In the course of a dozen years on movie sets, Annie Coe learned first-hand how stressful filmmaking can be. She saw the toll that long hours and unpredictability took both on herself and on her 15-year relationship with a local filmmaker. But when Coe began training as a therapist at the California Family Study Center in North Hollywood, she was amazed to learn that no one had ever made a systematic study of the impact the many stresses of the entertainment business have on filmmakers and their families.
"I was surprised at the dearth of information," Coe said. "I spent days in front of the computers at school. There were studies of the effects of stress on rock musicians and comedians but nothing on filmmakers."
Coe remedied that situation last year by studying how 10 filmmakers and their families react to the stresses of the world's most glamorous profession. The study helped earn her a master's degree in marriage and family therapy (the North Hollywood counseling center and training facility has an accredited master's program). According to faculty at the school, the study is also an important first step toward developing reality-based counseling programs for entertainment families with problems.
Michele Harway, the center's director of research, said Coe's study "blazes new territory." Such studies are important, she said, "because we live in an area where there are so many families that are affected directly or indirectly by the entertainment industry." To counsel such families effectively, she said, "it's important to have empirical information."
Now an intern at the school, Coe, who hopes to specialize in counseling entertainment families, plans to study additional filmmakers.
A Silver Lake resident in her early 40s, Coe said "filmmaker" was her generic term for anyone directly involved in making TV shows or movies. Her own filmmaking experience included working as Orson Welles' assistant during the shooting of his unfinished, unreleased film, "The Other Side of the Wind." Welles would sometimes wake her up in the middle of the night to send a telex, but the chance to hear the great man reminisce, in a purple robe, with a brandy in his hand, more than made up for it, the English-born Coe said.
Recruited through Coe's industry contacts, the subjects of her study were 10 filmmakers--seven men and three women--who "were successful but not famous" and their mates. They included a producer, a director, an actor, a stand-in, a set decorator and a screenwriter. All had been married at least four years, one for 29 years.
Coe interviewed each of the couples for as long as four hours, using a questionnaire she developed based on earlier research on occupational stress. She also took notes as the filmmakers and their spouses made comments and observations.
As Coe anticipated, the study revealed that filmmaking is an unusually stressful business, largely because of unpredictability. However, most of the filmmakers and their families had found strategies that helped them minimize the pressures.
"Virtually everything about the business is unpredictable," including salary, work hours, locations and periods of employment, Coe said. As one of her subjects put it, "at least the unpredictability is expected." Unpredictability extended to whether filmmakers would show up for their interviews, Coe said. Interviews with filmmakers had to be rescheduled for numerous reasons, including a last-minute shoot in Seattle and a fire on a set.
Of all the unpredictable aspects of the business, periods of unemployment of uncertain length seemed to take the biggest toll.
"Most subjects stated that being unemployed is the most stressful aspect of the business," Coe said. Eighty percent of the filmmakers said they suffered from anxiety and depression whenever they were out of work for more than three weeks.
"The actor reported that periods of unemployment provoke emotional chaos for him, reminiscent of the internal chaos he experienced as a child being brought up by alcoholic parents," Coe said. She said the actor's wife was aware of how troubled he was when the phone wasn't ringing and was especially supportive at such times.
All the filmmakers reported that they reduced some of the anxiety associated with unemployment by making sure they were financially prepared for it. One woman said she and her husband always have enough in the bank to cover their expenses for six months. Even the seven couples who were financially secure said they tended to be anxious during periods of unemployment.
Working brought its own strains, the study found. While being employed alleviated fears about money and subtler concerns about whether others perceived the filmmaker as a good hire, working took its toll at home.