The first installment from Hope Dickson Leach on the making of The Levelling…
My two little boys love animals, mud and poo – oh how they love poo – so I thought that bringing them on our location scout for a dairy farm would be a pretty safe bet. Turned out I was right. Not only did they love to see all the cows (and poo – LOOK THAT ONE’S DOING A POO!) but having children around set the tone for our encounters. When all you want to do is figure out if a space is going to work for you, get some good intel and start a friendly relationship, having small people there is a great icebreaker. And, despite having worked on this project for a while now, I hadn’t fully appreciated the extent to which dairy farms are a natural fit for new mothers.
The dairy farming business is all sex, pregnancy, birth and lactation in a loop until the cows have had enough and are sent to market (hamburgers). We talked about semen and lactation, low lying udders and going barren, and then I was shown a ‘robot’ milker which stimulates the udders to encourage let down and then clasps on – like the best breast pump you’ve never seen. (I confess I was worried I might start leaking, a year after stopping feeding, so efficient did this procedure look.) Our familiarity with breast feeding was definitely a bonus in talking to the farmers about their work, and never have I met a man who didn’t get embarrassed in the slightest when talking about mastitis. Even my doctor had trouble meeting my eye. It was brilliant.
The expedition wasn’t without its complications, obviously. Spending long hot days in the car meant inevitable naps, and that meant delayed bedtimes, which in turn prevented me from getting the work I needed to do done in the evenings. My fantastic mother took the boys for the more boring days (no poo) which meant I had to return from a long day exploring how I saw this film happening, and arrive back full of joy and excitement at hearing their stories and seeing their pictures and roll up my sleeves and get on with bath time.
On day two I wondered if we might start some kind of a spreadsheet measuring how much childcare we had to enlist on this project, create a great database of the hours and favours and expense. By day three, while persuading the boys to sleep with promises of chocolate and Shaun the Sheep and A PONY! WHATEVER YOU LIKE! I scrapped any such ambitions. Making a film and having kids is hard enough without turning it into a data gathering expedition (at least at this budget).
This was an important moment for me, as I realised that this scouting was useful not only for the obvious reasons of how we are going to make a film, but also because it was a practice run of being a mother-director. I’m still undecided about what to do with my smallest boy during shooting and it’s preying on my mind. My older son will be at school, and my husband is taking time off work to look after him while I’m away. I could leave the little one there with them, but he still needs me so much. Balancing that need with my own professional needs is the challenge that I realise I must face in the next couple of months. Practically, mentally, emotionally. I’d love to hear how others have managed it (if you feel like sharing your story). In the meantime I’ll keep you posted.