We had the good fortune of connecting with Rebecca Baliko and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rebecca, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Finding a balance between ‘work’ and ‘life’ is probably one of the most difficult challenges individuals in our society face; especially for young professionals who are just starting out. I freelance as a First Assistant Camera in the film industry, and sometimes it seems like I am either completely overworking myself, jumping on gigs for several weeks straight; or I have no work, and all the time in the world to do whatever I want. The film industry is especially challenging in terms of balance, since there is really no 9-to-5 structure (normal workdays tend to be at least 12hrs long), and productions often shoot on weekends as well as during the week. It’s very easy to completely book yourself into a corner with no days off if you’re not intentional about it.
I grew up in a family business, which meant both of my parents were working long hours almost all of the time – both at home and at the office. It instilled natural workaholic tendencies in my brother and I, since our whole childhood basically revolved around the family business. To this day, my parents have never gone on a holiday. We only ever traveled for work.
However, in spite of our busy schedule, our Dad was still very intentional to make sure we had family time together and that we took weekends off together as much as we could. Even if we had to sacrifice a weekend because of traveling or work, without fail, we always had “coffee time” every morning. “Coffee time” was a practice where all four of us made our morning coffees and then sat together in the living room to spend an hour or so together before beginning our day. We were not allowed to talk about work or school during this sacred time; in fact, a large part of coffee time was often spent in silence. It was a way for us to recharge, reconnect, and spend time together before going off to work. We did this every morning, even at hotels; even if we had an early morning flight or sunrise to catch; and even when residing in a different country or visiting one of our Grandma’s.
That whole pattern changed when I became more independent and began working on my own. I worked as a sauté chef for several years to save up money to move to LA, and that industry took full advantage of my workaholic tendencies. We were usually shorthanded, and since I enjoyed it, I often was the one who volunteered to work on my days off. It essentially destroyed my normal daily and weekly structure, since my whole week began to solely revolve around work. What time was my shift? Did they need a fill in? Are there enough people to open tomorrow morning?
There were several times I would clock out at 2AM after a busy dinner service, but then have to get up and help open the kitchen again at 7AM. At the time, I believed it was just what I had to do, since I needed the money. These sorts of long hours are fairly normal in the kitchen industry; but I was fortunate to at least work under an excellent chef and a fatherly general manager who cared about my time off. Even when they insisted I have some downtime, I was the one who was always pushing myself to work more, so I didn’t understand why they believed I needed rest.
During my years at university, I likewise fell into the habit of sacrificing downtime during the weekends, since that was often when our student films had to be shot. Between classwork, pre-production for shoots, working several jobs, and working as a Teaching Assistant for numerous classes, I began to start working as soon as I was dressed. I would pour a coffee and then sit at my desk to finish up an assignment, or gear reservation, or grade papers. It took me a little over two years to realize I was not practicing “coffee time” on my own anymore; and it was only when I felt completely exhausted and overworked that I realized the wisdom in Dad’s adamance to retain our “coffee time” practice.
I have realized now that even if I am not always able to have “proper” weekends, I do have to make a conscious effort to have “coffee time” every morning – even if it means waking up an hour or two earlier to ensure I have that downtime before my day begins. If I know I have to be on the road at 7AM for an early calltime, then I wake up at 5AM to get ready and have “coffee time.” When we are camping on a location for a shoot, I tend to be the first one awake, since I want to make sure I have a solid hour to myself before calltime. It’s not an easy practice, but it is an extremely good one for your mental health. And whenever I do have more flexibility with my schedule, I make sure to schedule days off so I can spend quality time with my friends and roommates. If it’s been over a week since I last hung out with one of my close friends, then I know I am probably working too much and need to schedule an off day.
It is easy to get wrapped up in the business of life and completely buy in to the idea that you have to overwork yourself in order to be successful. However, I don’t think success is purely measured by how many hours you work or how much income you earn. I believe success is more accurately measured by how many lives you positively impact with the work you do. And if you are constantly burned out, you will not be able to serve others to your full capacity or deliver your highest level of performance. Your relationships will become second in life, and your work will gradually take priority until your entire existence revolves around it. As my Dad always said, “The work is never finished.” There will always be more work to do. There will always be more gigs to jump on. There will always be more shifts to fill in at work. There will always be another email to respond to.
But even if your work is fulfilling – even if it is what you love doing – it will become harmful to you if you do not balance it out with your other priorities in life. You have to discipline yourself to begin “workmode” at a certain time and mentally clock out at a certain time, rather than allow yourself to be working on-demand all of the time.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I used to make a lot of home videos of our family’s travels, and quickly realized that a simple video could help inform and encourage others by exposing them to something positive and informative. I really wanted to do that on a larger scale, so I began to pursue filmmaking as a career towards my later years in high school. Originally, I was interested in cinematography and documentary work, but I have since specialized down into Assistant Camera work. By the time I had graduated from film school, I had worked on just over 130 different film sets, and had gained enough experience and expertise to pursue freelance work as First Assistant Camera (also known as a Focus Puller, or a “1st AC”).
Being a 1st AC definitely challenges your adaptability and creative problem-solving skills. No matter how much prep you do beforehand, something unexpected always happens on set – but that’s also why I love it. I really enjoy the pressure of thinking on my feet and adapting to each unexpected situation. Being a woman in such a male-dominated industry can seem intimidating when you’re starting out, but I have been blessed with some incredibly talented and kind friends in the industry, and their support is what’s allowed me to keep moving forward. My film community down here is just incredible. I would not be able to do what I am doing today if not for all of the friends who have helped me along the way, teaching me different things and bringing me on to various projects… I have a lot of love for them and always look forward to the times we get to work together on set.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
We would definitely spend a lot of time around the Resort Area in Anaheim! A lot of my childhood was spent around Anaheim and Disneyland, so I feel like I know that area best. I would probably take them around the old “stomping grounds” of GardenWalk and Downtown Disney, and finish off the day at a good vantage point to catch the evening fireworks.
I would also take them to Dana Point and up the PCH to Corona Del Mar. Ending a long day of beach combing by dining at the different hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurants along the PCH is probably the epitome of SoCal existence. It definitely beats city life; but a drive through LA is worth it when it leads to the Getty or the Griffith Observatory.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Obviously, both of my parents (Bela and Susan Baliko) deserve recognition for creating “coffee time” in the first place! I also frequently have to thank my older brother, William Baliko, for constantly reminding me to take care of myself and not be working all of the time. He was one of the first people to voice his concerns when he saw me working 7 days a week, and I often think of the comments he made about missing me because I was at work all of the time. I look up to him in a lot of ways, and even though we are on completely different career paths, I believe he is still much better than I am at living a balanced life. But I don’t know where I would be if not for him actively checking in on me and making time for us to catch up.
My Dad is also a professional wildlife and nature photographer (you should definitely check out his work – it’s incredible), which no doubt is what led to my early interest in cameras.
“Burst” camera photo – Adam Crampsey Project EX/”My Love” – Alex Drachnik (Rest are photos taken by myself or friends)