Assuming that you are reading this in the first half of 2020, you, just like me and a substantial part of the planet, are quarantined or asked to self-isolate due to the Coronavirus pandemic. By now, you have been at home for a week or two or maybe even a month, and you are wondering how much longer you have to do this for and when will you be allowed to return to your life.
I am a filmmaker (writer, director and producer) and I am based in Milan, Italy. This is my 43nd day at home and I wanted to share with you my journey with filmmaking and creativity during this period.
Locked away in quarantine
At the time when the Coronavirus first arrived to Europe, I was travelling around the continent presenting my latest short film at various film festivals. I had just arrived back to Italy from Budapest and I couldn’t wait to rest, before beginning to contact agents and production companies to present my new ideas and potentially get representation. I was in the midst of planning three music videos and figuring out when to shoot them. And I was looking forward to the next film festival in London, where I would have presented my latest short film, Antifeminist. And then all of that came to a sudden halt.
From one day to another, I was suddenly living in the European epicentre of the Coronavirus, with absolutely no clarity of what to do or how long this would last for. People back then kept saying not to worry, this will be over soon and then my life would get back to normal. But with every day that passed, this seemed like less and less of a reality.
I knew that I had a couple of scripts to write, and I tried to sit down and force myself every day to do so, but my attempts failed miserably. My mind was nowhere near these stories; rather, it was busy trying to wrap itself around what was happening to the world, to my jobs and to my earnings. I felt disbelief, anxiety, anger and sadness, just to list a few emotions, and I felt the urge to channel them somewhere. So I decided to stop forcing myself to write scripts and do a terrible job with them, and let my creativity guide me towards something else.
Not really sure why, but I suddenly decided to make a vlog. I want to note that I have never made a vlog before nor do I follow any, but somehow I felt that this was the right medium for me to communicate.
Originally, my expectations were very low – I just wanted to tell my family and friends what it was like to be here (please note that at the time – end of February – the situation wasn’t nearly as bad anywhere else as in China and Italy). Suddenly, my third video got picked up and began circulating around the world. Soon it accumulated 150k views (between Instagram and Facebook) and over 10k reshares.
View this post on Instagram
The video spoke about what led to our lockdown in Italy and aimed to encourage everyone to learn from our mistakes and follow their government’s guidelines. I started getting messages from the Philippines, South Africa, Ghana, Iraq, Malaysia, many European countries and the US by people who either thanked me for the video, told me that it inspired them to stay at home or shared with me that they were worried about their community going down the exact same path as Italy, since people were not taking the situation seriously enough.
It was uplifting to know that my words reached people from different cultures, with diverse problems and realities. I suddenly felt like I wasn’t trapped in my apartment but free and part of something much larger.
Whilst being creative again felt wonderful, with every passing week I felt increasingly overwhelmed about my financial situation. After one month at home, the global situation was not getting any better, it was getting substantially worse. The filmmaking industry, as much as we love it, is volatile and often financially unreliable and this period just pushed it over the edge. I realized that, sadly, I had to begin considering other options that could keep me afloat in any type of situation of uncertainty.
The first step I took, was trying to understand if my vlog could be monetized. Many of you seasoned videomakers might be laughing at my naivety – because it turns out to be incredibly hard. I found out that Facebook demands 10k likes on your page and a minimum of 30k one-minute views in the last 60 days, whilst YouTube requires 1k subscribers and 4000 hours of watched videos in the past year.
The next place I looked at was the writing platform Medium. I have to say that they already had a much better effort-payout ratio. They measure how much time their members keep reading your articles and they assign payouts based on that. Don’t imagine it to be a massive amount initially (in the first month I earned $5 for four articles), but if you are consistent, over time it is possible to build yourself up through it.
Lastly, I decided to keep an open mind and I started applying to remote writing opportunities. Some are closer and some further from what my overall goal is, but frankly, it doesn’t matter. You might be lucky and land a writing job of your dreams right away, but it is also great to have financial security through something that is already in some way connected to your goals; and you can always change if something better comes along.
Now, after these experiences, I finally started to feel that I am ready to get back to my scripts. Certainly, I will continue looking for new opportunities and I will keep making my vlog (as I have to admit that I love connecting to people directly and on the same day I finish my work; a completely different feeling than showing your film a year after it was shot). Nonetheless, I feel that it was crucial for me to take a break and explore other opportunities and aspects of my creativity, to be able to get to this place.
What this experience has taught me is that sometimes it is worth deviating from your plan if you feel that your creativity lies elsewhere. It is normal that when our world suddenly turns upside down you have urgent concerns that become a priority. It is also ok to give yourself a break from it all, because what is happening is scary and painful. It is more important than ever, that you stay in touch with yourself and be honest about what your needs are at the moment.
It worked for me and I hope it will work for you
Sofija Sztepanov is a Milan-based filmmaker, and an alumni of Raindance’s MA in Filmmaking.