The Slog: Ruth Fowler on Filmmaking & Crowdfunding as a Single Mum

Ruth Fowler is a writer, screenwriter and vlogger. She has written about stripping in New York and about how the American medical industry fails mothers, and she was a Screen 2012 Star of Tomorrow. You can support her crowdfunder here. The photograph of Ruth and her son Nye (on the left) is by Claire Robbie (@clarerobbie on Instagram), shown with her son Jack Jozef.

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I wanted full artistic control. I pushed an eight pound baby out without meds. I told my baby’s father to clean up, or get out. I worked every single night after a day of being a full time mother even when I felt like jumping off a cliff or simply curling up and dying from exhaustion so crippling it would have broken anyone.

I was back writing a script two weeks after my son was born: such is the life of a freelancer. He woke up every two hours and barely stopped breastfeeding, and sometimes I would only get to write a line or two before I’d be swallowed up by the duties of new motherhood. I’d lost seven pints of blood during his birth. I was gripped by a blind panic that I had to stay active, which in retrospect, may have been postpartum depression, or may have been the reality of being married to a relapsing addict / alcoholic with no comprehension of money management, who thought that he would just take it easy for the next six months, maybe grow some kale, while I earned the money and looked after the baby.

 

My husband left when our son was eight months, and I’d been unable to hustle for scripts due to the pressure of, well, keeping the kid alive. The blind panic of finding myself a single mother coincided with mounting legal bills as it became clear our separation would not be quick, clean and painless. We would be rolling around on the floor pulling each other’s intestines out if we could.

 

And then it was me and an eight month old boy who still breastfed nonstop and woke up every couple of hours, and had never even slept for more than four hours in a row, ever in his entire life. I swallowed my pride, signed up for food stamps, signed on for unemployment and maxed out all my credit cards fighting for the right to leave the state with my son in order to seek scriptwriting work in Europe, where I get most of my assignments (I’m British but live in LA because I married an American). It took me six months to get permission to leave, and even then I had to post a $10,000 bail to assure the judge I wouldn’t flee with my son (a ridiculous notion given I was traveling to a Hague Convention country – the UK). I landed two script jobs almost immediately, and traveled back to LA to work on them there.

 

When you have lost everything, you start to fear nothing. You’ve seen the worst, and you’ve survived it. Maybe with the help of friends, wine, pharmaceuticals, tears and screaming into pillows, but surviving pain somehow liberates you. It did me, anyway. Crippled by debt and still fighting in custody court, I decided that I was going to do two things I had always wanted to do. One was learn ballet. And the other was – direct films. I was tired of being a glorified secretary for producers. I wanted full artistic control. I pushed an eight pound baby out without meds. I told my baby’s father to clean up, or get out. I worked every single night after a day of being a full time mother even when I felt like jumping off a cliff or simply curling up and dying from exhaustion so crippling it would have broken anyone. I could still love my baby and make him happy, even though my life was being ripped apart as friends and family abandoned me in droves and I was dragged through the mudslinging hell of family court.

 

Parenthood – and particularly single parenthood – made me realize I could do the things I wanted to do and that I had to do them soon, because time was running out.

 

There are sacrifices to the choices I’ve made. Sex? Forget it. I’m not dating for a good long while. My son lives with me full time, so I work mainly during his visitation hours in the day with his father, and after his bedtime, between 7:30 and midnight every night. Sometimes I take a week off and binge watch TV, or binge socialize with the kind friends who recognize that my single motherhood probably isn’t catching. But my priorities are simple: my family, and filmmaking.

 

To this end I started an indiegogo campaign to help drag myself out of debt so I can finish the short I’m working on about child custody. Along the way I’m teaching myself basic Final Cut Pro skills and messing around with a Canon 7D I’ve clung onto even when I felt like flogging it for diapers on eBay. I’m vlogging, which is anathema to my prose blog soul, but it’s kind of fun when you stop looking at how weird you look onscreen. I wonder, often, why there are so few female directors – the job insecurity doesn’t stop us being writers or actors, so that isn’t really an answer. To me, I think it’s because the director – especially the auteur – is the patriarch, the man in charge, the dictator, the controller. The director stands center stage, commanding praise even when his actors give stellar performances. There’s something about being a mother that makes me want to challenge this. Which makes me want to say “Fuck you. Bring it on” to the establishment.

 

I think the next couple of years are going to be very interesting…

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