Helen Ostenberg Elswit (Part 2)

Independent Visual Effects Producer in the Film Industry

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Arts, Fatherhood

In Part 1 of our interview, Helen Ostenberg Elswit shared with us how prayer and study of the Bible led her to a successful and fulfilling career as a Visual Effects Producer in the film industry. This month, she shares insights into dealing with the death of her father, supply, self-worth, educational pressures, and removing limitations.

Helen, you've given us a clear picture of how you came to be involved with the world of Visual Effects producing. Now that you've "made it" in Hollywood, do you still have to deal with competition?
While there's a lot of competition and pressure because this is a freelance business, I guess I really don't feel the effects of competition.

Why not?
First of all, my job goes longer than most other jobs on the movie, from pre-production through post-production. So while others are going through a frenetic, fearful time of wondering about the next job, I know I still have approximately six more months of diligent work. I have also been very fortunate in that I have seen lovely evidences of supply in my life. It was a very difficult lesson for me to learn.

My father passed on when I was 15. I struggled for years, twenty years, with the fear of lack. This is one reason why my anxiety was so high when I transitioned from camera assistant to producer. I didn't know how I was going to pay my rent. So I prayed daily. I craved reading anything I could about God, and I studied the Bible continuously. At one point, I learned about a man who had healed similar fears through prayer and gratitude. Rather than being fearful that there wasn't enough money for the next month's rent, he was grateful that he could write the current rent check, which would then help someone else, such as the landlord who would maintain the building, or the electrician. I decided to do the same thing. When I wrote each rent check, I was grateful that I had sufficient supply, indeed, infinite supply.

How do you have infinite supply?
Well, supply that meets daily needs is just one expression of infinite supply. What that means is that supply really never runs out. Even though I had worried about not having enough for years, my experience proved that I had never been in a situation where somehow I couldn't pay my rent. Realizing this was a breakthrough for me. The whole transition from camera assistant to producer not only blessed me professionally but also personally. Meeting my husband during this time proved that there was an infinite supply of love in my life. And this was significant. Since I had lost my father in my childhood, I felt I lacked a supply of father-love; others may feel they lack mother-love. I finally realized infinite supply doesn't relate only to money or to provisions for rent. There is an infinite supply of happiness, joy, fulfillment, etc. for each one of us.

So are you saying that God is the source of infinite supply?
Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying.

Did you see your dad as a source of supply?
I saw my father as everything. As far as my family is concerned, there has never been a more wonderful, cool, happy, fun-loving, loving person in our lives. All my brothers and sisters and I felt our lives lacked a tremendous amount by losing our father so soon. We've all had to struggle with that. I've learned that the qualities that my father gave to us in our lives are not things that can be taken away. We can never really lose qualities such as joy and love, since they are timeless. When we embrace love or other wonderful qualities, they stay with us forever. It's really important to be grateful for such qualities.

It seems that gratitude for what you already had or what you were able to experience enabled you not only to find a sense of peace but also to meet these challenges successfully.
Yes, I would say so. Gratitude and prayer!

Your story is inspiring. You really have overcome some pretty big obstacles in your journey through your teen years, to law, to film production. Has it been easy to maintain your sense of self worth throughout these changes and in your current job?
I certainly don't feel that I was a confident individual growing up. Self-worth is something that I struggled with as a teenager and as a young adult. I think that's one of the reasons I went to law school. I felt that I needed a profession that would help me feel that I was worthy.

But, as you said last month, you weren't happy in law. So, could we draw the conclusion that we can't look to a job or to someone else to make us feel worthy?

Then, how do you gain a sense of self-worth?
Having a clear sense of self-worth is still something I work with everyday. First of all, I continually watch what I'm thinking, so as to keep myself from thinking that I don't do my job well. Next, it's important not to judge people. While we may think someone is confident, we really don't know what's going on with that person. Most of all, I pray to understand that I am the child of God, and that that alone gives me worth. This view of self-worth has been extremely helpful. One thing that I would tell teenagers is not to compare themselves to others. Claim your own joy, uniqueness, and individuality, and find satisfaction in that.

Are there any words of wisdom you would offer to others?
You don't have to accept limitations in order to achieve the highest results!

My entrance into law was an example of being open and not putting limits on myself. I had been out of school for 10 years when a friend of mine, a friend who had always been a spiritual mentor, suggested law school. Most people take courses and study hard for the LSATs because scores on LSATs determine what school you attend. People will say that if you don't go to one of the top ten Ivy League law schools, you may as well forget it. But I find that there's absolutely no need to accept those kinds of limitations. I just went in and took the LSATs. My score wasn't great; it wasn't terrible; it was okay. So consequently, I didn't go to NYU. I went to Brooklyn Law School, which was fine. I told myself that I was just going to do the best I could. I excelled there. I ended up becoming the editor-in-chief on the law review. Because of that, I was hired at one of the most prestigious law firms on Wall Street. God had directed me to take an avenue that enabled me to achieve what everyone else was telling me I could only achieve by going to an Ivy League school.

It seems that refusing to let public opinion or circumstances limit you helped your career blossom. But sometimes it seems so difficult to take a different path, especially in today's climate.
It is difficult, but it's worth it. As I see it, the climate in education today breeds stress, competition, and limitations. Parents are competing to get their 3-year-old into the best day-care center because the general thought is that it'll affect where he or she goes to college. Kids are under so much parental and/or societal pressure to know where they're going to college, what career they want to pursue, what grad school they need to attend. They're supposed to have a plan. But there are so many incredible and interesting things to do in life that teenagers don't know about when they're in high school or college. Talk about competition! They see the other kids in their class going off and doing all these things, and think that they should be doing the same thing. But maybe going to a cattle ranch one summer might be the right thing to do rather than being an intern at a law firm.

I think kids are really smart. They just have to have confidence in themselves. I'm not sure I was very self-reflective in high school. That's why I'm so happy I wasn't pushed to make decisions before I was ready to make them. I've been a late-bloomer all my life. But I was able to follow my views and to be open to go wherever I was led to go. And the path that eventually led to my current job as a visual effects producer, which I just love, has proved to be very rewarding. And it certainly wasn't the conventional path. What works for me is not to limit the abundance that I know is out there for me.

It is evident that your strong faith in God has led you into a rich and rewarding life. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you.