I wish I’d known I wanted to be a filmmaker years ago. You know, like one of those kids who taught themselves to edit on hooked-up VCRs and has been thinking in terms of shots all their lives. Who wrote their first screenplay when they were seventeen and dressed up as Orson Welles for Halloween. I could have gone to art school, made films with a Hi8 camera and be lodged in the Paramount Lot by now with my own parking space and three Oscars.
Okay, I know it’s not that easy, but I’ve been thinking a lot about timing recently. Is it everything? If I’d known all those years ago that this is what I wanted to do, would this be any easier? This apparently oxymoronic desire I have to be-a-parent-filmmaker?
As a writer-director trying to make her first feature, your very existence is oxymoronic (as you may well know): you have to have patience and drive, be flexible and steadfast, be a fresh voice and be writing for a recognisable audience. It’s not easy, whoever you are, and fighting for it while simultaneously waiting for your break can make you question what you’re doing there. (And even though I wasn’t one of those kids above, I now know that this is IT, this is what I want to do. This is all I can do.) This normally hits people in their 30s, and that is often when something else happens. If you want to have a family, this is when you start getting serious about getting serious.
Unlike filmmaking, I’ve always known I wanted to be a mother. It’s been there, lurking in the background of life decisions for years. So when the two things I most want to do in the world collide in my thirties, I’m thrown. Not least because I’m a Grown Up now, and I know myself better, and I know that it’s not always easy to become a parent, and that I’m emotional at the best of times, and that this is going to change me forever, and what will that feel like?
And so with these newly ‘mature’ things occupying my mind, and my concern about having my family before it becomes too hard, and trying to fit that in around development periods and convincing myself that it’s all going to be okay, I don’t stop and think, how is this going to work? I won’t have maternity leave, and I don’t have family in the area, and my husband has a 9-5 job, and let’s face it, I don’t really earn much money. These are things I figure out at about three months into the ride, when I need to start writing again and I realise that childcare is really expensive. So I pull my britches up and do what every parent in the history of the world has done, realise we are going to have to figure it out as we go along.
Which we do. I take work that pays barely more than the childcare simply because it means I’m still working and work begets work. And I have periods when I collapse in a heap and decide that that is NOT the point and I should be pursuing my projects. But noone will pay me to do that. And he’s still not sleeping through the night and he’s over a year old and I’m going slowly crazy. ‘I just want to make a film!’ I weep into my pillow.
But now I have other desires. I want my baby boy to have a sibling, and I need to deal with all the chaos in my brain surrounding the trauma of his first birth, and I still can’t lose that stone that is hanging around my waist. So… I get pregnant again, and I feel shocking again, THE WHOLE TIME, and it’s harder this time because I have a toddler to look after now too and I think THIS IS IT. I’m never going to make a film.
And then I start talking to people. I start joking and bitching and laughing. I realise that I’m not the first person to do this, and I discover how powerful that feeling is. I start setting things up in my work and in my life so that I am managing fifteen things at once and I WILL NOT GIVE UP.
And here we are. A group of amazing women who realise that support is essential on this strange journey we are on. Who understand that being creative and ambitious with your career probably means you are going to feel similarly about your family. You want to be part of their lives, and you want to do the best you can for them – and you believe that being the best person you can be is a good place to start that.
I’m about to make my first feature. I have two small sons. Right now I’m thinking about locations and cows and what kind of camera work will serve the story best as well as what my sons’ birthday cakes are going to be (because both their birthdays fall during prep, natch – timing is everything) and if I can order Octonauts napkins now and put them in a box with the relevant child’s name on it or if this isn’t going to be clear enough for my husband (who has two degrees and isn’t actually stupid).
Amongst all this I feel deeply lucky. I am doing what I wanted. I’m making a film, and I’ve got a gorgeous family. I’m trying to work out how the two can co-exist in my life, and I’m going to share that journey here on this website. I’m doing that because right now I wish I could read someone else’s journey – it would give me so much comfort on the nights I lay awake worrying, and I know that these stories can be powerful in effecting change. So please bear with me, and I hope that my tendency to over-share might result in something surprising.