Debbie Isitt is one of the UK’s most prolific directors. She is known for her improvisational style of working with actors, a model that has produced critical and box office hits like “Confetti”, starring Martin Freeman and Jessica Hynes, which was nominated for a British Comedy Award, “Nasty Neighbours” starring Ricky Tomlinson, and the hugely popular “Nativity” series of films, the first of which won two Richard Attenborough Film Awards and was nominated for Best Breakthrough Movie at the National Movie Awards. Debbie also won a BAFTA for her Channel 4 teleplay of The Illustrated Mum.
From the moment I became pregnant I knew that having a baby was going to change things but I also understood that how much things changed was due largely to my own attitude towards being a working mother. I was already in development on my first feature film when I became pregnant and I knew I wanted to continue making the film. Luckily I had a female producer who was extremely supportive and encouraged me to keep working on the project until the moment I didn’t feel able to any more.
That moment never came.
I shot my first feature heavily pregnant and gave birth three weeks after I wrapped. I then breast-fed my baby during the six months in the edit and took her with me to Cannes (with the help of my mum) at two months old. I am particularly fortunate because my partner (the father of our child) is my film editor so working together we were able to share the childcare and continue working without too much compromise.
Over the years (and a handful of feature films later) I realise that I have never let being a mother stop me from realising my film career – but I have also never let being a film director stop me from being the best mum I can be. I have had to make some decisions – like when I was asked to re-locate to the US – I decided against it as my daughter was settled in the UK and as parents we wanted her to grow up with her immediate family around her to ensure she was always in the care of people she knows and loves.
The working mother aspect of my filmmaking career has enabled me to have a varied career working in the theatre and film and television on a number of eclectic projects but I have also made films set against the backdrop of my daughter’s life and I have included her in the filmmaking process to keep her close and to ensure that she has a fully rounded education.
For me having a baby never meant stopping my career – it simply meant taking her with me wherever I went – so my daughter has been to hundreds of castings and workshops and film sets and meetings and numerous film festivals, (including the Venice film festival when she was a few months old and the great Meryl Streep took her in her arms and cuddled her.) It probably makes a difference having only one child (I had no control over that) but I think to have a well-travelled child who meets lots of interesting people whilst still having a stable home life is a genuinely fantastic opportunity. Like my partner and myself our daughter has been through the state school system and has lived a genuinely ordinary life but with extraordinary moments.
I would advocate that any directing mother wanting to continue a career in film and television should quite simply do it. People in our industry can be extremely supportive and I know if any of my cast or crew have young children that they struggle to sort childcare for I always say, “Bring them to set!” I think the best work is created on sets with a family atmosphere – after all the best companies are like families with all the ups and downs of family life but with everyone pulling together for the best end results.
As women we are the mistresses of our own destiny. We can make things work for us if we have the confidence, passion and integrity to do so. The work life balance is important for every one of us – our children do not have to suffer because we want to work in this industry – projects don’t last forever and by involving our children as much as we can we can find the balance and make our working life a happy one.