When My Life Blew Up Before My Eyes

January 2016

Photo: Anne Saita

Photo: Anne Saita

I’ve long had a rocky relationship with media tools. On the night of my “big break” as a newspaper intern, with a deadline looming and future job at stake, I watched in horror as my lengthy, breaking news article disappeared from the screen, unsaved. In graduate school, I most likely would have finished with a perfect 4.0 GPA were it not for an 11th-hour disk fragmentation that ruined a final radio editing assignment.

Still, in the custom content industry, we practitioners must embrace the creative tools that allow us to do our work well…even if we still don’t trust those technologies.

That’s why we love doing personal projects that have a way of enhancing our professional lives, because we can experiment with less risk. Thus, for every day of 2015 I shot scenes from daily life on my Samsung Galaxy s5. Then I compiled each day’s video into a twopart compilation titled “Reel Life 2015.”

It turned out to be much harder than I expected.

Within the first three months, my laptop started mysteriously rebooting Windows without notice. Then, about five months into it, files began to corrupt and, having already deleted them from my phone, I lost them for good. I started to back up everything to an external hard drive and the cloud. I also replaced my PC laptop with a MacBook, which brought on new problems since Movie Maker and iMovie don’t like each other. So I took the path of least resistance and continued to use my PC for this project only. By August, every upload and editing session became a crapshoot. Afraid of losing more videos like earlier in the year, I also kept everything on my phone, which used up so much memory that it too started to malfunction.

Even on Jan. 1, 2016, which was my deadline to finish this year-long project, it took hours longer than it should have to add the final video clips and turn it into a “movie.” I had no time to edit the last montage as planned, for fear this was the final crash.

What are four things I learned from this ambitious video project?

1. Become a big saver. I learned this lesson the hard way, as most of us do. It took six months before I started to regularly back up all of my files to an external hard drive (and then cross my fingers I didn’t lose that equipment). I am a bigger fan of the cloud, too. And Carbonite.

2. Names matter. I was careless with file names after the first month, which cost me countless hours later when I couldn’t find specific clips I needed in carefully arranged folders. Sort of related, I failed to capture some people on film because I didn’t want to impose with my camera. Now that those people and experiences have passed, I regret not asking to include them.

3. Don’t limit yourself. I held to the 3-second-per-clip rule (self-imposed, I might add) so the compilation would move along swiftly, but it made for very awkward breaks (like a pair of sisters singing “Happy Birth—“ before we switch scenes). So in the second half, I abandoned that time limit, and as a result the video was a lot longer—exactly what I’d tried to avoid. You’ve got to really, really like me (or wait to see if you’re in there) to sit through almost 30 minutes’ worth of footage.

4. It’s not your work that defines you. Despite the majority of my waking hours spent doing company work, that isn’t what I chose to remember from the year. Sure, our jobs are important but not as much as the bonds we build that may last a little while or a lifetime. It’s the small things—a beautiful sunrise, a special lunch, Sunday nights watching TV as a family—that bring us the most joy. That became abundantly clear to me as I curated those clips. My daily inspiration didn’t come from a meeting or a magazine; it came from people who support me. It made me want to support them too.

I won’t be quitting my day job to become a videographer, but I did learn a lot about the editing process and the need to shoot better raw footage. I didn’t measure how many of the 365 video clips actually made it to the end. I didn’t need to. That’s probably the biggest lesson I learned from creating this visual calendar of events: Don’t bother to count your days; instead, count your blessings.