Having my daughter, Nikita, is the best thing that has happened to me, personally and professionally. It is often assumed that having children halts careers but she made my career.
Alex Kalymnios is a film and and TV drama director whose recent credits include the Lifetime/Sony TV movie Cleveland Abduction starring Taryn Manning, Raymond Cruz, Pam Grier and Joe Morton, and an episode of WGN/Fox 21 Salem Series 2 (air date 24th May 2015). She has directed over 30 hours of British TV for the BBC and Channel 4, including: Waterloo Road (BBC1), Eastenders (BBC1) , Becoming Human (BBC3), Hollyoaks Later (E4), Hollyoaks (Channel 4), Seacht (BBCNI), and The Cut (BBC2). She received a BAFTA Cymru nomination for Becoming Human (2012) and won the Broadcast Director Hot Shot Award (2009).
How did you feel when you found out you were pregnant?
I found out I was pregnant whilst I was in LA doing my first round of meetings. I had just signed with The Gersh agency, and I was really excited about the possibility of working in the US, as I had always dreamed of working in Hollywood. I am also Greek with an extended family and family means everything to me. I have always wanted children, so I was ecstatic at the unexpected news.
Did you have a plan about how you were going to manage your career after Nikita arrived?
Having my daughter, Nikita, is the best thing that has happened to me, personally and professionally. It is often assumed that having children halts careers but she made my career. Suddenly, I had to choose very carefully what jobs to take. Time became even more of a precious commodity and once I had Nikita, I learned to say “no”. I had to become more efficient and use any spare moment I could grab (which in the early days is not a lot!) to focus on what I wanted to achieve in my career. I wrote an email to my UK agent with “year off” plan. I wanted to work on my own features, develop my own TV shows and focus on TV work in the USA. In the end, my “year off” was busy, I got shortlisted for iFeatures, shot a TV movie Cleveland Abduction and an episode of Salem, both in the USA.
What happened when she did arrive? How did you change?
I basically learned to say no to jobs for the first time and really focused on what I wanted to achieve and what projects were most important to me and to the development of my career. It was liberating… and exhausting! Nothing quite prepares you to be a new mum.
I worried that simply by admitting I had a young child, I risked losing the job. The Sony exec replied “we would never not hire you because you have a baby.” … [This] should be the standard response in the industry.
How did the US job come about?
Literally, out of the blue. One evening I get a call from my US agent (who didn’t yet know about Nikita!) who told me I had to read this script and let them know asap if I was interested. I was feeding Nikita to sleep whilst reading the script and I emailed back straight away that I would love to be put in the mix. The next day, a meeting was set up with Sony. I will always remember this phone interview. It was going really well and I knew I had a real chance of getting the job. I then had to nervously tell them I had a 4 month old baby whom I was breastfeeding and I wasn’t entirely sure how it could all work out (as they wanted me out in LA within 14 days). I worried that simply by admitting I had a young child, I risked losing the job. The Sony exec replied “we would never not hire you because you have a baby, If you need a nanny we can fly one out and help organise things, we can give you feeding breaks on sets – we can make anything work.”
I was amazed by this supportive attitude. On reflection, I realised that this shouldn’t feel like an exceptional response, this should be the standard response in the industry. Having children doesn’t mean you can’t direct. It simply means you need a plan and production companies should do everything they can to support that plan.
What was your thought process in taking the job?
Err…can I really do this with a 4 month old baby? Is this crazy? Wait – Nikita hasn’t even got a passport! There were a million logistical questions rushing through my head. In the end, my O1 visa couldn’t be arranged in time, which to be honest, was a little bit of a relief. But it did get me thinking: if the opportunity presented itself again (as the producers said they had another film they would like to send me) I would have a plan ready. A few months later, true to their word, the producers offered me another film Cleveland Abduction, based on the true story of Michelle Knight who was held captive for 11 years by abuser Ariel Castro.
What do you do with Nikita while you are working? How often do you see her?
Once I got the job on Cleveland Abduction my “what if” plan went in to action. Getting the job was, once again, very last minute but this time Sony organised my visa in anticipation of the network’s green light. I got the job on the Friday and was flown out to start the following week. My mother flew out with me and Nikita and later my husband, Giles joined us and took over looking after Nikita. It was a family work adventure.
Working in the USA is hardcore. Prep days are long and shoot hours are even longer. So I will be honest, during the filming it was hard to spend time with Nikita but I always made sure I saw her in some way everyday. Because of the odd hours and a lot of night shoots, it did mean I could get to see her in the morning or she would be awake when I had early call times.
How did the producers/financiers facilitate having your daughter around?
They were great and took tangible steps that helped facilitate me having my family with me. For example, they provided us with a two bed hotel apartment, which meant that when returning from late shoots, I didn’t have to wake or disturb my husband or daughter.
I am in the lucky position of having a supportive husband and family, and so… the best part of the project was being able to bring my family with me.
What part of the filmmaking process has been the most complicated for parenting – prep, production, post? What are the different challenges and how do you meet them?
Shoots are always the toughest part, but they are also over before you know it (Cleveland Abduction was an 18 day shoot and Salem only a 7 day shoot) so remembering that fact whilst you are in thick of it – makes your appreciate every moment both on and off set.
I am in the lucky position of having a supportive husband and family and so, for both Cleveland Abduction (which was shot in Cleveland) and Salem (which was shot in Louisiana) the best part of the project was being able to bring my family with me. When I have previously directed, I am always leaving my husband behind for a few months as I re-locate to another part of the UK. So for once, we were all there as a family doing this together, which made it extra special.
How is your husband handling being the primary parent? How are you handling it?
He loves it and knows this time with Nikita is precious. And I love the fact they now have such a close bond. Overall, I just feel really lucky to have Nikita and Giles. He is fully supportive of my career but also has his own career, as a talented engineer and product designer, so we are just taking it one project at a time and will continue to support each other to achieve our dreams as long as it works for us a family. Family comes first.
What’s been your biggest challenge in becoming a parent?
There are have been so many and they keep changing. I think one I wasn’t quite prepared for is that you are not only your child’s provider and carer but also a role model for them. She is making me want to be a better person – in all respects. And I want my daughter to know she can achieve anything she puts her mind to.
The question isn’t if women can direct action but whether the industry is willing to set aside its long outdated, sexist stereotyping about female directors’ interests and capabilities.
Can women direct action
I was recently asked this exact question in a job interview. I explained how I love directing action, described all my previous work with stunts e.t.c. I talked about how I meticulously plan my stunts and vfx sequences with storyboards and/or shot lists. Then, I left the interview and realised I shouldn’t have said anything – as let’s face it – it is such a stupid question. Women have been directing films since the earliest days of cinema. Kathryn Bigelow directed Point Break more than twenty years ago. The question isn’t if women can direct action but whether the industry is willing to set aside its long outdated, sexist stereotyping about female directors’ interests and capabilities.