At some point, you might find yourself on assignment. It could be editorial, commercial, advertising, or even for NGO. Or better yet, perhaps you find yourself on a self-assignment. Down the block, or down the continent, no matter. The key ingredient being the assignment. Most of the time, assignments come with at least a small amount of planning.
There is the initial call or email, the details of the assignment, the goal, the timeline, the budgets, the access, the travel, etc. Expectations are set. Ideas are exchanged. Plans are made. Schedules are predicted to be met. And then, often due to unforeseen circumstances, things go sideways. Flights are canceled or delayed, access is denied, people don’t show up, the hotel floods, the planet floods, an assistant falls off a rock ledge into a cactus, someone gets drunk at the wrong time, kit is stolen, someone is detained, locals try to overturn your van, or someone accidentally eats a piece of uncooked chicken.
But when shit happens, what isn’t happening is your assignment. Yes, your beloved assignment, the thing that gave you bragging rights as you puffed out your chest at the local photog gathering while casually saying “Yep, headed off on assignment, again,” while the contents of your lower intestine turn to soup out of fear and pressure. There are good assignments and there are bad assignments. Most often, they both leave a mark.
But when things go wrong you can’t just sit there posing in the lobby with your Leica and scarf and all-black outfit. Your tattoos are no longer a novelty, and you are an American so most of the people around you loathe your very existence. (Pause to explain this hypothetical is an American on assignment. You Fines or Danes or Ecuadorians will have to wait for my next film.) The truth of the matter is you MUST perform.
If the assignment goes askew then welcome yourself, warm yourself, and introduce yourself to the idea of the “parallel project.” The parallel project is your best friend, your lover and the parallel project never, ever complains. The parallel project doesn’t care if the hotel doesn’t have running water. The parallel project doesn’t care about the hot restaurant or whether you are an influencer. In fact, the parallel project hopes the influencers end up detained, detoxed, and deprogrammed.
What is a parallel project and how do you get one? Well, it’s pretty simple. Put down the forty and Jamaican Thundercloud and have a quick think. What COULD you shoot that requires no access, no permission, no model releases, no location releases, no architectural releases, and is something you can find from sunup to sundown? And what makes an interesting story? When the prime gig goes down the parallel project steps in to allow you to continue working. Some might call this a personal project, but almost all parallel projects are inherently personal, so I would just call it a parallel project. Then credit me for labeling it.