Here’s our second instalment from Alice Lowe’s diary on making her first feature film, Prevenge, whose world premiere will open Critics’ Week at the 2016 Venice Film Festival. Read the first instalment, about the shoot, here.
It’s upsetting and sad that people put off having kids because we’re waiting for that big break. There’s so much about filmmaking where the metaphor of child-raising overlaps: post-production is like raising a child and production is like pregnancy. I’d done Sightseers, and I was thinking, ‘I can’t have a baby until I’ve made a film, because I really want to direct.’ Stuff happened: Tessa Ross left Film4, my producer left, other executives left. That’s the film industry: you can’t predict what will happen and you have no control.
Meanwhile, I was postponing my life. Then I got pregnant and went to a meeting with Film4 where I had to pretend I hadn’t had my greenlight [three month scan]. And then this different opportunity came along, to make Prevenge, which had more momentum and I thought, ‘it’s that old adage, there’s no good time to have a baby.’ The choice of whether to have a child is an interesting dilemma for women, because of the long hours, but being a mother is part of human experience, so you have to have some directors that are mothers or you’re ruling out a whole section of human experience.
I’ve been reading a lot to play the mother of a child in their late teens or twenties, because I’m seen as too old to play the mother of a baby. They seem to think ‘How young can we get away with?’ for casting the mother of a baby. You suddenly realise that telly isn’t showing you the world as it is: there are more mothers over 35 than under 25 in the UK now. I’m over 35, but I have to go and audition for roles where I’m miserable about my child, my dead child, my lack of child, my lack of boyfriend.
I’m not saying you should only be really happy, really cool and really sensible – there’s no drama or comedy there – but the idea that the only thing going for you is how miserable you are about being over 35 and should go to knackers’ yard is so alien to what I understand women of my age to be. Aren’t we having more freedom than ever before and doing what we want? I find it bizarre. We’re ignoring interesting stories – the idea that being a mother isn’t an interesting storyline, or it’s shown as very cutesified or sanitised. But you can’t sit around waiting for someone to write you parts – that’s why I’m doing it myself.
This is the most personal project I’ve done: I’m a character actress and I love wearing a wig onscreen and being someone else. But in Prevenge, my character believes that it’s her unborn child that is taking the revenge, that she has to do it for the child. I felt bad because I thought I’d never push my daughter into being an actress, but then here she is on screen in the form of a bump. There were two things that happened that inspired me: Björk came out with Vulnicura, which was really personal about her divorce, and she said, ‘I’d tried to find a way to make it more generic so it would speak to more people, but then I thought the more personal it is, the more generous it is, the more it touches you, like a needle straight to the heart.’
And then there was Amanda Palmer’s open letter about having a baby, in response to a fan letter about her Patreon site where the fan accused her of crowdfunding to support the baby not her work. She took it to heart and asked, ‘Am I still an artist if I’m a parent?’ She concluded that you have to go through human experiences in the real world to make art. Those statements affected me profoundly.
I was conscious I was stepping out of my comfort zone by doing something about me – it’s quite exposing in many ways I’d never done before – including nudity, which I never do in comedy. That was the first scene we did, which was probably quite a good idea. I was worried I was completely undermining myself as a director, but it was fine.
Then I did a scene with Mike Wozniak and Tom Meeton, who I’ve worked with lots as an actor, and I thought I had to be really directorial with them but as I was talking to them, there were the rushes of the nude scene – me with my tits out in the bath – rolling on a laptop behind me. I was embarrassed and slammed the laptop but then I realised this is what childbirth is going to be like: at the beginning you might be embarrassed, but by the end you won’t care what the doctor’s seeing.
I didn’t have any time to be stressed about my performance, I just had to go for it – also to show the actors I didn’t have any doubt about the script or my ability to do it. Especially when there was an actress who was worried she was going to hurt me in a fight scene, or the actor who was weirded out about doing a snogging scene with me. I’m not bothered so you shouldn’t be bothered. It brings a weird edge to things on screen, which is hopefully quite exciting.
I’m seeing how if you don’t make it a problem, it isn’t a problem; all of filmmaking has factors you have to take into account, but childcare isn’t one of them in the industry. Crew members’ wives also get sick of being filmmaking widows, more or less: it’s not a way to live. Even if you love it, like I do, there are limits. But a happy crew makes for better filmmaking.
People should then be helping you make the work you want to make. Crèches on film sets would help everyone, women and men, so that crew can see their kids. Having it written into contract that you need accommodation where your family can visit you would lead to it being seen as a necessity rather than a pain, that it’s normal., that would be really promising. We need to ask men what they want in terms of childcare as well, so it’s seen as universally a problem in the industry.
I think that being a mother will transform me and turn me into a panic bucket of having no control over what I’m doing. I’d like to think I’ll be really cool about it and schedule my writing into an hour a day, and write a masterpiece! But I have no idea, and I think it’s important to be OK with that. I’ve been doing these NCT classes and there’s this academisation of something that’s so primal, as if someone was training you how to break a leg.
I’ve never been a particularly maternal person – but what does that mean? That people coo over stuff? But my mum is really strict, she was a primary school teacher and I was always scared of her when she told me off. So I think of maternal as strict and strong and making rules. I was reading this book about French mothers, and they have a thing that it doesn’t change you: the baby’s coming to live with you not the other way round. Some people might think that’s draconian and really awful, but why wouldn’t you still be yourself?
You don’t become a different person because you’ve become a mother. You might bring different elements into your story or work, but you don’t lose your ambition or interests. I’ll be trying to do post with a tiny baby. I did a taster recently with an editor who had kids, and he said he’d do the edit for free if I could come to his house – the kids were coming in and out of the edit, but we got the work done.
If people were more laidback about this and thought things were OK, then they will be. If I’m breastfeeding and going into a sound mix, I’ll just say it’s the way it is. We accommodate all sorts of things: you just have to ask people and not be frightened, especially if you’re the director. I might do a lot of it from home – but I’ll get it done. Your first film is absolutely terrifying anyway, there’s so many excuses you could use to get out of doing it: the only way to do it is to sign yourself up. If you’re going to be a director, you have to know you’re someone who gets stuff done.
I’ve read that men get raises when they have a kid, and women get fired – but why should we have that expectation? Don’t allow that to be presented to you. I’m here and I want the work, and I’m not going to let you change how you treat me. It’s a mystery of the universe, but things have fallen into place and worked out for me.