One of our ribbon awards during the summer went to Casey Herbert a producer working on her second feature. Ahead of the release of THE LAST RIGHT we caught up with Casey to look back at how the production adapted to work with a significant change to her childcare responsibilities.
THE LAST RIGHT went into production when my baby was five weeks old (and my older son was two and a half).
I’d been consulting on the script on and off for several years, but just at the point it looked like we actually had a shot at making it I fell pregnant with my second child. Luckily, the film had two producers already, Pippa Cross of Crossday Productions in the UK and Paul Donovan of Deadpan Pictures in Ireland. As soon as I told her I was pregnant and due around the time we were intending to shoot, Pippa reassured me that there is much more to producing a film than the six-week shoot, and that by working as a team and each taking on different tasks we could work around the baby. She assured me (very kindly) that she was actually quite relieved that there wouldn’t be three producers getting on top of each other on set! The writer-director Aoife Crehan was equally supportive of the idea that yes, I could still produce this film with a newborn and a toddler. Looking back now I think I had a slightly delusional gung-ho attitude, but I somehow managed to persuade everyone else that I would just find a way to juggle and we stumbled blindly on…!
The film was shooting in Ireland so within six weeks of my baby, Jasmine, being born I got her a fast-track passport and we travelled to join the crew (with my mum in tow to wait with her in actors’ trailers while I was on set). The film is a road-movie in which the characters travel from the South coast of Cork to the furthest tip of Northern Ireland, and the crew followed pretty much the same route. I was mad enough to take a baby to set but not quite mad enough to drag her the length of the country and onto a remote island in late November, so I left the crew in Dublin and kept an eye on things from back home. I watched rushes through the night feeds for weeks.
It was in post-production, which all took place in London, that the juggling act really began in earnest. I was lucky that Jasmine seemed to be a fairly placid, content baby. My first baby, Felix, was a bundle of energy from day one, and I think I would have struggled more had they been born the other way round. I decided from the outset to be fairly unapologetic about the fact that I needed to work from home the majority of the time and that I quite often had to bring the baby along and leave her to nap in the back of meetings. Jasmine has played on the floor of edit suites and sat in on spotting sessions. I have breastfed in production meetings, in our editor’s garden, and during distribution meetings. Everyone involved has been welcoming and encouraging at every stage and she has had half the film industry coo over her.
The best advice I was given when I had my first baby was to take each feed, then each day, one at a time. I found that advice useful professionally as well – the enormity of the responsibilities of producing felt overwhelming at times, but all I could do was to approach each task and problem one at a time and keep looking forward.
There were big challenges of course. Having initially been a great sleeper, Jasmine went through a three month phase of needing feeding every hour and a half, day and night. This coincided with a particularly tricky phase of our edit. Trying to articulate creative thoughts and manage team relationships on only a couple of hours broken sleep for weeks on end made me almost delirious, and now when I look back on that time it’s like a black hole in my memory. (Although as my husband pointed out, I was actually getting more sleep than during production on my first feature, the micro-budget CONTAINMENT, but that’s another story…). The biggest challenge though was actually not the baby, but my toddler, who of course couldn’t understand why Mummy was always reaching for her laptop or talking on the phone when I should have been playing with him. When, for various reasons, I found myself with no childcare for him – and next to no time to look for alternatives – I was forced to call in favours from friends and family to entertain him while I worked. And of course in filmmaking things always come up at the last minute, so I felt like I was constantly begging people to help out so I could go to unscheduled screenings or meetings. The lack of any sort of pattern was difficult, because it meant I couldn’t organise regular, formal childcare. I became completely reliant on getting them both down for a long lunchtime nap just to keep on top of my emails, and then I spent pretty much every night working late once they were in bed. If I had a day when the children decided to sleep at different times I was doomed.
There have been times over the last year when I have been close to breaking under the pressure of feeling that I was able to do neither thing – being a mother or being a producer – as well as I wanted to or knew that I could. The lack of time to do anything other than work or care for the children steadily took its toll. The best advice I was given when I had my first baby was to take each feed, then each day, one at a time. I found that advice useful professionally as well – the enormity of the responsibilities of producing felt overwhelming at times, but all I could do was to approach each task and problem one at a time and keep looking forward.
This film was a big step up for me in terms of budget and scale. I’d never worked with a completion bond, for example, or had to balance the demands of multiple commercial and public financiers. I learned an enormous amount from Pippa Cross, whose resilience and generosity is extraordinary. The biggest takeaway for me as a producer was that – whether you have children or not – it’s crucial to surround yourself with people who share the load professionally, but who also understand that your personal life has its demands too and who treat you with humanity. It’s part of the job spec of producing to take on the weight of others’ woes and drive the film and its team towards the bigger picture, but that task is a whole lot easier when you have a team who remember that you are a human being too.
I have breastfed in production meetings, in our editor’s garden, and during distribution meetings. Everyone involved has been welcoming and encouraging at every stage and she has had half the film industry coo over her.
THE LAST RIGHT won the Audience Award at Cork Film Festival and comes to cinema screens across Ireland and Northern Ireland from 6 December.
The Raising Films ribbon is available to production companies, festivals and conferences, training schemes and educational institutions. It will be awarded to acknowledge activity that takes into the account the needs of parents and carers.
THE LAST RIGHT is a comedy-drama road movie telling the story of a man bringing the body of someone he barely knows for burial with his family. His good intentions are motivated by trying to patch up his relationship with his own brother. However, en route from West Cork to Rathlin Island, both romance and family secrets emerge to complicate the trip.
THE LAST RIGHT
Director/Writer: Aoife Crehan
Producers: Paul Donovan, Pippa Cross, Casey Herbert
Executive Producers: Ailish McElmeel, Janette Day, Xavier Marchand
Associate Producers: Trisha Flood, Sam Tipper-Hale
Director of Photography: Shane F. Kelly
Original Music by: Gary Lightbody
THE LAST RIGHT is a CrossDay and Deadpan Pictures production in association with Moonlight Bay Films, presented by Entertainment One and Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland in association with Northern Ireland Screen, Lipsync and RTÉ.
CrossDay productions was set up in 2003 by Pippa Cross and Janette Day. Together, they strive to create an eclectic slate of films that satisfy both commercial and arthouse audiences. Building on their success at Granada Films where the two had worked previously, their films have won two Academy Awards, eights BAFTAs, a Golden Bear at the Berlinale and the audience award at Sundance. Pippa and Janette’s wealth of experience covers development, production, financing, distribution and foreign sales, alongside a regular engagement with industry bodies on policy and training issues and the mentoring of young talent starting out in the industry.
Deadpan Pictures is an award-winning boutique production company specialising in TV and feature film comedy drama, working with the best Irish comedy talent, bringing projects with a distinct Irish flavour to the international market.
Moonlight Bay Films is the production outfit of Casey Herbert, who produces her own projects through the company alongside her role as a consulting Development Producer for Xavier Marchand’s Moonriver Content. Casey previously spent four years working in development at Lookout Point, the TV Company behind War and Peace and Ripper Street. This is where she met Aoife Crehan and in 2013 read the very first outline of the film that would become The Last Right.