We caught up with the creative team behind A Deal With The Universe, a feature documentary that premiered (to standing ovation) at last year’s Flare Film Festival, to talk about the team’s history with Raising Films and how they made a film while their children were at school.
A Deal With The Universe is the first feature from writer/director Jason Barker and producer Loran Dunn, the editor is Rachel Meyrick. A Deal With The Universe received development support from the Wellcome Trust and production finance from BFI, Sharp House and LUSH Film Fund.
The film draws on personal filmed diaries shot over the past fifteen years that document both Jason’s transgender journey and his parental journey with his partner Tracey.
In Autumn 2016 writer/director Jason and editor Rachel attended a Raising Films training day at FilmBath Festival called Making It Possible. Then in 2017 Jason and Rachel took part in CLOSR, Raising Films’ development programme that aims to help participants clarify individual career objectives, expand regional networks and collaborators and develop projects with peer and expert feedback.
“As a parent I hadn’t seen a place for myself in the film industry”
Jason commented on the experience of attending these events, “They changed the way I thought about myself and my career. I realised afterwards that as a parent I hadn’t seen a place for myself in the film industry. It was so empowering to be amongst a community of parent filmmakers with the same worries and fears and it become apparent to all of us that we had to find new ways of working.”
While Rachel said, “Jason and I had both done the biggest film career destroying moves; moving out of London and having kids. Taking part in the CLOSR course in Bath was so refreshing as we could see others just like us wanting to reclaim our careers. But what it also did was to bring Jason and I closer and pushed us forward toward talking about a potential feature documentary.”
With the creation of A Deal With The Universe being centred around Jason’s filmed diaries everything was focused on the edit. The creative team took a decision about the schedule, budgeted for it and for five months from their base in the South West Jason and Rachel worked through those hours and hours of footage and created the film all around their respective children’s school hours.
Their family-friendly schedule not only meant the working day revolved around school and childminder hours but it left weekends free from work with time to spend with family. Freeing up their weekends from the pressure of an edit allowed them the space and time for reflection, which Jason and Rachel agree really benefited the creative process.
Rachel expands on this, “One of the amazing things about being a parent, as most of us know, is that we end up having these small yet valuable windows of productivity but once we had secured our childcare for the edit of the film those windows expanded into full glorious days of productivity. We spent five months searching for the story in Jason’s DV tapes.”
From a producer’s perspective Loran is keen to replicate this flexible and accommodating approach on her other projects, but realises the entrenched and embedded ‘work all the hours possible in a day’ approach within the industry is a tough hurdle.
“We need to find a more balanced way of working for both our physical and mental health, and actually, our productivity”
Loran explains further, “It often feels on productions that there’s this kind of life or death mentality, that if the shoot day isn’t 18 hours long that it’s not going to be good enough, that people need to be exhausted to prove their worth. This is something that really has to change, we need to find a more balanced way of working for both our physical and mental health, and actually, our productivity.”
When putting the budget together for A Deal With The Universe Loran was totally committed to including childcare costs. “I had it in there right from the start,” she commented, “I felt really strongly about it and that in order to achieve the film the parents involved should have their minimal childcare costs covered to alleviate the pressure.”
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.
“It felt important to us that we were recognised as working parents”
Editor Rachel continues, “We were all adamant from the outset that childcare would be an above the line cost, after all we were making a film about having kids, whilst having kids. It felt important to us that we were recognised as working parents. Myself and Jason were both using the same child minder (our kids are at the same school) so the costs were super cheap. Sadly the film industry wasn’t ready for our approach and our idea was rejected by funders.”
“Something that I didn’t know… is how long it can take for money to actually come into bank accounts”
The rejection of childcare as a valid budget line wasn’t the only financial issue faced by the production, as Jason explains, “Something that I didn’t know before we began this process is how long it can take for money to actually come into bank accounts. None of us have independent wealth so this proved a problem. It meant either waiting for months, or working on the film without getting paid while borrowing money in order to pay out for childcare in order to work.”
Many producers have to contend with cash flow issues and it’s an issue that Loran is particularly focused on changing. “Being part of a new generation of producing talent I want to find a way to fix these issues,” she commented. “I’m working with two other producers, Helen Simmons and Sophie Reynolds, to facilitate a UK Producer’s Roundtable. We’ve seen around thirty independent Producers attending. Some are making their first features and others have made some of the biggest British films in recent years. We all feel really strongly about making independent producing more accessible. We’ve just run a survey asking for people’s experiences and hope to release a set of best practice guidelines, they’ll undoubtedly include prompt payment and cash flow, because without this a small production can be really crippled.”
You can contact the UK Producer’s Roundtable via email
What’s next for A Deal With The Universe and the team?
“Well Jason and I are developing a new project,” says Loran, “and A Deal With The Universe is on its festival tour. It screened at BFI Flare as our World Premiere, then Galway Film Fleadh as our Irish Premiere before doing Olso Fusion Film Festival, Stockholm Cinequeer and SQIFF. It’s due to screen at MIX Copenhagen in October, Jason and I are going out and he’s taking his partner Tracey and their child.” She added, “and we’ve also just signed a deal with a distributor for a release next year too!”
A Deal With The Universe will be released by Peccadillo Pictures as the lead title in the distributor’s selection of films to celebrate LGBT History Month next February. A spokesperson for Peccadillo commented, “The film will mainly have event screenings from February onwards, it’s a very unique and special film and we’re getting a great early response from cinemas.”