to become a great Producer, Production Manager or Co-Ordinator, Director, Production Designer, Director of Photography, Sound Recordist, Makeup-Artist, Art Director, Grip, Gaffer or, certainly not least, Actor.
Large productions will always need all these roles filled. It’s just the smaller ones that blur the lines.
As freelancers we have to be cognisant of the world that we have inherited. We need to know how the system came to be what it is today.
Tom Cruise watches a movie every day and flicks back to past shots and scenes, even from the Charlie Chapman movies, to see how they were shot in the same way that we might flick back to a chapter in a text book.
He is an example of someone who references history to improve on his current reality and future projects.
To conclude, we must keep relevant in our increasingly changing times by, ironically, keeping a firm hand on the book of history from which our industry came from and all its surrounding context.
With such precious few decades of film related events at our disposal to base these times on, we can offset this uncertainty by joining the dots and anticipating what is just around the corner.
One thing is for sure, having people like my 94-year-old friend in our lives, who have experienced almost a century of living, helps us become more philosophical, less stressful and certainly more appreciative of our health and wits!