Parenting in the Film Industry: Raising Films' Survey Yields Sadly Unsurprising Results

Editor, Canada; Montréal, Canada (@bonnequin)
Parenting in the Film Industry: Raising Films' Survey Yields Sadly Unsurprising Results

Two years ago, I interviewed director Liv Corfixen on her film My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, about her husband and the making of Only God Forgives. Refn was there as well, and one of the points that had come up in the film, and that both Corfixen and Refn elaborated on, was the difficulty of balancing work and family life. Refn liked to have his family with him when he was in production, but was saddened by how little time he had with them, and that the expectation of care always fell to his wife, with little regard for his own desire to look after his children.

Raising Films, a UK-based advocacy group, has recently completed a study on the state of family life in the film industry. The survey, conducted in the UK with responses from over 600 people working in film and television, reveal something probably most of us already knew, or would not be surprised by. Those in the industry who are carers (mostly of children but often of elderly parents), find their careers stalled by lack of support, and/or face active discrimination. And, also not a surprise, this disproportionately affects women.

Certainly, this is not only a woman’s issue; plenty of men have children and want to be involved in their lives, but the burden of care still falls mainly on women. Women are still, by default, expected to stay home with the children, or at least take on the majority of child/elder care and household management. And from this, women in film, both in front of and behind the camera, face the hardest fight to keep jobs, to come back into the industry after taking necessary time after giving birth or looking after an ill parent, or just the assumption that one of things will happen, and so they are not given a chance to have their careers develop.

This is also an industry where people are expected to work unreasonably long and unsociable hours; where it is assumed that you will have little personal time in pre- and post-production, and none whatsoever during production. This is not uncommon in the arts, where the ‘love’ of the job is supposed to override some basic common sense of a proper work/life balance.

A recent article in The Guardian talked of how the great acting ranks of the UK are being filled up by the elite; people from wealthy families who can afford to live the struggling actors’ life (i.e. not have a part-time job) and pursue their craft, thus enabling them to rise to the top. This brings with it the fear that, as working or even middle class people are shut out of acting careers, their stories will no longer be told. The same can be said of those behind the camera: if those who choose to have families, and do not have a family support system for some form of free care, or the money for after-school care, have to give up working in the film industry, will this mean a homogenization of stories?

And this survey was conducted in the UK, a country that at least has (for the moment) a public health care system, some form of subsidized day care (though not much), and more government support for families. I have a few friends in the United States who would love to have children, but the expense of that alone, from health care to day care, coupled with working in film, means it might be an impossibility.

As one of the survey respondents wrote: “There is an assumption that the industry can’t change, and that parents need to find ways of participating [in the industry] full-time or not at all. Wanting to divide time between creative/work and parenting does not show a lack of interest in or commitment to the industry”.

There are several suggestions on how to make the film industry, particularly film production, more family-friendly. Childcare could be part of a film’s budget, for all of cast and crew; crew could share jobs, allowing for part-time employment; unions could press for better working hours. The top desire from most respondants, though, was better tax relief, suggesting that, in the long run, this is a monetary issue. If they had more money for child/elder care, they could use it and thus participate more fully.

Full details of the survey results can be found at Raising Film’s website.

Photo by Aron Klein, of Alice Lowe directing her film Prevenge.

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