Writer, director, and producer Shane Salerno bounces between mediums and genres with some regularity, from documentaries to feature films to books, from writing films to producing television to directing documentaries. Most recently Salerno simultaneously completed Salinger, a theatrical documentary film about J.D. Salinger which opened recently, a book about Salinger which was released last week, and a television version of the Salinger film for air on PBS in January. We had a chance to talk with him about how he manages his various projects and how he is able to shift so seamlessly between projects, particularly when he is working on many at the same time.
While he was working on Salinger, Salerno frequently had other day jobs. He always maintained his passion for the Salinger project while giving 100% of himself to whatever his other project was at the time. He never let either project lose steam or suffer in quality. "My ‘job’ ruled the day and Salinger ruled the night," he says. In order to make that kind of management work and make all projects successful he says you have to have deep passion for whatever you are working on. But he adds, "I would die of acute boredom if I only had one project, and I wouldn’t be good for that project either. I need my brain to have enough compartmentalization that allows for a bunch of different projects. There’s something I really like about feeding your brain and forcing it to expand."
Managing Your To-Do Lists
"Sometimes the scary thing about to-do lists is that they become so long,"
Salerno is an ardent maker and user of to-do lists and says that especially when working on a documentary project they can become the project’s bible. "This project really taught me more than anything else, time management," Salerno says recalling how he would go to New York with a crew, shoot interviews all day and then at night while everyone else was sleeping, Salerno would stay up writing other projects. He used lists to keep track of interview subjects, documents, and the many moving parts of this multimedia project. But he cautions that sometimes it can be too much and you have to step back from such lists to look at the direction in which things are headed with fresh creative eyes, "Sometimes the scary thing about to-do lists is that they become so long," he says, "So sometimes I’ll just glance at a schedule of what the next week is like, because if I sit there and look at a four or five page schedule of what the next week is like, that’s not great for your brain, you get overwhelmed and it can shut you down," Salerno says noting that not following your list exactly "also allows for some variation, allowing you to stay somewhat spontaneous."
Switch on the World of Your Project
"Music is a great way to help compartmentalize projects," Salerno says adding that he rarely works without it. "The music I’d listen to while working on Avatar would never be same music I’d listen to while working on Salinger. Music allows your brain to acclimate to the specific terrain you’re working in." While working on Salinger for instance, Salerno listened to classical music as well as songs from the 1950s and 60s music, as well as World War II songs, which Salinger enjoyed. Salerno says he might work on one project from one o’clock to six o’clock listening to one type of music, and then switch music as he switches projects for his next shift from six to midnight. In addition to helping place Salerno into the world of the characters he is dealing with, switching music helps to keep his brain stimulated and allow it to fully shift into the right mode for the next project.