Sophie Hyde directed, produced and co-wrote eye innovative feature drama 52 TUESDAYS which won the directing award for world cinema at Sundance 2014 and the Crystal Bear at the Berlinale 2014. As a producer, her documentaries include SAM KLEMKE’S TIME MACHINE (Sundance 2015) SHUT UP LITTLE MAN! AN AUDIO MISADVENTURE (Sundance 2011) and LIFE IN MOVEMENT (Australian Documentary Prize 2012), which she also co-directed. Sophie was Executive Producer on TV projects including STUNT LOVE and Dendy Award winning I WANT TO DANCE BETTER AT PARTIES. She is currently a recipient of the Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship and Screen Australia’s Feature Enterprise Program.
You made one of the most remarkable #RaisingFilms films of recent years – you scheduled 52 Tuesdays around childcare, is that right? You made the film with your partner and your daughter has a small role in the film.
I think the answer is multilayered. I didn’t exactly schedule the making of 52 Tuesdays around childcare but I did have a young child and I was trying to imagine how to create alongside that. When the writer Matt Cormack approach Bryan (DP/Editor and my partner) and I with the concept of a film set and shot every Tuesday for a whole year, I think it sparked a lot of curiosity in us with regards to a potential story, but also thinking about challenging the very industrial model that films are made within. I don’t think that model has every felt quite right to us, and because we share a child, it’s also very hard for us to maintain working together and raising them unless we challenge the way we create.
That balance between work and other life is something that many people who know me would argue I don’t have, but actually raising Audrey has happened within the world of our making films – those two things sit together and are juggled and prioritized at various times together. I don’t know how else to do that. With 52, I certainly felt that I spent considerable time being a parent that year (or two) even though the film was also very encompassing. A shorter but more intensive shoot clears out faster but it also means really stopping everything else for the time you are doing it. I stop everything except parenting and working.
But even within this model, I recognize that I have this wonderful bunch of collaborators (collective Closer Productions based in Adelaide) who all work hard to ensure this works for all our lives and I have family support to help us with this. And we live in a small place that allows for a certain lifestyle without earning much. I have no idea how someone without all those elements of support manages this.
And 52 is a story about parenting and child-ing (is that a verb? It should be)! Why was it so important to you to tell a story about family (and about this particular family), and to make it work for/with your family?
When we had that first concept from Matt, we went into a program called FILMLAB run by the South Australian Film Corporation and developer Stephen Cleary. Inside that Lab we knew were were going to make a low budget film but we still didn’t have characters or a story – everything was open aside from the concept.
In our conversations it was very apparent that together we were drawn to a family, what I would call a queer family, and it was the relationship between parent and child that we centered in on. I am very interested in how, as parents, we show ourselves to our children, the ways we reveal to them ourselves beyond (and alongside) being their parent. In my experience some people meet their parents as real humans very late in life, when their parents are sick for instance, or at a time that they find very confronting. Some people meet their parents early, and grow up understanding them as fellow humans, sometimes to a fault.
For Billie, the teenage character in our film, this is the process of her properly meeting her parent as an adult and being able to decide what relationship she wants with them. So it’s very much about parenting and how open to be and child-ing as well.
And what did that mean practically for making the film – on-set and in the planning?
We are very fortunate to have the support of my mum who had Audrey every Tuesday – that was just a given – she would stay at our house and regardless of whether the shoot was 12 hours or 2, she had her. As for prep and rehearsals we managed to juggle that because we were only ever in prep for a few weeks worth of shoot at a time. So Bryan and I shared the childcaring depending on the needs of the film and of Audrey at any time. And our company had structured the way we were paid and how we managed that with the budget so that we had a set wage for the whole time we worked – a very low wage, but it all came from the project consistently.
How did people respond to the film’s project (from financiers onwards through audiences)? And how has it influenced your work on other/future projects?
I most often get the really positive responses of course, people feel very engaged in the characters and their story and then secondarily in the process we made the film within. I think we had to confront a constant expectation in audiences (often pushed by the market to a degree) that the film is a trans-film or a trans-story which isn’t quite how it feels and certainly not how we think of it – we think it’s got a trans character but it isn’t defined by the internal workings/experience of that character and isn’t created by a trans person. So that was at times an expectation I felt important to counter, to allow an audience to come in without that pre-conceived expectation and be able to participate in the story that questions identity and gender in a fluid way and acknowledge that it wasn’t a trans person’s story.
The project has hugely influenced my working life. For one, it has given me more opportunities to drive at the kind of work I want to make – people are generally interested to hear what we want to do now – it’s still a huge challenge to finance things but people will give me the time for a conversation.
How have caring responsibilities shaped/changed your creative and/or business practices over time? Are you surprised by where you are now?
Having Audrey made my work focus much stronger. Those first few years were a real shock to my system and I found it incredibly difficult being a mother. But as she got older I found that my drive about work was very strong and it mattered more what I put my time to and finding out ways to make the work I really wanted to make, not just anything. Audrey has taught me a huge amount about being a human and that influence on the work I do is profound.
The challenges come mostly from a feeling that I wish I could split myself in two very often – travelling a lot and being really focused on releasing a film or developing it is really exciting and important but I feel taken away from her and then being at home I can feel disconnected from the world. As Audrey gets older that becomes easier but still not without its heart wrench. But I decided to live with that, to feel that loss in both worlds and know it’s because I love them and I love what I do and those double passions are very strong and enriching, if bittersweet.
What advice would you offer someone thinking about becoming a writer, director and producer, and wanting to have a family life as well?
We need creators of all kinds, creators who have all kinds of experience, we can’t just be limited to the one kind of person so there have to be ways to accommodate different kinds of storytellers – be that different cultural backgrounds or privilege. That means we need to find other ways to support some people, or childcare or other methodologies to support parents, or ways to bring more women into the driver’s seat or ways to support gender-diverse filmmakers or people with disabilities. For us to culturally thrive, to challenge the very boring dominant voice, we need to ensure there are ways to help that happen. For me, this has meant really creating this myself, there certainly wasn’t anyone offering me that. But I have a lot of privilege to be able to create that. And that’s still been a huge challenge. So you find what you can to support you, you try and work out the life you want, what will help make that work, knowing that it will be different for everyone.
Is there anyone who has been or become a role model for you (in film, in the arts, or generally) – and why? Any inspirational work practices?
I’ve always been drawn to stories of people who all work together, acting ensembles and collectives and that’s because I think the idea is that you see each other as humans, dedicated to the work but also to each other, and therefore the work can thrive because you aren’t just filling pre-ordained “roles” or “jobs”.
What good or bad attitudes have you encountered in the Australian film industry? Are there individuals or companies that have been particularly supportive?
Like everywhere we have a huge problem in Australia with diversity and female voices behind the camera – particularly driving the films. Sometimes I think it’s looking up and there are so many exciting women making films and new voices rising, but the numbers are still very, very poor. That means that the unconscious bias we have is still very strong and I do feel that in myriad ways in my own career. It also means we aren’t finding ways to make in other models that really support difference, so generally we are always going to help rise up the same people to be really good.
Screen Australia is strongly trying to confront this but as we know it’s a very, very complex issue. Recently someone there made the comment that coming in with on all male team in 2017 wouldn’t be looked on favourably (or similar) and there was some backlash to that. To me that’s a reasonable thing to say – it’s so clear that the market-driven model has been selecting and raising up the male voices for ever and continues to do so – that’s very clear in the stats. I don’t think Screen Australia was suggesting that they don’t want to fund men, just that people need to be considerate to thinking broadly about the experience of their team.
I think it’s crucial that places like Screen Australia tackle the deficit – if they are charged with supporting Australian voices, then the distinct lack of female voices for instance, speaks to a failure to do that. If we are protecting Australian voices through our national funding agency then that needs to reflect Australia – and the 12% (or 17%) of directors who are women isn’t reflecting the 50% of the population who are. I think the market will still keep supporting those other films/filmmakers, so I don’t feel worried for them. Even with an attempt to shift the perspective, I doubt we will see close to 50% anytime soon, so it’s hard to feel that men are in any way disadvantaged by the attempts.
Do you see a difference between documentary production and exhibition, and narrative feature production and exhibition, when it comes to making space for parents/carers and work/life balance?
You would think that documentary filmmaking would actually be very difficult for parents because if a story is happening it can’t be scheduled. But documentary-making is generally more of a dance between lives and drama very rarely allows for that. There is a feeling in drama that there is really only one model still which is very limiting. So you end up with the same number of days, same number of crew etc, just connected to the budget. There is rarely a deep conversation about methodology. In documentary that is always up for grabs I think, the expectation is you will talk about it.
Before Audrey was in 52 Tuesdays, how did she understand what you did? Had she seen any of your other films? What does she think about your work?
Well I am sitting at a coffee shop with her while I right this, so I asked her to answer and she said…
“I saw it as that you made art, but I didn’t know what exactly that was. I had seen Necessary Games (a triptych of short dance films we had made) but I didn’t quite get it and then after 52 I got it a bit more and saw that it was stories and stuff. I had seen Life In Movement (a feature documentary which she had travelled a bit with us for) but it was a doc and after 52 I saw it more as storytelling or I understood that more.”
Interestingly she was also only 4 when we started developing 52 and 6 when we shot and 8 when it was released. She also said…
“I think your work is beautiful and well thought out and created and there is so many deeper meanings than just being nice to look at – so many concepts in a piece. The video work for exhibition (screen-based portraiture that we make for art gallery spaces), especially that – it’s got lots in it. I get an understanding of how you do it and so I see it in a different perspective as well.”
Recently she’s been in a TV series we have been making and had a featured role so became even more a part of the making. About that she said…
“In F*king Adelaide I guess I understand the process more than I did and how long it takes.”
You can see Audrey talking more at TEDXAdelaide.
What would you most like to see change about the film industry (in Australia, or globally)?
I would like to see more diversity of voices in filmmaking. I don’t believe we should only tell our own stories but I believe that the perspective of the makers is really important and it should challenge and inspire us, not just reassure us with the status quo. I think if there are more voices from more places, we wil all be freer with the kinds of stories we can and do tell.
I am encouraged by the great voices of many filmmakers and I really hope that we can show how satisfying it is to see work that goes beyond the blockbusters and that audiences are encouraged and allowed to find these. Personally, I think challenging the unconscious bias is the hugest thing that would have impacted on my career. I think once you begin to see it, you can’t unsee it and that’s important.