This week on the podcast, we interview award-winning commercial director and founder of Variable, Jon Bregel. This one is a treat. Jon is humble, personable, and open.
I can't wait for you to hear his incredible story and learn about the wellness community he created after struggling with the pressure of explosive success and difficulty in maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
He shares insights about the power of stillness, prioritizing health and wellness, and how personal relationships with his wife and mom helped him get through. Check it out!
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Hey, John, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today. thank you for having me. Yeah, no problem. So we're excited to have, Jonathan bril, you go by John either, or John works. All right. Anna kept saying, I think you're saying it wrong because everyone keeps calling him John, but we've always seen your name as Jonathan, you know, written out full. Yeah. I had a name, identity crisis. That's that's the whole story. we'll get into that. anyway, so we're having Jonathan Breal on the podcast today, who is a, a founder of the, production company, variable mm-hmm who's done some really high end, work in the commercial space for, for a lot of big brands. And he is also done some really beautiful, documentary work, on his own. And we just were excited to have him talk about his approach to the craft and get into some of his story. And then we'll see where the conversation goes from there. So thanks for being here, John. Yeah. Did we miss anything in that for having me in that intro? I think, well, so variable's no longer a production company. Like we haven't produced a project in, gosh, I almost five years now. Oh. So, yeah, just recently we reopened the doors as a, wellness community, but the production is sort of, on the back burner right now. Yeah. So will you tell us a little bit about that story, how that all got started, how you got into this? you know, what, what's your background? Sure. Yeah. So, I got into film making through, skateboard, videography. I, you know, it's like an old traditional story of like dad has a camera and, find it and start making videos with my friends and, So, yeah, it was always just like something fun to do with my friends making skate videos. And, I actually ended up breaking my wrist when I was in ninth grade, like two times, like back to back. So it was the ball, I wanna say like three quarters of, high school. I was in a cast. And so that kinda defaulted me as like the filmer of my group of skateboarding, friends. like, I wasn't like super duper into it before that happened, but then that happened and you know, most of my friends were skateboarders, so just like that's and my friends, you know, they progressed so quickly. Like they were jumping down so many stairs. So where the time that I could get back on a skateboard, it was like, I couldn't even keep up with him anymore. So I just chose the camera essentially. And, or the camera chose me I dunno. but, but by the time I was in, I wanna say 11th grade. Yeah. I had this really great photography teacher in high school and, he was just amazing, like an amazing mentor to so many of us and my friends. And, he saw like my interest for filmmaking and, and kinda got me to start thinking of filmmaking in more terms of like storytelling, which for me, it was never about storytelling. It was more about. Making a video, showing people a good time, giving people an experience, which essentially is storytelling. One way of looking at it. Yeah. But, I didn't have any understanding of like how to tell a story. And so he, you know, encouraged me to get into it a little bit more. he even made like an award for me when I graduated high school for like the video art award, which was like pretty cool. So I felt a little bit special and so yeah, when it came time to go to high sch or college, I was just like, yeah, I don't know what else I want to do. It seems like I'm getting some like support and, you know, I'd been, I got hired to do some little odd jobs for like this local realtor in the area. And, I interned at this local documentary production company in Maryland. And I was like, yeah, I mean, I guess. I guess you can make money doing this, I guess. And so I just, I ended up going to film school and, fortunately I fell in love with it when I was in film school, because it was a big question, mark, cuz like I said, like I, I, even up until the time I was in film school, I didn't consider myself a filmmaker at all. and I wasn't interested in like Hollywood films. I didn't inspire to make Hollywood films. I just knew that I liked to make videos, you know, more or less videos is what I would say. And so when I got to film school and met a bunch of other people that were really passionate about, film filmmaking, it was really cool. It was, it was really fortunate and we connected and I had a lot of natural, curiosity and I always wanted to make things. That's, that's just what I still to this day. That's what it comes down to. And I just made a lot of things throughout my time at film school, I was like producing passion projects. DPing them, music videos ended up getting a couple budgets to do music videos while still in film school, which was pretty cool. And I was like, you know what? Like, this is really awesome. You know, like this is it just, it, it sort of felt like it came naturally to me. in film school, just, just like the process. It didn't feel like a struggle, you know, it was just like, this is something that my skillset, and who I am just sort of lent to. And, and a lot of it was the people too. Like I had really great friends in film school, a lot of whom I still work to, to this day. And, so yeah, I graduated film school, had a cinematography reel, had some like producing experience and, Ended up moving to New York city with a few of my friends right after film school. And that is, I guess chapter three. Should I keep going or keep going. Yeah, you're good. Yeah. Yeah. We haven't even gotten to like, you know, variable or anything yet. So this is great. Right. So, yeah. I guess the context of all that is because film schools, where I met all the people that helped turn variable into what it was. Mm. And so when I graduated, film school, moved to New York city, there was four people that, were in my class. We all ended up moving into the same, apartment. Together in New York city and would all work on different jobs and, all freelancing, you know, I had like a semipermanent job shooting news at the United nation for this like Saudi Arabian television station, which was really, really strange. Huh. it was probably a lot of interesting topics in that in itself, but I'll, I'll, I'll fast forward through that. But essentially what we found was that, like, we were always the most fulfilled when we were shooting projects with one another and the problem was we never made any money on those projects. We would just get budget, say like a $15,000 budget for music video. Like there was a record label that I worked a lot with and they would give us these like 10 to $15,000 budgets. which now is a lot. But back then for music video, that was like low. This was like 13 years ago or something like that. And, So we would put all the money into the music videos, make a great end product and not have made any money off of it. So it was kind of like, that was a great, but it was just like kind of, man, it would be great if we could make some money off of these jobs. and so we'd produced a lot of work. It was myself and another cinematographer named Kali Mattas, who, I went to film school with. And, you know, we reached a point where we weren't making money on those jobs. And I was personally not feeling much of a connection at all to the industry. And the people like the producers that I was working with on a lot of the jobs that you kind of have to do to break in. But I didn't, you know, I was just my whole, like the first year of being in New York city was just, I was, I was like, man, is this really, it? Is this what I signed up for? And I was just questioning a lot about it, cuz it was just like, you know, as it is when you're breaking in, it's just like crazy hours. There was a lot of sheisty producers. It just didn't feel like a space where I felt like I could live true to who I am and like how I was raised. And I was just sort of like, I don't know, question it big question marks. And I did, there were no signs of it getting any better at that at the time either. So, and my O my other friend Cali, he was his qualm at the time was that, you know, the work that we were producing was always very high quality and he wasn't happy with the quality of the work that he, you know, he was able to produce as a freelancer at that part phase of his career. So we started talking more seriously about. Starting a production company. And, but again, the challenge was always, we couldn't make, we weren't able to make money doing it. We didn't really have like the business mind. So there was a third partner, named Tyler Ginter, who he was in the military at the time. And, he had been observing like the work that Kelly and I had been producing and, and our other friends from film school. And he'd been following it for like a couple years and his time in the military was almost up or when he decided he wanted to get out. Cause he, he was pretty burnt out, by it. And he has a business mind and he saw what we were doing. And, you know, we just started a discussion of like, what, what would this look like if Tyler came into the mix and was able to take on more of like an EP producer role, granted he didn't have any experience as a EP or a producer, but he had, you know, been deploying troops around the world on. Because he was the captain of the combat camera department in the military. So we're like, if this guy can deploy troops around the world and then war zones, that sounds a lot like the film industry So like, that was our like instinct, you know, it was like this guy can, if he can do that. And he had like sold contracts for like a lot like camera companies and like big, big deal stuff. And so he came into the mix and, From there, we all just traveled. We would bring each other on every job that we could at that season. You know, whether I was like cam mopping or Cali was cam mopping, or Tyler was D I ting or whatever, it didn't matter. We were just like, if one of us had an opportunity, we would drag the other two into it so that we could continue to brainstorm and develop how we were gonna actually make money as a company. And so that went on for, I wanna say about like six months or something like that until, we started being able to pitch ourselves as like a cinematography collective, more or less for, there's a few networks that we did work with and they would hire us to, yeah, come on as like a unit, hire the gaffer or hire the AC. And they just knew like, oh, we're gonna hire this team. We're gonna get great visuals. So we just kind of dealt with that for a while. And then through just like strategic talking about ourselves and who we are and whatever, we managed to get some like smaller opportunities of production company. And that's where we're like, okay, we're actually doing this. And things were, you know, off to like a slow start. And then, I would say we ended up getting an office in Chelsea, which was like our first big investment. And, we all put, I think it was like $70,000. Like it was like all of our life savings, basically and more, and we were like, okay, we're gonna get an office and we're gonna go shoot a few passion projects and this is what we're gonna do. and that's what we did. And this was like right around the time. Vimeo, like when Vimeo was coming out with like the staff pick program, you know, you could shoot really good looking stuff on like, reds for pretty good price. So there's a lot of, you know, and Phantom cameras where like more available and I don't know, stuff like that. And, so yeah, we shot a few passion projects and like, I mean, it was pretty wild, but like all of 'em ended up getting, like staff picks like best of the month or like, like that it was like three in a row, basically. Wow. And those were our three projects that we first projects that we released as like a production company. So like overnight we just got, well, I guess basically what happened was, I was, we were in like Texas for this filmmaking event called masters in. And, I got a call from Nike on my cell phone and I was like, whoa, like this is Nike. Like, this is kind of crazy. you know, like that's kind of like a dream client. And like, so yeah, I was talking to them and then was telling my partners like, okay, this is happening. And it was like a branded spot with, spike Lee. Like they wanted him to be involved. They, there was like two soccer teams. There was all this crazy stuff that they wanted to do. And so like overnight, we basically became a commercial production company without any experience producing commercials. Wow. And so that was, and then like, as that was wrapping or during the process, I don't remember exactly when, national geographic emailed us based off of like one of the staff picks that they saw and they wanted us to start doing their, promo work. So then now all of a sudden we're working with network TV and. And then it all, it all sort of just snowballed from there. And that's that, I guess maybe that's that's chapter one. Hmm. Yeah. Yeah. so, so yeah. So my question is like, at that point, was there like a ton of excitement? Were you guys feeling like, were you in the mind of like, this is what I'm gonna just keep doing? Like, I'm just gonna keep making these, this is really great, you know, or this is successful or, or did you have something else that you were like either that wasn't feeling right? Or, or, or did you have something else that you dreamt of doing still or, or was that kind of the ticket at the point at, at that, at that time? I mean with Nike calling my phone. Like that was just like, you know, I thought maybe in like 10 years I would do a Nike commercial, you know? And, so there was a ton of excitement. Like we're like, oh my gosh, we can't screw this up. You know, like, let's go all in. And then Nat geo, which was been my dream client since I've picked up, you know, camera or whatever, I was like, oh my God, we can't screw this up. And that, that kind of became the Mo Yeah. but yeah, it was just a ton of excitement, really a ton of excitement and like figuring things out really. That's awesome. So your career exploded and you got all these huge jobs. And how did you go from that, to this wellness community that you've created now? Like what, what steered you that direction? Oh, man, I feel like. Yeah, it exploded. And, and that, that is pretty much what happened like at the time, it, it, I don't know if, if it actually cuz it, the explosion happened over the period of like years, like it was just, it just constantly kept exploding for better, for better or worse, you know? I, I, and I, now I know if something explodes like that, like that's an a point for me to actually pause and be like, can I actually sustain this? You know, like, cuz I, I, I was in like full on reactive, you know, I was 22 at the time. Wow. now I'm I'm 33. So I, you know, I have a bit more experience than I did back then, but yeah. I forget what your question was. how did that move you into health and wellness? The. The current iteration of variable. Yeah. Oh, yeah, because, I was just sort of like chasing the excitement and like the passion and we brought on, you know, there was like, there was like seven or eight employees at any given time. We brought on like too much overhead too quickly. Mm. And, you know, these are people that are like my best friends and people that were like relying on us. And, it's a lot of pressure, you know, it's a tremendous amount of pressure. Yeah. And so, and everybody was like young and hungry too. So there was that element of it as well, where it's like, none of us really, we didn't have like a, a mentor. In the business at all. Like we, we were too naive and honestly too spun up in the excitement of it all to even pause, at least for those first like four years or something like that. So kind of just kept like chasing it and then, you know, basically thought had this idea that like, you know, a couple years into it, like, oh, you know, oh, if we represent other directors, like that'll release some of the burning cuz like one of our partners left after the first year who was. Creative partner and the company, colleague, the cinematographer to, you know, he's an insanely talented cinematographer. So he went and started doing his own thing, but then all of the, the, the aftershock of that, which I didn't, all the creative pressure, like what it, you know, everything that, and I, that I couldn't have anticipated would be coming, which is the treatment process and working with agencies and all that stuff that, that became, extremely challenging. So we were like, okay. So we started hiring on more staff and then of course the responsibilities of like training staff while I'm like directing jobs. And then, and then, so like another year goes by, I'm like directing, directing, or trying to find directors who have this set of skills that we need, to continue producing the type of work that we were used to creating. That was a big challenge for sure. Because like, the people that we wanted to hire were, you know, they're like, oh, I, you know, 15 grand a day type like commercial directors. And, you know, at that point, the first like few years, it was like, we couldn't pay directors that, and so it was like, you either find, find young directors that have a tremendous amount of potential and afford them and sort of train them up a little bit, or, scale everything down. Like that's sort of the crosswords that we hit. So, you know, naively and, you know, theoretically, this could have worked if I knew what I knew now, but, we're like, okay, we're gonna start wrapping these directors that are like incredibly talented, but like don't have that much of commercial reels. And like, I had a pretty robust commercial reel at the time. So, I started, then co-directing helping them pitch, traveling with them, building their wheels so they could have legs of their own. And so that I could then take a further, this was the plan at least. So I could take a further seat in the back and just more like creative direct and do jobs here and there. And that did eventually happen. It took way longer than I thought it was gonna happen. Mm. And unfortunately, by the time it did happen, I was so toasted, like so far past the point of even like, even. Being able to function yeah. That, ultimately I ended up leaving the country company. I, you know, my partner and I agreed that, you know, I would be bought out and, he would resume the company, which unfortunately, like six or seven months after I left, they had a really bad string of, I think it was like, I don't know, 20 plus or 30 plus or something like that. Jobs that just fell through. And so the company ultimately shut down shortly after I left, but, there's much bigger reasons why that happened. I think largely because we a, we didn't have experience B, we didn't know how to run a production company and, C we didn't know how to look after ourselves. I think that's the most fundamental part which undermines the, the community is like, I didn't have any sense of like boundaries. Personal boundaries. Any, if you tell me what wellness meant, I'd be like, oh yeah. I mean, that makes sense. Like, I've read about that when I was on like 30 milligrams of Adderall, but like, what is that? you know? Yeah. That's the whole other piece to it too. Like I was, I was medicated on like stimulants for like four years in the, in the mix of that. You know, but I was completely abusing it, like for sure, like around the clock a lot of times. And so that, that definitely contributes to a lot of the lack of focus on the bigger picture. Cause I was always so like hyperfocused on like the briefs that were in front of me, but, but anyway, yes, the company failed and I think that the accountability of wellness and like knowing how important it's to take care of ourselves and look after each other, like from a holistic perspective, that highly, if not, specifically is, I mean, I don't know what I'm trying to say. It just had a lot to do with that company being unhealthy. That's all I'm gonna say. Yeah. Yeah, no, that makes total sense that that would lead to you reaching out and helping other people going through the same thing or heading down that pathway. Mm-hmm and I've loved being a part of your community and participating. Thank you here and there in the discussions that you're doing. I think the topics are really interesting. Yeah, I think it's a great thing you've got, got going. Thank you. Yeah. Something you said where you said the, basically each individual who made up this organization, none of us, you know, you kind of alluded that all of you were maybe. So thrown into this, that none of you are really taking care of yourselves or at least, at least a good portion of you and, and that undermined the community. And I thought that was an interesting way that you said that it reminds me of something, down a joke said, which is that we can't have world peace until we've learned personal peace or found personal piece. And it's just this idea of how does, how does a company find wellness? It's like, well, when each individual learns how to set healthy boundaries and how to have a healthy lifestyle and, and discover that wellness, then it'll naturally kind of, you know, spill into the, the company, culture and the dynamic. And, and that's true for any sort of group, I would think, be it a company or a community or a, or family or whatever. So anyway, I, I think that's really valuable and I think that that's something that you're so not alone on. I think that's what you're that, I mean, you obviously have realized that because you've started a whole. You know, a whole thing out of it. And, and so it's every film that I've ever worked on. That's how does this group work together and how do we make this work? Cuz one of the hardest things is making films. And one of the hardest things, while learning to make films, I think is, learning how it sounds dumb, how to make them like how to make them, how to make the process of them sustainable and just like enjoyable you know, like, and for sure, sometimes it's super enjoyable and then sometimes it's a nightmare and I think we've, I think we've experienced polar both of those polar. Sides of it. And anyway, I don't know. Have you, have you ever felt like you came off of a project and it was just like, that was really, really great. And maybe it's gonna be this way from now on like Ooh. And like, like thinking that every job job is gonna be like that. I guess I'm speaking from experience just like, oh great. I figured it out. You know, like that's the assumption like, oh yeah. I've figured it out. We've we have figured it out. It's now it will be good. I don't, I mean, I, I don't, I was so humbled. This was like six years ago when I took a, a two month sabbatical. Like by myself, it was like this road trip just around the United States. And, I was like meditating every day. Journaling eating well, hiking, a ton spending all my time in national parks, like the most beautiful parts of the country. And, I was really burnt out before the sabbatical and I came back and I was like, oh, I'm. Feel amazing, you know, I'm completely healed. and, and I went right into this four city car job, which like car jobs a are always stressful for me. And, and I was, had so much confidence, I guess, just like going into it, that I was okay. And then after the job itself, I slammed dunked into a worse depression that I'd ever been into my life. And, ever since that happened, I just, every job I just like try and just stay humble and try and just like, knock it too high. Because sometimes things happen that are just outside of my control. I don't know. I haven't completely figured it out. I don't know if it's like the psychic energy, certain things, I don't know what it is, but like, I'm always mindful that after shoot, I just need to try and take care of myself because just weird things happen. yeah. That's a big part of like what I'm, I'm trying to uncover in the community. I know recently, like, you know, we were talking a little bit about like grieving after shoots sometimes and, just different emotions that I haven't really, and just like feeling sad sometimes. And some shoots I'll feel really happy after some shoots I'll feel really sad after. And so I'm in a phase of my life of just like exploring those feelings, when coming back from shoots. So it's, it's all over. All over the spectrum for me. That's that answers your question, but no, no, it does it it's David Sandberg who directed, Shaza and he's kind, he is this, this really interesting guy who came here from Europe and just like got launched into Hollywood as a director, talks about that, where he's like, I just have learned that, like, I'm gonna get really depressed because like you make a movie and you're just like, there's so much purpose and yeah. And like focus and energy. And then he says, and then the movie's over and it's just like this huge void he's just right. And he is like, I just go into this big depression and I have to kind of like slow down and like, he's like, I just I've, I've learned to accept it. So they're like, when it comes, it's like, okay, like I don't have to go into like a crisis and get scared. I can just be like, I'm sad. I finished him. Yeah. I'm gonna feel sad for a while now. Like, and so he's, but he's really, I don't know if you're, if you follow his work on, On YouTube. No, but he he's like one of the only A-list Hollywood directors who has like a YouTube channel and he posts to it regularly and he's like developed, he's like just wrapped on Shaza two. Wow. And he's like getting back into his YouTube channel and he is like, Hey, sorry, I haven't posted for a while. and it's like, that's amazing. So he's really cool. But he, he, he shows some really candid stuff. That's really neat. But, so, I know that you even, you eventually moved to China, and you started doing some things there. I know you, you eventually got, you got married. This is my impressions based on, I think I've read a couple interviews from you and, and watched some of your work, so, correct me if I'm wrong, but how did, how did that go or, or did it go differently than I just explained what the marriage or China? Both Yeah. Well, yeah, so my wife is Chinese. She's from China. We met in China. It was at the tail end of yet another crazy car job. And, We had wrapped, it was myself, my friend, Alex, who was a producer at variable Lloyd, who was a producer at variable and a few of the local crew from, from China. And we went out for like rap drinks at this like bar dance place kind of thing. And, there was this woman dancing there that I was just like looking at like, not creep at all. Of course and, but yeah, I was like never the type of guy to like go up and dance or like even say hi to someone. I didn't know that just wasn't and isn't really my thing necessarily. I mean, I do it now with like photography, but not when it comes to like, whatever you get my point. Yeah. So I was looking at her and like my friend, Alex, the producer. I'd been notoriously single for years, cuz I had just prioritized work over everything. And my friend Alex was like, Hey man, you see that girl dancing over on the dance floor. Like she was just dancing by herself. And I was like, yeah, like been looking at her for like 30 minutes and and he's like, dude, you should go dance with her. And I was like, fine. And like, I guess Lloyd, I just bought everybody shots and I like took a shot and I was like, wow, whatever, you know, just be like a bro here and do this thing. And I did. And and we started dancing and she just had an awesome vibe and you know, she met the people I was with. I met her roommate who she was there with and yeah, we just like had a great vibe and then. Later that night, we heard about this underground rave club in Shanghai. just like, this is not, this is not common behavior for me, but it's like, yeah, whatever we're in Shanghai, like let's go to an underground rave. And apparently you have to, like, this is what we heard. Like you have to pull over on the side of a highway and walk through this massive Jersey barrier wall that has a hole blown through it with dynamite, like just like a whole blasted through this Jersey wall on the side of the highway. You walk through that, you walk down a little trail through the woods, and then there is this, mansion, like this old school Chinese mansion that has a rave inside of it. And we're like, this sounds like not real, you know, and so she hadn't heard about it. We were talking to her about it and she was like, I don't know. I don't, I don't know what you're talking about, but like I can. Try and help you guys get there. So like she helped navigate with the taxi driver for us to find this place and it actually existed so we like hung out like the whole night, just like dancing and hanging out. And, and then I had to leave two days later from Shanghai. So then we hung out the whole next day. And, it was so special that when I got back to New York city, We were moving into a brand new office space, which was a huge commitment for us. It was like a five year, like some million dollar. All I remember is million dollar lease and, of Dumbo, like overlooking the water, like we had just all the new furniture. We had hired an interior designer. Like we were just like, whatever, we're going all in. Let's do it. That was a decision we made, which in retrospect it's not a great decision. I walked into the office and I had this like physical reaction that was like, you can't do this anymore. Like you just signed your life over for the next, like two years, if you keep going forward with this. And it was the most anxiety inducing week of my life. And cuz that was like, all I knew for the past, like eight years was like that company and And it all really boils down to the fact that I met my now wife in Shanghai. And I knew that if I stayed in the company and kept doing what I had been doing, that the relationship wouldn't work out. That's just how I felt. Whether that's completely true or not. That's just how I felt. And so I was like, you know what, I'm tired of putting work first. Like I want to put this relationship first and, and in dramatic fashion, that's what I did. And so it was like two weeks later I was out of the company and, I was still directing for the company like freelance, which was great. And I was like closing up a couple jobs that had been going on. And then that afforded me the ability to be like, I'm moving to China, you know, like, this is what I'm gonna do. But in that, in that time frame, like shortly after I got back from, China, she, it was like two weeks after I got back. She decided to come to New York city. Chandling my wife and visited for a couple weeks. And, and then, yeah, it must have been a couple weeks later or something like that, that I decided to go to China, cuz I was originally thinking. Thinking like, oh, I'm just gonna stay in New York city. And just, but everything, I just needed a cha like a dramatic change. And so that happened then lived there on and off for, it was like, I don't know. I don't remember how long it was. I don't honest, I'm drawing a blank on it, but, yeah, the longest she can stay there without a work visa is like two months. So I'd go for like two months, come back home, go for another two months. And, that was great. And, now she lives here in Baltimore of all places in my murder capital of, United States. Oh, really? I didn't know that know that. I lived in safe city of Shanghai. I lived in the Myrtle cap murder capital of the world for a couple years. Where's that? Well, at the time it was some Pedro Honduras. wow. Which was pretty funny. But if you're not dealing drugs, you're not likely gonna become part of those statistics. But, anyway, so, it was, it wasn't as, as scary as it sounded, but, have you ever considered making, your, your story of, of, of how you met your wife into a movie? no, I had, not at all, but it's, it's a fun, it's a fun one. To tell I, I enjoy it. I, I actually was, I'm starting a podcast of my own, through variable. And I, I, my goal was to get it done today. And man, it is like, maybe it's just cuz it's the first podcast, but I was gonna include that story as a part of it. But yeah, it's a skillset for sure. That is gonna take time to hone. Cuz I was like trying to record an intro for like an hour and I'm like, God, this sounds so cheesy. what is wrong with this? I'm just anyway, but yeah, podcast. Good stuff. That's funny. That's funny now we've definitely, we've gone through a number of, introductions to our podcast. So maybe ours is still cheesy, but they, it probably is. Our motto has had to become it's better done than perfect. You know, B minus. Yeah. Does the job like I love that. Yeah. Yeah, that's helpful. yeah. Especially with podcast content, like film is still hard. I can't quite get to B minus yet, but, I don't know if I can't get up to it or down to it. Probably both. podcasts, podcasts are a little easier to just throw out there and not be like this one, solid, solid something minus. So Yeah, no, I'm just kidding that that's on our interview skills, not your, not your, no, no, no. Your half of this, but, um, no worries. So cool. I didn't know all the details about your story, but that, that really is pretty interesting. yeah, it was, it was a, it was a blessing in many ways, just like when we met and, how it all transpired, but, you know, I was working with a life coach for gosh, on and off for like a couple years before that. And she made me so aware that like what I was seeking more than anything was just to have a partner to like, have love in my life. And it was so easy for me to just like push it away with like work and you know, of course there's all other reasons there that my therapist knows all too well, but but truly like just her, my life coach telling me that and making me aware of that was like, you know, helped me make the decision that, you know, changed my life for the better. So it was good. How long have you been married now? Over gosh, like three and a half years, a little less than three and a half years, I think. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That's awesome. So still, still fresh. Yeah, but it's good. That's really good. And do you feel like now you've found a way to approach your work that feels more balanced or feels more healthy? Yeah, and I think mainly cuz like all my eggs aren't in one basket anymore. Meaning production work mm-hmm that for me is, not a good. Position to be in. So yeah, I had to work really hard the last four years to like find different income streams. And I'm not rich by any means. Like, I think when people hear income streams, it's like, oh, you know, that's not the case at all. I mean, to be honest, like I'm making far less money than I was making when I was directing and working at variable. Like, but I mean, I've been working really hard the last four years to, make it, so all of my income doesn't come just through production work. Mm-hmm so when that was the case, it was, was, it was just too much pressure for me, you know, there's like just so many constant unknowns of like, you know, even financially and where you're gonna be and at any given time. And I think that was the biggest struggle for me is that I felt like. The rug was constantly pulled out from under me. Like anytime I would get myself for like my wellness in like a better space, then all of a sudden it's like, oh, next week you gotta be in wherever this small town in the middle of Alaska or whatever, which is like in theory, it's all great. And it sounds really great when you're telling people about what you do, but like yeah, in reality, it's extremely hard on, it was extremely hard on my just overall wellness. So I had to, I had to work really hard to, to sort that out. So now, you know, I do the last few years, I've done a small handful of jobs, every year and just been slowly building, other areas to be able to make a little bit of money here and there. So, yeah, that's where I'm at. I'm also curious about your creative process. I just feel like your work has such a emotional vulnerability to it or a humanity to it that is hard to come by. And I'm curious how, where you think that comes from or what your process is. I think specifically regarding your documentary work, that that you've done. Hmm. Thank you. I don't know exactly, I guess, because of just, you know, largely how I was raised. I know my mom is one of my biggest collaborators. She always has been. And, you know, she's a very, my parents are both very faithful people and I grew up in the faith myself and granted, I didn't really understand it at all. I'm just starting to understand it a little bit now, but when I was young, I didn't understand it, but there was definitely like a set of just like values that I was raised by that I'm starting to understand. And so she would always, you know, help guide me in, give me feedback. And it was all super valid stuff. Like it wasn't, it wasn't like judgey. It wasn't like, you're so much better than this type of work. Like you should be doing this. It was just like true encouragement, cuz she knows me better than anybody else other than my dad. And she she's seen in me. The type of person that I am, the way that I connect with people. And that's been like definitely, the guiding, spirit behind everything that I have done. So I don't know if that answers your question, but yeah, yeah, no, it really does. I feel, I feel like, we recently had a conversation with another filmmaker on the podcast named Barrett Bergen. We were interviewing him be, regarding his, he made a shoestring feature and that's, that's a big part of what we talk about obviously here at feature filmmaker academy. But you know, he talked a lot about that. He like kind of entered at the end. He kind of made it clear, like he said, you know, it doesn't really matter what it is that you're doing, but, in terms of your faith or your whatever, he said, I, I have to give credit where it's due. He says, I, I definitely believe in, these are his words basically paraphrased, that he, he believes in a, the value of, appealing to a higher power appealing to a higher power. Yeah. Thank you. In the sense of prayer or meditation or whatever that is, he says that taking that time to appeal to that higher power when you're, when you're working, which I think for you is, you know, you're, you're describing these values and, collaborating with your mom. I mean, when you say that collaborating with your mom, you know, what, what does that look like? Is it like phone calls? Is it getting into the, like the nitty gritty or is it just like a personal relationship that, that informs you as a person? Yeah, I think it's, it's, I think it's a, a little bit of everything. You know, I'm always eager to much more in the past, you know, like I would use her as like a sounding board for ideas and like a creative partner in that sense where, you know, she was like, you know, all three kids were outside of the house, like had left the house, or, you know, didn't live in the house anymore. So like, you know, she had a lot of free time, I guess. So she was always just very willing to give feedback on things. And so when I started, you know, pitching and writing, I had a lot of just like uncertainty and questions. So she helped guide and inform a lot of those decisions and, yeah. No. That's really cool. It's beautiful. Yeah. It's I know that there's a lot of filmmakers who've, their spouse has been that person. I mean, Alfred Hitchcock worked closely with his spouse even after she stopped collaborating on the projects themselves, like in accredited fashion. Right. She played that sort of a role where it was, there were, you know, every decision was basically run by her right in almost executive sense. But these are the people that don't usually get credit, you know? But there's this, this depth of, creative value that they offer artists. I think, I think it's really important to have those people. Steven King talks about his wife being that person that he writes all of his first drafts for himself and all of his second drafts for his wife before he sends it to editors and publishers. And, so that's really interesting. I do think it's so valuable for creatives to have. Somewhere to go like that somebody who's a safe relationship, whether that's God or a spouse or a good friend, or a parent yeah. Or a parent. I love that. And, and I think that what you've shared today has been so helpful and is so relatable to many people. John, I think, just to wrap this up, cuz we're, we're getting close on time here. You know, if there are other people who are feeling the way that you have before, like there's something missing or even that they have had a level of success and there's still something empty or that they're seeking for in their life, or a lack of joy, what would, what would you say to that person who might be feeling that way at this time? Yeah. I mean, the first thing that comes to my mind is just finding a quiet space and sitting there. And just, listening, seeing what comes up and, you know, sitting with the pain, sitting with whatever, whatever comes up and, just listen to that and follow that, you know, whether that's, you know, some people call it God, some people call it their inner voice, their intuition, whatever it is. I know, you know, I didn't do that for so long cuz I was always spun up like reacting everything. So I never prioritized stillness. Yeah. But that would be the first thing I would, I would say for sure. Hmm. I had the opportunity once of editing a documentary for a woman who interviewed the shipmates of her father who served on the USS James cos in world war II. And, it was interesting. One of the shipmates R. It touched on something that you, that you just mentioned, which he said that when he was, he would take night watch sometimes. And he said that he remembers hours of, staring at the reflection of the moon running across the ocean. Wow. And he said, you'd like to just try and keep thinking about your escapades on your last leave or like the girls you were with or whatever And he said, but eventually you run outta things, you know, you run out of frivolous things to think about. And then you have to start to question yourself and the meaning of your existence and, and you have to start to like reflect. And he says that I, he says my biggest concern is that young people don't have that anymore. They don't have any time to reflect. So I, I don't know. I've always remembered that. And what you're saying, I think really strikes that same chord in the sense that there is value in that. I think sometimes we always think of like exchanging our time for some sort of value that we can measure and, but there's value in stillness, you know? So I, I really do. I really do like that, which I think you made some, some high speed cinematography on your, Vimeo page that you put to a, a meditation, exercise. I, I, I actually looked up that, guy, what, what's the name of that filmmaker? Or he was a, he was on Broadway. Bet Salman bet. Salman. Yeah, I would, I would recommend anyone, to check that video out and, and check out Bert Salman's, meditation courses. I, I thought that was really neat how you did that. I never heard of him until I saw that, that piece that you did, but it was, it's, it's actually pretty effective. I was like, you know, I, I don't take much time to, meditate, in, in that particular sense, like a very guided meditation, I should say. Right. and it was, it was, it was a lot more beneficial than I think I would've assumed. So I was, I was humbled in that sense. I thought it was actually really enjoyable and helpful. So yeah, I love that. I think, I think today we live in an age where there's like, So much media and so many places to turn. Most people have them right there in their pocket on their phone that right. A lot of us don't know how to process our emotions, or sit with them and feel them or face them because it's just so much easier to distract ourselves with work or with the phone or with whatever it is. And that's such an easy thing to turn to. So I, I do think that's really helpful advice to just take some time for stillness for thought, you know, put those things aside and maybe even force yourself to confront those things that were afraid to, to face or to feel. Yeah. And just knowing that it's okay, you know, that like, if there is, you know, pain or darkness or whatever, you know, that's, as far as I believe, it's just part of being human and. Acknowledging that and not trying to just swipe it under the rug is, is a really empowering thing to do for me at least. Yeah, absolutely. John, have you read, man search for meaning by Victor Frankel? Yes. Yeah. Years ago, but, yeah, it's still on my bookshelf. I, I flip back to it here and there. Yeah. I, I heard that a few years ago and was like, ah, why did it take me so long to get around in his book? but in his logo therapy stuff, he talks about an American logo therapist who directly addresses that this is a not exclusively an American problem, but it pointedly it's, it's more prevalent. What you just described, which is this, that Americans, we sometimes feel shame for feeling sad or like we, our negative emotions, we almost feel. like, we shouldn't be having them and right. Which from his sort of being a, a Jewish man, who's a four death camp survivor. And, you know, growing up in Europe and everything, he, I guess he's like, there's maybe a smaller degree of like, acceptance, like when you're feeling bad, like, it's like, this is, this is part of like the drama of, of the human experience and the human story. Like, that's just what you, there's this acceptance of it. Whereas in America it's like, well, if I was doing better or if I was good or if I was whatever complete, you know, I wouldn't be feeling these things. And it's like, no, that, that, that just like layers negative emotion upon negative emotion. Like it like makes you feel bad for feeling bad and, and like, and how that's, I don't know. That's so, yeah, it's, it's, And at the same token, it can, like, you can feel good about feeling bad, not in like a, I want to feel this way, way, but like in a, a actually a close friend of mine, actually one of Anna's cousins recently talked to me at a family reunion and said, talking about a significant tragedy that had happened to him. He's a young man and saying, I felt sad, but I could tell that the sadness was making me grow in a way that like, I wouldn't have traded the experience, even though like, if the power was put in my hand, it'd be like impossible for me to not right. You know, undo that terrible thing, but I'll never do it. Like, you know, like, I can't, and I'm kind of glad that I can't, because I can tell that I, I, I wouldn't become the person that I'm supposed to be becoming. If I wasn't experiencing this sadness, so you can always feel happy about the sadness, which I thought was a yeah. Sort of this, paradoxical statement that made so much sense. It, I can relate to that, I think in a personal way. So, I love that it's it's like, yeah. It's, I mean, that's, that, that was like the unique thing about like going into experiencing like a really bad depression for me is like, yeah, it was extremely painful and not comparing depression to like what your friend or your cousin went through. But, it's just, it's humbling, you know, it's like life has a way of humbling us and, you know, if we, I think if we listen to that, it, it opens up so much empathy. Like it is crazy. Like after the depression happened, I was like, Wow. Like there's millions of people living with this every day. Mm. You know, and like, wow. And just being able to like, sit with those more people, you know, and like hold space for more people that are going through huge challenges. Cuz like, you know, I was never a depressed kid in this specific example. And like I had no idea what depression was until I was like slammed dunked into it. And now I'm just like, okay, you know, there's a lot more going on here. the world is a lot bigger than me kind of thing, which is yeah. I love, I love that. Like that's how I interpret what you said about the sadness is like, yeah, it's terrible and sad and in one way, but another way it's like just brings us so much deeper into, you know, our connections with others and God and. The world at large, which is really cool. Yeah. Yeah. I do a lot of coaching. So when I'm working with people as a coach, we talk about processing emotions and how emotions are like someone knocking on your door. And there's a few different responses. You can answer the door and let them in, or you can ignore it and hope they'll go away. and yeah, when you ignore them, they actually grow bigger and more persistent and they don't go away. And sometimes they knock the door down, they, they kind of might start attacking your house from the outside until they can get in. And, every time you let an emotion in. it has something to teach you. Like, there's a reason why it's coming there and you you'll never know what that is until you sit and let them in and listen. And I think sometimes when we're pushing those emotions away for too long, it can feel like that slam dunk into depression. You talked about where it's just like the whole house just collapsed. Like because I was pushing this all away for too long. Exactly. So, yeah, and, and hopefully we can create safe spaces for people to feel like they can think out loud or bounce ideas off or understand what they're going through and process their own experiences. I, I definitely feel like you are doing that in the community you've created. And, I feel that, you know, with my own clients as well in our coaching meetings, that that's a, a place they're able to go and, and really open up and work through things and figure out. What's meaningful to them and how to reach the goals they want and what they actually need. And, and I definitely feel like you've done that on a community level. That is really impressive where people feel safe to open up and to be vulnerable. And, again, we're, we're at time, but if you would just, maybe we can end with you sharing how people might join this community or what, what it's about. And we'll link that in the show notes as well. For anyone who might need a space like that to enter in. Yeah, for sure. And thanks for the kind words it's about it. It's been a cool, like, yeah, just a cool little journey. And so yeah, I guess as far as. Learning about the community. So the way that we've been describing it is it's a community where filmmakers prioritize wellness and growth. I, for me, like, it's, I think of it for myself as kind of like group therapy for filmmakers I mean, that's the best, most effective conversations we have are like, are that, you know, you're like putting your vulnerabilities out there and learning like the truth of what it's actually like. And I think that's where like the real power lies, like you were like, you were mentioning a bit. So yeah, it's, we are variable.com. If you have any questions, you can always email me at hello. We are variable.com and, yeah, that's, that's, that's all I got for my. Promotion I'm sold well, it's, it's really, it's really a cool community. I, I haven't been as directly involved as Anna. But I've, I've definitely investigated the whole thing. And, and I think that it's, it's, it's something that's needed. Thank you. And, and there are definitely conversations that are they happen, but they happen more on like a, we're all complaining about this sort of level. And so I think it's really good that there's a constructive space where it's like, we're all actually addressing this and, and, and having a it's a more productive space. I think. So it's, it's exciting to me to see that there's a few people, including yourself that are, are finally, fi creating different unique solutions or, resources at least and tools, for, for something that's really common, I think in all industries, but especially in the film, the film industry, Thank you. So, yeah, it's awesome. Well, I don't know if you have any last questions, Ana. I think that's it for now. Just a big, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. And, of course, for your insights, John, do you have any last words or, or thoughts there is a really amazing quote that I think would be nice to end on yeah. Great. It says it's by the French philosopher, his name's blaze Pascal, and it says all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone. whether if, if people believe it to be literally true or spiritually interpreted, I just absolutely love that quote and come back to it all the time. So that's, reminds me of, Oh, my goodness, I guess, Bible school is failing me. Elijah or Elijah. When he, when he hears the, he witnesses the, the earthquake and, he didn't, God was not in the earthquake and he, and he witnesses the, the fire and he wasn't in the fire. And then, there was a still small voice and, and that's where he found him. And, have you seen the movie, have you seen the movie, sound of metal? Yes. Ah, gosh, the ending of that movie is exactly right. Yes. Yeah. Stillness. That's where the king, the kingdom of God is in that, in those moments of stillness is, oh my God, that movie, the way that it opens and the way that it closes. Oh my gosh. Is, is some of the greatest contrast I think you could possibly evoke. That was a, that was a far more profound movie than I was expecting going into it. And I think me too, I need to revisit that one and a couple dozen more times. I think so. is, that was great. One I do too. It also reminds me of like the ending of, of boyhood. Did you see boyhood? No, not yet. oh man. Oh my gosh. I feel like you would absolutely love that. I mean, maybe not that some people hate it, but some people love it, but the ending of that film is, is a similar sentiment to yeah. Oh, we'll have to check it out. No, we'll have to, we'll have to watch that one. Well, I think that if, based on this conversation, if there's anything Jonathan, I'd love you to walk away from this podcast episode is to go watch late spring by Ozu I already wrote it down. Oh, great. Great. Yeah, no, there's a great moment. I mean, that ending is also really thought provoking and there's some just beautiful, simple, super meditative way that, that it's not just the film. It's the way he makes films. Ah, you know, it's not just the story. It's, it's the experience of sitting and watching it. It's quite challenging for some people who don't like maybe the stillness But it is, it's like a meditation session almost. It's so it's so patient. And yet not. And that's, that was something I was gonna say right at the beginning of the podcast that I didn't really say. That I have tried to make stuff that's that patient, like Ozu, you know, really still quiet frames. And I often find myself like, there's nothing going on here. but when I watch your stuff, people's park and, and some of your other documentary work, I'm like, how is it POS, like, there's something different about it, where there's always something actually interesting happening in the frame, even though it seems like nothing is happening. I maybe it's maybe it's cuz I'm outside of it, you know? But I feel like there's just a degree of thoughtfulness that I've watched some of mys maybe. Whatever I would consider my slower work and been like, oh, this feels like, I think there's something really interesting happening but maybe there really isn't and, anyway, that's something I really admire in both your work and Ozu, which is good company, John, to be in, so, oh gosh. So yeah, I I'm going to, I'm gonna, I just got the criterion channel and I have a feeling this is on there. There's not enough Ozu on the criterion channel in my opinion. And it's a shame because. Anyway, but I could be wrong. There might be a few. But I was shocked when I was like, whoa, I thought that his like whole filmography would be on there, but BFI really BFI really loves him. And they have a subscription. There's a subscription for everything there is, there is. So, yeah, I'm definitely, I'm definitely gonna, cause I'm in the process of like developing some more films and I want to take more of this type of approach, but in more like a narrative setting. So yeah. I'll look at this for some inspiration. I'll probably rip off his, his films. there's a good, it's a good one. It, yeah. Well, and while you're at it, check out, Coda, K O R E hyphen ed. And, did you tell me about him, Anna? I did. Yeah. Oh, did you Anna? Oh yeah. No, he's he's sensationally amazing. And check out your local library. That's actually the only place I can find these movies is our local library. So, they have a good ours at least had a pretty good international cinema selection. So. Anyway. Well, that's, maybe past the outro of the film of the podcast. All good. All good. I think everyone who listens to the podcast already knows that we really like COTA Ando zoo, so old news anyway, and we like to ramble sometimes about films. Thanks so much, John. We appreciate you. Thanks so much for your time. Yeah, of course. Thank you both. And, I'm sure we'll connect some time down the line for sure. Yeah, we'll see you around. all right. Have a good night. You too, too. Have a good one. Bye.