Nearly 18 months ago, I took part in the first Making It Possible event put on by Raising Films and went for a wonderful day in Edinburgh. It was a day that gave me the courage and direction to return to the job I loved and had fought so hard to succeed in. That day was needed because after getting pregnant with my first child, my TV directing career had come to a dramatic halt.
It had felt like being a cartoon character who had accidentally hurtled over a cliff and now found themselves mid-air, desperately still trying to run but instead falling very quickly with a loud splat. That loss was devastating for someone who feels alive when creating stories and working with actors. Now, finally, 18 months later I have a job offer on a high-end drama series, several features in development and a new short just about to hit the circuit. Raising Films helped me to start that journey back to the work I love.
It hadn’t been easy, getting to direct. I started working at the BBC when it was quite normal to be told that women just didn’t have visual brains so couldn’t possibly direct as well as men could! And that isn’t very long ago. At my first proper interview, the male interviewer looked me over and pronounced that he thought I looked very nice and smart sitting there in my new suit, but he couldn’t possibly imagine me fixing a car engine! I still have absolutely no idea how that relates to filmmaking, but I seem to remember explaining that I had a bicycle and regularly changed the tyres. This convinced him that I could be allowed into a cutting room. Some 16 years or so later I had somehow climbed up a very greasy pole that initially involved making lots of coffee and ducking quickly when angry editors threw metal film splicers at us! And whilst my male colleagues had far more effortlessly shimmied up that pole, their careers nurtured and encouraged by other men, there I was with a BAFTA, an RTS and several other prizes, an agent and a decent looking showreel. Until that is, I got swallowed by that very large python that sits at the top of the snakes and ladders board – the one that means you have to go right back to the beginning again and prove you didn’t somehow give birth to your brain along with your child!
Initially, I dutifully took a job directing a fast turnover show, something way below in the pecking order than what I had been doing before. However, my partner was working in Peru, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and sadly the film I was developing, with a lovely and completely enlightened producer, came to a halt when the writer also got cancer. So, it was a bleak time. Without the money to hire a full time nanny, a partner not even on the same continent, let alone at home, and no nearby parent, it was just impossible to work in a world where you didn’t know when you’d get your next gig and were generally told a week before you started, that you’ve been offered something 150 miles away! Too many quick scrabbles to find yet another temporary nanny for only eight weeks. Not easy on anyone.
So, to earn some money, I started doing a bit of lecturing which turned into a job. Desperate to keep directing I started making short films which I loved doing. I also directed several plays in the theatre with some of the actors I knew and learnt premiere pro and took up script editing and development. Everything taught me a huge amount and vastly improved my skills as a director, but I really missed directing full-time and was sadly finding academia equally sexist. However, I had also lost some confidence. Too many people had told me that I couldn’t direct any more with a young child or that I was somehow too housewifey, whatever that means. Even a head of drama told me that yes there was a problem for women but what could she do, most producers were wanting to build their careers on impressive young men. And of course, the biggest problem of all is that jobs in scripted just aren’t advertised so without an agent you simply can’t even apply. If that isn’t a cause of discrimination, I don’t know what is!
So, Raising Films was brilliant and came just at the right time. My day in Edinburgh gave me the confidence and direction to resign from academia. Despite everything, I really hadn’t been prepared for the fall-out of getting pregnant. I knew the industry was sexist but I’d been doing OK, so it hit me really hard, like I’d been punished for something, even though the truth was I’d been offered work until they knew I was pregnant. I also can’t even begin to remember how many people I wrote to or how many times I was knocked back by complete and utter rubbish from women as well as men, which left me feeling the problem must be mine. Meeting other female directors and hearing their stories changed my perception, as did the advice and personal training on our Raising Films Day. Our experiences were so identical down to the very phrases people used; it was completely apparent that women were simply being eliminated from the industry by work practices as well as discrimination and at the first whiff of “baby” propelled into outer space. At first it made me angry but then it made me determined. We shouldn’t accept this; I shouldn’t accept this. That is why organisations like Raising Films are so important. We need to change things
I am finally seeing that change. There are fantastic people out there, people who support women and are leading the way. And though I have still been advised not to mention what a raw deal we get or I won’t get work, at least there is awareness that things have to be different. It needs everyone to buy in to change and make a concerted effort, not just as someone recently said, by training the next generation of women and BAME film makers. We’re already HERE. We need companies to commission female writers, tell stories that represent the world we live in. We need a way to keep working when we have children, we need male producers, female producers, execs, commissioners, heads of TV, heads of film funds, H.O.D’s, even us female directors to employ more diverse crews and casts and to look at the assumptions of what efficient practices look like. Organisations like Raising Films, Directors UK and WFTV are doing something really positive and practical towards that change which I hope will make a difference for those of us here now and our children who need a more diverse world reflected in the programmes and films that are made so that they can believe in their futures too.
And I still need an agent…