This piece is part of our double feature on Raising Films – Making Babies, Making Films, Making Change. Be sure to check out Samantha’s interview with Raising Films Co-Founder Hope Dickson-Leach and Project Manager Laura Giles for more about Raising Films.
This summer I worked as an intern for Raising Films, an organization of feminist filmmakers devoted to bettering the situation for those trying to make films and have families. It sounds simple and easy to do when it’s whittled down to a one-sentence introduction. But as I’ve learned over the summer, and as the incredible women trudging through this issue will tell you, the problem is so vast and systematic that we truly need all hands on deck to make life better for filmmaking moms and dads.
The film industry is tough. The hours are long, the schedules inflexible, the work demanding and draining. I’ve only got my toes in it—some quick school video projects, wandering around a film festival and listening to conversations where I know none of the names doesn’t exactly qualify me to talk about it like I’m a professional—but the women I interned with are definitely professionals making it in this industry. They’re also mums (and British). And wives. And carers. And freelancers. And academics. And every other difficult thing imaginable. That’s why they started Raising Films.
Raising Films was really just a conversation at the beginning. One of the amazing founders, Hope Dickson Leach, who was in the midst of making her debut feature, looked around and asked, “Is anyone else having this problem?” This problem of not being able to be with her family in Scotland and in post-production in London. This problem of not being able to have childcare at a moment’s notice when production started. This problem of feeling like a second-rate filmmaker—and a second rate mother—because the two simply seemed like exclusive endeavors.
And that’s the core of what I’ve learned. At the heart of any feminist organization is a problem. Raising Films, along with other incredible groups fighting for equality for women, start with a conversation around that problem and begin to grow. While I was over in London, one of the major things I did, though not listed in any job description, was talk to people about their experiences as filmmakers, women, and mothers.
Raising Films decided to start at the human level, gathering stories that need something to change in order to have a happy ending. On the Raising Films website there are almost 40 testimonials from professional parents, telling their stories of the unrelinquishing system the TV and film industry work under. I have heard hundreds more stories from people at events.
But the ladies at Raising Films knew people wouldn’t just listen to stories. They needed facts. That’s the next level. Building upon the anecdotal with evidence will bring the problem to people’s attention.
The big project while I was interning in the UK dealt with numbers—the Raising Films ladies had put out a survey for parent and carer filmmakers early in the spring, and it was my job to help take the hard statistics of the survey and turn those numbers into something people would want to look at. Most of this involved taking straight text with long paragraphs and no visuals and adding callouts, insert quotes, and designing a document that was digestible. We wanted viewers to be affected by the numbers and feel a need to do something about the injustices presented by hard facts.
It was a pretty easy task, as the numbers spoke for themselves. Seventy-nine percent of the film and TV professionals surveyed were negatively affected by their parenting or caring responsibilities. Of the people we surveyed, women were 20 percent were more likely to be making less than £50k a year compared to men.
Bad news for parents and women in media, but solid evidence for us to start our next phase of change-making.
That next phase was presenting the results to our audience, the people who care. I was able to go to the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) where we held our survey-result reveal event. We began with an incredible keynote speaker, director and producer Penny Woolcock, followed by a discussion focused on panelists in the industry, but open to the audience. Panelists included filmmakers like producer and mother Suzy Glass, director and single mother Deborah Sathe and directing partners and parents Alex Helfrecht and Jörg Tittel. I was so surprised at the breadth of questions and solutions being throw out between both “professional” and “amatuer” voices in the same room with the same facts in front of them. Some audience members worked in development and had steadier employment, so they were more concerned about paying for childcare, while freelance directors, writers, and producers voiced their concerns about childcare even being an option for the hectic schedule that goes into making a film. Their different experiences and different roles within the industry enabled them to suggest things we hadn’t heard of or considered yet—possibilities for solutions that weren’t featured in the survey.
After EIFF, we’ve shared our results over all walks of social media and digital channels, with other organizations, and in events like Women in Film and TV and Directors UK. Each chance we get to show people our findings the more support we garner in moving forward with our project for change. And now we have partners like Women in Film and TV, Directors UK, Parents in Performing Arts, and Creative Scotland working toward solving different aspects of the same problem. From the survey the founders of Raising Films came up with four main goals going forward. We want to enable financial assistance for child and elder care, encourage industry-wide adoption of flexible working and access to child and elder care, formalize a way to combat parental discrimination and, finally, normalize conversations around caring commitments. Our partners are making waves in all of these fields, talking to government officials, launching campaigns and beginning to normalize conversations about feminist issues in media production.
From here we keep pushing. With some funding we hope to keep building our community through mentoring programs, more discussion-based events and policy-based conversations around film and media. I have truly learned so much from everyone I’ve read about, spoken to, and spent time with in this industry. I can’t thank the strong, beautiful and empowering women of Raising Films enough for teaching me what a group of women with a problem to solve can accomplish.