Testimonial: Anne-Marie O’Connor

Anne-Marie O’Connor has written for the theatre, penned three novels and ghost written a number of best selling books but has since changed focus to TV. Writing on Waterloo Road before co-creating Sky 1’s Trollied. She is currently working on returning dramas both in the UK and in the US and has written her first feature, which she will also direct. Anne Marie’s directorial debut, short film MUM is premiering at Edinburgh International Film Festival in competition on Friday 23 June

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I have been in writers’ rooms where the idea of accommodating a woman and the child care challenges that come with that are anathema.

Until I began writing this five minutes ago I have never thought to write any of this down. It just bounces around in my head. Childcare more often than not falls to women and women with a creative and seemingly flexible job are going to feel this more than most – and I do. Luckily I have a supportive husband and family, a great nursery and school with wrap around care, not to mention an amazing agent who helps me do my full time job with three days’ child care.

I have been a full time writer for quite a few years. During that time I’ve had my three children Jack – now aged 9, Maddie, 7 and Ted, 2. I’ll be honest, writing is the easy bit. And when I came to direct last year I’d have to say the same about that. The hard bit is managing the childcare – when Jack was little I would drive the 80 mile round trip to my parents’ two or three times a week, deposit Jack and run to a café and start writing. Even now, working both here and in America I tend to only have child care cover for three days as I want to be able to do my job and see my kids – and as my youngest is only two I feel that this is the best way to work it.

When filming MUM, we organised a crèche for anyone who needed child care for the four day shoot.

I have been in writers’ rooms where the idea of accommodating a woman and the child care challenges that come with that are anathema. (I’ll be honest, I colluded in this, because if you start saying, ‘oh I’ve been up since two o’clock with a sick child before getting a 6:30am train to London to start work for the day…’ no one wants to hear it and also, I wanted the job). I have had a meeting at BAFTA when my youngest was four weeks old and due to a late train and not having time to nip to Boots I found that I had leaked milk all over my top (nobody mentioned anything!). I have brought my children to Los Angeles in order to take meetings so that I could breast feed and still the tax office disputes that this is ‘necessary to my business.’ (I sold a show to Fox Studios during this trip – I paid tax on that in this country. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed at home now would it Mr Tax man?)

When we set out to make my short film, MUM, Kate (Larking) the producer began to contact people that she had worked with before. By luck more than design it began to emerge that most of us were women. And what a group of women! Mel the 1st AD had been Mike Leigh’s AD, Katie the designer had worked on Bird Song and Peaky Blinders, Kate had worked at Warp for a number of years. It was a very strong, experienced team. But the story that seemed to keep coming out time and again was that when you have young kids it’s almost impossible to return to full time work in the film and TV industry. The demands of the days and weeks are too much. So I was very lucky to have this team but I think the industry is missing out because of this brain-drain of brilliant women at a time when they have children and find themselves unable to return to work often coincides with the time when their experience and skills are peaking.

Of a crew of 22, 18 of us were women. I’m extremely proud of this fact.

When filming MUM, we organised a crèche for anyone who needed child care for the four day shoot. And of course, a short film is the sort of thing that lends itself to working without committing to months away from home. Of a crew of 22, 18 of us were women. I’m extremely proud of this fact.

On the night before the first day of filming of MUM all of my kids were struck down with a sickness bug and we were using my house as a location the following morning. So knowing that I was going to have 30 cast and crew in my kitchen at 6.30 am expecting bacon sandwiches I bounced from room to room, clearing up sick, cuddling little ones and hoping that I didn’t get it (I did of course, it went through the crew like wild fire…but that’s another story!) I think the low point came when my Maddie  vommed down the wall, the sick ran into the plug socket and the electrics shorted.  I remember saying the following morning, ‘I bet Stephen Spielberg doesn’t have to deal with this shit!’

I love being a mum and I love being a writer. And now I love being a director. I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive and I do think there’s room to talk about the challenges that are uniquely faced by women in the industry trying to work and raise young children. The more we talk about it and normalise it the quicker the industry will catch up.

3 thoughts on “Testimonial: Anne-Marie O’Connor”

  1. Well said Anne-Marie, I’ve read and have all her books, pride of place on the bookcase. Funniest was “Everyone has a Bono Story” i got to watch Trollied every week with my neighbour, Anne Marie’s mum and dad. As Anne Marie pointed out having the children dropped off, we were able to see them a lot and even then wondered how she managed to work with only a few hours a day. Kiddies change how you work and how you rely on family and friends, plus the people that you have to pay to look after them. Anne Marie worked it out well, other mums may not be so lucky. Surely thats an idea for another book. Xx

  2. You are one amazing lady! I would love to know if any male writer ever achieved your level of success while carrying out similar caring duties. There’s a book in there.

  3. I worked in the film industry for 10 years as a production accountant. I left in the end as I found it hard to retain relationships with family and friends. Plus the insecurity of where the next job was coming from ate away at me over the years. I decided to get a formal qualification as an ACA chartered accountant. I stayed in media after this working for TV advertising production companies, and then had my first child, there was no job for me to go back to when I was ready to return to work and contemplated returning to the film industry, but it seemed impossible, no one was interested in hiring a part time accountant even with my immense experience. I felt it was their loss and have moved on.

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