When people find out I have had four kids in the last ten years and three features in the last three, they either shake their heads in confusion or marvel “I don’t know how you do it all.”
Firstly, I suspect “having it all” means something different to each of us at this stage of feminism. I certainly don’t fit many of those paradigms and I cannot answer how to make a sustainable living making independent films, with or without kids. I am speaking specifically about how I manage my time in order to make films while raising kids.
I make careful choices. And I accept help.
I have a partner and a village who supports me in so many critical ways. I didn’t always have this network. I grew it over time. If you don’t know a single person with kids and your family is far away, please be encouraged by the fact that was me ten years ago. Be brave, patient and find your people.
I am a stay-at-home-parent. Editing was a fit for me because I could do it from home in odd hours and on weekends. The first year of parenting was next-level intense and I did not do much creatively, but gradually started to produce again and this year was able to direct. When I produce, I do it on my terms. If a project is the right fit for me, the team understands what those terms are and accepts them because they value my contribution. If a project is not flexible in these ways, then it’s not the right fit. And that’s ok. Gradually I’ve stopped apologizing for being a parent filmmaker and started owning my personal vision of success for myself.
My approach has been to minimize the hours I need childcare, grow my ability to multitask and prioritize, and make my filmmaking work around my commitment to being a parent spending a lot of time with my kids. I work in the low budget space and we have generated our own projects, so that makes me have a good deal of power over my schedule.
I am uniquely a product of my era. I do 80% of my communication, web research, and pre-production with my phone. Without the portability and app power I have had the last few years, I can confidently say I could not have remained competitive in this space. I only get a couple of hours a day if I am lucky to get on my computer, sometimes more on the weekends. It is critical that I am able to multitask on the go. Spreadsheets, reading scripts, note-taking, research, emails, texts, marketing, film festival applications, watching dailies or cuts, social media outreach – all happens when I get a moment out and about or late at night nursing.
HOT APP: Moxtra is my number one app. My producing partner and I use it as our primary project management tool. It allows us to set up each project with its own ‘binder’ and share files, organized chat, manage to-do’s and track progress with real-time alerts and messaging. Final Draft, Google Drive, Vimeo, MailChimp, and Facebook Pages are all on heavy rotation.
Film Festivals with a 5 week old? Location scout with an 18 month old? Phone interviews while at baseball practice? Done it. I never would have been able to relax enough to do this with my first baby, but by number four, I was nursing my son during the Q&A for my film at the Austin Film Festival (happy to report the moderator did not bat an eye). I know it won’t always be the case, but, like my baby, I find other people also take their cues from me. If I normalize it and remain professional and the work gets done, I can fold my kids and parenting into my work life without entirely upsetting the apple cart.
I shoot a schedule where I only have to pay for minimal childcare, no more than a couple days. For example, I made a feature that shot 3 three-day weekends and my husband took one Friday off from work, watched the kids the other weekend days and that reduced my need to hire a sitter to two days. Then we shot 12 days after our crowdfund and I flew out a relative to help. That $250 plane ticket was the lynch pin in my ability to work on the film. This summer, I directed a feature and arranged the schedule again around kids. I brought my 9-month-old with me on location and my best friend helped make that possible. I lived with her family, passing the baby monitor to her as I left each morning and she would take care of the baby, sometimes bringing him to set to nurse (read: Miracle Friend). We also had a few days of drop-in daycare when we had a particularly hot Texas day. My partner took a week off work with the other three boys and the second week they attended camp. Three other days friends in LA hosted the boys while my husband worked. Prep and wrap were exhausting no doubt, but we made it.
Meetings often take place at my home while the baby sleeps or while kids play in the adjacent room. Many meetings happen after kids are in bed, beginning around 9pm. I trade childcare with another mom when I need to do a business meeting that requires me solo.
Some projects I can be on set every day. Some projects I have to make sure there’s budget to have a line producer who can be. I’ve never been more productive, but I carefully enter into commitments. I rarely take a project that is a quick turnaround, and make sure I don’t bite off more than I can chew for delivery. Allocate the right resources. Manage expectation.
We have a cultural problem with allowing women to have identities that are not singular. I am sorry that the rewards are not always financially commensurate with our talent or our efforts, but I hope, like me, you will still find great meaning and reward in the struggle.