Becca Ellson (seen here holding her baby sister) is an Independent Development Producer and Script Editor whose work includes BAFTA-nominated feature TAKING LIBERTIES, critically acclaimed experimental piano performance MOMENTS OF WEIGHTLESSNESS and 23 multi-award-winning short films for the BFI and BBC including Cannes Critic’s Week Canal+ winner CROCODILE; BAFTA nominees TURNING, KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES’, SEAVIEW and ORBIT EVER AFTER; Academy Award shortlisted SLR and Academy Award nominee WISH 143.
Never-ending “why” questions, inappropriate clothing removal, exhaustion meltdowns, food-throwing tantrums, the wails of “it’s not fair!”. We’ve seen it all before: in script meetings, in castings, at the end of a 12 week shoot, in an edit with a frustrated director, in a bar in Cannes at 5am. And becoming a parent has made me realise that most of these problems come down to either a lack of perspective, an unrealistic schedule, bad catering or too much cake.
When I had my first baby my big anxiety was “getting back in”. I listened to the whispers: everyone will forget about you; it’s so competitive; half the work is getting the work; there’s always someone new waiting to jump into your shoes. So I decided I would keep working. My daughter was born early, a week before the culmination of the assessment of over a thousand applications for a short film scheme. My colleagues were incredible. They jumped in, they were sensitive, supportive, they made plan B seem like plan A and they kept me in the loop. Within three days of the birth I was reading and feeding back on scripts. Six weeks later I was swanning round a development workshop with a baby strapped to my boob. I was in complete denial that my life had changed. I loved my job, it was mine – and no other bugger was going to jump into my shoes. I had back-to-back conference-calls while breast-feeding: “Have you thought about coming into the story later? Oops, sorry about those noises – it wasn’t me!” My colleagues (they really were extraordinarily supportive) came to my house and brought lunch for meetings. I was living the dream. I had it all.
Except for my sanity. Because my baby didn’t sleep and after a while I was shattered beyond comprehension and it was slowly dawning on me that my life actually had changed somewhat, in fact rather profoundly, and that this hard-core juggling act was utterly unsustainable and sooner or later, if I didn’t stop for a moment, I’d drop the ball somewhere – or I’d drop the baby.
And so, as stories go, this is when serendipity led me to a children’s bookshop where I bumped into a Producer I knew. She was there with her 7 year old daughter. She seemed really sorted. I asked her if she’d been worried about coming back to work after her maternity break and she just said: “No. You pick up the phone, you start getting meetings again, you start working again.” And she was right! After the scheme finished I took a break. As freelancers we are entitled to claim maternity allowance and for me that time was essential. It shouldn’t be something we feel bad about. It’s perfectly acceptable to stop and spend time with your baby. It will all still be there when you come back.
Having a family in a precarious freelance industry is tough. Being assertive and asking for a fair payment for my work has become less about confidence and more about pragmatism. Having boundaries around payment and time available is a good thing. It helps me do my job better. Most successful parents and non-parents understand that but, until I became a Mum, I didn’t. Now my second baby is a year old I’m working again, and, against my freelance instincts, I’m turning down jobs, many of which I’d dearly love to do but I’ve had to get realistic and focussed and I’m in it for the long haul.
In this creative, grafting, collaborative industry we learn stamina, we learn will-power, we learn which battles are worth fighting, how to negotiate when you have nothing, and we learn how to really, actively listen. These tools are gold for parenthood – and parenthood reinforces them so you come back to work stronger. Time spent with a child reminds us of the wonder of a good story and the awe of seeing the world for the first time. That’s worth bringing back into our creative practice. That reminds me why I wanted to make films in the first place.
Now the thing I’m trying to get the hang of is the gear change between working and parenting. How to be soothing and sleep-inducing immediately after the stress of a teeth-gnashing deadline. Anyone?