Becoming a father was the best thing that happened to me. I found my calling the moment I held my daughter in my arms. Becoming a father has also compounded some of the pre-existing perceptions and concerns I had about a number of issues, including the challenges of raising a family in a major urban city today; the oppressive and restrictive gender roles and expectations set upon mothers and fathers in the present day; and tied to all this, the hostility found within the film production community (an industry in which I work) towards any kind of family life.
It is true that we work long hours in film production and at times it can be a high octane environment to work in, but I have always felt even prior to becoming a father that the commonly held notion within film production, that everything is secondary to the job, is unreasonable and, even at times, inhumane. A colleague on a previous feature drama production, for example, was in her words “afraid” to tell me she was pregnant for fear of being fired. She revealed she was pregnant to me after we had spent a long day setting up a production office which involved both of us lugging tables up and down several flights of stairs. The fear she held may seem, to some, irrational, but I understood where it came from from based on my own experiences.
Luckily on that particular production the producers were incredibly supportive of all their crew and embodied a degree of empathy I had never experienced before. The production was therefore fully supportive of my colleague attending all the midwifery appointments needed during the production – and it demonstrated how small accommodations could be made to keep things running smoothly whilst considering the lives and wellbeing of its crew. That job was the paradigm of how film production should and could be, in the way it obviously cared for the well being and happiness of its crew. In return, it had a crew that was happy and completely dedicated to the job.
A few years ago whilst my wife was pregnant with our daughter, she was diagnosed with a single umbilical artery, which was a risk factor for additional complications. We had our first scan booked during the shoot period of a feature film, and I was told by the co-producer that I could not attend (no questions asked). It was an important scan which would have determined whether there were any severe developmental issues with our daughter. That was an instance where I was forced to insist on a compromise. It was a stressful encounter which found me preparing myself to be fired or to walk… Thankfully neither happened. On another production, just prior to my wife giving birth, which coincided with the early stages of prep, I was told I should not expect to be able to take any time off work – by a female line producer, who herself had children! In the end I was only able to take one day off for the birth of my daughter.
My wife has a high-responsibility job herself and we’ve always seen ourselves as an equal partnership, yet as a man and as someone working in film production, there is an outward perception that the responsibility for care of our daughter (in the event that our daughter is unwell at nursery, for example, and needs to be collected) should fall to her mother. Although steps have been made in the corporate sector for shared maternity/paternity leave, I feel strongly that our cultural mindset in the twenty first century, which delineates that by virtue of one’s gender one must either be or not be the primary caregiver, is backward.
I have continually taken small steps to challenge this mindset whenever it is thrust upon me but at times such efforts to undermine the status quo seem futile. Some may argue that the culture of film production is what it is and if one doesn’t like it then one should find another line of work, but I find this argument to be unreasonable. It discounts the value of many of its workforce who do have families and perhaps also that there are surely certain sacrosanct rights that need to be protected?
Photo © Sandra Millward.