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To shoot, or not to shoot when baby is on the way

Clare Shields is an independent producer and together with her husband Alex runs Sixty Clicks Productions. The saying ‘it takes a village’ applies so vividly here as Clare and Alex, embarking on their second short narrative film together, faced a decision on timing. Lining up all the elements for production had been a three-year process and now there was a new addition to the family on their way… Over to Clare to share their decision, the outcome and the lessons learnt.

We live for film, whether that be watching, making or endlessly talking about them. Filmmaking is incredibly hard work, yet rewarding. Especially when you bring a cheeky little new addition along for the ride to add to the chaos.

We are Sixty Clicks Productions, husband and wife, director and producer, and first-time parents to one-year-old Freya. As creative collaborators of just under ten years, we started our filmmaking journey together making music promos then swiftly hustling our way into narrative films that carried a social message, but more importantly, aimed to move people. It’s important that our work doesn’t intrude into family life too much, but also that we don’t miss out on opportunities, so we’re continually trying to strike a balance. At times this feels impossible, but we do our very best. All I can say is, grandparents are wonderful!

Our first film WHITE AWAKE was a drama about a man recounting his childhood trauma during a therapy session, and how it shaped his present life. Inspired by real life and partially shot on 16mm film for the vintage flashbacks, it was an extremely collaborative production that focussed on raw, honest acting. For our next film, BLANK SHORES we wanted to be more ambitious with the tone and plot situated in one of our favourite genres: Science Fiction. It was important to us that it was grounded, but also centred in honest drama. We also wanted the film to serve a bigger purpose by shining a light on the little talked about and devastatingly common occurrence of child loss, and its subsequent toll on mental health. Also inspired by real life events, the film contains a backstory that we plan to flesh out in a feature length or mini TV series. It was important to us that the film was female-led and featured a diverse cast, and we rejected any typecasting. These ambitions hailed the beginning of BLANK SHORES.

After two years of script development with the help of so many friends and family, as well as professional advice and support, we were ready to seek out funding and casting. We worked with Heather Basten CDG, our casting director and jewel in the crown, who helped secure our lead BAFTA-winning actress, Georgina Campbell (and then later our entire cast). After a year of rejections from funding opportunities, six months after our initial application our mighty saviour arrived; Thomas Wightman from the Independent Cinema Office (ICO) and the BFI Network Short Film Fund. We were elated not only at the prospect that our now three year project might actually be made, but also that the most prestigious industry body on our funding spreadsheet was willing to majority-fund the film.

We were initially proud and grateful, but soon lots of anxiety ensued as we were expecting our first baby in five months time. We had an important decision to make; do we delay the film, which in turn would delay our future professional ambitions and possibly lose the interest of collaborators (and be at square one a year later), or make the film with a small baby in tow embracing the chaos that would ensue? Alex was more doubtful it would work with a new baby, but I was more positive it would all be fine. Deluded maybe? But hopeful! Only our close friends and family knew we were embarking on this crazy plan. Some understood the dedication for a mere short film, others couldn’t get their heads around it and still don’t to this day. We initially didn’t tell our cast and crew about our new baby as we were worried there could be some doubt in our abilities to produce a good film. It had already been years of effort and time spent to reach that point, so we had to try.

Considering we had more finance to secure, cast and crew’s schedules to work around, the British weather (including tidal patterns) to contend with, and a realistic time scale for pre-production, the action plan was to shoot the film in eight months. We had to prepare as much as possible before our new family member joined the fold so we dived head-first into our Kickstarter campaign, a full time job in itself and no easy feat. Securing the rest of our cast, hunting for four pivotal locations, recruiting crew and much, much more followed, navigating a tight budget, taking into account the key visual effects in the narrative, was half the challenge.

When Freya arrived on her due date, we felt the most abundant love. Joy was plentiful, as well as hormones, problems with natural feeding, sleep deprivation, colic, and reflux. It all amounted to one of the most challenging times of our life. Typically when a baby sleeps, you are advised to also sleep, but we were never able to do this. When Freya eventually settled to sleep, we were on our computers ferociously planning the upcoming shoot. The only way Freya would sleep in the day would be snuggled up to either of our chests in a baby sling, comforted by the noise of our heartbeats. Without sounding ungrateful, there were days we loved what was going on and days we hated it.

It took some time, but we eventually got into a rhythm of family life and work. It would not have been possible to manage the workload without the help of Freya’s grandparents and the lovely friends and family who came to help look after Freya. Her Uncle even came all the way from America to help. Freya was such a trooper; she joined us on location scouts and cast rehearsals, and adapted to all the different people in our life caring for her. As a result she is the most social and confident little toddler. More support came from our wonderful Production Manager, Cherrelle Redley Murrain, and Co-Producers Wes Williams and Charlie Fronzoni, who not only assisted with film production prep, but baby snuggles too.

Unexpectedly, the shoot needed to be brought forward by one month due to cast/crew scheduling. I actually cried at the time (those dreaded hormones again) when the realisation hit that we had to make it happen. In a way, though, it was a hidden blessing. If we had waited one more month (the original shoot dates) the weather would have turned an already difficult exterior location into a near impossibility to film at. We needed more help and co-production support came from our friends at Shoot You Ltd.

The shoot took place over five days at locations in Greater London and Kent, and required some overnight stays (so Freya and Grandma joined us). The days were challenging. We found ourselves dealing with the extremely short windows of time to film (due to the fast-moving tidal patterns), unexpected quicksand, scratched hire vehicles, confusion between freeholders and leaseholders, the anxiety of bagging the shots we needed to make the visual effects work, no script supervisor, as well as many other dramas. Given what we were up against, the cast and crew really gave it their all.

Post-production was just as exhausting. Alex spent months in our office, or ‘the cave’, missing out on time with Freya. We were working closely with our wonderful visual effects and sound teams when a pandemic and months of lockdown hit the UK. It gave us the time we needed, when paid work was on hold, to finish the post-production, but there was no longer any childcare from Freya’s wonderful grandparents. It was a slow period where progression was eventually made on the film, but it also allowed for wonderful opportunities to spend time as a family. Other elements of the film such as ADR and sound mixing were majorly delayed, but finally completed.

It’s been 14 months since principal photography and we finally have a completed film. We did it! BLANK SHORES is currently being entered into international film festivals and we hope for a premiere in the near future whether it is a theatrical or online event.

Would I recommend making a film with a newborn? Yes and no. It was so challenging at times that we resented the film, but there were many moments we loved it too. We were extremely grateful for the opportunity and the privilege. It’s definitely possible to make a film with a baby, but you need to be prepared to ask for help. You also need to be transparent and have faith people will believe in your capabilities with a baby on the scene. Little did we know the whole time our wonderful casting director was working with us alongside the arrival of her baby too. We each kept our new life secret, and it seems silly we felt we had to. Heather has achieved so much since the arrival of her son and we are immensely inspired by her.

We were very lucky with this opportunity and proud of what we achieved.

Watch the trailer for BLANK SHORES

Clare’s varied work spans live action drama to broadcast and animation. She began producing conceptual music promos for independent artists and later moved into producing commercial content. Clare is drawn to producing projects with strong characters and powerful sub-textual performances and more recently has produced short films, including WHITE AWAKE, CRUMBLE, BRANDED, PIANIST IN A BROTHEL and BLANK SHORES.

Visit the Sixty Clicks Productions website and follow on Twitter and Facebook

Header image: Day one of the film shoot for BLANK SHORES. From left: Benjamin Wearing (Cinematographer), Alex Kyrou (Director) and Clare Shields (Producer). Credit: Joseph Lynn.

Second image: Alex and Clare with Freya. Credit: Graham F Page

2020-12-02T11:08:13+00:00December, 2020|Production Stories, The Long Read|