As a woman of child-bearing age who has recently begun the descent into the back half of her 20’s, I’d be lying if the idea of reproducing wasn’t at least on my mind. It’s floating around somewhere in the back, mostly, but it’s there. Lurking.
Obviously there are many among us who choose not to breed, which is a completely legitimate and respectable decision. I don’t know whether it’s a biological process that affects some of us differently, a societal role thing that creeps into our psyche, or just the sociopathic desire to create and ruin a human being in our own special way, but a lot of us want to make them babies. Regardless, I’ve pondered this thought of parenthood periodically. To put it bluntly, how will having a completely dependent screamy little person put a kink in my editorial career? And does asking this question automatically disqualify me from having one?
I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends and Twitter friends in the biz have decided to have children at some point in their careers anyway, and are doing just fine. But how? Why? Isn’t video production difficult enough already? How can you possibly be successful in video while raising a kid that doesn’t grow up to resent you? How do you have the best of both worlds? Can you?
I talked to three people in the video business who I knew would have unique angles on this subject. Tim Wilsbach, a freelance editor who is a relatively recent LA transplant from my city; Kate Chaplin, an Indianapolis area director and writer; and Monica Daniel, a freelance editor in LA. They offered a vast variety of career goals and paths, and experiences as parents.
Each perspective ended up being so uniquely interesting, I decided to split this blog into three parts. For this first segment, I’m talking to Tim Wilsbach about the somewhat unconventional path he’s blazed in the industry.
A lot of people choose to move to LA to try to make their careers happen. While Tim has had a long career in post-production, he’s only lived in LA since 2011. As Tim put it, “Most people move to LA sometime in their 20s as they’re just beginning to carve out a place for themselves in the industry. They’re able to split the insane rents with roommates and work super-long hours as post-PAs, assistants and then editors. I moved to LA when I was 38 after being married for three years and with a two and a half year old in tow.”
Even though Tim is a fairly recent addition to LA, he’s had a long post-production career that started in Indianapolis. He graduated from the Telecommunications and Theatre and Drama programs at Indiana University, and soon started out as a Senior Editor at WFYI. There, the editing bug bit him when he cut an independent feature at night. He spent the next ten years as a freelance editor, getting national television credits on ABC, ESPN, Discovery, A&E, VH-1, and Speed. Oh, and lots of corporate videos. He moved his family to LA to edit at the NFL Network for football season, and hasn’t stopped working since.
Tim has been married for over four years to his wife Nancy, and they have a three year old son named Riley.
When you first began your career, what were your thoughts or plans on having a family?
Tim: When I first began my career I didn’t have thoughts about a family. I was young and male. I wanted to have drinks with friends, go where the wind took me and write and perform music with my band.
As your career progressed, did your outlook on family life change?
My outlook on family life progressed independent of my career. It was driven mainly by my now wife, who I’d been dating for almost as long as I’ve had a career. Don’t take that the wrong way, I was a willing participant and knew I wanted kids, you know…eventually. I just had no concrete plans in place for such a thing, and would have continued putting it off. I’m sure there are guys like me who were “not ready for kids yet”. I think I would have perpetually held that opinion if it weren’t for my wife helping me along.
Why did you want to have children?
I have a brother and a sister, and I grew up around my grandparents and was very close with my Aunt’s family and her three kids. Family was and is a big part of my life, especially while I was growing up and I wanted to perpetuate that tradition. Plus my only brother has three girls so if I wanted the Wilsbach name to live on I had to get busy.
How did your family life determine where you chose to live?
It didn’t. Mine and Nancy’s philosophy is that kids enter your lives, you don’t enter theirs. More importantly, our outlook on how we bring up our son is more about life at home and less about where that home is located geographically.
During the pregnancy and birth of a child, it seems common that men don’t get the kind of leave or time at home they desire. Did you have any trouble with managing work during your wife’s pregnancy, or in the weeks after birth?
Well…interesting story about that…my first introduction to work in Los Angeles was during my wife’s pregnancy. I got the opportunity to cut a show that would take me to LA for 2.5 months which put me back in Indianapolis about two weeks before her due date. We discussed it, she encouraged me to go so we made the decision to do it. It can’t be said enough how encouraging and how much of a rock star my wife is.
We made sure I got all the big things done before I left, building the crib, fresh paint for the babys room, strollers, car seats etc. etc. And I flew back a few weekends. The show wrapped in plenty of time and we had the baby about a month after I got back in town. After the baby was born it was pretty slow for me for about 4-6 weeks, so it kind of worked out. I’d do a day or two a week as it popped up. Money was a little tight, but it was nice to spend that time at home.
Did you ever worry about missing opportunities in your career to be home with a child? On the flip side, did you ever worry about missing moments with your kid because of your career? How do you balance this? Do you feel like it’s a sacrifice in some ways?
There is definitely a sacrifice on both ends. We work long days in this industry. On a typical week day I leave the house a little before 9a and I get back anywhere between 8 and 9p. He’s in bed by the time I get home, so we get just a little time in the mornings. Sometimes I’ll work a Saturday as well or have a side project at home I have to work on on the weekend. Those hurt the most and I’m trying to be a lot more selective about the projects I take along those lines, and leave the weekends as sacrosanct. FaceTime is nice, we at least get to see each other at bedtime for a few minutes.
The sacrifices on the work end–well I’d like to get into features and/or scripted and its been suggested that a good way to do that is to take a step back to AE to get into a cutting room and work my way back up. It’s not easy to do that because the number of hours I work would go up and the amount of pay would go down, not good for a one income family financially, and more importantly there would be even less time with the boy.
What ends up getting sacrificed is time for myself. I’m either working, or spending time with Nancy and Riley. I barely pick up my guitar anymore much less write, record or perform and that used to be (really still is I guess) such a huge part of my identity. Nancy and I also don’t go out nearly as much as we used to, our social life is basically toddler birthday parties on Saturday afternoons. I’m exaggerating a bit of course, and that type of thing isn’t unique to a tv & film career.
When you’re in the middle of a big project with long hours, how does it affect your family life? How do you alter things to make your family life manageable in these situations?
I’m always in the middle of a big project with long hours. Since we only have the one income I can’t afford to take 4-6 weeks off between shows like a lot of editors do here in town. It is tough though when I have a side project that takes those precious vegging out hours between 9p-11p and turns them into more time in front of the Avid and at the same time devours the weekend. I’m working hard, Nancy doesn’t get a break and Riley definitely notices when Daddy’s not around much. He’s only three but he understands two days off in a row and gets excited about them. Basically we try to stick to that morning schedule as much as possible, it’s all about Riley-and I just deal with burning eyeballs when the work hours are long. I usually take him running with me in the mornings, then we play cars or PlayStation or just generally goof around.
Video and film professionals often work independently running a business or as freelancers. How did this play into your family plans? How do you deal with things like having funds for kids’ activities, having health care insurance or funds for childbirth and kids, or generally just running a household without necessarily having a traditional full time job with benefits?
That is certainly a trick and the hardest part of being freelance. Before we had Riley and when Nancy was working we were covered under her policy. A lot of people I know do that, but that is not an option for us. The individual insurance market is broken. Coverage is prohibitively expensive, and the deductibles and co-pays are crazy high. I’m a Member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild and that is an awesome solution to the healthcare, vacation & retirement issue. The trick is consistently finding work that is union eligible. You basically need to work 16 (50-hr) weeks on a union show per year to keep your benefits. Scripted shows are traditionally union, but unscripted is traditionally not. There are a few but they’re desirable and that much harder to get on. There is a growing number of editors that are working hard to convince more reality producers that it’s important and valuable to use union editors, but it’s slow going and hasn’t quite reached the tipping point yet.
How do you deal with childcare and unexpected challenges that come up when raising kids (i.e. sickness) while also balancing often time-sensitive tasks such as directing a film?
Financially, you just have to budget and be disciplined about saving for unexpected expenses. As far as dealing with a sick kid and other challenges that come along with raising kids; plain and simply I could not do this if it weren’t for my amazing wife Nancy. She works as many hours as I do raising the boy and running the house and as we both sink into the couch to watch a few minutes of tv each night it’s unclear who’s worked harder that day.
When working from home, how do you manage your time with your son around?
This has proven an impossible task for me. I used to work from a home office, but after we had Riley I rented an office. Now that we’re in California and I don’t have an office (home or otherwise) I work during nap time or at night after he’s asleep. Occasionally when I really have to dig in at home and get something done during the day Nancy and he will go out for a few hours. Luckily though, since there is more consistent work out here, I don’t have to work at home very much so it’s ultimately not much of an issue.
Some in the industry use the phrase “golden handcuffs” to refer to having to pass on or not seek further opportunities that involve more risk but may also progress your career further because of the responsibility of having a family. Do you feel like you’re in a “golden handcuffs” situation? What’s your opinion on this outlook?
I understand the situation, and to a degree, yeah I’m in what some would describe as a golden handcuffs situation but I’m not going to let that be an excuse to not progress. I hear people lay out how a career path in features or scripted is supposed to go and the implication is that it’s an insurmountable task. I disagree. I might not be doing it the “traditional way” (which I think is a myth anyway). But I feel like there’s a way, and I’ll figure it out.
What other challenges do you have with balancing a film career with a child?
Like many other careers, networking is what really gets you ahead. In LA, there are ‘mixers’ or creative user group meetings constantly. You can probably find something to do every night of the week. So, that’s just more time away from home outside of the job. Very important to do, and they’re mostly enjoyable, and/or educational and necessary. But it does take more time away from home.
Does Riley understand if you’re not around or busy for periods at a time? What do you hope he learns from seeing your work?
He definitely understands when I’m not around. I hope he learns to set goals and work hard to achieve them. I also hope he learns that ultimately I love what I do for a living and that is an important thing to consider when choosing a career as how much you’ll make.
Despite the challenges of parenthood, what are the positives to having kids? What makes it worthwhile?
The positives to having kids are the actual kids themselves. This little human that looks like you that you get to teach and shape and learn from and laugh with and hopefully get to visit when you’re old and retired.
What is your advice to someone in the industry who is considering having children, but is worried about being able to have a career and a family?
Your parents did it, your grandparents did it, your great grandparents did it. People all around you are doing it and have for countless generations. It’s as simple as making a choice and then figuring out how to make it work. I will say though that I simply could not do this without my amazing wife and partner Nancy. She makes this whole endeavor possible by doing everything that she does to make sure that our home lives and Riley’s life goes as smoothly as possible. She was also an integral part of the decision and drive to move and therefore continue to chase a career in this crazy/awesome industry. So, my one piece of advice is to pick a partner who shares the same vision as you when it comes to work/life balance.
As someone who has (relatively) recently entered the Indianapolis post-production market, it’s inspirational to me to hear Tim’s perspective on family. His bold cross-country move and subsequent success just goes to show that with the correct outlook, the right partner, and a combination of talent and hard work, you can accomplish many goals that superficially might seem to conflict with each other.
Tim’s recent credits include Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman for Discovery Science, Best Parks Ever for The Travel Channel, American Ninja Warrior for NBC, and Face Off for SyFy. He’s currently cutting a competition reality show called Hot Set, which you can catch on SyFy on Tuesdays at 9PM ET. Tim can be found on Twitter at @twilsbach.