It can be hard to set work-life boundaries when you know someone else could easily replace you.
This week Zack Arnold, award-winning editor (Cobra Kai, Empire, Glee) talks of the article he wrote Dear Hollywood: We Don’t Want to “Go Back to Normal.” Normal Wasn’t Working, and shares how he learned to set boundaries to create a healthy work-life balance in the industry. Listen to Zack tell Tanya how reduced set hours saves production money, when to say no, and how his company, Optimize Yourself teaches how to overcome burnout.
1:17- How he got started as an editor
7:04- Experience during COVID
9:33- About Optimize Yourself
12:33- How to monetize his passion
16:46- How have people responded to your article Dear Hollywood: We Don’t Want to “Go Back to Normal.” Normal Wasn’t Working
20:47- Changes to help reduce hours
22:56- Clock-in/clock-out old way of thinking
25:16- Parkinson’s Law
27:57- How to overcome someone talking advantage of your time
29:40- When to say no
31:49- Indicator of being taken advantage of
35:35- The word Lucky
41:10- How much creative control he has as an editor
45:05- Having to use bad takes
48:37- The questions you ask determine the quality of your life
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Zack Arnold (00:00):
Just yesterday, I was talking to one of my clients in tears because she couldn't bring herself to the thought of doing things the way that she did six months or a year ago, but she doesn't know what else to do because it's all she's ever known.
Tanya Musgrave (00:13):
Welcome to There to Here, an educational podcast where industry professionals talk nuts and bolts and how they got from there to here. On today's show, award-winning editor, Zack Arnold, challenges, the mindset of the entertainment industry when it comes to a healthy work life balance in Hollywood. As this is a new podcast, we're really wanting feedback, so go to media.colabinc.org, fill out the feedback survey and you'll be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card.
Tanya Musgrave (00:35):
From CoLab INC, I'm Tanya Musgrave, and today I have Zack Arnold, award-winning editor for film and television and member of the American Cinema Editors. His work includes the likes of Cobra Kai, Burn Notice, Empire and Glee. Welcome to the show.
Zack Arnold (00:49):
I'm excited to be here. I appreciate the opportunity, thank you.
Tanya Musgrave (00:53):
So, so far we've not had anyone who's worked in Post, so I'm excited to get into what life has been like for you during these past few months, but-
Zack Arnold (01:01):
We're a little underrepresented in our dark windowless room, so I can understand that. No offense taken.
Tanya Musgrave (01:07):
But I mean, you get canned lighting.
Zack Arnold (01:09):
Sometimes. We usually have to bring it in ourselves, but yes.
Tanya Musgrave (01:14):
Well, let's start with how you got into this life of editing. How did you get from there to here?
Zack Arnold (01:18):
My journey actually began when I was about nine years old and I was really into movies. I had an older brother that was 12 or 13 years older than me. He is obsessed with movies even to this day and we would just watch movies every single weekend. And one summer, he came home, one day and he had a camcorder.
Zack Arnold (01:35):
And for anybody listening this, looking on Google or Wikipedia, what is a camcorder? It was the big giant Zachary Maura sized camera that you have on your shoulder. And it was VHS and he said, "We should shoot a movie." "Oh, cool, how do we do that?" So we spent all day long running around the house, shooting this movie. It was basically like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but with like Nintendo guns, right?
Zack Arnold (01:56):
He was editing it in camera, 12-hour-day, really hot summer day. We got done with it. He showed me what we shot, and I'm like, "Really? That's it? All that we've got like six minutes of us just running in circles. This was dumb. What a waste of time." But then he came back two weeks later and he showed me the exact same thing, but he had scored all of it with music from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Zack Arnold (02:20):
This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen. How did you do that? How did you take this image, but then put it with different music and time that stop of the music with the pointing of the gun and transition the music when we started running versus this? You have to teach me. So he showed me how he hooked up two VHS players and hooked up a cassette player and was hitting play and record.
Zack Arnold (02:39):
And that's essentially the next 10 years of my life. Every waking moment was me going around the house shooting videos and I specifically shot them out of order because it would force me to edit them in order. And I just taught myself editing tape to tape, and then as soon as I went to college, that's what I went for. I went to the University of Michigan. I was in their film studies program.
Zack Arnold (02:59):
I think they've named it something. I think it's like screen arts and cultures now, but at the time it was film and video studies and it was all about the study and the history of film. And all I'm thinking is, hey guys, where do I learn to edit? Where are the edit rooms? How do I cut? And instead I got a liberal arts degree, which at the time I thought, well, this isn't what I want to do.
Zack Arnold (03:20):
Just show me how to cut, right? So I was all self-taught, finding the edit rooms on the nights and weekends, learning Avid, learning Final Cut pro at the time. Premier wasn't around yet. I'm dating myself by the way, but I was learning Avid and Final Cut pro and learning digital media, and then went out into the real world and the transition from college graduation to the real world.
Zack Arnold (03:41):
Everybody hates my story because it's very hard to replicate, but I'll tell it anyway and hopefully it will inspire somebody. The week of graduation, my senior year, mind you again, this was a long time ago before it was very commonplace to apply for everything online. But I did some online research and I found a company in Santa Monica, California. And again, I was in Michigan, found a company in Santa Monica, California that did marketing and trailers for independent films.
Zack Arnold (04:08):
And the reason I found them is because my favorite film of all time is Memento. When I saw Memento, I watched it and I said, that's exactly what I want to do with my life. Like to a T that's what I want to do. 12 hours a day, 60 hours a week, whatever it is, I want to make movies like that. I found the company that did the advertising and they were looking for an assistant editor.
Zack Arnold (04:27):
I'm like, what the heck? I'm planning on staying in Michigan for months and months and saving money, and hopefully going out to LA in the fall or next year, I'm just going to send off a resume just to see what the process is like. Friday evening, my family's in town. We're getting ready to go out to a family dinner.
Zack Arnold (04:43):
I'm going to have my graduation ceremony the next morning. The company calls. They say hi, we're calling from this company and we got your resume. We'd love to interview you. Can you come in on Monday? And a part of the story I haven't told yet is that I put a Los Angeles address on my resume because nobody responds to out of state address.
Zack Arnold (05:01):
And I had a friend of mine that had just moved to LA like two weeks before. So I used his address and I'm like, yeah, sure, absolutely. I can be there Monday morning. You just tell me where I need to be, send me the address and I'll take care of it. Hang up the phone. I go to my parents. I have to be in Los Angeles on Sunday. They're like what? I'm like, I got a job interview. Oh my God, that's amazing.
Zack Arnold (05:22):
So Saturday morning I have my graduation ceremony, family's there. We had the lunches and everything. Saturday night, I pack everything that I need to, I get on a plane. I've got a picture of me. 7:00 AM Sunday morning, getting on a plane to LA. I had my interview on Monday. I stayed for a couple of extra days just to learn the city, fly back. And I get a call saying, can you start Monday?
Tanya Musgrave (05:44):
Oh my word. Yeah, that is enraging.
Zack Arnold (05:46):
And I've been in Los Angeles ever since.
Tanya Musgrave (05:49):
Zack Arnold (05:50):
I told you people hate my story, but, but that's the story. If I were to break it down, I can explain why it wasn't just "getting lucky" because there were a lot of things on the resume that were at the right time for the right people written the right way. I was able to present myself in a very specific way in the interview, but at the end of the day, I had no gap between college and employment.
Zack Arnold (06:11):
It was less than six days. And the time between being a college graduate and being an employee in Los Angeles was the two and a half days I had to drive. That was it. That was my experience between college and adulthood, was a two and a half day drive to Los Angeles.
Tanya Musgrave (06:26):
May I remind the listeners that are in their 10th year of still trying to break in to this industry, not everybody has this experience.
Zack Arnold (06:35):
It is an uncommon experience and that's why I put myself in a position to help those that are struggling to figure out how to make that happen for themselves.
Tanya Musgrave (06:43):
Yeah, and we are very excited to hear your tactics for that, for sure. I'm guessing that those particular tactics that you used are ones that you use in your company. We can get into that a little bit later, but for right now I'm guessing that post-work is something that has been able to continue during COVID. What has your experience been?
Zack Arnold (07:05):
Yeah. So my personal experience is that I, even before COVID have been removing myself from this part of the industry, and I've slowly made the transition over the last three or four years out of editorial, into coaching, mentorship, career training, work life balance training. All the things that I'm doing with my Optimize Yourself program, for a while it was kind of a hobby. Then it was an obsession.
Zack Arnold (07:27):
Now I've turned it into a business and its how I make my livelihood. So even before COVID, I had wrapped season three of Cobra Kai, and by the way, it's killing me that it's still not out. I really wish that we could talk about what happens because it's an amazing season of television, but I can't talk about it, but I think I wrapped at the end of January or early February. So for me-
Tanya Musgrave (07:46):
Just in time.
Zack Arnold (07:47):
Yeah, exactly. So for me personally, it didn't affect my plans because I was already planning on being at home, working like all of my students, everybody that I work with, it's all built virtually. So it's not like I was meeting with students in person, then I had to figure out the virtual world. I have students in Bogota, Colombia, in Ireland, in Denmark, in Canada.
Zack Arnold (08:08):
I've been doing that for years, so it was just like, well, I mean, I guess I have to be careful going grocery shopping, but my own personal life, like I've basically been social distancing at the Olympic levels for 15 years. I'm an editor, I'm an introvert. I like doing my own thing in my own space. I mean, obviously as a father and a husband and having a family, there's been a lot of things that have been affected.
Zack Arnold (08:31):
But as far as my livelihood, it hasn't been affected that much. However, if I still counted on being an editor for a living, I speak to hundreds of editors all over the industry. And it has decimated, this sector of the industry. So the unemployment rates are through the roof. It's that way across production, pre-production otherwise.
Zack Arnold (08:51):
The entertainment industry has gotten hit really, really hard. If there are people that are discouraged because they're having trouble getting in the door, finding work, meeting with people it's this way, everywhere, all over the planet in entertainment. I happen to be fortunate in that I was already transitioning out of it into a completely virtual space before all this happened.
Zack Arnold (09:11):
So this inflection point of people now thinking about how do I work from home and be more productive and manage my own time, that worked out well for me personally, because I've already been teaching that for years, but really I've been busier than ever working from home with my program. I didn't want it to happen this way and under the circumstances, but that's my own personal experience.
Tanya Musgrave (09:33):
Well, let's talk about this company. So our parent company of CoLab focuses a lot on entrepreneurs as well, so we're going to pivot in that direction. You have a program called Optimize Yourself specifically for creative professionals that helps them and other entrepreneurs become productivity ninjas, as it says on your site. What compelled you to create this company?
Zack Arnold (09:53):
Yeah, so the company actually started on a whim. It actually started as a hiking group. So about six or seven years ago, what I found is that a lot of people were coming to me for advice, not just about how to edit or how to have a successful career, they would say, how can you work the hours that you do and still be in such good shape. Those two things just don't go together, but I've always-
Tanya Musgrave (10:13):
Yeah, I see that tough Mudder shirt.
Zack Arnold (10:14):
Yeah, thank you. This is totally by accident. It was on top of my laundry today, so I certainly wasn't thinking about that. That's one of the things I like about COVID. You just wear gym clothes all the time, right? I have no shame, but that was a question that people would ask all the time. For years and years, I was always the one advocating for standing desks, and height adjustable workstations, and going out for walks during my breaks.
Zack Arnold (10:36):
And people are like, who does this guy think he is? Hey, change your workstation and do your job, but I was already advocating before I knew I was that in order for me to be better at what I do, to be a better creative professional and create more knowledge and solve problems, I got to take care of myself physically.
Zack Arnold (10:54):
So people started asking me about that and I had the small group of editors and post producers, and I was like, I got an idea. What if we just started a hiking group and we competed against each other and we all get Fitbits, and see who can move the most? And let's call it, I don't know. Let's call it fitness in post. How cool would that be, right?
Tanya Musgrave (11:11):
That's amazing. I love it.
Zack Arnold (11:13):
So the tagline was, well, you spend all day fixing in posts now let's fitness in posts. It was really hokey, really stupid. But part of the process was that I started a podcast where we just talked each week about our progress. Hey, how's it going for you this week? How's it going for you this week? And the podcast exploded. I'm like, who's listening to this.
Zack Arnold (11:32):
I was just doing it for the 12 of us and I realized this was a desperate need in our area of the industry, because work life balance is just not a thing in Hollywood period. But in post-production small dark rooms, no windows sedentary, 12, 16, 20 hours a day, it's literally killing people. So I just realized-
Tanya Musgrave (11:52):
They say sitting is smoking.
Zack Arnold (11:53):
Yes, it is. It is indeed. I've been writing about that for years and people are just, did you hear it? I'm like, yeah, check my article from five years ago where I talked about it. So it really started to take off and people started to ask me about it, and I started doing presentations at industry events and I was like, embarrassed. I was like, I can't believe I'm going to go up on stage in front of a bunch of editors and talk about health.
Zack Arnold (12:13):
They're going to throw tomatoes at me and laugh me off stage. And I was mobbed by people saying it is about time somebody talked about this. I'm like, huh, I might be onto something. And then I had a very high level editor friend of mine, I won't call him out here specifically, but he's worked on big $150 million movies. He's like, dude, how are you going to monetize this? I'm like, what does that mean? What do you mean monetize it? I don't get it.
Zack Arnold (12:38):
He's like, well, if this thing's really going to sustain itself, you've got to make money off of it. You can't do this forever. It can't be charity. Well, first of all, it's just my passion, it's my obsession. Oh, but you probably got a point cause it's really exhausting doing this on top of having a family and having a full time job. So I started to go down the rabbit hole and just ask the question, going on Google, how do you monetize a podcast? Right?
Zack Arnold (13:02):
Just starts there. I start listening to other podcasts from people like Tim Ferriss, and Pat Flynn, and all these other big names in the online entrepreneurship world. And I realized, this goes far beyond how do I monetize a podcast? I actually have the opportunity to build a platform to educate, and inspire, and mentor people, not just about how to set up a standing desk, but about so many other things.
Tanya Musgrave (13:24):
Zack Arnold (13:24):
So that was probably, I don't know, four or five years ago where I realized that I had a real opportunity to number one, make a difference. But number two, turn it into a business where I no longer had to rely 100% on Hollywood and other people's projects as an editor. It's my job and my livelihood to help other people realize their visions. And I said, you know what? I think it's time for me to start realizing my vision. So that's kind of where all this started and it got me to where I am today.
Tanya Musgrave (13:51):
Yeah. So, I mean, you came from a liberal arts college. I mean, was the business side kind of like a smack in the face kind of a tough learning curve or is that something that you had to develop?
Zack Arnold (14:00):
I would say smack in the face is an understatement, maybe a two by four across the face. How about that? My father was an educator, his whole life/entrepreneur in training. He loved doing his own little side projects and starting these little businesses, but entrepreneurship is not something that I grew up learning about, being that exposed to.
Zack Arnold (14:21):
Spice actually had to start from scratch. And I knew that I didn't want to get a traditional MBA. I didn't want to go to some business university because the more research I did, the more I realized that that's really the entry level into the corporate world. I don't want to learn little middle management, upper management to train to be a CEO someday. I want to build my own thing.
Zack Arnold (14:39):
What I did was I just researched who are the people that are the best at this, so I can build my own lifestyle business, doing the things that I want to do on my own time, but still monetize it and make money for it. Because one of things that I realized working in television at a pretty early age in my career, I hit a glass ceiling.
Zack Arnold (14:57):
So by the time I was in my early 30's, I went from editing the number one cable show on TV. Within a year editing the number one show on television period, which was the first season of Empire. That blew up and was a cultural phenomenon, its first season or two seasons. I was in the edit bay as part of that phenomenon. And I realized it doesn't matter how popular it is or how many people watch it or experience it, I'm going to get paid the same thing.
Zack Arnold (15:21):
Whether I show up and barely do my job enough to not get fired or it's amazing, I get the same paycheck. But as an entrepreneur, the more effort I put in and the more effective I am with my time and my strategy, the more that I'm going to benefit from that. So that was really the transition where I realized I wanted to put as much or all of my energy into building this as possible.
Tanya Musgrave (15:42):
This particular industry does not run alongside your psyche. That's sort of classic Hollywood badge of honor of having no life, no family being abused as a PA. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, get off the 405 so I have less traffic, that kind of thing. It's been interesting to see the shift, but for instance, this kind of leads me to the next part.
Tanya Musgrave (16:03):
We had a previous guest, Korey Pollard. We had such a fascinating conversation about boundaries in the industry. He was a first AD and actually had to kind of finally put up those boundaries for the first time and realize that, oh yeah, I can actually speak up about this, when he saw this younger generation starting to come up and speak up about like, ah, no, you can't require us to work that long. Or like, no, I want to have a life.
Tanya Musgrave (16:27):
And he's actually the one that sent me your article, you wrote an article called Dear Hollywood, we don't want to go back to normal, normal wasn't working. We'll also be sure to put that in the show notes for the listeners, but you stress boundaries pretty heavily, talking about not signing liability waivers and refusing crazy work hours. Have you gotten any blow back for that?
Zack Arnold (16:48):
I would say that I don't know the exact mathematical percentage, but it's about 98% positive and 2% adamantly negative and the-
Tanya Musgrave (16:57):
Zack Arnold (16:57):
Yeah, so the 98%-
Tanya Musgrave (16:59):
What's the excuse?
Zack Arnold (17:00):
Well the 98% is, oh my God, it's about time somebody started saying this out loud. And then my response is, well, I've been saying this for years, it's just the first time you've heard it. But the 2% is you basically already alluded to it. You just need to suck it up. This is how it is in the business, stop your whining. You should just be lucky. You get to work in this industry, right?
Zack Arnold (17:23):
That's a common way to look at this. And I think that that mentality has to die because that mentality is literally killing people and it has for decades. And the inflection point for where this came from, it was nothing new. I'm not writing about anything that I haven't written about or talked about on podcasts for years.
Zack Arnold (17:41):
But the inflection point is that since COVID hit, I had had at least 100 conversations with both my students, with people that have emailed me and they all say the same thing. I have this new level of self awareness of how unhappy I was doing things the way that I was before/ I can't go back to doing it the same way, but I don't know what to do.
Zack Arnold (18:02):
Literally just yesterday, I was talking to one of my clients in tears because she couldn't bring herself to the thought of doing things the way that she did six months or a year ago, but she doesn't know what else to do because it's all she's ever known. So having this conversation and bringing in about, and seeing that when I originally wrote it, it's tonally written.
Zack Arnold (18:22):
So you can see it's mostly for people to do what I do that are editors or people in post production, but everybody came out of the woodwork. I mean, we're talking like accountants that are working in Japan and assistant directors in Mexico city. It's not just a Hollywood issue. This is a human issue that's happening everywhere, and everyone is fed up with it.
Zack Arnold (18:41):
And I think this is the inflection point where it used to be like, oh yeah, whatever. We're just going to have to deal with it and suck it up. It is what it is. It's just part of the business and we're realizing it really doesn't have to be. And the more you talk to people, the more you realize a lot of people aren't doing it this way, but they're the silent minority, the very vocal majority.
Zack Arnold (19:01):
They're the ones that are still pushing for the long hours, and it is what it is. And you just wear your sleep deprivation badge of honor. But the pendulum is swinging and I'm hoping that I can be a part of that pendulum and help push it a little bit further because I think that one of the disparities that comes from this conversation is when I talk about work life balance, prioritizing time with your family, prioritizing time to exercise.
Zack Arnold (19:24):
Myself, I'm prioritizing time to train for American Ninja Warrior. I have been for like two and a half years since the mutter shirt, right? And people say, but you can't have both. You have to choose one or the other. And my response is, me making this choice is making me better at what I do. And if you ask anybody that I've worked with, and it sound like I work on these little rinky dink indie projects that nobody's ever heard of. Cobra Kai's a big show. Once it hits Netflix, it's going to be an even bigger show.
Zack Arnold (19:52):
And because I prioritize my health, and my wellbeing, and my efficiency, and my productivity, I'm able to work nine hours a day and go home and never work a day of overtime, because of all of these things, not despite the fact that I chose things as priorities. But everybody thinks it's zero sum. You can either be great at your job, or you can have your family and your health. You can't have both, and that's what I call BS.
Tanya Musgrave (20:14):
You're kind of deconstructing a very, very big machine right now because it's not even just Hollywood, as you were saying. It's even just the corporate world, but you think about all of the day rates of all the people on set, what it would be to shoot just a couple more hours a day versus adding extra days onto production, you're talking millions of dollars.
Tanya Musgrave (20:37):
So it could in turn trickle back down to the crew where they can't hire as many people for the budget that they have. What are some of the solutions or some of the things, the changes on the horizon that you do see that would kind of rectify this problem?
Zack Arnold (20:53):
When it comes to the production side of things, I don't want to speak as an authority because I don't spend a lot of time on set in production. When it comes to post-production, I'm happy speaking as an authority because I've lived in that world for 20 years.
Zack Arnold (21:04):
But what I do know through my research and through talking to other people is that there's this fallacy that if you were to extend the shooting days or the shooting schedule as opposed to overtime, that's going to cost more money. And multiple line producers have actually proved that this is false. It's funny that you bring this up because I actually have an article that by the time you release your podcast, my article will probably be out.
Zack Arnold (21:27):
But I break down the argument for why a 45 hour work week is actually more beneficial from both a health perspective, but also a financial perspective. And one of the top line producers in the industry, I can send you a link to this article afterwards so you have it for your audience. It was written back in 2012, but he does line producing for guys like David Fincher. So he's not a newb, right?
Zack Arnold (21:48):
You take a $40 million feature and he put it together using the regular 12 hour day that always ends up being 16 or 20. And then he said, what if I made it shorter individual days, but a longer schedule? And it was actually a million dollars cheaper to do it that way instead.
Zack Arnold (22:03):
I want to eliminate this assumed understanding that longer days means it's more expensive because when you factor in all the overtime, all the overages, that golden time, the double, the triple time, you're actually number one, going to spend less money if you extend it. But number two, you're going to get more productivity out of your crew because they actually care.
Zack Arnold (22:23):
And they're not so drastically sleep deprived that they are showing up to work cognitively drunk every single day. So the first thing is just eliminating this idea that it's automatically more expensive, if we make things longer with shorter shooting days. I'm not saying that's universally true in every circumstance, every genre, every actor, every location.
Zack Arnold (22:42):
Listen, I know it's very complex, but it's the fundamentally, we have to change the assumption that there's no way to do it cheaper if we extend the shooting schedule. Because it has been mathematically proven. It's not magic, it's math. I think that the other thing you have to really look into, and this is the area where I have spent years diving deep into the psychology and the science of this, that if we're talking about just hours in the day, it's a matter of I clock in, I clock out.
Zack Arnold (23:09):
That is a model from the 1800's from the industrial revolution, right? It's just all about output. 21st century, it's all about what can I get done with my time? Not how many hours am I chained to a workstation or whatever it is. So this breaks down a little bit between the production side and the post production side. I'm not paid to be at a computer for X number of hours a day.
Zack Arnold (23:31):
I'm paid to meet a deadline and make sure that my creative work is the highest level possible by that deadline. So I'm a knowledge worker. As a knowledge worker, why should I be beholden to punching a time clock if working less hours produces greater knowledge at a higher level by the same deadline.
Zack Arnold (23:48):
So I think that when it comes to anybody that's not beholden to actually being on set, and there are plenty of departments in production that are not actually getting call sheets. That don't have to be there when the cameras are rolling. They're also in that knowledge worker category. I'm a firm believer that you just let people do their jobs and get it done on time.
Zack Arnold (24:05):
It doesn't matter how long it takes, right? So if it's something that they say, well, it has to be 60 because that's the way we've done it. Well, what if I learn how to be more effective with my time and I do it in 45? There's a cultural expectation, I've got to stay at the office, right? There's this idea of I've got to put in my 12. Again, I'm going to call BS on that. I am perfect proof that I have met all of my deadlines.
Zack Arnold (24:29):
I never worked more than a nine hour day, even though the assumption is, or the cultural expectation is I got to put in my 12 every day. Why? That makes me horrible at what I do for a living. I want to be able to come up with ideas and solve problems. I can't do that. If I'm stuck in a dark room for 12 hours a day, then I have to commute for an extra two hours, then I have to deal with my family and this and that. I'm going to suck at my job. So let me do it the way that I think best-
Tanya Musgrave (24:53):
You're going to be drained.
Zack Arnold (24:54):
I'm going to be drained.
Tanya Musgrave (24:55):
Just absolutely drained.
Zack Arnold (24:55):
Exactly. And when it comes to being on set, you can't quite say the same thing. I can't judge a dolly grip or a set dresser based on how much output because they kind of have to sort of be there, right? But I think that what would happen, and there are plenty of scientific studies that most likely would prove this as the case of people embraced it.
Zack Arnold (25:15):
But if you heard of the concept of Parkinson's law. So Parkinson's law to very loosely paraphrase is the idea that work will expand or contract to the amount of time that you allotted. So I'm assuming that there are a lot of college students and recent grads that can relate to this, right?
Tanya Musgrave (25:31):
Zack Arnold (25:32):
Right. So you've got two weeks to write your paper. Nobody writes their paper in two weeks. Everybody writes it in the five hours before it's due, right? The paper didn't take two weeks, it took five hours. But because we know that we can continually extend the deadline for the end of the day or for the end of the shoot or turning into these flatter days, or however we want to use people.
Zack Arnold (25:52):
If we know that's available, we're just going to keep shooting. We're going to have more setups, right? But if you say you have this fixed amount of time, and if that fixed amount of time, let's say is a nine hour day, first of all, plenty of filmmakers prove that you can be very productive in nine hours or even less.
Zack Arnold (26:07):
And frankly, that's the standard in most of the rest of the world at this point. But if you force people to do that, then they have to innovate. Then they say, well, I know I'm not going to get 12. I'm not going to get 16. So what do I have to change? That's one of the director's core responsibilities is problem solving. Well, I had these 16 shots on my shot list.
Zack Arnold (26:26):
I've just been told I've got three less hours. What shots need to go? But how do I visually tell my story the same way? And the directors that pivot and can play creative jazz, they're the ones that are the most successful. And I think that if we embrace the idea that there's this fixed amount of time, knowing that the consequences of not meeting it is all of our workers are going to be exhausted.
Zack Arnold (26:45):
Their immune systems are going to be depleted, and in today's day and age, a depleted immune system means people get sick, which means people might die, which means production shuts down anyway and nobody works. So why wouldn't we want to figure this out together? So a simpler way that I like to explain this, because Parkinson's Law, it's a little stuffy and scientificky right?
Zack Arnold (27:05):
So I've re-dubbed this something that I call the mother-in-law principle. I'm going to explain this, right? So the mother-in-law principle states that no matter how long it takes you to regularly clean your house, if you're mother-in-law is showing up in four hours, it will take three hours and 59 minutes to clean your house.
Tanya Musgrave (27:24):
Zack Arnold (27:27):
If we just collectively agree the shooting day is nine hours, people are going to figure it out. And the consequence is people get their lives back. I'm not saying we're going to figure it out overnight, but that's the consequences we get our lives back.
Tanya Musgrave (27:41):
Yeah. So what is your advice then to particular people who might actually get bypassed for their role because they have healthy boundaries? Because there's always kind of that rule, well somebody will do it cheaper. Somebody will work those hours and they'll do it for free. So what is your advice for deconstructing that?
Zack Arnold (28:00):
Yeah. So the first thing is we need to find advocates that are going to help make sure that we don't have a culture that believes that anymore. And that's a big picture Pollyannish view, so I get that. But if we slowly erode this idea that that's just the way that it is and we actively seek out people and build our network with other people that we know are advocating for the same needs, you're not the only one that feels like I want to protect my work life balance and I don't want to destroy myself just for the sake of getting in the industry.
Zack Arnold (28:27):
The flip side of that is it's still kind of the reality that we live in. And even I had to go through this period of about two years where I was really paying my dues and working long hours and getting taken advantage of, and I just had to put myself in the position that I just have to get through this one period. It is what it is, but I also have to learn from it that I'm never going to let this happen to me again.
Zack Arnold (28:51):
So I think a lot of people, I don't want to say that it's a necessary or a correct rite of passage, but it's an unnecessary rite of passage in the current work culture that we have.
Tanya Musgrave (29:01):
For it to continue, I guess like at the very beginning, it's kind of like working for free. A big difference I think is that you want to, you want to be there, you want to learn and you soak it up like a sponge, right? You're just like, oh, this is amazing. I will do anything for free if I can learn that.
Tanya Musgrave (29:19):
But the difference is afterwards and you start to resent things and you don't want to be there, and you're just like, okay, this is really cutting in. And by then, you've already kind of locked yourself in to this expectation.
Zack Arnold (29:32):
Exactly, and I think one of the things that can help somebody navigate this is learning the skill of advocating for themselves and knowing when is the benefits equal versus when am just getting taken advantage of? So one of my pet peeves that drives me crazy is when people universally scream on the rooftops and by the rooftops, I mean in Facebook groups, oh my God never take free work.
Zack Arnold (29:51):
How dare you, right? I don't believe that. I believe that if you're not getting paid for something with money, you can still get so much value out of it and bring value to other people in return. I have years of my career where I worked for free, but I wasn't getting taken advantage of. It was an equal relationship and partnership where they knew they couldn't pay me anything, but I got network. I built my network, I got new relationships.
Zack Arnold (30:16):
I learned new skills. I built a reel of credits, but as soon as it gets to the point where you're like wait a second, they're just taking advantage of my good nature. Well screw this, I'm out. Then you advocate for yourself. So you just have to be better at weighing what are the factors that are going to make this something that's worth putting in my time even though I might not be getting paid, but once it crosses the threshold of clearly they're taking advantage of me, that's where you have to learn the cut the cord, put your foot down.
Zack Arnold (30:42):
Even if it means losing a job, because if you're working for somebody that refuses to give you those boundaries, why would you want to build a relationship with them anyways? That's a fear that I hear all the time. Well, I don't want to burn a bridge. Do you really want to be on a bridge that's going to take advantage of you and your health and your wellbeing for the rest of your life? Burn it, torch it, walk away and never go back.
Zack Arnold (31:01):
I'm fine with that, but find the right bridges to build with people that are going to understand that's an important need for you, that will also advocate for you. So for example, if I were to have an assistant editor that was new and coming up and they were going to work with me, I'm going to make sure that I'm advocating for them.
Zack Arnold (31:18):
So if I know that the producer wants to take advantage of them and have them work nights and weekends unpaid, I'm going to step in. I'm going to say, oh no, this is not happening on my watch. But as the assistant editor, you can actively seek out and talk to people that you know can help advocate for you if your voice isn't strong enough,
Tanya Musgrave (31:35):
For those that aren't as talented in the self-awareness category, what would be your advice of finding an indicator that they are being taken advantage of in the industry as opposed to they want to be there? Maybe that's the indicator, I guess.
Zack Arnold (31:52):
Well, the first indicator, and it's really hard to, to use this as a simple indicator, but I think it's the right one, it's a gut check, right? You feel it in your gut. I've been through periods of intense depression and anxiety. I mean, that's part of the reason that I focus so much on work life balance, is I've seen the alternative and it's almost killed me more than once, but it all started with a gut check of something doesn't feel right.
Zack Arnold (32:19):
So one of the first signs of burnout is that you just can't seem to recover, right? I've had plenty of times where like when I was doing the season three finale of Cobra Kai, just a month of hell. Really long days and getting tons of dailies, barely saw my family, but number one, I was prepared for it. So I said to my family, listen, the next month is going to be really hard.
Zack Arnold (32:40):
I lost a lot of sleep and I felt crappy, but I always recovered because I was still energized by the work. Burnout or all of these other feelings of being taken advantage of that come with it is when you just feel like you can't recover, when you start to lose passion for something that you were passionate about, that's a huge red flag.
Zack Arnold (32:58):
Even as you're young like you said, if it let's say you're volunteering or you're doing internship worker, it's unpaid. If you just shoot out of bed in the morning like, oh my God, I get to learn all this cool stuff, and I get to be on set and I get to carry cameras. That's amazing. But then all of a sudden you wake up and you're like, I would rather throw up right now than have to go do this again, that's an indicator that something isn't right.
Zack Arnold (33:19):
And that most likely is happening because without you maybe not even seeing it consciously, your time is being taken advantage of and you're just being used. So really it starts with a gut check more than anything.
Tanya Musgrave (33:31):
So could we be looking forward to a follow-up to that article when it comes to the feedback that you've gotten?
Zack Arnold (33:38):
Yes like I said, I have an article that's coming out. That's probably at least double the length that just breaks down in very clear detail, here's how I think that we can fix it. Because the first one was just more everybody's just tired of the crap, right? If I were going to retitle it, we're tired of this, but that doesn't really help unless we can be proactive and we can come up with solutions.
Zack Arnold (34:00):
And that's what the next article about is proposing potential solutions, and I don't know if I'm bringing up the right solution or not, but we have to start somewhere. If we're waiting for things to change, good luck. Not going to happen. So I at least want to start a conversation about what I think is a potential place to look and because of COVID, I think we're in a very unique circumstance where people have to listen this time.
Zack Arnold (34:23):
Because before, you could just keep burning people out. And I had a conversation, I did a podcast with Walter Murch, who's legendary editor, number one now. And he told me a really insightful story that has stuck with me for years. He was working on one of his big ten pole on like maybe the early mid 70's, and there were during one of the big crunch periods and they went to the executives and they said, people are dropping like flies.
Zack Arnold (34:47):
We have to do something. And the response was get more flies. That's not going to work anymore. That's the way that the system has worked for decades. With COVID it can't work that way anymore because now there's too much liability. So now the studios have to think about work life balance, whether they like it or not, they have no choice, which is why now is the time to do something about this.
Tanya Musgrave (35:10):
We are going to really look forward to that second article. We have some listener questions from our Insta and Facebook stories and Twitter. If you want to ask your questions to future guests, our handle on Insta and Twitter @colabincpodcast. When did you get an unfair, lucky break or an unfair biased loss? Did either of them jumpstart your career?
Zack Arnold (35:30):
Interesting. I don't think I've had either of them and I think what I want to address is the word lucky. The word lucky is a four letter word to me because you assume that somebody is lucky, therefore they had no control. Therefore you have no control.
Zack Arnold (35:42):
And I think that allows people to make the excuse of, well, it's not really up to me, so it's either going to happen or it doesn't, and it removes their responsibility to take action. So if I were to say something that ever happened to me that was lucky, I don't really have anything because I can always trace back whatever happened to an action that I took at some point.
Tanya Musgrave (36:00):
Well, let's actually go back to that because you were talking about how you got that particular job right after graduation and the things that you had done in order to do that. A lot of people might call it lucky and let's dig into that.
Zack Arnold (36:15):
I love that, that's a great follow-up. So I'm going to prove to you 173 ways why that wasn't lucky. So the first thing that I did was I spent most of my college career doing internships. Most of them unpaid, a few of them paid like $6 an hour or something just to get around whatever legal requirements there were.
Zack Arnold (36:33):
But most people coming out of college, at least at that time, things are different now, but most people coming out of college when I did didn't have much technical experience. You couldn't just go on YouTube and learn Premiere and download it for free. We didn't have access. You had to be in jobs in the real world to have the technical experience, and I knew that.
Zack Arnold (36:52):
So I spent every summer of my college doing unpaid or paid internships, learning the technology. So the first thing that made me "lucky" was the fact that I was overqualified from a technological perspective to be an entry level assistant editor. The second thing that I did and I've been doing this since, I don't know, maybe my sophomore year of high school, I'd been editing and creating demo reels.
Zack Arnold (37:14):
And nowadays is portfolio websites. But back in the day, it was literally a demo reel because that's how you did it. So most kids coming out of college are just maybe making their first version of a portfolio or a website. I had been doing it for six years. Most of the people that I interviewed against didn't have a reel, and frankly, you don't really need it as an assistant.
Zack Arnold (37:34):
But the reason that this comes into play is number one, they're like, wow, not only are you overqualified, but it actually looks like you can help out as an editor when we need the help, because we saw your reel and you can cut. So that's the second place where I "got lucky". The third was that like I said, I identified not just some company that had a job opening.
Zack Arnold (37:54):
They had the exact job opening for the exact skill set that I had working on the exact projects that I wanted to do. It was not just me walking in and saying, here I am, I'm so good. I really hope that you choose me. It was, I understand the projects that you work on. I watch them all day long, so I can be an asset and provide value to your company because I already know your product.
Tanya Musgrave (38:17):
Yeah, you chose what you applied to.
Zack Arnold (38:19):
Exactly. So like I said, it's the only resume that I sent out and I didn't expect it to come out being the way that it did, but I was very specific. So what I talk about a lot in my program is when most people network and they job search, they take the shotgun approach. Just filled with buckshot, shoot wherever I can hit something, right? I'm a sniper.
Zack Arnold (38:39):
I choose a target and I spend weeks studying that one target to set up one shot from a mile and a half away for a bulls eye, the size of a quarter, but I hit it. And it's really hard to do that. It takes patience. It takes perseverance, and you have to be confident in yourself because you're thinking, well, if I don't hit it, I just sure wasted a lot of time.
Zack Arnold (38:58):
But again, that's why I "got lucky". And here's the rest of the story that we haven't even talked about, that you're going to hate even more. I was only an assistant editor for five months, and here's how it happened. They saw my reel. They knew that I could cut, but they hired me as an assistant editor because that's what they needed.
Zack Arnold (39:17):
So I spent the next five months being an amazing assistant editor and reminding them every day that I would be more valuable to them cutting than I would be assisting. And I started taking projects on the side nights and weekends, freelance editing. And I started to get offers to work as an editor, and a movie came into this place that was a really, really bad indie film that nobody wanted to work on.
Zack Arnold (39:39):
And they knew that I was getting other offers to edit freelance. So I just walked into the owner of the company, just walked in and said, listen, I've got other offers that are willing to pay me significantly more as an editor than you are as an assistant. I would rather work for you, but I'm not going to work for you as an assistant anymore. I got a promotion that day and I've been an editor ever since.
Zack Arnold (39:58):
So I was only an assistant for five months. But the funny thing was that that trailer that nobody wanted to do because it was such a piece of crap, they were like, well, if you want to be an editor, here, you get to deal with this, right? The first trailer I ever cut, I won a Golden Trailer Award, which is the equivalent of an Oscar in the trailer world because nobody else was willing to do it. So you tell me through all of that, how much of that was lucky?
Tanya Musgrave (40:23):
It was preparation meets opportunity.
Zack Arnold (40:26):
That's what lucky is, hard work in the intersection of opportunity. People say, well, they got lucky. They're really saying, well, I have no control and that's never going to happen to me. Well, no, if you put in the effort and you put in the hard work, you're going to find some way to make luck happen for you too. But you can't just sit back and passively assume other people are getting things that I'm not, must be nice.
Tanya Musgrave (40:48):
Yeah. I love it. So next question, how much creative control do you actually get in these jobs? Because there's like, you could be the robot pushing buttons, but for instance, the DP on set, they get to put UP on the slate like for under protest if he hates a shot. But do you have your own version of that? Do you get to have an under protest?
Zack Arnold (41:11):
It's funny, I've never actually heard that before, but I'm going to look at slates in a whole new way. I wonder what's the UP, now I know. So I learned something. I would say that for the most part, that isn't something that I have to deal with. I have a tremendous amount of creative control, but again, I think that's partly because I've put myself in positions where I get that.
Zack Arnold (41:27):
There are a lot of editing jobs where they are the button pushers. That's the expectation. I just need somebody that knows the software, but I've made it very clear that's not who I am. So when I interview for opportunities, I am very clear to them, if you want a button push you and I are not going to get along.
Zack Arnold (41:42):
If you want somebody that's going to challenge your assumptions, that's going to help you tell your story the best way possible and give you something even better than you expected, that's who I am but I need control to be able to do that. You need to let me do my thing and not micromanage me. And if that turns people off, we're not a good fit. So it also depends on the medium.
Zack Arnold (42:00):
So in the trailer world, they basically hand you a trailer, or they hand you the movie and you just cut the trailer, total creative control. In the scripted world, they hand you a script and they give you dailies and the people say the words that they say.
Zack Arnold (42:13):
So it's not like I can just go in and say, oh, you know what? I don't like this platform I'm going to change it, right? But as far as how a scene is put together the music choices, the flow, nobody bothers me.
Tanya Musgrave (42:24):
Well, I mean, even when it comes to storytelling as a whole, I remember someone saying a movie is written three times, one by the writer, the director and the editor. So maybe not by how a certain scene plays out, but when you are able to look at the whole, are you able to say, really this is actually better if this whole entire chunk is taken out and replaced with this over here?
Zack Arnold (42:49):
Oh, absolutely. I write all day long and I make sure that I work with people that are okay with that. So an example would be that on Cobra Kai, more than once I would edit a scene. And even during editor's cut, I would text message or email the show runners who are mostly the writers and directors. And I'm like, guys, this scene's got to go.
Zack Arnold (43:08):
I'll send you the editors cut with it, but can I just please put it at the end after the episode? Right? And some people will be really offended by that, but because I built the trust, they trust my opinion. They're like, send it without the scene. If we decide it needs it, we'll watch the scene.
Zack Arnold (43:23):
And there have been times where we've gone all the way until picture block, and they're like, oh, we haven't watched that scene yet. We should probably watch it before we lock picture. And they watch it, and they're like, yeah, you were right. We didn't need that scene.
Tanya Musgrave (43:35):
If it can exist without it.
Zack Arnold (43:35):
But I also restructure, I will cut lines. I don't go in it as my job is to assemble your material. My job is to tell the best story possible with what you've given me, even if it's the story that you don't think you're ready to tell yet. So I'm respectful of all the choices that are made in pre-production that are written, that are shot, but I'm the shepherd of the material.
Zack Arnold (43:53):
I get to see it in the screen before anybody else on the planet, so I get the only first impression that ever exists before other people start to bring themselves into the process. So I ask that they trust that my opinion is going to take it somewhere and then we start to collaborate and make sure that the vision is unified among all of us.
Zack Arnold (44:13):
But if I just did what I was told, then my work probably wouldn't be very good. So I want to make sure that I'm bringing myself to it, but I'm still telling their story.
Tanya Musgrave (44:22):
This is a collaborative medium as it is and so, I mean, the collaboration exists everywhere from pre to post. So that's great.
Zack Arnold (44:29):
Yeah, if you don't want to collaborate, then write a novel. I mean, a filmmaking is not a place where you get to make all the decisions. There's no way around it. It's impossible to do it by yourself. The world of the auteur is pretty much all the dead.
Zack Arnold (44:41):
There are a few rare cases here and there, but it's really such a collaborative medium that you have to understand how can I bring myself to somebody else's vision, at least if you're in the editing position. If you're coming at it as, oh, no, I think I can tell the story better than you can, you're not going to last very long.
Tanya Musgrave (44:58):
Yeah. So was there ever a situation where you are editing and a shot or audio doesn't turn out the way you like it but you had to use it anyway? Kind of like the content over the quality.
Zack Arnold (45:09):
I mean, the way that I look at it, and I'm going to be stealing this from another editor friend of mine, her name is Molly Shock. I want to give her credit. She does a lot of high end reality on scripted stuff like Naked and Afraid and these big shows. And I heard her say this in a panel once and it just encapsulated like 20 years of my career.
Zack Arnold (45:27):
It's like, as an editor, I get to make thousands upon thousands of edits and decisions. 95% of those end up being my edits, I am cool with the other 5% not being my choices. I know that I'm not going to get a 100% of the edits and I know that I'm not always right. If I adamantly believe that something doesn't belong, the trick that I use, and this is again, stolen from another editor friend of mine, Alan Bell, he said, I'm going to bring it up three times.
Zack Arnold (45:52):
I'm going to say, you know what? I really don't think this is working for X, Y, and Z reason. The director or the producer says, no, we want to try it. We want to keep it. Okay, no problem. You do another screening and other paths, hey guys, I just wanted to say one more time. I really think we need to do something about this. If at that point they agree, great. If they don't, no we love it. Okay, that's cool.
Zack Arnold (46:12):
Then you got one more chance and if they still don't listen, all right, it's your show. It's not mine, I'm good. But that's a really hard thing about our jobs is that we don't just lay bricks, right? We're part of designing the storytelling process and we become very attached to our choices, but you have to learn to disassociate yourself from every single choice.
Tanya Musgrave (46:33):
It's hard for an artist.
Zack Arnold (46:35):
Yeah, it's very difficult for an artist and I went through this for years. I was very belligerent about making choices that I didn't agree with for years until I learned that as long as the spirit of what I bring to something is still there, the individual choices don't make that much of a difference.
Zack Arnold (46:49):
But every once in a while, I'll watch something that I did and I just have a cringe-worthy moment. And I'm like oh God, how did I let them get away with that? It's part of the job.
Tanya Musgrave (46:58):
And I think that's also a healthy boundary as well. I heard a quote once that says, a businessman loses a day's work and he's angry, and an artist loses a day's work and they cry. And getting to the point where this is your job, this is your livelihood, who you are, is not your job and being able to set that boundary.
Tanya Musgrave (47:17):
I think that's a good thing. I mean, you figured out a formula for that. Do you ever feel like giving another aspect of production a shot?
Zack Arnold (47:24):
The other aspect of production that I've been very interested in is directing in the documentary world. I'm not interested in directing in the scripted world. That's not a good fit for me. Like I talked about very early on, I learned at the age of nine that I hate being on set. It's just not for me. I can't stand the chaos. I go on a set and I'm like, what are you people doing? What's going on here?
Tanya Musgrave (47:45):
Running with a purpose.
Zack Arnold (47:47):
Exactly, I don't get it. And in the editing world, it's all very controlled and it's just me and I can pull all the strings and I know what's going on, but I love the process of telling really engaging, inspirational stories. And as a documentary director, you're basically an editor that just has to go shoot stuff, right? So you're an editor and a writer, but you also have to direct interviews or whatever it is.
Zack Arnold (48:10):
But I love being able to tell real authentic stories. So actually I have done one documentary already. I'm hoping to be able to do a few more in my lifetime, but as far as other areas specifically of the production process, there's really nothing that I'm that interested other than directing documentaries.
Tanya Musgrave (48:27):
Last question. What question should I have asked you?
Zack Arnold (48:32):
I'm going to actually bring that question back to a question. This is going to be a very meta roundabout answer, but I think the question that you should have asked is how can I ask better questions?
Tanya Musgrave (48:42):
Zack Arnold (48:44):
Because the quality of your life, the quality of your relationships, the quality of your career is going to be dictated by the quality of your questions. And I'll give you a perfect example. I teach this all the time when it comes to networking and building relationships. When people reach out, they're always asking, what advice can you give me about X, Y, or Z? So I'll give you an example.
Zack Arnold (49:05):
Let's say that somebody emailed me after they listened to this podcast. And they said, what's the best advice that you can give me about becoming a successful editor in scripted entertainment, right? You know what my answer is going to be? Well, you got to work hard. You got to pay your dues. You got to learn your skills. You got to meet people. You've got to network, and I promise it's going to happen.
Zack Arnold (49:26):
And the response is going to be, thank you captain obvious. I knew all of that. Ask a better question, you get a better answer. So if your question is right now, I'm just a year or two out of school and where really want to be someday is doing what you're doing. Where I'm stuck at the moment is figuring out how do I get in the door at the first place that's going to give me union hours as an assistant.
Zack Arnold (49:51):
Now I'm going to give you a good answer that's actually going to help you. So the quality of your questions is going to dictate the quality of the answers that you get, and thus will dictate the quality and trajectory of your career.
Tanya Musgrave (50:03):
Dang, dang. That's fantastic. Yeah, you take a sip of water. That was amazing.
Zack Arnold (50:11):
Tanya Musgrave (50:13):
Well, this has been an amazing, amazing conversation because I think that boundaries and a healthy work life balance, a healthy mental and emotional state is exactly where we need to move closer to rather than further away. And so I don't know, I'm just very appreciative of the time that you've been able to give us today. How can people get in touch with you?
Zack Arnold (50:34):
Yeah, so anybody that wants to find out more about me, my website is optimizeyourself.me. I have a contact page. I read everything I get. I used to respond, life's gotten a little nuts since I released the article. So I can't guarantee that it's going to be a quick response. If they mentioned they heard me on this podcast, I'll do my best to respond to them where I can help people right away as far as this conversation about work life balance, enhancing creativity, avoiding burnout.
Zack Arnold (50:59):
I actually have like a 50-page manifesto that I wrote all about this that's totally free. So if they go to optimizeyourself.me/ultimateguide, they will get my ultimate guide to optimizing creativity and avoiding burnout. And I'll just send it to them via email. They got it, no strings attached.
Tanya Musgrave (51:15):
We will put that link in the show notes. Thank you so much for your time. If you enjoyed this interview, follow us right here and check out more episodes at media.colabinc.org. If you have comments or know someone who would be a great guest on our show, send in your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Zack, thanks so much again for your time be well, and God bless. We'll see you next time on There to Here.