Changing Course

Changing Course

with Jon Bregel | Interview by Jason Koontz

I first met Jon on a job in Dubai, our email records indicate it was way back in 2010. I was just starting to get my feet wet in the business, while Jon on the other hand, was well on his way to making a name for himself in the industry. Shortly after that job, he would go on to start Variable, a production company that went on to produce some of the most inspiring and progressive work of that time. I looked up to Jon then, as he was directing jobs for some of the biggest clients, all while running one of the coolest companies out there.

As it goes, not everything is as it seems. Behind the scenes, Jon was facing burnout and struggling to wear so many hats. He stepped away from the industry and started down a new path, which ultimately led him to where he is today. I respect Jon even more so today, for where he’s now choosing to spend his time and creative energy. Re-launching Variable as a wellness community for filmmakers, Jon is sparking the types of conversations that we all need to be having, and as created a space to foster them. Jon’s always seemed to be ahead of the curve, and I think time will prove once again that he's a leader in the film community.

 Jon Bregel Variable Wellness

Let's start with talking about some of the demands and pressure you felt as a director that ended up pushing you away from the industry?

Well, it's really hard to separate myself during that period of time as just a director and a business owner because most of the things that I was directing, I was doing to support the business. It was a lot of responsibility. We had like seven people on staff like very early on. And these staff were our friends, close friends and people that we really loved. And so as a director, I think a lot of my decisions were coming from both curiosity and excitement because I was breaking into a new industry that I didn't know anything about. You’re always learning something as a director, every job is like a whole new journey. And that was really cool.

But then, I was also doing a lot of things that just to keep the lights on for the business. I think that was why it was really hard as a director, because I was straddling my own artistic creative interests while constantly being pulled in other directions to do jobs that were not my style, just to keep the lights on. And that's something that a lot of other directors may have to do in some capacity, but for me, it was dramatic. But I chose that, you know, I chose to do that because I felt responsible to the people that we had hired and I wanted to build a company. So that was sort of my way of doing it, which in hindsight was not very wise.


"You can create really great work, but if you're feeling like hell and depressed and burned out, at the end of the day what are you doing it for?"

That experience has no doubt led you to what you are doing now. Can you speak about the community and platform you are building with Variable?

Variable, the wellness community, was an idea that popped up maybe like eight years ago. I was taking this two month sabbatical around the country, by myself in a van and just staying in parks and stuff. It was the first first time I really had given myself to process like five years of non-stop working. When I was driving down a lot of really long roads, I was thinking how much I wish that there was something like Alcoholics Anonymous for filmmakers. I had been to a handful of AA meetings and I was just blown away at the honesty and the companionship and the support that was in those rooms. So the idea that initially came to me was like, oh, it'd be cool to just have a room in New York City where we all come together and we have a topic and we just discuss that topic and share stories around that topic for a couple hours and maybe have some coffee and donuts or whatever. But it never happened. I got back from that trip and just went right back into work again, like full-time.

But that idea just kept popping up over the years. I've found anytime that happens with an idea, that's when I have to start kind of looking at it more seriously. And so this was one of those things. About two years ago, I had reestablished a really good relationship with my old business partner, and we had been talking for about a year and I was like, people talk to me all the time about this company Variable, which like, we hadn't released anything in like four years and yet people still reach out to us for jobs and stuff like that.

So there seemed to be some inkling of relevance left in this company, and I thought, if there's an opportunity to try and make an impact with this idea, then why not just wrap it up under that umbrella and put it out there instead of like starting from scratch, you know? And I thought it’d be a pretty cool way to kind of peel back the curtain because I know that the work that we did at that company inspired a lot of people. So it's been cool to use that as the sort of foundation. You can create really great work, but if you're feeling like hell and depressed and burned out, at the end of the day what are you doing it for? What's the purpose? How is it serving you? So that was sort of the spirit or motivation to relaunch through Variable. It was a way to raise some questions that I think are pretty important. And so far, it seems a lot of other people do too.

Jon Bregel Cinematographer Variable Wellness

I understand you've also been mentoring young directors the past couple years, are there any commonalities between the people you talk with in regards to the struggles they face in both their careers and personal life?

I've been running the Variable community for over a year now, and I think I've done over 75 different events on topics related to wellness, all with filmmakers. The biggest commonality I've also found in my coaching is constant self-doubt. It's a lack of faith in our own ability, it's a lack of faith in our relationships, and who we are and what we can contribute, not just to the industry, but also to the world. I definitely struggle with self-doubt myself. Feeling like you're never doing enough, feeling like you are not enough because there's always someone out there doing something cooler and better . That's always gonna be the case until the end of time for like 99.999% of us at least. And even for the that 0.001%, there's always gonna be things that like they're chasing too, that they're wanting to do better or whatever. So I think that's the biggest struggle that I've found. Self-doubt is a hundred percent the biggest crippling agent of filmmakers.


"The biggest commonality I've found is constant self-doubt. It's a lack of faith in our own ability, it's a lack of faith in our relationships, and who we are and what we can contribute, not just to the industry, but also to the world."

How do you feel Variable is positioned to help others along in their filmmaking journey? 

As far as impact, I mean, I'm super grateful that it's there. It helps me a ton. I know it helps other people as well. And honestly, I just really enjoy it. I feel like it's something that's worth my time and so that's why I do it. I wish that there had been more of a dialogue about what it was really like to be a filmmaker, when I was getting into it, even though I probably wouldn't have listened <laughs> But I think what I'm trying to do is just more or less just spark the conversation and encourage it. I'm hopeful that these conversations can happen more on film sets and behind the scenes, just so we can have more of a collective awareness of how we're doing as a filmmaking culture. I think there's something in the air where we're all at a point where we're like, this is not really healthy how we've been doing this. It's exciting to see that things are changing and that there is a conversation that's being had.

Variable Wellness Community Platform

Variable Wellness Community Events

A peak into what the Variable community looks like online.

How have you seen the community grow since launching?

It's a slow grow kind of thing. From the very beginning, I knew I was going to need to be the one running it. Just from the people that show up at the events every week and the way that people engage, there's something palpable there. People are gaining from this. I can feel and sense that, people are coming back.

We do these monthly meetups in LA and New York City, I have two different friends that run them. I went to my first one last week, and hearing from people in person was really cool. People are looking out for each other. We're slowly building a community of people that are not scared to be honest and show that they're human. I mean, it's also for me, you know. It's extremely helpful for me as well. I'm not just like sitting back here doing everything for everyone else, this community is just as much for me, I need it.

Can you give an overview of what exactly Variable is? I think maybe some people may have a hard time wrapping their head around what this all looks like.

Have you heard of Mighty Networks before? It’s a platform where you get to build your own community, like your own personal Facebook or something. There's different groups, different topics. There's a main feed, there's a messenger and it's all interactive. Anybody that joins gets access to that and they can show up to all the Zoom events. There are two events weekly. There's one for personal projects that's every Monday, that's like an accountability group. And then once a week we have another series, whether it's an interview with another filmmaker on a topic that they feel comfortable talking about. Something like managing self-doubt, as an example. Or talking about imposter syndrome.

There are some more practical ones as well. Once a month we might have an expert, like my friend Chaithra, she's a therapist and she's also a post producer. She did an event recently on scarcity mindset. I think what's cool about it to me is that every filmmaker I know is an expert in some area that someone else isn't. It's amazing how much knowledge that the film community has that is not just related to film, it could be related to self-help or spirituality or whatever. So being able to bring that out of people and give them opportunities to speak to groups of people has been affirming for me, just hearing from them and how much that's helped them to share their story.

I think that's awesome. Personally, I think I would respond more to the producer who's also a therapist. Like rather than just, you know, an expert just for expert's sake. You're talking to a therapist that's been on a film set. I think that's a huge point of understanding right from the start. It makes them all the more relatable when they can have that firsthand account.

 Jon Bregel Cinematographer 16mm

What do you see as the path forward, both in your personal cinematography career as well as for the filmmaking community as a whole?

At this point in my life and career, I’d like for my path forward to be anchored in gratitude. The beautiful thing I'm learning about living more in a state of gratitude is that it has a way of revealing opportunities and people who are aligned with that spirit and way of living. I lived so much of my life taking so much for granted; relationships, opportunities, inspiration, gifts & talent, etc. and that approach resulted in a state of deep burnout and depression. So moving forward, I am doing my best to simply try the opposite of that approach, which is being grateful. It’s a daily practice, and is the path forward for me- if only I’m wise enough to hold onto it :)

As far as the path forward for the filmmaking community as a whole; I'm just hopeful that we can continue to have honest dialogues surrounding our personal and cultural wellness as it relates to filmmaking and the industry as a whole.


Jon Bregel is a cinematographer based in Baltimore, MD.  He is also the founder of Variable, a community where filmmakers prioritize wellness & growth.