I get home back to Edinburgh on Halloween. My children are out guising, and the house is empty and dark. I drag in my muddy welly boots and collapse. The doorbell rings and there are a group of children offering me a joke, a song, a scare. I take them all and then realise I have to give them sweets. I grab a bucket near the door thoughtfully left by my husband who has clearly mastered this single parent thing and fill the plastic pumpkins before I fall over from exhaustion.
Five minutes later the door opens and my family returns. My little skeletons, they fall on top of me and we lie on the floor and hug and there’s a mess of face paint and fake blood and polyester dracula capes amongst my tears. We did it. We did it and we survived. Two months away can be consigned to being a memory now because I’M HOME.
Four months later and my children are sort of in pieces. My three year old has started wetting the bed again and after a year away from one has somehow returned to sleeping with a dummy. My five year old has turned into a tantrumming teenager. I feel terrible. It turns out this is the bit I have got massively wrong.
I’m doing post in London. My editor is in London and I’m down there for 3-5 days every other week. When I got back, we had no childcare in place. My husband returned to work two days later, and I started to think about what we were going to do next. We had to rush to find someone to do childcare just at the point while my children were horrified at the thought of someone walking into their lives as I waltzed off again.
We had tried to find a Scottish-based editor but availability of editors experienced enough to gain financier approval defeated us. Many people had said that remote editing was terribly common these days, and very straightforward with technology on offer. I believed it.
Not so much. Not for me anyway. Perhaps if I had made a feature before, or had worked with my editor before, or spent two weeks at the top of the edit watching rushes with him so we were on the same page it wouldn’t have been so hard. But it has been hard. We like being in the same room and feeling the cuts, feeling the rhythms, discovering the language of the film together. He’s an essential part of the film and so am I, so we do our best work when we’re together. So he comes up, and I go down. He has kids too, and between us the amount of money spent on guilt-lego is probably about 10% of our movie’s budget.
Picture and sound post are also happening in London, again against my best efforts. At the budget we have, the best deals we could get from people with the best facilities and experience, were down there where people are fighting for your business. Up here in Scotland, we just don’t have as many facilities and the prices aren’t as competitive. So it ends up being cheaper for us to do the work down there, and for me to travel up and down.
What isn’t in the budget, however, is the extra childcare that my travelling necessitates. I’ve had to take on a nanny for 3 days a week, and sometimes more as necessary, to get us through this stage. If we were doing post where I lived, this wouldn’t have been necessary. So this is a cost that I’m bearing, and it’s costing me more than my fee for this stage. (So even though it is officially cheaper, if childcare was in a line item in post, then perhaps it would have been cheaper for us to do it in Scotland? It certainly would have been interesting to see if that was the case.) Plus let’s not forget all the emotional labour – the playdates I pack in when I’m in town, the food I cook and leave, the compressed administration of our family life into the hours when I’m with them – trying to give them quality time before I walk out the door again, peeling them sobbing off my legs.
(Have you heard of emotional labour? It’s brilliant. It quantifies all the work we do to create emotionally meaningful lives. So it’s things like remembering birthdays, or what your relatives like to eat, or forcing people to go to the doctor when they’re unwell, or calling someone you’re worried about. This work is taxing, and unnoticed, and is being proved as exhausting but unrewarded by the sociologists who study it. It is being talked about as the next feminist frontier. Very interesting as I consider an awful lot of parenting emotional labour.)
The extraordinary thing about this situation is that noone foresaw this as being something to think about, to work around, until we came up against it. I’m not blaming my collaborators, who have done all they can to manage it, but simply that the infrastructure around making a film doesn’t make room for these kind of things, and that’s a problem. Honestly it’s been so difficult that there have been days when I’ve found myself frustrated with the film and not doing my job as well as I can simply because I find the process so unmanageable. It IS relevant. I’m the director! I need to be emotionally present for the process of making the film!
I have to keep reminding myself that the stakes are high – I can’t just disconnect from the filmmaking process simply because it’s too difficult, because that would make NONE of this worth it. And so many people have given so much (talent, time, effort, love) to make the film. At the same time, I’m presuming, like childbirth, this part of the process will eventually be over and I’ll have an amazing baby on my hands. Fingers crossed.