Saturday, May 11, 2024


The years from 2018–2024 were difficult for me. Part of it can be attributed to the reality of middle age settling in, but I also struggle with maintaining my mental health, so even when things are generally going well, I can still find myself feeling depressed. Throw into the mix a little societal chaos, a broken back, a pandemic, an existential crisis or two, and “difficult” seems like a quaint description. Concerned, my wife, Danica, asked me if I was happy. I think I’m still trying to formulate a response to that question.

As I write this summation of the thoughts and feelings that have been at the forefront of my mind over those few years, I have to acknowledge my ongoing struggles with self-doubt and a degree of emotional paralysis, fueled in part by my ADHD—which I’ve come to refer to as “Attention Deficit High Definition” since I don’t recall “hyperactivity” ever being a problem for me—as well as what I can only describe as an overdeveloped sense of fairness.

My challenges during this period crystallized around an incident in the winter of 2022-23 that brought up a lot of feelings associated with those experiences over the preceding half-decade or so.

Physical injury

In the spring of 2018, I experienced an L1 compression fracture. Put simply, I had a broken back. One’s vertebrae is not the sort of bone that can just be reset and put into a cast, so I had to be immobilized for at least a couple of months in self-managed traction.

Unfortunately, a delayed diagnosis resulted in an attempt to manage the pain from my injury with the leftovers from an old prescription. I was also trying to cope with the extreme anxiety I was feeling with another prescription. The potential side effects of how the two medications might interact with each other were the farthest thing from my mind.

I remember going to the emergency room; the details I recall from what I thought was a single visit were, in reality, a mashup of events from three separate occasions—two of which involved an ambulance. I found a spreadsheet on my computer that I had made for the medication schedule I was prescribed for the fracture, but I have no memory of creating it. The “one night” that I remember sleeping on the living room sofa was—in reality—a week. Danica told me she had to use her vacation time to stay home with me. She slept on the floor beside me in case I needed anything—again, I have no memory of this.

When she ran out of vacation days, she reached out to my friend, Geoff, to see if he could come over to look after me during the day while she was at work. I don’t remember Geoff being there at all. Looking through my phone, I saw that I had texted him about his arrival. I saw other texts I had sent to Danica. I don’t remember writing any of them. What I had perceived as only a few agonizing days was, in reality, about a week and a half.

“ ever black out—or as I call it: time travel?”—Dave Attell

Once the problematic combination of prescription drugs I had initially taken was fully metabolized, I returned to a lucid state. The recovery process was long, stressful, and accompanied by a diagnosis of Osteopenia, a revelation I found confusing, having taken the dairy industry at its word my entire life regarding the health benefits of milk consumption vis-à-vis calcium and bone strength. I felt a strange combination of profound disappointment in myself, embarrassment for being deceived by corporate propaganda, and genuine fear that any physical exertion on my part would put me out of commission. That fear has never really gone away.

Baby steps back into the community

As I recovered, I was able to get around more, at first in a wheelchair, then with a back brace; I was able to continue with my work—dividing my time between moonlighting in the film industry and my efforts in the nonprofit sector—the fear of physical injury continued to hang over me, making me hesitant to pursue a number of subsequent opportunities. Over the next couple of years—and into the present—I continued to advance my nonprofit organization’s mission, focusing on the professional development of aspiring filmmakers by guiding them to legitimate resources for learning the craft and finding work in the film industry, including agencies and organizations like the Utah Film Commission and the Utah Film Center. I attended panel discussions and special screenings and did some interviews. I screened my short film “Excursus” at Labeled Fest for Mental Health, participated in the 48-Hour Film Project and FilmQuest, and worked on other productions, including a role in Seth Savoy’s film “Echo Boomers”—for which I became SAG-AFTRA Eligible. I also produced a couple of short films, one of which was the documentary “#WokeButDrowsy,” which was screened at the Ogden and Utah Film Festivals.

The primary tool I use to interact with the local filmmaking community is a Facebook group that was started in 2007—the first, largest, and most active forum of its kind. I became a member in 2009 and was invited to become a group admin in 2012. I’m writing a more comprehensive history of the forum for publication elsewhere, but for this piece, my description of it and my experience as an admin will be presented in more general terms to provide context for addressing how it’s affected my mental health.

Over many years, the forum has grown into one of the most effective local resources for professionals and novices alike, due in no small part to inviting industry filmmakers within the group to help set the example for participation, focusing on industry standards and maintaining a welcoming and inclusive environment regardless of one’s level of experience, ability, personal identity, or socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, or religious background. The group description includes a very broad definition of who can be considered a filmmaker: basically, anyone who can do something that can be used in producing a motion picture can say that they’re a filmmaker. Even if they only work occasionally on a film project, or “moonlight” in the industry like myself.

Group rules were established to encourage members to meet these higher standards, the first of which is simply an expectation of professionalism. Most of the other rules address issues that only occur when the first rule is forgotten or ignored. In other words, as long as everyone remembers rule #1, they don’t have to worry about violating most of the other rules.

I think the best decision I’ve made as an admin was Inviting industry professionals to set the standard for all members. I’ll concede that correlation does not imply causation, but from the group’s creation to the present, I’d like to think that an emphasis on professionalism has been a major contributing factor in the growth of its membership.

As our numbers grew, additional moderators were recruited, but the members essentially manage the group themselves. I’ve come to believe that the effectiveness of an online forum can be gauged by how well the group can function on its own. In other words, with minimal involvement from admins and moderators concerning member posts. A moderator’s work should primarily take place behind the scenes, and administrative interactions with group members should be kept to a minimum.

Looking at the group’s statistics, from its steady growth—primarily via word of mouth—and over 11,000 active participants to the personal thanks I’ve received from members through comments, direct messages, emails, and in person at community events, I’m proud of what the group has become. I’m proud of my fellow admins and moderators for volunteering their time to help keep things running smoothly. Still, more than anything, I’m proud of the group’s members for taking an active part in transforming a simple social media group into a thriving community that’s always ready to answer questions from novices or recommend resources—the more obscure the request, the more impressed I am by the amount of collective knowledge all our members have access to. More than anything, I’m grateful for all the paid jobs that have been filled in the group, making it possible for locals to make their living as filmmakers.

Behind the scenes

Writing the preceding paragraph felt terrific! I’m genuinely grateful to have been allowed to play a part in building up the group over the years. However… most of the time, a notable source of the anxiety and depression with which I struggle is often related to experiences I’ve had with only a handful of members of that very same group. Ironically, most of them can be counted among those mentioned above who have contributed directly to the group’s success and have even been publicly recognized for the knowledge, expertise, and employment opportunities they bring to the community.

Most of the time, my interactions with group members are cordial and constructive, but there is a steep learning curve to being an effective admin. Implementing new tools and policies is a slow process of trial and error. A thriving online community does not—and cannot—spring into existence overnight. It takes years of effort and patience, during which mistakes are going to be made—mistakes that should be publicly acknowledged and honestly analyzed so that what works for the group can be identified and applied, and what doesn’t can be discarded. It’s also essential for admins to keep their egos in check—another difficult but learnable skill. I also strive to be transparent with the group about how moderators make decisions and actively seek advice from my fellow members.

When a rule is broken or a protocol ignored—or simply forgotten—moderators will offer a polite reminder. We’ve tried different approaches over the years, like deleting posts and messaging the author to let them know why—usually with an invitation to repost with suggested changes. Commenting on such posts with a pre-written “Moderator Memo” and tagging the relevant rule. Thankfully, most people are grateful to get some constructive feedback.

Still, moderators have no control over how any one individual will react to being reminded about group rules, regardless of whether it’s through a private message or visible to others in a comment. Some people don’t like to be corrected, and their reactions can be as unpredictable as they are unprofessional. Others are creatures of habit, used to doing things the way they always have, or they’re just easily offended—or both! All that moderators ask is for members to be mindful of the rules in the future and post accordingly. If a member gets angry with us while exchanging private messages, that’s fine. We still listen, consider their concerns, and then do our best to explain why a particular rule or policy was put into place. That’s usually where a disagreement between a moderator and a member is resolved.

Moderating quasi-professionals

Some people who are reminded about group rules will choose to find offense where none was intended—especially if a post is removed. That one—and often only—administrative action they were subject to may have occurred years in the past. In the interim, they learn the correct protocol and implement it in their subsequent posts. They become excellent examples for other members through their continued and consistent engagement in the group—they may even be publicly recognized for it. Despite outwardly accommodating such requests—and benefitting from it—they insist on holding grudges against the admin or moderator that dared to correct their behavior in the first place.

Refusing to let go of their resentment over a perceived slight is not healthy, and may be indicative of a more serious problem; a painfully uncomfortable truth that I’ve learned through personal experience. Nor is holding a grudge a marker of professionalism, especially if one chooses to air their grievances publicly whenever an opportunity presents itself.

Choosing to identify as a victim of a perceived injustice—the details of which will change with every telling of the story—often manifests in self-sabotaging behaviors that the supposed “victim” may not be consciously aware of. Interactions with the moderator in question will be passive-aggressive—at best—and sometimes even openly hostile.

On more than one occasion, admin resentment has been used to justify the creation of an entirely new group that’s functionally indistinguishable from the original—except for who the admins are.

While some community members will join every group, forum, and mailing list they can so they’re sure not to be left out of the loop on any local opportunities, this has never resulted in a mass migration of members abandoning the original group for a new one. Of the handful of primadonnas that do leave the original group in protest—usually in support of somebody else’s unvetted complaints—most eventually rejoin once they realize that the “new and better” group offers nothing that they didn’t already have access to before. Most of the new groups’ admins never actually leave the original group, either.

I made a post in our group once discussing how starting a new group is fine, if it can offer something new, has a narrower focus, or can better serve a particular niche, but there’s no point in making the effort if its sole purpose is to try and reinvent the wheel, especially if the admins of the new groups continue to actively participate in the original forum. One of the comments on that post tried to justify the creation of a new group by describing its “niche” thusly:

Wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt, I joined their group to see if they were bringing anything new to the table despite the original group already serving every single item on their list of “niche” topics. Years later, they would admit their true motives with the following post in their “niche” group—apparently forgetting that I was also a member:

Most of my interactions with this person were in the form of private messages. Recognizing their active involvement in the original group, I chose to communicate with them directly as a professional courtesy. They indicated that they didn’t care for my administrative choices—which was noted—and may have been what they were referring to when expressing their alleged frustrations “ how I was treated by the admins…”

Looking at our past exchanges, I know exactly how this person “was treated” by me as a group admin. I can honestly say that I treated them no differently than anyone else—in other words, as an equal. I was professional, respectful, and even somewhat deferential after realizing they had chosen to take offense.

This begs the question, why would someone feel “frustrated” by being treated respectfully?

I’ve observed that some people confuse flattery with respect. They are not the same thing. These are the same type of people who may also believe that respect is something to be “earned.” Many infer from this belief that respect for others should be withheld until it’s been demonstrated that they’ve “earned it.” It becomes a psychological game of chicken where everyone defaults to passive-aggressive behavior until one of them does something to “earn the other’s respect.” That leaves very few options—none of them genuine—like being placated, coddled, or told what they want to hear instead of what needs to be heard. There’s nothing respectful about that, which, in turn, does nothing to inspire showing respect in return. No one can expect to grow as an individual—to say nothing as a professional—in such an environment. It’s counterproductive.

“You can’t respect somebody who kisses your ass.”—Ferris Bueller

Behaving appropriately on set but not online

Others choose to channel their admin frustrations in ways that are also potentially damaging to their future employment prospects, like airing their grievances in a group post—even if they were contacted privately. Creating posts in the group that criticize or try to insult the admins is not a good look, especially from the point of view of producers looking for professionals to hire for their upcoming projects. Trying to explain this to offending members—even in private—does little, if anything, to curb their behavior.

While anti-admin posts technically violate more than just group rule #1, they are not deleted—a moderator may even leave a comment to the effect of “We’re leaving this thread up as an example of how NOT to conduct oneself in the group.” If a post sparks an unproductive argument among members, commenting might be disabled, sometimes automatically by the group’s “Admin Assist” feature.

On more than one occasion, a member behaving in a particularly obnoxious manner will try to provoke some sort of administrative action by saying something like, “The admins will probably kick me out of the group for saying this…” but we don’t take the bait—for a couple of reasons:

  1. The group is open to amateurs and professionals alike—including working filmmakers that continue to act like amateurs.

  2. The damage they inflict on their own reputations and livelihoods by making an ass of themselves in a forum with literally thousands of active users and potential employers is far more detrimental to their careers than any action that can be taken by a moderator.

The expectation of professionalism is essential and integral to the effectiveness of the community, but it’s a rule that’s also easily broken by members and moderators simply because people tend to act on their feelings instead of thinking before writing. If everyone who was emotionally triggered to act unprofessionally were kicked out of a Facebook group, there would be no one left in any of them. We decided a long time ago that breaking the rules doesn’t necessarily have to result in an individual being immediately removed from the group. Especially since we have other tools at our disposal for dealing with them, like temporarily suspending an author to give them time to cool down. It’s unlikely that anyone would get removed from the group because they chose to throw a virtual temper tantrum.

Something not often talked about

The admins and moderators for our group are all volunteers, operating independently from one another and on their own time. We also have our own set of rules to follow, which includes conducting ourselves professionally—even when a person we’re dealing with is acting like a bully. While the rules addressing bullying are in place for all members, the targets of such harassment are mostly directed at group admins and moderators.

We occasionally confer with each other in a separate, private group to ask each other questions, discuss policies, and get perspective, advice, and/or assistance on a particular situation. There have been occasions where, in the course of trying to address a problematic member’s actions, their unrelenting hostility affected me to the point that I needed to step back and let someone else handle the situation:

We also feel that deleting posts or comments and/or removing someone from the group just because they out themselves as unprofessional, obnoxious, immature, etc., would be a disservice to the community. As mentioned above, there are a lot of regular employers in the group, and there’s value in knowing that someone might not be a good fit for their production before one starts asking for resumes. With that in mind, we ask our members to treat the group as they would any workplace. As a matter of policy, everybody deserves the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to learn from their mistakes—again, that includes admins and moderators—and most do.

The only circumstance that will result in someone being immediately removed from the group is when a member is being extremely belligerent—to the degree that others start feeling unsafe. It’s unfortunate but it happens.

Most of my admin-related anxiety is caused by a cohort of group members so statistically insignificant that it’s nearly impossible to represent them accurately, were I to chart the data. I know this because I’ve tried.

Ironically, most of the individuals who complain the most are otherwise model members of the online community, recognized for having directly contributed to the group’s success over the years in multiple ways.

Yet, they insist on being argumentative and confrontational whenever they interact with a moderator. I recall one person addressing me directly in a comment, saying, “Stay in your lane!” I would never have thought that I could feel someone’s anger so viscerally communicated using only 72 bytes of data. They often justify pushing back by referencing their “years” of experience or citing the belief that getting paid for what they do is the only defining characteristic of what it means to be a “professional.”

Trying to figure out why

I’ve discussed these problematic individuals with other group members in person—notably, other filmmakers who have worked with them on multiple projects. For the most part, the feedback that I received sounded familiar; usually something to the effect of:

“I’ve worked with them for years. They’re great on set—talented, friendly, professional—but, for some reason, they can be a jerk on social media.”

Having interacted with people on the internet for most of my adult life, this is a phenomenon that I’m very familiar with—and have been guilty of. It would be easier to forgive if the bullying wasn’t so persistent. I’m not too proud to admit that interacting with these individuals—even in otherwise routine and typically innocuous ways, can severely elevate my anxiety.

When I asked about one particular group member, an aforementioned individual who has been holding a grudge against me over one interaction that occurred several years ago—see the link to “...our past exchanges” above—I was told the following:

“Well… they’re just… kind of a dick.”

My reaction to that revelation was, literally, “Oh! Is that all?”

That actually made sense. There’s a long and storied history in the arts of extremely talented individuals who have created beautiful works of art and built sustainable careers despite being burdened with massive egos, pathological narcissism, and a gift for fostering toxic work environments wherever they go. Yet, people will put up with their attitudes, petty bullshit, and unprofessionalism to the degree that they can benefit from participating in whatever project requires them to be in proximity to that talent. Not all people, of course.

As a recovering narcissist myself, I can empathize, but I’ve learned to not take things personally. However, dealing with such people regularly is exhausting. Most of the interactions I’ve had with this member have been online, the majority of which have been unnecessarily confrontational, no matter how many times I’ve tried to extend an olive branch.

I was relieved to know that it wasn’t just me and that their dickish behavior has been corroborated by others. At first, I figured that they were just gonna be that guy. When I was Navy, we had a saying about dealing with jerks at work:

“Every duty station has its asshole billet, and it must be filled.”

In other words, they’re everywhere, you can’t avoid them, so just accept it.

I tried to make peace with the idea that this person was just not going to let it go, and I tried focusing on their positive contributions, especially the fact that they hire a lot of people from the group. I even told them once, in a comment on a featured post, that they deserve some of the credit for the group’s success as a professional resource because of the job opportunities they consistently shared—and I meant it.

Personally, it’s hard for me to take a compliment so I have to consciously remind myself, “Joe, somebody said something nice to you. This is where you say, ‘Thank you!’”

Perhaps that particular group member has a similar social affliction—something we might discuss someday, maybe even bond over.

Or they didn’t say, “Thank you,” because the compliment came from me, specifically.

All I know is that after I wrote it, they went dark—posting NOTHING in the group—for the next couple of weeks. They eventually started posting again, but it’s extremely difficult to look past that kind of behavior.

Another skill that I’ve put a great deal of effort into learning is to be self-aware. In recovery circles, it’s often said that when you’ve achieved some clarity and taken responsibility for your behavior, you start to see it in others. It’s true for recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, and narcissists.

I’m not qualified to make a formal diagnosis based on my observations—and everyone’s perceptions are skewed by their own biases. Since I don’t have access to all the relevant data, all I can do is speculate to try and make sense of it, but I need to first acknowledge and accept that it’s more likely than not that I’m completely wrong—even if I limit myself to asking some open-ended questions.

Is this person unaware of how others see and are put off by the way they act? They’ve been working for a long time, with several people who seem to tolerate them—to a point. For all the years committed to their profession, in all that time, has no one talked to them about their behavior? Having met them in person, I can honestly report that they are intimidating—which could certainly explain why anyone would choose to not confront them about how they come across to others. It’s not the sort of thing one would address in public. A real friend, someone who genuinely respects them, would talk to them privately and give it to them straight, “You know, you can afford to be less of an asshole.” Does no one respect them enough to call them out, to offer them an opportunity for self-reflection, and to address their toxic personality? It’s also possible that someone has, but they chose not to listen. I’ve been guilty of that and it has cost me dearly—personally and professionally.

I can’t help but wonder how much more successful they could have been if someone had called them out—and they had chosen to listen.

This begs the question: How many opportunities have they lost out on because someone saw their application and remembered having to put up with their unprofessional behavior on a past project and simply tossed it aside to save themselves and the rest of the cast and crew the trouble of dealing with them?

Forgetting that admins & moderators are people too

I’ve said before that I embrace a broad and inclusive definition of what it means to be a filmmaker, so imagine how I must have felt when I stumbled across the following meme in a different social media group created by a member of the group that I admin.

I was very hurt by this. My definition of “filmmaker” is about what people do that can be applied to filmmaking—which includes most other creative disciplines—not where they work or how they support themselves. Film students don’t “work in the industry,” but they are still welcome in our community and considered filmmakers.

I’m no stranger to “imposter syndrome,” but it’s typically something a person experiences in their own mind. To have it projected onto me the way this fellow filmmaker did was extremely cruel—to say nothing of how petty, immature, and unprofessional.

It got some reactions from people who found it humorous, including other members of our group. I decided to comment on their post, but do so in a manner that would hopefully remove any power it may have been perceived to represent. This meant doing something that the author did not consider before posting their insult: I put some thought into how I would respond:

This didn’t prevent others from expressing some disparaging opinions about “local Facebook film groups,” including one from the “niche” admin:

For all their talk about being “focused on business…best practices…budgets, insurance…legal matters [related to] professional video production…” I suppose “...listing paid gigs…” last was a clear indication of their actual priorities. “When I need cheap talent” leaves little room for doubt. It’s all about what “...I need…” “ talent…” An attitude that robs working filmmakers not just of their dignity but their humanity. Is this what being a “professional” means to them? Such blatant hypocrisy forces one to question their integrity further, to say nothing of the total lack of respect they’ve put on display.

As far as anyone could tell, I appeared to be taking the meme in stride. Professionalism demanded it. I even addressed it in our group.

Most of the comments were kind and supportive, but, in private, the experience was extremely painful—obviously, I’m still processing it. Some of our members called out the person behind the meme, questioning how much they worked if they had time to make “hate memes” and bully people on social media.

I was surprised to see a comment from the person responsible for the meme:

They never took me up on my offer to grab a coffee, and as I reread their comment in this context, I see a few things to unpack:

“For the most part, I have no issues with you.”

The time and effort they put into this insult indicates that they do have some “issues with” me—or they did it to gain favor with some of the other bullies I’ve dealt with in the group.

“ do have a lot of opinions for somebody who does not have a lot of experience.”

They don’t reference any specific opinion and, as far as I could tell, they knew NOTHING about my experience at the time.

“Just my perspective.”

An apparent attempt to cover their ass that’s as pathetic as it would be laughable were they not being so intentionally callous, but the real cherry on top was closing with:

“That’s what inspired me to make the meme.”

Nothing about that meme can be described as “inspired.”

The imagery is stolen, and the “message” was a cheap shot made in ignorance.

Transparency, disclosure, and answers to questions no one bothered to ask

I acknowledged in my post that I don’t work full-time in the industry. As for how a part-time filmmaker can afford to divide their attention between the film industry and volunteering in the nonprofit sector, anyone willing to make the effort to learn some things about me before talking shit might have a slightly different perspective.

It’s also important to note that apart from that specific exchange, I cannot recall ever interacting with the individual behind the meme—online or in person. I had nothing to say about them, positive or negative, because I’m not in the habit of talking about people I don’t know. I shared a link to my online C.V. in a separate comment, but I doubted at the time that they bothered to look at it.

I mentioned this to my therapist, who begged to differ, asking, “Has this person said anything to you since?”


“I think he did look at your resume and realized that he didn’t know what he was talking about when he made that meme. That’s why he’s kept quiet.”

I’ve since taken a look at some of the content made by this person “in the industry.” They appear to be making a living with their own production company. They maintain a sleek website with several examples of quality work, from event videography to corporate productions, branded content, and commercials for various clients. They’ve also made some music videos. Overall, they have an impressive portfolio that would likely to ensure continued employment for any professional filmmaker.

However, I could not help but notice the conspicuous absence of anything related to narrative filmmaking. I found this odd, considering all the effort they put into taking a metaphorical shit on someone who “doesn’t work in the industry”—even saying, “they don’t even shoot weddings.”(sic) Which makes me wonder, what “industry” they’re even talking about?

I have shot weddings before—and I don’t particularly care for it. It’s demanding work in a saturated market. While videography is certainly part of the wedding/bridal industry—and I do consider videographers to be filmmakers, because they use many of the same tools—I can’t think of many who do it full-time who would be willing to say that there’s much overlap, if any, with what’s generally understood to be the “film industry.” However, I can imagine a Venn diagram that includes the event industry bridging the gap between wedding videographers and indie filmmakers. 

Again, I’m always willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt, so I considered that perhaps this person chooses not to feature narrative work on this particular website. Maybe they have a separate brand for their creative content. I didn’t see a link to another website, nor any references to other businesses on their social media profiles, so I tried looking them up on the Internet Movie Database.

I will be the first to say that my filmmaking resume is relatively modest compared to many other Utah filmmakers. Still, after finding the IMDb entry for this person—out of more than twenty individuals with the same first and last name—I learned that the person who felt “inspired” to attack me based on an assumed lack of experience appears to have only one credit on their IMDb profile for a single crew position on a short film produced in Utah more than half a decade ago.

I seriously wish I had looked them up sooner. This person had been living rent-free in my head for years, fueling some seriously crippling self-doubt, chipping away at my confidence, and making me question the significance of my accomplishments and contributions to the community and the local industry that I have tried my hardest to serve for over two decades; and all it took to evict them was looking up their resume.

The burden of all the emotional and psychological baggage described above is what I carried with me leading up to the events that occurred during the winter of 2022-23.