Filmmaker With a Baby? 4 Tips From Sara Zia Ebrahimi to Smooth Life on Set and Avoid Calling It Quits
Producers, ADs and women filmmakers, this is for you.
I am beyond happy to introduce this guest post from indie filmmaker Sara Zia Ebrahimi; it’s an important post, and one that you likely haven’t seen passed anywhere else. Reading it, it struck me that we often mention how the system seems to be stuck for women filmmakers, or how we lack interesting female characters, but we rarely talk about practical tips to help out women filmmakers do their jobs while being who they are.
In our quest to get jobs and compete with the Boys, we’ve erased out of the conversation all the elements pointing toward our differences, as if we should feel ashamed about them. But maybe it’s time to start talking to each other about the realities of being a woman filmmaker at certain times in our life, like when you recently gave birth to a tiny human being, still need to deal with very real physical repercussions all the while making films, because you’re a filmmaker and that’s what you do.
If you’ve opened this article and are still here, I hope you’ll get until the end, because it’s worth it. If you know a filmmaker, a producer or an AD that it might help to better do their job, please share it. And props to Sara Zia Ebrahimi for going against the flow and genuinely sharing her freshly learned knowledge. Check her work, she just released the first episode of Bailout, a webseries that could use your support to keep on living!
Without further ado:
4 Tips to Smooth Life on Set and Avoid Calling It Quits When You Have a Baby
a Guest Post by Sara Zia Ebrahimi
When my daughter was 6 months old I shot the first two episodes of my new web series Bailout, a five day shoot at 6 different locations. I went online to find resources for how to manage pumping milk on long days on set as a breastfeeding mom, and barely found anything.
Now I know that by using the word “breastfeeding” in my opening paragraph I’ve probably caused about 70% of this site’s readers to bounce already, but this article is equally as important–if not more–for those who cringe at the word.
Why? Because when I finally posted a question on how to manage set life in an online forum for moms, the answers I got were so discouraging. Most moms who had ever worked on film or television sets told me they had to quit for at least a year if not more.
The reason mothers of young children don’t tend to work on as many film projects is not because they don’t want to, but because the field doesn’t make space for us to. Yes, there are some women who are very happy to just be with their children, and I respect and love those folks. But there are also many of us who still want to be our fullest, most vibrant selves. We are still filmmakers. Our barriers to this are not our children, but how the outside world does (or rather, doesn’t) make space for women with children. The pushback I most often hear is “You chose to have a child, you have to prioritize your child and deal with that decision.” It’s something I’m willing to bet never is said to my male colleagues who are fathers.
The challenges of being a filmmaker as a new mom continue well into the post-production and distribution phases as well. Right now I’m running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to shoot the remaining three episodes of the series, while still working my full time day job—like many emerging filmmakers juggling multiple responsibilities. But as a mother, every moment I spend online in the evenings after work to send emails and promote my Kickstarter is time away from my kid. I spend a lot of energy reminding myself that I am not a “bad mother” for spending some time on other things.
An important part of what has helped me push through these challenges are the useful stories shared by the few mothers on the online forums who had tried to work on sets. I’ve realized there is no one place though to find resources on how to be a mother, particularly to young children, on set. So now that I’ve survived my shoot, I put together this list of tips, not just for mothers but also for producers and ADs to learn about how to make more welcoming creative environments for lactating moms.
Agree On Shared Language Beforehand
There’s something about the word “breast” that makes people uncomfortable. I’ll be honest, it made me a little uncomfortable even though we’re all adults. The last thing I wanted was to have a public discussion in front of crew about the state of my boobs.
My AD–a friend, and feminist-inclined man–would come up to me and say “How are you doing (pause)… here” while gesturing slowly in an up and down motion along his torso. I think it was awkward for us both. Before you start shooting, sit down with your AD and/or line producer and say “I’m a nursing mom and I have to pump every few hours for my health and to continue to feed my baby.”
Tell them the language you feel comfortable using on set to communicate about your breaks. And if you’re like me, leave the word breast out of it.
Make Sure You Have Lots of Ice.
Budget for ice. Bring a cooler. Plan to have new shipments of ice throughout the day. Often you are on locations without a fridge available, particularly on a low budget shoot where even your indoor shoots are likely to be in someone’s apartment where you have to unplug the fridge for noise. You need a lot of ice to keep that milk fresh on a 12+ hour day until you get home to store it.
Invest In An Adapter or Hand Pump
If your production rents a van, schedule time to be able to use the van to pump with an electric pump with an adapter. Scared one of the grip crew is going to bust in accidentally? Invest in a hands free pumping bra and bring your nursing cover. A manual pump, while slower in pulling milk, gives you much more flexibility in terms of finding a location or corner to pump in.
Budget for Childcare
If you’re the director and it’s your project, budget for childcare. Even if you’re not, talk to the person leading the project about the possibility of childcare as a way to be able to include mothers on crew. One thing I didn’t do in this first round of shooting, but wish I had, is schedule childcare at locations near where I was shooting so someone could watch my daughter while I was working, but bring her over on lighting set ups when I had some down time.
I was on the board of directors and programming committee for the BlackStar Film Festival in 2014, and the festival founder hired two childcare providers to watch children in a hotel a block from our venue. It was an incredible experience for several of us as mothers to be able to coordinate volunteers and work the festival but have them walk our kids over for occasional visits and to nurse her directly whenever needed. The experience showed me in a concrete way what inclusion for mothers could look like.
To those of you who want to make a film but have been discouraged to do so as an expecting or new mom–I hope this is an affirmation and call to action. You can do it. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. And for the rest of folks, it’s an encouragement to think about how to make space to include those parents in your creative community.
Sara Zia Ebrahimi is a curator of film, visual art and new media and for over a decade has produced film screenings and exhibits in the Philadelphia area. She has worked as a consultant with Independent Television Service (ITVS) and with individual independent filmmakers on their engagement and outreach campaigns. When she’s not making or curating creative work, she works as a Social Media Specialist at American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). A MFA graduate of Temple University, her own short films have screened internationally and been awarded grants from Chicken & Egg Pictures, Rooftop Films and the Leeway Foundation. Her new web series Bailout follows the story of Shay, a young Iranian American woman who struggles with the most American of traditions: credit card debt.