Can you tell us about working on WONDER WOMAN – you were location managing while pregnant with your second child, is that right?
I was five months pregnant when I went on the film, and seven and a half months when I left. Because I’d done a big number before in Trafalgar Square – we landed a helicopter in the square, that was a big deal! – so the production manager, who knew about that, asked me to come onto the project as they were having some challenges. He was really supportive, and knew about my condition. He said, “It’ll be great, your hormones will give everyone a boost” – because there were so many women in the cast and crew…
Trafalgar Square was huge: we had 500 crowd and we had to dress a road with period cars, because we were recreating Armistice Sunday. We shut down the square, including all pedestrians, for 3 hours on a Sunday morning, and used lots of the infrastructure like hotels for the extras and costumes. It went really smoothly, it was a really good day. We shot for about three hours – but then you have to clear everything up. It was about 10 o’ clock when my feet gave out, so I just sat on a chair in the middle of Trafalgar Square giving orders on the radio. It was brilliant.
How did the rest of the production team react?
Once we were wrapped, I did an interview for the EPK (press kit), and the interviewer said, “You literally are Wonder Woman, aren’t you?” and I was so embarrassed but also really pleased. My team were behind me clapping. It’s a bit overwhelming if you’re not used to being the person who’s on camera, but it meant a lot.
I think I’m very fortunate, especially compared to stories I’ve heard from other women in the industry, but I have to say that at Warner Bros, I’ve felt very protected. I was given a unit car for if I felt too tired; they wrote risk assessments for me.
It was really a great experience working on that film – I hadn’t planned to be in that situation, working that late in my second pregnancy, after my experience in my first pregnancy. But I found that I’d learned to ask for what I needed and I was also given a lot. Maybe we’re sometimes our own worst enemy for not asking – when we ask for support, we can push the boundaries of what we think we’re able to do when pregnant.
Did it make a difference working for a director who is a parent herself?
It really helps when there are more women with children on the film. Patty Jenkins is a mum. Gal Gadot is a mum, and her daughter, who is six, was on set; her husband was there, and they’ve got a good family support network.
Tommy Gormley, who was the first AD and co-producer, is a parent and he gets it; and there are a lot of men in the industry who are dads and have seen what their partners go through. So no-one from the production team felt like my pregnancy was a hindrance, which was nice. I wasn’t in front of the camera so much this time; I hid in the office a bit because of the experience of my last pregnancy, but I felt so supported. It was really empowering – and that does come down from the director setting the tone.
What does your older daughter think of your job?
She’s three, so she understands my job as going to get money so that she can go to Disneyland. She’s just started to see films, and she will say “That’s Mummy’s work!” She’s seen the Wonder Woman trailer, and she’s excited, but I think she thinks it’s a real world, and I work with the characters as real people. It’s all about imagination to her right now.
She’s come with me on letter drops for residents, and she’s been in the office. My niece and nephew have been on sets with me – they’ve been in Pirates of the Caribbean – and I want her to have that opportunity. Working in this industry was my dream, and I want her to know that I didn’t have to stop working just because I had children.
Most of us had mums who stayed at home, and we often try and measure ourselves against them even though are lives are very different, so you just can’t. Let that go. A happy mum is a happy child, that’s what matters.
Is there anyone who has become a role model for you?
There’s a woman, Sue Quinn, who has absolutely been a mentor for me. I started 12 years ago as a security guard, watching trucks and streets, and she really took me under her wing. She’s from a very different background from me, but she oozes equal opportunities without even knowing it. She’s taken on my career, and made me feel able to have children in this industry.
Although she doesn’t have children, she’s lived a life, and so she has that experienced grounding where nothing really phases her. For a location manager, it’s so important, because all you do is deal with people, so if you can reassure people, that’s half the battle.
I was the first woman in security; they were all big men, and I was 21, but I had a first boss who was very supportive of women. One day, I just asked a guy who was guarding a street, “How did you get into film set security?”, because I had an SIA from working in a nightclub and knew that film security got better money. Two guys told me, we don’t have women in this game, but the third told me to speak to Spike, and he said, “I’ll give you a go.” I think I might have told him, “I can take any of your blokes,” which was ridiculous. But he gave me a chance.
And now there’s plenty of women in security, and some firms even prefer to use them because they can be better at defusing situations.
What would you most like to see change about the industry? What changes would help you sustain your career?
I’ve come up through every rank of the industry. I’ve just done a job where I was unit production manager, and I’m totally ready to move on to production manager, but I know I’m going to have to stay as location manager, because starting at 5 am and finishing at 10 pm, that’s what’s expected of a production manager, and you just can’t do that with kids, there’s no way I’ll be physically able to do that.
But I think we can reshape people’s expectations: people do it like that just because it’s been done. And people don’t like to be the first to leave the office because they’re worried they look lazy. Even when I’m sending my own team home because there’s nothing to do, they won’t leave until I leave, they’re afraid someone will come in and take their jobs.
That’s where big studios can have power. Production is constant now, with no breaks, so things have to start getting better so that people don’t burn out, and studios are starting to change that through their in-house health and safety teams.
My dream job would be line producer or production manager with a crèche in the studio: and then you could juggle so much more if you knew your kids were close by. I’ve got a wonderful nanny, and if my little girl is with her, she’s having an exceptional time. But if I’m there she wants me. It’s not about not having her near me – it would be fine having her in a crèche, but having her on set, I’d feel torn.
What advice would you give to people who are thinking about working in location and production management roles, and who are or are planning to be parents or carers?
I run an advice service for location managers through Facebook group with 500 members – people can ask me anything. I don’t think I’m anything exceptional, I’ve just had a great support system, so it’s on me to share what I’ve seen done and how it can work.
I have a rule where I only work with people that I worked with before, because I think a lot of it is about trust. I ask to get in a bit later, and leave a bit earlier before traffic, so I can do the bedtime routine, then I pick up my computer and do the bits of work that are still needed.
People who I’ve worked with before know I’ll get it done, to the same standard. They don’t expect me to do the standard location manager 16 hour day in the office – and that’s an archaic way of working anyway. We have phones and internet now. Of course, on a big shoot day, I’m there, but if it’s planned right, then that’s not needed in prep.
I am trying to support members of my team who are having children, and there are more of them than ever because the industry is growing. So I want to pass on what I’ve learned to the next generation.
I tell them, just do it. There’s never a right time – you always feel you want more money, or a better job. Because we always do what we think is expected to us, when there’s something else in your life demanding 100%, you can’t give that to your job and your family – and that gives you a sense of reassurance and ease, that everything will get done.
What skills has parenting given you (or sharpened up) that are also useful in location management? And vice versa: is getting bedtime to work similar to closing down Trafalgar Square?
I’ve always been a good location manager, but before I had children I didn’t realise the consequences of how I could be towards people – now I’m a mum, I look at things with a much more sympathetic eye; I try not to be so militant and to be more nurturing with my team.
I’ll always be demanding because that’s what the job requires, but I work a lot better with praise, I give a lot of praise and that gets good results rather than putting pressure on people, and that comes from being a mum. It’s everything, it really is. I respond to it well, too. We can all check ourselves once in a while for how we behave towards others, and that is something I’ve learned as a mum.
My daughter’s not so great at cleaning up her toys – she puts a couple of things away and then she announces that she’s tired – but she’s a great delegator. She’s definitely got that from me.