So the stats are in and only one in every million directors gets to make a second feature – and chances are four hundred times lower if you’re a woman.
(There are real stats about this but I can’t [be bothered to] find them right now). Given it’s been over a year now since Alice Lowe, Rachel Tunnard and I made our first features, I thought it would be good to have a chat about how the plans for world domination are going, and how our caring responsibilities are feeding into that.
— Hope Dickson Leach, co-founder, Raising Films
HDL: Are we ready? Let’s begin. For me, one of the most surprising things about the last year has been having had new opportunities open up to me, and then actually finding myself considering them. I think because I had been writing my own stuff forever, and fighting so hard to get that made, it never occurred to me that I would ever be given someone else’s script to direct, or that I would want to (if I was ever finally in the decision where someone was prepared to let me make work). I didn’t realise this mental shift would be part of what this year would entail, and it’s made me realise how big the gulf is between existing in the world of ‘new talent’ (which I feel like I’ve been in for about 10 years) and then ‘emerging talent’ – or, you know, just… working.
Alice Lowe: This is what’s been happening to me this year and it’s so hard not to get all flattered about it. It’s like being asked on a date when you were previously an ugly duckling. You’re like, ‘Who, me? Oooohh! Haha hee. Oh.’ And it can become a bit overwhelming. You have to make some negotiations in your own mind. I had a great chat with my agent, and I realised that I should focus on stuff that I’m really passionate about.
But it’s hard to say no, you fear that you’re looking a gift horse! But I think this is primarily about a fear that you won’t get asked again, or of offending people. And I gotta snap out of that thinking. At the moment, women are having a ‘moment’ in film TV (let’s hope and pray it’s not just a trend). I’m experiencing this thing where people have pre-existing projects, but the penny has finally dropped that they need to get a female voice involved, say there’s a female lead, or that at the very least they need to be seeing/considering female directors. My agent said to me, ‘They might need you more than you need them.’ Which feels an astonishing statement, and one that may not have been true just a few years ago, for me, or for women generally struggling in this industry. But after your debut, it does feel like there’s an opportunity to ‘set out your stall’ about what you want and what sort of career you want to have.
Rachel Tunnard: This is so interesting – I really wish we had this conversation a year ago! I have been wrestling with all of this things for the last year, along with: ‘I would like to have a kid’ (I have two step kids) and ‘Is that going to ruin my career just as it is getting going?’ I remember listening to Miranda July talking about how she felt she needed to make a second film before she could have a child – in order to sort of cement her work and her voice. I think I absorbed that and subconsciously it has become a really strong focus this year. So although I have been sent other films (and TV) to consider I always imagined them as a third or forth project as I’d stubbornly, maybe naively and unwisely, decided that my next ‘thing’ needed to be authentically ‘mine’.
[AL: I’m gonna butt in here and say, ‘No! Having a baby will not ruin your career!’ Having two? Plus step kids already? Don’t know! I defer to you and Hope.
HDL: Agreed. It will not. If you want to do it, do it.]
HDL: You’ve both done a lot more than me before I made my first film, be it writing or performing or editing. I definitely got stuck in the development phase so eventually thought: fuck it, I need to have a kid, and I have no idea if I’ll ever get to make a film, so I’m doing this now. I like hearing women talk about how they want to be in a precise place in their career before becoming a mother, it feels inspiring and smart and ambitious, but I also know how much of a privilege both things are – making work, and becoming a parent – and how unlikely it is that we are able to time the things perfectly.
So from my point of view I think it’s important to acknowledge that your voice isn’t fixed. It’s not a thing you can establish – because it’s going to change. Especially when you have kids. I mean, the films I wanted to make before I became a parent are different than the ones I want to make now. I have more to say, I have a bleeding heart and I have a much broader view of humanity. Knowing all that, I’m less concerned about this idea of a voice I think (although it did seem to me very painful not to have made any of those earlier films as my first film for a while). (This isn’t directed at you, Rachel, because I’m sure having step kids means you have a much clearer sense of what parenthood might do to you, but it’s more of a general thinking thought).
RT: I actually think my ‘voice’ (I really hate that word) is fixed! I mean, the stories I am interested in telling might change as a result of growing up and life evolving but I think my instinct, to always make a joke, to always play things down, to enjoy banter and the perverse and to have ‘heart’ in there – that’s deeply rooted in where I am from and something I can’t help. When I was writing my film the lack of obvious comparison films meant two of my developers and financiers disagreed about what tone my film was: one thought it was BRIDESMAIDS; the other ME, YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW! I didn’t know how to respond at first. It felt like being sat between rowing divorced parents: you want to please them both. Ultimately I said, ‘Well it’s neither because I am from Sheffield, and I’m not posh and I go to the footy every other Saturday and my primary goal with this film is to make my family and best friends laugh.’
So when I say, I want to cement my own voice before trying to have a kid or making someone else’s story, I think what I am ultimately saying is that I want to establish the tone of my work (with more than one film). Interestingly, when I was first an editor I made a super-swanky flash website (that I couldn’t operate) that was all formal and like every other (male) editors website. Then one day, because I couldn’t do Flash encoding – I decided to just handwrite and draw some photos and stick them up as a website instead. So I made this scrappy online notebook, complete with jokes and apologies and tea cup marks – and weirdly, it was kind of the making of my ‘career’. That is to say, people who saw it and thought, ‘this looks a mess and very unprofessional,’ didn’t approach me to collaborate with them, and people who did respond to it were much more likely to be the kind of people I wanted to work with and the kind of projects that were to my taste. So, I suppose that experience of ‘establishing my voice’ in editing has informed my approach to writing and directing.
AL: You and your website are so cool.
HDL: It seems to me that we retain our own voices, of course we do, because we are our own people – but what we need to be wary of is this idea of ourselves as ‘brands’. There’s a thin line between an industry perception of ourselves, and understanding how important or useful that might be to help us get work made, but also being true to our own right and compunction to make work that feels honest and speaks to what we want to say.
RT: Ah I see we are sort of saying the same thing here. Except that, I do see the value in ‘branding’ myself as it were. It doesn’t mean I have to stick to it, but I think it helps other people understand what I might bring and what I am like.
HDL: I totally get that, except I want to make movies that no-one expects me to make too. I want to be Picasso, and have periods. I mean, I already have periods obviously, but you know. Exciting ones that don’t make me throw up and cry. I’ve always got excited when people shift – like when Bruno Dumont or Rebecca Miller started making comedies. How cool is that?
RT: As an aside, before I stared writing I worked as a film and TV editor for a long time, and I cut quite a few directors’ first feature films. I watched them finish the edit, then travel the world on the festival circuit only to arrive home a year later, exhausted, skint and going: ‘what is my next project going to be?’ (cue weeping at the thought of a blank page and beginning a new protracted development process, like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the mountain). That experience made me think – I don’t want that to happen to me – so when I was editing my first feature, I took a very terrible first draft of a script to Film Four and begged them to take it on, which to their great credit or great error, they did. Basically, I think I anticipated that ‘second feature problem’ (and how it was compounded for scruffy northern women like me) and went hell for leather to combat it from the start.
HDL: I think that’s such an important point – and it’s funny isn’t it how we absorb other people’s experiences? I had a similar thing working with brilliant women who gave up their chances to be parents, and I realised that was something I didn’t want to sacrifice. But back to the second feature thing, yes to all that. I had four other scripts ready, but it was interesting that the thing that became important for me was not just to find the project that I wanted to do, but the people I wanted to work with. I realise how amazing it is to have a chance to work with talented writers and producers (and actors obviously) so when other opportunities were presented to me, it was like a delicious buffet.
AL: I had never really considered, Hope, how much this really was your debut, holy fuck you are awesome. But maybe you did it the right way round, kids before making a film, who knows? I mean, the great thing about getting someone else to write for you, letting other people into your creative process is: you get back from the skint-making film tour of the last one, and VOILA, here’s the next one all ready to go! How very efficient! Whereas you do make a rod for your own back by doing all of it. It’s back to square one isn’t it?
At least hopefully when you’ve been champing at the bit to make films for ages, and not been able to, the one good thing about that is that you’ve usually got a few scripts and ideas on the back burner waiting for this moment. I have been shamelessly digging into the back catalogue. SHAMELESSLY. It’s about keeping your nerve at this point. It’s fairly terrifying. How do you both feel you want to be perceived in the industry? Whose is your ‘dream career’?
RT: I’ve never thought about how I want to be perceived in the industry beyond being a nice person, a good collaborator and someone who people want to work with? As for a dream career, (I’d be happy with any career) erm… I will have to have a think. Do you have an ‘actual goal’ like that? Maybe I need that… All I know is that I don’t want to move to LA. I like Yorkshire.
AL: I think I decided recently for some reason (probably after going to LA and it scaring the shit out of me how focussed people are), that I needed to find an ideal career path, or at least someone’s career that was ‘emulate-able’. My theory is that it’s easier to turn stuff down if you’re able to give a positive affirmation of what it is you want to do instead. Instead of, like me, when sent some scripts by my agent, saying ‘No. No. Not that. Nah. Um….? No don’t like that either,’ like a grumpy Goth teenager presented with bridesmaid dress options. (YES THIS SUMS ME UP). I reckon Guillermo del Toro is playing a blinder right now, so I’d say there’s be worse things than having a career like his.
By the way, Rachel, you have succeeded in all those things in my book. Plus some other things which you’re too modest to say. But I did remember you saying you felt a bit pigeon-holed about stuff you were being sent. It can be frustrating. I don’t mind having a niche, I just want to have chosen and designed it! I’m sort of paranoid about getting pigeon-holed as a horror director, even though I LOVE horror.
I also do not want to move to LA, but for the sake of not burning any bridges, I will say that I would be willing to work there. I find so much of my inspiration just comes from being British, my immediate life around me, the weather, the funny rhythms people speak with, our repressions, etc etc. Would you not work there eventually? Surely you’re getting loads of interest?
RT: When I was in America my publicist said to me, ‘You need to stop being self-deprecating and sarcastic; Americans don’t get it. They just feel sorry for you and worry about your mental health and self-esteem.’ Ha ha! I know that’s not all Americans but there is definitely a gap. Of course I don’t mind working in the US but I can’t help who I am – and I am also someone who loves weird English idiosyncrasies: woolly jumpers, tea shops, queuing etiquette, colourful descriptive insults masquerading as banter… it’s the detail of Englishness or Britishness that I find the most humour in, of anything anywhere really.
HDL: And that is why I will always watch and love your films. Because of that specificity and joy and identity. And bollocks to anyone who doesn’t think we can’t understand culture from other countries. That’s what movies are for, I reckon.
I grew up in Hong Kong so filmmaking was always synonymous with Hollywood for me. So originally an Oscar was my dream goal (I’ve had a speech ready for years). Now, I think I’ve stopped thinking that way – both in terms of external validation, and the US system. But I have this deeply conflicted part of me that both wants to make movies that lots of people will see – good ones, worldview changing ones that can be watched in a multiplex NOT at an arthouse cinema – and ALSO the most obtuse arty things ever that no-one needs to see but they must be written about in Film Quarterly. I struggle with this bipolar attitude, but hope that the tension between these goals means that whatever I make it might be interesting, and seen somewhere. I guess right now I just want to keep making work, because the only thing I know for certain is that making work is the only way to work out what work I want to make. I AM SO WISE.
AL: I want to hear the Oscar speech. I guess I’ll have to wait for the actual ceremony in 2021 or whenever, sigh.
RT: The Oscars never featured on my radar really growing up in Yorkshire. I just wanted to wear a beret and walk down the Croisette smoking filterless Gauloises and to have everyone respect me for the auteur that I am. This was a vision cultivated by the ‘world cinema’ section of my local Blockbusters of course.
HDL: That sounds amazing. I still hope to see you there. I had two TV channels of over-edited American crap with Chinese subtitles and then a Betamax VCR my father (magpie-of-all-technology-that would-quickly-become-defunct) brought home. I literally watched six movies again and again for about three years. Hollywood/Stockholm syndrome.
HDL: How are you both handling the balance between your own ‘authored’ work, and then work ‘for hire’ (directing or writing only)?
AL: Well it’s interesting that a producer friend of ours posited on Facebook that there was a prejudicial assumption that female directors ‘only do their own stuff.’ At the moment this is the decision I am consciously making! So I’m kind of disproving her theorem. As I said, I’m constantly tempted, for monetary and flattery reasons, but also to get some more experience. I kind of think that if it was an offer from someone I had a huge crush on creatively, I would struggle to say no. Say if a Neil Gaiman script came my way.
But I’ve recently concluded that TV directing is a LOT of work, especially post production etc, without that much kudos. I’m too vain for that, and too pressed for time. So I’m probably only going to direct my own stuff. Sally Potter recently said in an interview, ‘If I don’t direct my own scripts, they go wrong’. And I feel like that too. I’m neither a natural screenwriter, or a jobbing director, so I am staying in my comfort zone for now.
Having said that, I recognise that to up my experience/game/talents/budgets/longevity, I will need to at some point collaborate with screenwriters, etc. I just feel like there’s time for that, and at the moment I want to be in that fun Ken Russell/Nic Roeg incipient five years where you’re just making mad stuff! It’s also worth me saying that in contrast to you two, I’m also a jobbing actress, and I’m trying to keep that plate spinning too. At the moment I’m getting offers that are hard to turn down (thank FUCK. Two years of no acting work after Sightseers!) And I’m giddy with excitement about that. It’s really weird juggling those two things. Being an actor: relatively cosseted, but secretly considered an ignoramus child, or being a director, treated with reverence, but SO much responsibility. At the moment, I really want to do both jobs, so something has to give. And it’s directing other people’s stuff.
I think this means that I am probably not really a director. Just someone who makes some stuff occasionally. Do you see yourselves giving yourself over to either screenwriting or directing at some point? Do you feel it’s an inevitability/ a sacrifice you might have to make? Or do you secretly harbour a preference for one or the other? Rachel, you started out as an editor, do you ever crave to go back and just edit something?! Like, ‘oh thank fuck the whole thing is not my problem, I can only improve it, and people will be fucking grateful!’ (Is this how I feel about acting?! Aaaagh, shhh!)
RT: I haven’t actually had balance my work with others’ just yet as I was adamant that the next thing I did (whether TV or film) should be something I had written. That isn’t to say I haven’t considered things – but frankly, the majority of stuff I have been sent has been of a very specific type: rom-com, whimsical woman-child type stories, which don’t particularly appeal. I have just signed up to do a rewrite and direct on an American film, so I will come back to you about how that is working out in the future. Actually I’ve just realised what your question above means, Alice (about how I am perceived). Clearly I am perceived to be the go-to woman for rom-com whimsical narratives…. I would like to send out the message right now that I would like to be a female Jacques Audiard, but with jokes.
AL: Aha! This is what I was talking about. I see you as exactly Jacques Audiard, even though I don’t know who that is. I basically see him as inspired by you. Derivative possibly. I would be fascinated to know how the US project goes. Do you think we’ve perceived as eccentric Mary Poppins-types? Therefore allowed to use whatever bizarre directing methods we like, such as ‘magic’ and singing birds? Or do you feel nervous? I would be shitting it (no pressure, feel free to be really, like, confident and shit.) I sometimes feel like I’m speaking a different language when I talk to Americans. It’s like they take a bit long to laugh at the stuff I say. Like I’m too dry or something. Or is it just the accent? Hope, you doing any ‘American dabbling’? ‘Dabbling with The Americans,’ a new film starring Woody Harrelson.
RT: ‘Dabbling’ is a precise example of the kind of word I use that makes Americans look at me puzzled. Like when I suggested I could only pay some one in ‘Hobnobs’ (biscuits) and they looked at me like I was suggesting a sexual favour as recompense for work. Also, I do direct with magic and singing birds. Don’t you? Also, also: Of course I am shitting it! I had that precise conversation with my husband this morning. I said – my agent thinks I should do this, but I’m too scared, I don’t know what the F- I am doing…. heeeeelppp me.
HDL: You’re going to be amazing. I’ve just finished doing a rewrite on an American script, to direct. We should swap stories. It’s been brilliant actually. I had no idea how nice it would be. I guess there’s a sense that I’ve been battling so hard to figure out what I wanted to say, make myself stand out, carve out an opportunity to make my own work, that suddenly when other things come along you realise it doesn’t have to be so hard. You don’t HAVE to do it all.
Like, I have this idea for something, and I pitched it to someone who liked it, and I told him I was a bit busy writing at the moment, so it would be a while, and he said ‘well let’s get someone to write it for you.’ HOLY FUCK. Lightbulb moment. What a joy! I mean, clearly it depends on the writing collaborator, and luckily I have a brilliant one I adore, but suddenly everything opened up for me. I DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALL. There’s a part of me that fears relinquishing the auteur thing, but actually – who cares. And my co-writer is a mum who I was at film school with, and lives in… (*looks it up*) Missouri now and has had a tough time getting into the industry because of, you know, life and bills and kids, and I thought: maybe this is the answer. We all bring each other along.
There’s a stat in the Calling the Shots report that says women directors make films less often because they tend to write their own work. And (bringing us neatly back to where we started) given childcare and LIFE are part of the reason why this can happen (or I can imagine it happening in my case) maybe teams are a good idea.
RT: To go back to your question though, Hope, my main balancing ‘problem’ this year has been in developing too many of my own stories. I think fear and financial pressure meant that I said yes to far too many things off the back of my film and when it got to the summer… You know when the road-runner runs off the cliff and he stays in the air for a bit just because his legs are pumping? Well, I felt like that. I started day dreaming about moving to the moors and having a Bronte-esque life of writing (but without all the early death and debt problems). I mean: without computers and treatments and pitch docs and story bibles and more than six projects in various stages of development with different people.
HDL: I hear that. But I also know how hard it is to get ANYTHING made, so I’m not falling into the trap of ‘what’s your next project? Work until you make that’ because then I’m not going to make anything for 10 years. I mean, NOONE gets to make every project they want, except Steven Spielberg and maybe Ava DuVernay, so why fuck around? I’m in this. This is my life. I fought to get to this point, I need to just concentrate and figure out how to do it. (Although I would like advice from Ste and Ava re. how they do it. Guys, if you’re reading this, any tips?)
RT: I am going shit or bust, Hope! I am going to weep at my financiers until they feel so sorry for me that they give me the money just to get me out of the room. It’s literally the only tactic I have. On Adult Life Skills there was a point when I stopped saying ‘I want to make this’ and started saying ‘I am making this, will you do it with me?’ I think that helped enormously actually in terms of momentum and ambition.
HDL: I’ve heard Shane Meadows say that too – I love it.
AL: STEALING THIS.
AL: Rachel, I feel I have done the same. And taken on possibly too much. Especially when you come to a new year, and suddenly the landscape looks different (especially THIS year. Things feel… different.), and you have to reassess and go, ‘This year, do I actually have time to do ALL these projects, AND do them well?’ I can’t decide whether having ten ideas on the go actually helps you do them a bit better because – lack of time to make stupid decisions. Or whether it will all end in disaster. At the end of the day, maybe if we had consumption or something it might really help push some commissioners into giving the green light? Might really add some focus?
My dream would be to just work on one single project every two years and just focus on that and literally do nothing else. But my habit, formed over several years of terror and debt, is to say yes to everything believing that all of it might fall through. It’s an exercise of faith to not do that I reckon. But then, as Hope says, you can fall into a trap of not developing enough and putting all your eggs in one basket. God knows, I’ve made that mistake in the past with television comedy.
But I would love to go and live on the moors. I think we actually chatted about this. I went on a pilgrimage to Haworth, all inspired by the Brontës. (I think you lived there for a bit?) I would love peace and solitude and no emails. But the reality is meetings and bitty things about screenings etc. Not that I’m ungrateful but… Do you find meetings take up a lot of your time? Especially living in Sheffield? How do you deal with all of that, travel, etc?
HDL: I want an assistant. That’s my next goal. To earn enough to employ someone awesome so I don’t have to do emails. The dream.
AL: Neil Gaiman says he realised he was spending more time on emails than on writing. It was a revelation to him that when he just stopped replying to emails, nothing bad happened. Do you ever do, like, an embargo on meetings/emails? I’ve sort of said to my agent that I wanted to stop doing generals for a bit. It takes up the whole day and… it feels a bit like speed dating when you’re already married. (With a mistress and a bit on the side.) D’you know what I mean?
RT: Did Neil G say that? That’s exactly the point I got to before Christmas. My admin was taking sooooo long that it was a major barrier to me actually writing. I decided to employ some rather drastic timescale measures to contain the admin and, like him, I am experimenting in not replying to things (I just feel like an A-hole though!) As for ‘generals’ (hate them) and coming to London for meetings. Frankly six months ago I said to my agent I am not doing it anymore unless they are top top top A-class people who I would die to work with. My agent also told me to memorise the sentence: ‘I’m sorry that’s just not possible,’ lest my hair stared falling out and I just start rocking back and forth in meetings. Did you both take on too much? Alice, you sound like you have had a more healthy approach to it. I think I thought I was passionate about everything in the beginning but that has waned enormously over the twelve months. I need to do a New Year cull.
AL: I’m glad we all have great agents who allow and teach us to say no. My thing is that I am quite lazy. I’m a bit like a lion. Basically a lot of lying around, then one big burst of energy where I go in for the kill and get shit done to everyone’s amazement. I actually find that I need some down time to be creative. You know that thing where you’ve had a shit writing session, then you go to the loo or the shops for a Twix, and suddenly a solution comes to you in a flash? I’ve basically developed a lack of guilt about constructing hiatuses for myself. Because I know I need it. For me it works quite well to finish a draft, then go off to York or wherever to act in a feature, then come back to the draft all fresh and go, ‘This is crap!’ Ha ha. Or, ‘Ok, parts of this are crap, some are actually good. But I have some distance from it to see which is which now.’ I guess the equivalent for you might be going off and directing a commercial (do you do any of that?), or a pilot, or prepping/writing on a different project? How do you ‘keep the wolf from the door?’ I do voiceovers…
RT: Oh my GOD I am a lion! I lie around all the time and then get up and do everything really quickly at once. Thank you for this mirror. I know I did that as an editor, especially on film trailers. I’d do nothing for the first week and a half and then do it all in the last day before the director arrived. Originally I’d beat myself up and stress out about it but then I came to realise that it was a pattern. I did it on every job. As soon as I noticed that it was my process, I just accepted it and enjoyed it more.
HDL: My agent is totally awesome and my strongest ally and protector and I couldn’t do it without her. But I’ve got a lot on: that’s how I keep the wolf from the door. I write. I don’t really have the time or skills to do commercials, I’m not very interested in doing casual telly, plus I live in Scotland so there isn’t a tonne going here. So I write, and now I have 43 projects in development, but it does at least fund my chocolate habit.
Seriously though, my biggest problem is brain space. I thought it would be easy to be writing five things at once, but it turns out I’m a different person for every one of those different projects (see above), and so it’s inevitably a bit of a mental swing from one thing to the next. I still love all the projects I’ve got, but I’m also aware that the chances of making them all is slim to none, so there is a part of me that feels this is inefficient. Which is a big thing for me. Like, I’ve only got a certain number of hours in the day, and I need to see my kids and my husband, and my friends and family, and maybe even look after myself, so efficiency is my primary mode. I need to make sure every project I’m on is something I believe in. The only way I’ve dealt with the natural inefficiency in development is by thinking, well, even if I don’t get to make this one, hopefully I will have learnt a lot, or if it goes to someone else, the project will be in a far better state than it was when it arrived with me. But on days with less clarity I’m less wise, obviously.
In answer to your question, Alice, I guess I want a career like Richard Linklater’s: he makes such a wide range of work, some truly experimental and some arty and some broad and mainstream. Peter Weir is a bit of a hero too. But then there are days when I think, I just want to be Jane. Or Lynne. Or Ingmar.
AL: Ah, yes, the longevity of Linklater would be great! I see you doing any of that, and any of the above. It would be lovely to have a bit of commercial success as well as arthouse respectability! I’m between two stalls myself in terms of inclination. Sometimes that can be a bit annoying. I found that with awards… I’m no longer seen as a newcomer because of Sightseers, so I’m not eligible for some of the newcomer stuff. But yet of course Prevenge was obviously a debut. But I’ve always had that. I’m told I’m too old, or too young, too new, or too established, or too commercial, or not commercial enough, or too genre or not genre enough. I’m just about getting to the point where I’m enjoying not being classified! So why I’m asking you to classify yourselves I don’t quite know… We should all just want to be ourselves I guess!
HDL: I think the question around how we model our careers is interesting – with reference to your comment above Alice, about acting and writing and directing and not really being one thing. I think there are so many people who have had careers that aren’t clearly defined, but as we are trying to professionalise ourselves we forget about them. John Cassavetes for example. A total groundbreaker. Alice, maybe you’re like that? As you say, just be YOU and that’s the thing we should be excited about. There’s an American filmmaker called Josephine Decker who is a total hero of mine: she acts, directs, and creates some of the most extraordinary work which is in a very real sense an exploration of questions around what it is exactly that she’s doing. I love these people. BUT it tends to be harder to be a groundbreaker when you have little people to look after. You can’t just go into the hills (or moors) for a month to write.
That was one of the things I loved so much about Prevenge, Alice. This idea that you had incorporated your life into your work. Your pregnancy became the thing you made a film about. I think about that a lot but I think it’s harder with kids. Because they are their own people, and you can’t just drag them along with you, forcing them to be part of your great plan. They have needs and wants and need to be independent and create their own lives. But I cling on to the fact my inner life remains my own. And so my drive to take inspiration from what I’m living, and feed that into stories, becomes all the more crucial.
AL: YES! I’d love to be Cassavetes, imagine. I hadn’t really thought about Prevenge in that way, but it’s true. Instead of navigating/squeezing ourselves into other people’s framework, the solution can be creating your own template. One that fits with you and your life. And art is life and life art and all that. I am getting to the point where Della is getting her own life increasingly now, nursery and the prospect of new friends, playdates, hobbies etc. And this is gonna change things a lot for me.
But on the other hand, any parent needs to have an ‘inner life’ to not go absolutely nuts. I guess it’s about balancing those two. But to anyone considering parenthood, Rachel, (even though you are already a step-mum), I would say it absolutely will not be detrimental to your creative processes. I mean, everyone is different. But Prevenge, the whole thing was about my fear of becoming a different person after childbirth. The ‘death of the self’! And then finding out I was the same person. With some add-ons. (a couple of inches round the hips and the ability to catch stuff in my sleep). But I see you as someone who draws richly from your own experiences and world. I can’t see you not being enriched by it.
HDL: ENRICHED! EXACTLY THE WORD!
AL: If you were someone who only writes heavily researched period pieces about the Crusades, then, maybe, it might take you away from your work somewhat. But even then… You would find a way to make it work. Not that I would ever suggest that it’s only parents who have more emotional range or depth of feeling or any of that shite. I just think, if you wanna do it, do it. I remember, in my twenties, working with some actresses in their 30s and 40s who all had kids. I asked their advice, ‘When did you know was the right time to do it?’ And they said, ‘It’s never the right time. If you think that way you’ll never do it.’ And, like, fifteen years later I am echoing their advice! Or alternatively you can MAKE it the right time to do it by having a life crisis and making a film about it at the same time…
RT: I think because I am a lion (thanks, Alice) and I have suffered with terrible insomnia since I was a child, I am not enormously worried about the ‘time restrictive’ / knackered-ness elements of having a kid. Most of my actual work is done washing the pots, dog walking, driving the car, in the middle of the night, waiting for my daughter to finish drama… etc and the rendering of that into a treatment or a script is done in a very compressed amount of time. I will lock myself away for three days to draft a script but during that time I don’t wash, I don’t exercise, I eat standing up in the kitchen in my pajamas. I’m like Kerouac right?
I think the thing for me about timing of a kid is really only around the shoot. Like in my head it would be fine to make a film pregnant – after the first 12 weeks maybe (for tiredness reasons) but it would be a mistake to be in full-on prep or on a shoot in the first three months after having given birth… That gives me a window to try and get knocked up (if my husband is reading this).
AL: I have just done a shoot as an actress, almost as an experiment to see how it would work out. I asked for childcare and they included it in the budget. Yay! And Raising Films have been instrumental in making me feel okay to do that. Seriously Raising Films have changed my life, you could not be picking a better time to choose to make a film and have a baby I think. (Thanks Hope, CBTF, et al!) And their continued work is going to normalise this by simply raising the profile of the notion. Having a nanny for that period was a REVELATION. The thing is, I have middle class guilt to get over with that. But Della really did have the MOST fun, it was like she was on holiday. Our nanny Amelia was just a great human being. And at the end of the day, I’m with Della 24/7 for 80% of the time all the time in my life generally, which is a huge privilege in this day and age. So, really, it’s about getting our heads round the idea that it can be incredibly fulfilling for both parent and child for a mother to be in a creative film career. I want Della to get used to my workplace, seeing mummy being a director, knowing that she has access to me when I’m working, and that when I’m not working she has my full and happy attention.
At the risk of sounding evangelical, I actually am advocating this as a great era to make a film with kids in tow. And the experiment paid off as it made me think a shoot with a baby would not be too bad. I think again, you gotta draw your own template for it. I’m designing a shoot where I can have set visits from Della with her childcare, and compartmentalise the shoot. 5 day weeks is possibly a new rule! We’ll see! And office hours on the edit too. It’s all about budget. But also about supportive producer, which I’m so lucky to have. Some of it ties in with the new debate about working hours. I think we all need to address some rather macho bullshit fallacies about creativity, and how art is only valid if it’s anti-social, anti-domestic, and self-torturous! It’s about proving that wrong.
HDL: How do you both manage having other human beings in your world, when you want to get lost in being a selfish artist?
AL: Oh God. Rachel?
RT: Well I have a very supportive husband who also writes and script edits so in a way, my problem is the reverse. We often joke that there are about 20 (imaginary) people in our relationship because we discuss all of our characters all the time, just casually, as though they were real… We’ll see a woman wearing something at the bus stop and say, she looks like XXX in your script. Or hear some music: XXX would listen to that. Creating boundaries is more of the issue. As for the kids, well, they are teenagers now which makes things easier – but actually I always found that they sort of made my work better anyway. The things they say and do make me see things differently and snap me out of cyclical thoughts, AND, someone once said to me: if you want to be a successful writer and parent you need to abandon the idea of a perfect work space and just teach yourself to make your laptop an office. That is, to be able to work anywhere, at anytime, in whatever space and to just be able to block out what is happening around you. I’ve learned to do that, but I do think being a lion and working in a very focussed way, helps enormously.
Are you a lion, Hope? You mentioned going to the moors for a month. I would love to do that but I also know I’d spend 28 days romping around in the heather, building fires and drinking red wine with a book – and then I’d do all the work in the last few days and just pretend to my husband that I had been working tirelessly the whole time.
AL: I want to put, ‘are you a lion, Hope?’ into a script somewhere. It reminds me when George Galloway said, ‘do you want me to be the cat?’ to Rula Lenska on Celebrity Big Brother. (Ha, decipher THAT American readers!)
HDL: Definitely a lion – I sleep a lot, I like to be cosy, curl up and then pounce on things. And I am totally a laptop office person. I have a desk, but I rarely sit at it. I write anywhere else, drag my laptop with me wherever I go, and have recently started writing with headphones on (but no music) to keep out noise. I also love to watch things. That’s something that has disappeared recently for me, and I’m desperate to get that back, because there’s nothing like getting lost in a story, or seeing a film made in a way you’ve never seen before, or being swept away by a performance. I think that’s why I want a month on the moors. I’ve got a lot of films to see. You coming?
AL: ALREADY THERE.