Fostering diversity and health in movie making A conversation with Lydia Hurlbut, CEO of Filmmakers Academy

Fostering diversity and health in movie making: A conversation with Lydia Hurlbut, CEO of Filmmakers Academy

Lydia Hurlbut, the CEO of Filmmakers Academy, the newly launched learning platform where members can learn their craft from industry pros. Founded with her husband Shane Hurlbut ASC in 2009, and recently renamed, the learning platform delivers outstanding professional education and mentorship to filmmakers worldwide, and wellness is a key element of their offerings.

Hurlbut earned a master’s degree in forensic nursing from the University of Virginia. Her career path evolved from pediatric nursing, forensic science and life coaching to film production and strategic marketing. Along the way, Hurlbut has built a holistic ethos of health, education and the film industry. From medicine and forensic science to meditation and healthy energy, Lydia Hurlbut is making a major difference in the lives of filmmaking professionals worldwide and the members of the Hurlbut Academy. Members call this “an amazing platform for creative individuals to learn” where it’s “more than an online education. It’s also a place where you can find work and build friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime.” 

“We’re cultivating a community built on love,” says Hurlbut. “Along with all the tech information that professionals need on-set, we provide a support network that actually helps members thrive. This is a creative space that becomes like a ‘film family’ for our members. Our mentors understand where you are at in your career, realize the pain points, and cheer you on as you develop as a filmmaker. This includes a strong emphasis on maintaining wellness and life balance.”

Motivation and the Birth of Filmmakers Academy

Filmmakers Academy builds upon a trail-blazing cinematographer’s efforts to share the tools and techniques of craft that he has learned on-set. In 2009, Shane Hurlbut, ASC, founded The Hurlblog to give back to the content industry. Lydia and Shane envisioned a place where filmmakers could learn about current techniques from the real-world applications Shane developed over his 30 years of shooting major feature films, television commercials, music videos and premium streaming content. Over the past decade, their company grew into the Hurlbut Academy (HA), which has mentored and fostered the careers of  thousands of people. 

Filmmakers Academy 

In November 2021, Hurlbut Academy changed its name to FIlmmakers Academy, with Lydia Hurbut helming a re-imagination of this growing international community of film professionals. Filmmakers Academy provides members with access to the latest tech, tricks and skills necessary to excel in today’s industry… including health and wellness.

Challenges and opportunities

One of the biggest challenges in the film business today is how to increase inclusion and diversity. Filmmakers Academy is working to mentor more women and people of color. Hurlbut says, “The trouble with the film industry is that it’s shrouded in mystery, and there are so many closed doors. It can be tough for any newcomer, and for women and BIPOC persons, to feel that their contributions are welcome. We’re throwing open those doors to anyone, anywhere, and at any time, offering access to some of the top filmmaking professionals along with a chance to build a real community with fellow creators.”

Hurlbut is hiring more female mentor-instructors than ever before. “I’m passionate about giving female filmmakers every opportunity to achieve their dreams of working and thriving in the industry. Filmmakers Academy is proud to support women in a business that has been traditionally dominated by men. Women approach projects with a unique perspective and their voice must be heard.” 

New mentor-instructor hires include Sherry Kauk and Jamee Ranta, two exceptional film pros who will present courses and offer one-on-one sessions with Filmmakers Academy members. “The recent awakening around gender parity and race have caused us to look at our entire company and make real change that will open doors and support a wider range of voices and visions. With our strong online presence and 24/7 availability to people around the globe, Filmmakers Academy is especially well poised to amplify the work of new creators in this space.”

Healthy Advice for Busy Pros

There is no question that making movies (and television content) is extremely demanding. Long days are not uncommon, especially for “below the line” craftspeople. With this in mind, Hurlbut aims to help pros maintain their mental and physical health. She says, “Everyone involved in film and TV is familiar with 18-hour days. Especially as we move out of the pandemic and back into frenetic production schedules, mental and physical health will become more important than ever to our students and members.” 

Working within the film industry, artists are beholden to a routine while simultaneously having to be willing to break with it at a moment’s notice. There are plenty of stressors that add to each day’s anxieties. Hurlbut advises five simple tips that lead to better health both on-set and off.  

1. Positive Mindset

As a filmmaker, your mind is your most valuable tool. A focused and uninhibited mind functions like a well-oiled machine. 

It’s essential that you carve out a special time each day where you do absolutely nothing but focus on yourself. But here’s the important part—you should clear out this time in your schedule so you take it seriously. 

You may have no control over the set but you do have control over how you feel. This could beget a positive or negative ripple effect. For example, a bad attitude can poison a work environment or relationships at home if you don’t learn how to let go. 

Remember, a proactive attitude and resiliency are what get you hired again. Telling yourself, “I’m going to have an awesome day,” doesn’t mean it won’t be awful. Reframing adversity is one of the most important things filmmakers have to understand. They have to do it every day. 

First, you must be willing to break bad habits in order to replace them with good habits. Start with these three simple steps:

  • Take note of your habit
  • Become curious
  • Feel the joy of letting it go

Taking note of bad habits and becoming curious saves you on set relationships and keeps you from making avoidable mistakes. Plus, when you’re curious, you open up the possibility to try new things. 

2. Meditation

Mindfulness leads us to meditation, which is a particularly useful tool that helps to ground your emotions and expectations. For instance, on the Disney+ film Tall Girl 2, my partner cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, ASC, didn’t have his regular crew, who is familiar with how he works. Without that inborn cohesion, there’s a lot of gaps in knowledge and familiarity. 

To face this dilemma, he took the time to meditate and understand his circumstances. This resulted in Shane hiring 6 crewmembers from the Hurlbut Academy, and his meditations allowed him to expand his foreknowledge by supplying his new crewmembers with diagrams, shot lists, and notes advising how he likes to do things to ensure success. 

Shane and I recommend the InsightTimer app since we prefer guided meditations with silence embedded within it. Guided meditation could last anywhere from a minute to an hour, ideally twice a day, with your morning and evening routine. 

3. Sleep

Anyone who has ever experienced a night of troubled sleep knows that the next day always feels impossible, and both your mood and health suffer, as well. Stack up weeks, months, and even years of troubled sleep, and you might work in the film industry. 

Your first goal should be to get as close to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep as possible. Now, to avoid interruption, the way you approach that period of time before sleep matters. 

Allow yourself the time to decompress before sleep whether it’s by reading, listening to music, or doing a crossword puzzle. However, it’s crucial to avoid blue light within hours of going to bed. (Sorry, phones!) 

Your bedroom routine is just for you and could last anywhere from 15-30 minutes—or a duration that’s soothing for you. I like to listen to something like NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Listening to that before bed is so inspiring and gets the creative juices flowing. I even keep a journal next to my bed, for writing notes, which in effect, helps me sleep even better. 

4. Stretching/Fitness

Developing a stretching routine throughout the morning, afternoon, and evening dramatically changes how you move and feel and helps prevent injury. Meanwhile, finding ways to inject consistent exercise is ideal for burning calories and releasing endorphins. 

One of the best things that you can do for your health is to physically exert yourself, whether it’s going to the gym, hiking your favorite trail, or jogging your favorite route. The key is to switch up your fitness routines on a regular basis. Doing the same thing over and over leaves you with the same results. By diversifying your fitness routine, you can workout different body parts while allowing other parts of your body to recuperate. 

If you’re new to fitness, walking and hiking is a good starting point—and great for cardiovascular health. And once you feel ready, try doing it while holding weights. 

Taking the time to stretch out your body is equally important. You can find high-quality channels on YouTube to follow along. This doesn’t have to take more than 15 minutes, and if you wake up just a little earlier, you’ll find it to be an essential part of your daily routine. 

5. Diet/Nutrition

Good diet and nutrition are paramount to your health and wellbeing. By cracking down on your diet and cutting out harmful sugars, you’ll feel a world of difference in your energy levels and attitude. 

Remembering all of the right vitamins can prove to be quite tricky. For instance, did you know that not enough people are getting enough Vitamin B6 in their regular diet? 

However, by investing in vitamins, you’re investing in yourself. Choose a time each day, maybe after a meal, where you take essential vitamins and nutrients like: 

  • B Vitamins
  • Vitamin D
  • Fish Oil
  • Pre and Probiotic
  • Multivitamin
  • Magnesium

Nutritionist. Bluffton University, MS

In today's world, people's eating and exercise patterns have changed, and it is often lifestyle that is the cause of many diet-related illnesses. I believe that each of us is unique – what works for one does not help another. What is more, it can even be harmful. I am interested in food psychology, which studies a person's relationship with their body and food, explains our choices and desires for specific products, the difficulty of maintaining optimal body weight, as well as the influence of various internal and external factors on appetite. I'm also an avid vintage car collector, and currently, I'm working on my 1993 W124 Mercedes. You may have stumbled upon articles I have been featured in, for example, in Cosmopolitan, Elle, Grazia, Women's Health, The Guardian, and others.

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