Interview with Raising Films Co-Founder Hope Dickson-Leach and Project Manager Laura Giles

Developmental Editing by Alexandra Hidalgo
Copy Editing and Posting by Sabrina Hirsch

This piece is part of our double feature on Raising Films – Making Babies, Making Films, Making Change. Read Samantha’s essay about her summer internship with Raising Films here.

Why did you feel the need to create an organization like Raising Films and how have you kept involved as it has grown?

Hope: I felt very alone as a new mother trying to keep my film career alive, and as soon as I reached out to some of the other co-founders, I immediately found strength. It seemed clear to me that something new parents need is a community of others who are not only going through what you are going through, but also the experience of those who have gone before. This didn’t exist in the film industry. Having enlisted the support of the other co-founders, our next step was addressing what was apparent to us—that the film industry is not set up for parents—and that has to change. It has to change partly because we want films from people who have real life experience, and partly because women are disproportionately affected by parenthood. Thus, the two components of Raising Films—community and campaigning—were right there at the beginning, intrinsic to our organisation. ­

A year ago we raised funds to employ a Project Manager to take our ideas and make them happen, and that is exactly what Laura has done—and more. The organisation has grown at an astonishing speed thanks to the extraordinary work of everyone involved and the help of many supporters who are keen to see change in our industry. I no longer do the website design or the applications for funding, which is great, and instead I find myself looking at the strategy and thinking more about where we are going next, and how can we maximise the exposure we are getting at every step of the way to create real, sustainable change.

All five Raising Films Co-Founders at an event in central London. (Left to right): Nicky Bentham, Hope Dickson Leach, Jessica Levick (with her baby Audrey), Sophie Mayer, and Line Langebek.

All five Raising Films Co-Founders at an event in central London. (Left to right): Nicky Bentham, Hope Dickson Leach, Jessica Levick (with her baby Audrey), Sophie Mayer, and Line Langebek.

Your most recent project is not a film but a survey looking at the impact of parenting on people’s film and TV industry work. Why did you feel a survey should be the next step for Raising Films in supporting parents in the industry?

Hope: We had come so far in building a community via our website and social media, creating a space for people to tell their stories and have conversations. What we needed to focus on next was the campaign to address the issues that kept coming up again and again. To bring about change within the industry, and in society more generally, there is nothing as effective as data. And so we had to gather data.

What was the process like of getting these questions out to parents and then analyzing the results into something cohesive that readers could understand?

Hope: We used every contact we knew! The co-founders have connections with unions and guilds, whose support was obviously essential, so they were our first stop. Agents, educational institutions, funding bodies, and companies involved in every aspect of filmmaking heard from us over the months. As well as getting the data, we knew that this was an opportunity to create more stakeholders in our campaign – to enlist the interest and support of parents and carers in the industry who struggled and need our community.

Laura: We were grateful to have the support of the Centre for Gender & Feminist Studies at Stirling University, whose Masters students helped draw out the universal points as well as delve into the specific trends by role for the appendices, which can be found on our website.

Raising Films Project Manager, Laura Giles with her son Ben.

Raising Films Project Manager, Laura Giles with her son Ben.

The survey is titled “Making It Possible: Voices of Parents & Carers in the UK Film and TV Industry” and the results are quite revealing — 79% of the industry professionals surveyed were negatively impacted by their caring and parenting responsibilities. Is this what you expected?

Hope: This was a self-selecting survey, not an analysis of data of (for example) produced films, so we knew that people who took the time to fill out the survey were likely to come down on the side of people who felt frustrated (although we did encourage non-parents and carers to complete the survey just as much as parents, and over 20% of our responses were from people without dependents), but this number is still pretty staggering. Honestly, I felt quite relieved—this is a hard number that confirms our instincts and gives us ammunition to fight for the change that these people also feel is so important.

What else really stood out to you from the results?

Hope: I suppose I wasn’t surprised by it, but I was shocked to see that people who worked in office jobs—in exhibition for example—felt just as frustrated and unsupported as people who worked in production. It was clear to me that our biggest challenge remains the society we operate in—one that doesn’t value the work of parents and carers.

Laura: for me it was the comments that people took the time to write in the open-ended questions. The statistics don’t lie, but the stories are what brings it to life and gives the numbers a face. These are real people experiencing real challenges who are, mostly, still optimistic about their future in the industry and the contribution they can make.

Raising Films Co-Founder Hope Dickson Leach with her son.

Raising Films Co-Founder Hope Dickson Leach with her son.

The survey also makes suggestions for ways in which these issues can be addressed by the industry and the government. What were they?

Laura: The key calls were for financial support—both for individuals working as freelancers who should have access to tax relief on childcare expenses as employees do, and for employers who would be more likely to offer child/elder care on set/location if they were able to claim tax relief on the expense. Both of these need government backing to happen. The other initiatives that would make a big difference are greater availability of part-time/flexible roles and job shares, and flexible, short-notice child/elder care that meets the needs of the industry. And, finally, a review of general working practices such as the long hours and six-day week working norms that are prevalent, would make a massive difference to those juggling family and film, which we are planning to discuss with the various unions and membership organisations in the UK.

How does this UK-specific study relate to filmmakers around the world? Do you think some of the findings and recommendations for changing the situation of working parents apply to the global film industry?

 Hope: Whilst we have more nationally subsidised filmmaking (including training) than many countries, I think all of the findings are probably shared by parents and carers globally. The recommendations will change country by country, region by region, as each industry operates on slightly different terms. It would be fantastic to establish similar conversations in countries where they are yet to address this issue directly and we are very much engaged in learning from initiatives that are producing results in other countries, such as Sweden and Australia.

Co-Founder of Raising Films Hope Dickson Leach chats with filmmaker parents at a social event in central London.

Co-Founder of Raising Films Hope Dickson Leach chats with filmmaker parents at a social event in central London.

What are the next steps for Raising Films?

Hope: Our pilot event at the EIFF where we spent a day training and working with selected parent filmmakers was inspirational. We hope to take this model and extend and replicate it around the country with different partner organisations. We are also pushing the recommendations outlined above via conversations with policy makers and unions, to ensure that those conversations are being had by the people who can make the change. We have several other plots afoot with different partners but are waiting to see how they evolve before we say anything! We’ll keep you posted.

How can parents, carers, filmmakers, and activists connected to this issue help improve the situation of working parents in the film and TV industries?

Hope: There are no simple answers. I think that in the absence of radical change that redesigns the whole industry, we must look for incremental change in the forms mentioned above. And I have no doubt things will keep evolving and we must stay vigilant as the industry and the world changes. Non-parents or carers can help by understanding that this is not someone else’s problem, which is really important. Addressing the issue will enable our industry to prosper and improve, and they have the power to make parents and carers lives better. They are our champions.

After our event at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, my amazing accountant said to me: there are two things that you must remember: 1. As filmmakers, you work longer hours and have more extraordinary circumstances of employment than most people. 2. You have a moral obligation, as people who create films that help shape how people think and how the world works, of working with the best practice. She meant that the film and TV industry should be leading the way with professional practice. We are a long way from that, but at least, at last, we are having the right conversations.

For more about Raising Films visit their website, and find them on Twitter and Facebook. You can also check out Sam’s profile here.