Let’s talk about the uncomfortable question.
Recently, I was out to dinner with a good friend who also works in the industry. We were sitting in a favorite restaurant and had fallen into a deep conversation about our families’ health when the man next to us leaned over and asked for help. He mentioned he was having a rather terrible day and was hoping for some conversation to help uplift his spirits. He divulged that he’d been having a rather hard time since moving to this country for work and asked if we could indulge him in some conversation.
At first, neither of us knew how to proceed. It was clear that the man was not doing well. His voice, tone, and demeanor all suggested an intense, but fragile mental state. I asked how many glasses of wine he’d had, to which he replied four. At this point, the bartender handed him a glass of water and cut him off with a significant glance at me. Then I asked the hardest question you can ask someone—are you suicidal?
All around us, we can see the psychological toll the last few years have taken on our world. Depression and anxiety are the highest that they’ve been since the Great Depression. Suicide rates have jumped in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. The man at the restaurant and his struggles are not an outlier in our society. More and more, people like him are becoming the norm. It is a problem that your Board of Directors and I cannot ignore. And so, this year, we have committed to changing the dynamics of interaction in our Local, while providing support and resources for our members. It is a four-phase plan, which I call “Reshaping 695.” I’d like to share some of that plan with you now.
Phase One: Dare to Lead:
In early August, the Board of Directors went through an intensive two-day retreat grounded in the works of Dr. Brené Brown. Brown is an empathy and vulnerability expert whose work was spotlighted by Ted Talks and later with her own Netflix special. The retreat was overseen by Laurel Smylie of Four Letter Consulting, who is an expert in this area and an affiliate with Brown’s institute. Her previous work with SAG-AFTRA has garnered respect and I was quite impressed in my early meetings and curation with her. During this two-day virtual retreat, the Board of Directors engaged in lessons on braving leadership in vulnerability, trust, courage, and the core values that make up each individual. The focus of our discussions were based around the art of the “rumble,” or how to have tough conversations with positive results.
I am extremely proud of how your Board of Directors showed up and did the work. This group of individuals came to learn and to participate. They were raw, they were vulnerable, and we talked through issues that we want to address on both the local and international level. Each of these individuals either learned or heightened a skill set that we hope will radiate within our membership. We are committed to making our community better.
Phase Two: Dare to Engage:
The next and current stage of this four-part process is to expand on the Dare to Lead materials in our committee work. The Equity, Diversity, and Opportunity Committee began their work on November 5th as Smylie observed the culture of the group. This work will carry onto a subsequent training session where the EDO Committee will take on an active goal (still to be determined) to flush out the questions they have about the identity of this committee, what a committee is, and the engagement we seek from its members. The EDO Committee is co-chaired by Steve Nelson and Victor Bouzi, who came with an appetite and a curiosity to create a safe and structured environment for the group’s activism to grow. This work will carry on into our Women’s Committee and our Young Workers’ Committee.
The Board recognizes and believes that these three committees are the bedrock of our Local’s membership activism. We want to give them the resources for success in today’s culture, while adopting the ideology that if we start here, we can take it with us into all aspects of our work.
Phase Three: Dare to Train:
Our Y-16A Training program has seen tremendous results. In an effort to continue to elevate this program, its directors have expressed an interest in creating an education structure to train potential members on the culture and environment of Hollywood before they ever step on set. Call sheets, call times, hierarchy on set, nomenclature, and all the little things that have become second nature to most of us, but are utterly foreign to those who have not experienced our industry and crafts. The program has been built upon a solid foundation, thanks to the tireless efforts of its directors, sponsors, and volunteers. Now it is setting its sights on a more ambitious goal: How can we train our future members to be more successful members of our community?
Phase Four: Dare to Change:
Lastly, we will hold a three-part workshop/seminar hosted by expert Catrice Munson on unconscious bias training for the membership. The workshops will include a foundational session on inclusion workspaces, exploring privilege and microaggressions, and tools for interrupting bias to become an ally. These virtual workshops will be standalone classes, but will draw on information from each session. Munson has worked with the IATSE International at General Executive Board meetings. Both her experience and her knowledge within our industry will prove to be invaluable to our members.
We are also partnering with Behind the Scenes, an organization committed to the mental health and safety of entertainment workers. Their mental health and addiction initiatives are serving our industry on all levels. Lori Rubinstein and Pat White from the New York IATSE office spoke to our delegates at the D2 Convention this year. Like First-Aid Certification, this class aims to teach the early warning signs of mental health relapse and suicide prevention in the work environment. Like First-Aid, we are not meant to give medical advice, but to be an intermediary until medical help can be brought to those who need it. The Board of Directors has committed to funding classes so that forty members may become certified.
I was inspired to take their Mental Health First-Aid Training Certification after the presentation made at the D2 Convention. Mental health and substance abuse awareness are causes in which I am deeply entrenched and I have made the commitment to be of service to my co-workers during stressful times.
While I will probably never know what became of the man at the restaurant, I feel that I was more prepared to intervene on his behalf thanks to the skills and resources that the Behind the Scenes Certification class have given to me. He never openly answered my question about his suicidal intentions. I could tell he was nearing his limit and needed the compassion our country seems to lack these days. I asked him if he would like some additional numbers to hold onto if he needed someone to talk to. We also set boundaries on the discussion—no politics, no negative discussion, only positive material to discuss until his friend came. He appreciated the guard rails, while delving into what was troubling him.
His friend arrived and I briefed him on the situation. They left to get some food. I’m unsure what will happen to that man moving forward. I’m relieved he reached out to a friend who was prepared to help him and also asked to rumble in a time of extreme crisis to two strangers who were willing to help.
The friend I was with asked me where I had learned to ask those questions, saying that my confidence in asking them was spot on. I said, “I was recently trained in Mental Health First-Aid Certification. The whole class is based on asking those tough questions.”
I hope you will take advantage of these services and resources the Board has been passionate about. We encourage all to participate in the committee training, membership seminars and to sign up for the Mental Health First-Aid Certification classes. The rumble skills we learn will help us traverse through tough conversations with what will only create a more open, honest, vulnerabile, and compassionate community. This is the heart of “Reshaping 695.”