For our latest community story Carla Buckingham asks, “Am I too old, too female or too ‘Mummy’ to make the cut in TV and film?”
This is personal account of the journey Carla took towards her current status as a student of TV Production at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA), setting up a network for women like her starting out in the industry and being a member of Women in Film & Television and a BAFTA Guru.
Over to Carla…
From the age of five I’ve had an ongoing fear of death, it was about leaving the world and being forgotten about. The only way I could achieve not being forgotten was to leave something creative to be remembered by for years to come. I’d been a performer from a very young age and at 16 years old I left school and studied performing arts. I tried my hand at acting but was only really successful as a supporting artist.
I became a mother when I was 20 and I thought that all my hopes of a career in the creative industry was over, how was I going to be a mother and a performer? I was 24 and working on a TV show as a supporting artist when I got talking to a producer about a book I wanted to write, he suggested that I make it in a screenplay, I had no experience in writing scripts or structuring a story for a film, that did not stop me, I went home and over the next two months I research and taught myself how to write. At the same time my son had underlying issues and I was separated from my husband, yet I was determined to not to give up.
In 2010 my first feature film was optioned, it wasn’t easy back then, I used twitter to network, I spoke to agents, the local newspapers and finally someone was interested. I couldn’t have been happier! I thought my life would change from then, and it did change.
The option expired due to investment and one of my other projects was unfortunately stolen and is now a very successful reality show, it was at this time that I was diagnosed with depression, I couldn’t pick myself up, I felt so alone. I didn’t have an agent nor did I have any support networks to turn to.
In 2012 I met my new partner and he inspired me to start writing again, and I did, but I didn’t do anything with my projects out of fear they would be taken from me again. I became very precious yet I carried on writing, as it was the only thing that helped me conquer my depression and anxiety. My son was diagnosed with autism and ADHD later that year and I had something else I needed to research, my fears about the industry were getting stronger as I was needed more at home.
I had my second child in January 2018 and it was then I realised I needed to do something with my creativity, I wanted to learn more about the industry, not just writing and acting, I wanted to know the core skills that go into production, I also wanted to see if I could make some of my own projects.
I was 34 years old. “How am I going to get into university with no academic background? Am I not too old?” I said to my partner, “If you don’t try you will regret it for the rest of your life” was the response. It was the only way I could see myself getting into TV or film as I had applied for running positions in the past but it was always the younger people with a degree or ‘knew someone’ that got the job.
I applied for a course at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) to do a degree in Television Production. I sent off all the work I’d been doing over the last eight years, and that was my portfolio. I got a place! I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, my partner worked away at sea and I had a baby and a teenager to think about.
But, we made it work! Needless to say I’m the oldest student on the course, I’m also older then some of my tutors! While being at the University I have been working in the background developing my ideas so that I have plenty of content to get developed when I finish, I have also been able to network with producers and directors.
Recently it has come to my attention that there’s a stigma about older women who have dependents who are trying to get into the industry or trying to get back into the industry. I read a book that mentioned, “It’s a youngsters game”. After reading this I had to reach out to other women who are older and have children, I asked myself, “have I spent £30,000 on a course just to find out that I may never get a paid job in television and film? What will my children think of me if they see that I have failed them?”
I turned to Helen Curston (who is the programme director at UCA and has first hand experience of being a parent and working in the industry). She assured me that I’m not wasting my time and there are others out there who are successful, she became my role model and my motivator.
I’ve gained so many skills whilst doing my degree and I love them all, I can film, direct, edit and produce, I have worked in a studio and on location, I’ve been a researcher and location scout and I’ve even developed my script writing skills.
Without organisations such as Raising Films I’m sure creative mothers and parents such as myself might feel like giving up.
Raising Films has also inspired myself and another lovely creative lady Cookie Greenwood to set up a networking blog website for people who are new in the industry to connect with professional females for advice. We’ve called it WIF&E (Women in Film & Entertainment). The intentions for the website is to encourage people (like me) to reach out and ask for help. This is another positive side project, there are plenty of people that may not have the confidence to speak up and we want to be their voice.
I’ve continued to research and fill myself with as much knowledge and experiences as possible, and while I still have no income and the future is scary, I wouldn’t choose any other career, I want my children to look back and think, “If my mum did it, so can I.”
My last bit is some advice; never give up on what you want in life, don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help, there is no such thing as a silly question. The only silly question is the one you never asked.
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Image: Directors unit at the UCA: from right Eastenders actor Tony Discipline, Carla Buckingham, Actor Brady Powell.
Copyright: Carla Buckingham