BCPC Get Moving Interview with Lyra Stewart

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Welcome! I'm Katie Toomey, a freelance video editor living here in Los Angeles, CA. I started this “Get Moving” interview series in what feels like a long overdue fashion. After having many approach me about my own moving blog and how helpful it was to have another experience to read about or relate to, it sparked me to interview others in our industry who have made a move somewhere for their own work.

My aim is to help broaden the reach to share these stories for others out there, like me, who wanted to hear more perspectives to help build confidence, to relate to planning worries and execution woes, and to understand the struggles and even successes more fully.

This series will hopefully help you gain wisdom to be better informed when and if taking that risk and leap for yourself.

I myself have made a rather large move (the biggest I've ever done to date) moving from the East coast in NC to the West coast to LA just last year. I wrote my “East to West Coast Moving Adventure” on Creative Cow very soon afterwards to document the process. I've been living in LA ever since. All these experiences will combine to make a collective resource that anyone can access - from any where, at any time. If you don’t know anyone who’s done this sort of thing, it can feel very isolating and impossible to manage on your own. You shouldn’t have to face this alone - and now, you won’t have to.

Lyra Stewart // TV and Film Editor + Media Educator // www.nomadeditor.com

Lyra revisiting her Alma Mater.

Lyra revisiting her Alma Mater.

“A little tiny person with nothing to worry about running in circles, worried out of her mind."

Originally from a small city in the Philippines, Lyra grew up telling stories amidst blackouts and martial law. The richness of her childhood continues to inspire her as she weaves stories for a living. After finishing her undergrad at the University of the Philippines, Lyra went on to receive a scholarship for filmmaking in New York City. She was living in Hong Kong during the war in Afghanistan and couldn’t make sense of it all, so she decided to pursue a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University in New York with a focus on the intersection of media and human rights.

Travelling to work in other countries seemed implausible when Lyra was starting out in the mid-90’s. Taking that huge risk of uprooting herself from Manila has crafted a career trajectory she didn’t think was possible.

A friend of Lyra’s once called her a nomad, and she was right. Her work has allowed her to live in New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila, Egypt, New Zealand, Australia, and counting. As of now, she’s lived in seven countries and nine cities! Wow.

Her last big move was uprooting from New York City to Auckland nine years ago. However, Lyra is constantly “moving”, albeit briefly, for work. She returned from Australia cutting a series and is currently doing remote work for them, a business that she’s building.

MOVING BACKGROUND

“I’m like the Energizer bunny. I just keep on going.”

Lyra at the SINGAPORE AIRPORT.

Katie: What event or situation sparked the move?

Lyra: So far there are three main story beats for me. The first one is taking a leap of faith to move to Hong Kong. I’ve never lived abroad and was totally fresh off the boat. Didn’t have any friends in Hong Kong nor been exposed to a culture different from my own. I also had to contend with being typecast as a domestic help, being Filipino.

Second is my big jump from Singapore to the States. New York was supposedly my last stop. I had a romanticized version of the city and of the US; then reality sat in.

The last is the big jump from the States to New Zealand.

What event or situation sparked the move?

The day I decided to leave the Philippines to try my luck abroad was one of the dumbest, smartest, and bravest things I’ve done. I left the comforts of a regular paid job, friends, and familiar surroundings for a city I have only seen for five days.

I left all things familiar because I felt the world was closing in on me. People often love to whinge about the despondency of their lives or in this case, the workplace. Yet no one speaks up, and those who speak up are silenced by having their career stalled. There was also favoritism, and I’m not the kind who brown-noses.

Can you tell us some of the ways that the new area(s) differs from some of the other places you've lived or the last place you lived? What is similar and different for you? What do you like and dislike about your new area?

I began my career when the internet was only making tiny waves in the Philippines. There was no YouTube, just a “boob tube.” Social media meant using a landline and meeting friends -- in the flesh. Owning a cellphone was a status symbol, and Nokia ruled them all. So when I left for Hong Kong, I had nothing to guide me. I spoke to people, asked directions, or simply got lost and figured things out.

Lyra in front of IBN TULUN MOSQUE IN CAIRO.

In New York, I started from scratch. I was in grad school so I was poor and idealistic. My goal was to leave TV and film and focus on human rights. But the world is divisive, full of political maneuverings, hubris, and proxy wars. At least in TV or film, our bad decisions or inability to even make one doesn’t cause suffering to an entire group of people.

When I lived in Cairo, the world again opened up. The people I met there are some of the smartest and kindest I’ve known, and many are still my friends today. Never having lived in a predominantly Muslim country before, Egypt is anything but textbook. So much of my preconceived notions were obliterated.

TRIP PREPARATIONS

How did you begin to prepare for the move?

I often try to be methodical and over prepare, but life throws so many curveballs. My first step is to ensure I’ve travel insurance and visa, if needed. Then I look for local knowledge. Friends and colleagues are repositories of information and contacts.

Brought a tiny suitcase to Singapore, ended up buying a bigger one for my stuff! OOPS.

What did you use to help plan your route? Did you fly, drive, or otherwise teleport to your new location?

Google Maps is my best mate before I move. I check out transport, distance, recommended spots, etc. I check the flights and tell the company what schedule works for me and everyone has been accommodating so far.

Do you have any packing tips and tricks for us?

For my last stint abroad, I attempted to adapt a minimalist lifestyle so I took a tiny suitcase with only the essentials. Big mistake. I ended up buying another suitcase.

What would you -not- recommend cutting costs on when considering a move?

I always do the math before taking a project abroad, weighing out the personal and financial costs. As a contractor, I can either have a two-month gap staying put or I can take a gig abroad for four months. Next, how important is it to build and strengthen my relationship with the new company? I make it a point to play the long game.

What were some of the advantages/disadvantages to working within your time and budget limits? Did you have a long time to plan out or did you have to move fast?  

I am meticulous with planning ahead. I sort out flights and accommodation months before. I hate panicking.  

If budget was no limit, what conveniences would you have liked to use or were you able to incorporate into your move that you would suggest others try using, if they can?

For my big move from New York, I hired a container company to ship items which were already dwindled to the barest. It’s always good to ask referrals for such things. Online reviews are fine but it helps once you’ve got friends and colleagues who’ve used a company before. If I didn’t have to worry about budget though, I would hire someone to pack my stuff.

Lyra having a Birthday dinner prepped by flatmates in Singapore.

Lyra having a Birthday dinner prepped by flatmates in Singapore.

MENTAL PREP

How did you mentally prepare for the move?

It’s always chaos. You can prep all you want but something will always fall into the cracks. Unless it’s prescribed meds or you’re moving to Greenland, you can probably buy something you forgot to pack.

What is something you absolutely could not live without in the new area/place? Your hard line of "I'm not moving unless..." moment.

Safety is non-negotiable. I will never take a job that will endanger myself. Heat I can deal with (I lived in Cairo). Traffic...I had worse in Manila and Cairo.

when I lived in Fremantle, Perth to edit a series for Discovery

Did you ever find yourself at a low point and feeling like giving up or saying no the opportunity? Were there any times that people tried to talk you out of it or alternately were they supportive and helped you stay focused/encouraged? What was that like?

It’s about choices. I’ve been broke - financially, emotionally, and mentally. I’ve lived in some of the shittiest conditions possible. I’ve put myself in harm’s way a few times. I’ve taken big risks, most paid off. A lot of these I dealt with on my own. I had to make a choice whether I would allow myself to be broken or pick myself up by the bootstraps.

How does managing all this have an effect on your sleeping, physical health, and your mental health, do you think?

It’s always scary whether it’s a permanent move or a temp one for a few months of contract work. There’s no boilerplate answer I’m afraid. You just need to roll with it.

I wish I read about Stoicism in my early years. The premise of finding value even in the most stressful of situations is a great mindset to have especially when uprooting yourself.

How do you know the difference between moving worries that can be researched or worked through or a generally bad decision/bad outcome risk? Can you even know that difference?

Life throws curveballs. Just roll with it. However, make sure the most important things are covered - insurance, visas, and accommodation. Everything else is doable.

THE SAHARA in egypt — Lyra having fun WITH FRIENDS

THE MOVE ITSELF

My flight to Hong Kong was full of hiccups. There was major storm and my British Airways flight was cancelled. By pure luck, I got into a Cathay flight and was sick the entire time due to turbulence. (I think a lot of us feel your pain, here.)

By the time I got to Hong Kong, it was past midnight. Good thing the car service waited for me and brought me to my boss’ flat but it was pretty scary, not knowing anyone, unfamiliarity with the city, and an almost empty airport.

I’ve had a couple of near-misses:

Almost fell into the subway tracks in New York.

Got stalked into my apartment building in Cairo.

Saw a very seedy side of Hong Kong and things could have easily turned against me.

AFTER THE MOVE

How long did it take to settle into your new place in your new area? In new job duties?

Often takes me at least two weeks to wrap my head around a new project. I observe a lot, especially people’s dynamics and try to get a sense of the workplace and the workflow.

What's your unpacking and getting situated process like?

It’s hard to feel settled for a temp gig abroad. I try to unpack and settle in, but there are trips wherein I just can’t be bothered and live out of my suitcase. Top on my list is exploring the city. I start with the neighborhood. I walk a lot and get lost. I create a map in my head of shortcuts, good spots, etc. Then I explore the city and its various ‘hoods. If I’ve my bike with me, I like to ride around for hours.


LYRA with her Brooklyn STUDENTS IN her VIDEO PRODUCTION AND EDITING class

Did you feel homesick ever or miss your old town? If so, how do you deal with those feels?

Being away from all things familiar is heartbreaking, but there is also the lure of being in a new place. Everyone grapples with loneliness. My remedy is to keep busy. I explore a lot.

However, if I’ve returned to a place a few times already then the mystery would have waned, and I get to see a place without blinders on. Impermanence is the nature of life - pain, discomfort, joy. Just make the most out of it, then move on.

If you arrived 'hot' to town without a job, how did you manage to find work? -OR- If you came to your new area with a job in tow, how did that go?

The last time I had nothing lined up was the move to New Zealand. Again, I was starting out and had no “Kiwi experience” even if I had a decade of editing work abroad. It took awhile to build a network and get a job as an editor. I was unemployed in Auckland for almost half a year! It came to a point if I had to clean toilets just to pay rent, I would’ve done it.

Never came to that, of course. I got hired to teach video production and editing to second-chance learners in South Auckland, which I enjoyed as it reminded me of my stint in Brooklyn working with underrepresented communities.

Lyra Editing the Kiwi-German short film Milk, with her director Pennie Hunt, in NZ in 2018 before Lyra left for Oz.

When I finally got a chance to edit in Auckland, I was holding down three jobs. I would teach in the morning, work at Auckland University in the afternoon creating media for lecturers, then edit from 6 p.m. to maybe 1 a.m. at a production house. I did that whole routine for around 2-3 months.

What opportunities do you have available to you now (either that you didn't have before or have more of now) Do you find you have less work opportunities?

I am able to work remotely, which is great. I don’t have to worry about traffic and parking. The most important thing is that I deliver excellent work on schedule (or earlier). I am able to refuse projects, and I have the option to live abroad and work for a few months if I choose.

I have options! I have stopped worrying about the next gig because there’s always something.

How has moving changed your life, for better or worse or in-between/uncertain?

Movement is a constant thing and with that facing fears - all the “what ifs.” Will my colleagues be decent human beings? Where will I stay? Will I do good work? Beyond that, the absence of my family tests my sanity. And yet, things always work out somehow, and I leave a place smarter, wiser, and more compassionate that when I first arrived.

a beautiful picture lyra took while at Mellaca in Indonesia on her adventures.

a beautiful picture lyra took while at Mellaca in Indonesia on her adventures.

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Katie Toomey

Katie Toomey is an accomplished LA-based editor with nearly a decade of diverse credits across the broadcast and digital spaces, including serving as editor on the main title sequence for Netflix’s Lost in Space. Born and raised in Indiana, Katie spent the beginning of her career split between corporate video and cutting the few independent film projects in the Midwest including the feature film “Ingenue” which premiered to a sold out IMAX crowd. She then pivoted into commercial and advertising in North Carolina, serving as a staff editor for the agency Mullen Lowe. There she helmed national campaigns for companies like Pep Boys and Tresemme, working on finished products as well as pitching new business. Taking the long way around to California she’s working her way through the unique LA film scene, including a stint at Imaginary Forces. She is currently a freelance video editor.