Sunday, December 13, 2009

Directing is a lot like being a mom

Yesterday was the first day of shooting "In Montauk" and I was reminded of how much it's like being a mom in my experience. You put together the best environment that you can, give the actors a safe place to flourish and then let them go. In indie film, especially, where money is tight, you do your best to make sure everyone feels taken care of and appreciated.

Yesterday morning was cold. Really cold. Like 26 degrees on a windy beach kind of cold. We were shooting at 6:30 am. By 8:15, I could no longer feel my feet. I kept asking my lead actress, Nina, if she could feel hers. My crew started joking: "Why can't this movie be called IN MAUI?" I started thinking they were right. People don't flock to Montauk off-season for a reason. I started re-thinking the shirtless scenes that Lukas was going to have to do later. I couldn't bear the thought of him getting sick because of something I'd asked him to do. We were lucky - the weather got warmer, the sun came out, and the wind wasn't so bad where we were shooting. And, he knew the deal when he signed on, he's an adult. And that's the biggest difference.

Still, it gets kind of weird when you start calling your cast and crew "honey" and reminding them to pee because there are no bathrooms at the next location.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Finding Time for Oneself

I thought I didn't have time for myself before. Then I went into pre-production for "In Montauk." I can't remember the last time I was this busy. I get up, get the kids ready for school, take them or drop them off depending on who's carpool day it is, come home, work, pick them up, supervise homework, take them to afterschool activities, come home, feed them, hand them off to husband, work, read them a bedtime story, say "hello" to husband and go back to work. Part of it is the short pre-production schedule and part of it is the nature of the business. It's tough to get everyone excited about a project that's going to happen in six months. But a month, that gives some urgency to it. It would have been nice to find an in-between, but my location was about to disappear to construction crews.

I'm doing what I want to be doing, so I shouldn't complain, right? But that doesn't make it easy. I fall into bed every night feeling like I've been run over by a truck. Still, at least I sleep. Yesterday morning, while doing final re-writes on my script at 6:00 am, I got an e-mail from a friend telling me she'd found tights for our sons, who were to perform in a one-hour version of "The Nutcracker" later in the day. "Great!," I e-mailed back, "Can I come by and pick them up?" She lives down the street. I thought it would be no problem. She's e-mails back that she's in Central Park, ice skating. It's the only time she has for herself, early morning on the weekends. She gets time for herself by giving up sleep. I refuse to do that. Instead, I explain to my kids that Mommy's going to be very, very busy for a little while, but that I'll be back when it's over. "Are you going to be back for Christmas?" my daughter asks. I'd better be.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bones and Sex

This week I have two things going through my head: getting my kids through their science test on bones and how am I going to shoot the sex scenes on "In Montauk."

I greenlit my project last week. (Can you say that about yourself?) I'm officially in pre-production, with the first part of the shoot planned for mid-December. Last night I had to write up a description of the exact amount of nudity I plan to have in the film for SAG (the Screen Actors Guild). The sing-song voice in my head: "Femur, patella, tibia and fibula. King Julien the lemur, comes up to your femur." I went over and over it again with the kids. It runs through my head as I'm trying to think about the sex. Breast in profile, legs up to mid-thigh. The thigh bone's connected to the hip bone. Wait, no, bones interrupting again. Bare butt but no crack. For the male, full butt, but no hanging parts. Sing-song voice again: "clavicle, humerus, radius and ulna." My daughter has taken up a phrase of her friend's: "What the phalanges is going on?" (Phalanges are the bones in the fingers and toes, for those of you who may not remember 3rd grade science. Or any science.) Fingers and hands running over bare stomach. No bush. Oops! Did I say that out loud? It's not always easy keeping everything separate. I can't wait until they want to watch the film. Perhaps I'll take 10 years to finish.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Collision Course

I'm trying to get a feature off the ground, 10 years after a very successful run with "Weeki Wachee Girls" and 8 years after giving birth to twins. There - I've put it out there. I've been trying to get a feature off the ground ever since I made "Weeki Wachee Girls" and have been saying it for almost as long. At first, I spent my energies on the feature script version of "Weeki Wachee Girls" and started fundraising for it almost two years ago. Then the bottom dropped out of the market, and $200,000 felt like too much for me to raise on my own in this economy. So I put it on the back burner. At the same time, my good friend, Brian Dilg, talked about his experience shooting a documentary, "Truth Be Told" on HD with available lighting. He'd had a screening of it and people told him it looked great. He said you could shoot a feature this way. You just needed a script with a few actors and minimal locations. So I dusted off "In Montauk" and took another stab at it, re-writing it and turning it into a noir-type drama.

I've spent the last 10 months re-writing it, reading it in my writer's workshop, and talking to people about how to get it done. I've completely re-imagined one of the characters and attached Lukas Hassel to play the role. I've met with the management company and primary owners in our Montauk co-op, The Royal Atlantic, about shooting there this winter, and they are enthusiastic. But that's where the potential problem comes in. I'd hoped to shoot in January or February. Give myself time to really hone the script. Finish getting cast and crew together. The only problem, they are planning a big renovation this winter. Starting in mid-December. They will work around me as much as possible, but I really don't want to be shooting in a construction zone. It's supposed to be empty. Lonely. No one around. It's key to the story. So the question is, can I get ready that quickly? A big part of me wants to say, "yes" and jump right in. It's the only way to do it. And the mommy part says, "But what about the upcoming hellish holiday season?" In the next two months, I have the kids' birthday, my husband's birthday, my birthday (which I'd happily forego), Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hannukah and Christmas. Yes, we are a hybrid household and therefore celebrate all Jewish and Christian holidays. My husband, ever supportive, says, "Go for it." I'm not sure if he understands quite what that means. I'm not sure I do. But for the next few months, our lives should be interesting. I will try to document what it means to make this film while still being "Mommy" or "Mom" as my son has recently taken to calling me. It will be fun if it doesn't kill me. Stay tuned for updates!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lack of Choices

This blog is all about choices. And like most women my age, I assumed that when I had children, all my options would still be open. That it was just a matter of making the "right" choices. Even though I was a latchkey kid myself, it never occurred to me that the fault might be with the system. When I was in college, the biggest protest on my Atlanta campus was to protest the raising of the drinking age. At the time, I secretly agreed with the legislation, seeing how many kids drank themselves sick, or a few, to death. I couldn't hook into the Sandinsta/Contra debate. ERA was a dead horse and besides, it wasn't needed any more. When my sister-in-law had a baby 18 years ago and didn't go back to work, I assumed that it was because she had a difficult child. A few years later, a friend became very involved in the National Association of Mothers' Centers, after being frustrated at the lack of opportunities available to her that afforded her the ability to work and parent at the same time. It was still years before I had my own children when she told me that it wasn't possible to have it all. "I'll do it," I thought smugly to myself. After all, I'd succeeded at everything else, why not this?

Then I had kids. Twins. My mother lived in Florida. My mother-in-law was close by and very willing to help, but she was in her 70's. And my husband started working 11-hour days. I was lucky, because at least we had the resources to hire a nanny. And still, I was frustrated. I was exhausted. For the first five months, I never slept more than two hours at a stretch. The first three years are a complete blur. I know I did some writing and worked on a few short films, but other than that, I don't remember much. I'd had friends who lost all ambition for anything but mothering when their kids were born, but the opposite happened to me. I wanted to do more, be more, have something to show the kids for my life. Not to mention that my film life feeds me emotionally and mentally. But guilt set in at the same time - am I a good mother if I still want to make films? How do I reconcile wanting kids so desperately with wanting to make films just as desperately? Especially as both are basically 24/7 jobs. I looked for other women who still made art after kids. I lost touch with most of them. People asked why I cared about continuing to make art. I didn't need to work, I could afford to stay home with my kids, shouldn't that be enough?

And that is why Judith Warner's book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety was such a revelation to me. My husband gave it to me several years ago, and I only recently picked it up. I haven't quite finished it, but the opening premise, that motherhood in America is madness struck a chord with me. My husband has relatives in France and I've talked with them about family leave policy, childcare options and listened awestruck as one cousin explained that she had the right to be out of work for three years and go back to the same or similar position in her company. Three years! Another cousin said how when she was working on a film, she was able to leave her late-life baby in a creche (nursery) until 11:00 p.m. to finish her editing. And this is a woman devoted to her child. The two things did not seem contradictory at all to her. But it didn't click until I read this book, probably, because at the time I was talking to these French relatives, I still didn't have kids of my own.

Now, I look back, and ask myself, "Why don't we have even a fraction of these supports?" "Why don't we demand these rights for ourselves?" We, as mothers, will never truly have choices until there are supports in place which would allow a woman to work and not worry about whether or not she has adequate care for her children. Not to mention the women who need to work, and have the same difficulty finding adequate care. Or can't keep a job because their child gets sick once too often. I haven't finished the book, so I'm not sure what Judith Warner proposes, but I know it's time for me to get more involved. And one organization I'll be taking a closer look at is MomsRising. And oddly enough, my current film project, "In Montauk", is about a pregnant photographer who tries to have it all and winds up dead for her efforts. I guess my work and my life aren't so separate after all.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Can We Support Working Mothers?

I just read an article in Brain, Child magazine about a mother who let her 12-year-old daughter and her friend take her younger children and another friend to the mall. (You can read the entire article here: "Guilty As Charged"). The girls had taken a babysitting course and were used to being in charge and she dropped them all off at the mall with a cell phone and an appointed pick-up time. She was charged with endangering the welfare of her children. While I don't necessarily agree with her choice, I certainly understand it. And the charge seems extreme, especially given her description of the small town she lives in and the mall as a gathering place for families.

As she tells it, she was exhausted and when the older girls asked if they could go to the mall, she agreed as long as they took the younger kids with them. And there is the crux of the matter: exhaustion. Many mothers, including myself, make choices we may not feel entirely comfortable with later because we're tired. Or the children are tired. Or we're trying to do too much, like work and take care of the children, and pay the bills and do the laundry and negotiate arguments and make dinner and take care of the house and... the list is endless. I'm not saying that the husbands don't help, but the amount of time they spend on childcare and housework is generally acknowledged to be less than that of their working wives (except in the case where the husband is the primary caregiver.)

I once saw a mother leave her three young children in the car in front of 7-11 while she went in to buy drinks for them. I thought about calling social services for a nanosecond. Instead, my kids and I hung out with them for a few minutes. I saw their mother returning as we went into the store. I knew why she'd done it - to go with the kids would be a half an hour ordeal, to go in alone would take all of five minutes. They were right outside the entrance and she could see them for most of the time she was in the store. Did I think it unwise? Yes. A crime? No.

The saddest part of the Brain, Child magazine story was that the prosecutor was a woman and a mother who prosecuted the case with righteous zeal. Maybe she wouldn't have let her own daughter go to the mall. But I defy her to defend every decision she ever made with regards to her daughter. Especially as a working mother. We as mothers tend to be very hard on ourselves, but even harder on other mothers. I can't count the number of times that I've heard women negatively comment on how another mother parents her children. I've been guilty myself. But behind it all is my own guilt: are my choices the right ones? Have I done things that could be considered negligent? Do I yell more than other mothers? Do I spend enough time teaching my kids? Do they watch too much TV? Eat too much junk? Get enough vitamins? Am I selfish for wanting my own career?

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that parenting is not easy. Being a working mother is nearly impossible. Why can't we acknowledge that and be more supportive of each other?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Easy choices

Next week, my former nanny's son is graduating from high school and will be off to college in the fall. It made me think about the choices she had to make in her life.

Like many immigrants, she came to America alone, leaving her two children behind, then aged 10 & 12. For two years, she worked as much as she could and lived as simply as possible, saving up to bring them here. She had been here a year when she came to work for me, caring for my premature newborn twins, while family in Cameroon cared for her children. I was heartbroken every time I thought of them. I couldn't bear the thought of being separated from my babies for two hours, let alone two years.

When her children arrived, I embraced them as family. When my nanny had an emergency appendectomy, I brought them to my house to stay until she was home from the hospital. After she no longer worked for me, her son began babysitting for the twins a few times a month. In some ways, I guess I'm still trying to make up for keeping them apart, although it was not my decision to make. Now that he is graduating from college, I've been reflecting on my own need for independence from my children, and realizing that my choices have all been easy in comparison to hers. I feel lucky. And I hope that I'm never faced with the difficult choices she had to make.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Next week is a busy one. I have my writing workshop on Tuesday night, at which I'm reading as many pages as I can finish from my noir re-write of "In Montauk." A screening of shorts on Wednesday night that I was invited to gratis because I shared festival advice with one of the filmmakers. On Sunday, a tentative screening of "Weeki Wachee Girls" and a rough-cut screening of a friend's documentary that he's been working on for two years.

With two young children, I can't possibly pursue all of the networking opportunities or attend all of my friends' shows, but sometimes it feels impossible to attend even one. Every time I go out at night I hear the inevitable question "Why do you have to go?" And if I'm out more than usual, it's followed by "But you go out all the time. I never see you any more." And more often then not, I hear, "I need more Mommy time," which means alone time with that particular child. And usually, they are both saying it at the same time.

I try to reason with them. I try to explain that because I don't go to a job every day, they actually see me a lot more than other kids see their mommies. I'm the one that takes them to school, picks them up, makes sure homework is done, takes care of them when they're sick and most of the time, gets up in the middle of the night with them. It doesn't matter. It never seems to be enough. My sister, who has a 21-year-old son, tells me to appreciate it while it lasts. Before long, they won't want to be with me at all. And maybe she's right. Last week, my daughter's Friday After-School class was canceled, so I picked her up early to spend time with her while her brother was in his class. What did she want to do? Go to the park and play with her friends. Afterward, she and I came home together and played cards. It was lovely, stress-free and enjoyable for both of us. And those are the moments that make it hard to make the choice to go out. So I try to keep the going out to a minimum and carve out a little extra time for the kids when I do. And I try to remember that they won't be seven forever.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Vacationing without children

I'm in London in the worst snowfall in 18 years. Without my snow boots. My husband is working and this is supposed to be my time for me, away from the kids, having fun and doing some writing. So here I am at 4:00 in the afternoon, working on my blog. I'd imagined sitting in some cute cafe, being hip and urbane, writing on my laptop or in a notebook, sipping tea (I don't do coffee) and generally being carefree. A few things happened to foil my perfect plan. First of all, there was the snow. Lots of it, for London anyway. Everything is shut down, including many tube lines. Secondly, the Starbucks virus has invaded London almost as thoroughly as it has New York. If I'd wanted to sit in a Starbucks looking cool, I could have stayed at home. Third, as I mentioned, I don't have the right shoes. We're staying in Canary Wharf, which is sort of a cross between the World Financial Center and South Street Seaport - a former fishing area on the water that has been turned into a cute shopping area, with a large business center and lots of hotels. So, I think, great, I'll buy snow boots, have lunch, then head into the center of London. Oh, and while I'm at it, I'll refill the minutes on my cell phone so that I can call the kids later.

Needless to say, that plan didn't work out all that well, either. It turns out that the network I'm on isn't widely available so "topping up" my card isn't that easy. The store where I bought the phone (cheaper than using the hotel phone) isn't open due to the weather. In fact, half the stores in the mall are closed. It isn't until 3:00 that I find an open shoe store that carries boots that would be appropriate in the snow and don't cost an arm and a leg. I try them on even thought technically, they should be too small. They fit. I decide to go back to my room, top up my phone via internet (which you can only do if you use a UK address) and then head out. When I leave the mall and see how gray and miserable it is outside, I'm no longer sure that I want to brave going into central London. Then I watch the news, which continues to send out dire warnings about staying home unless you absolutely have to get out. And I find that while I don't mind walking around in the snow (in my new snow boots), I can't bear the thought of being stuck inside a tube station waiting for a train that may never come.

I start wondering what to do. I could write some more, but my sterile hotel room feels a bit stifling and jet lag is starting to set in. I could go to the movies, but "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" is the only thing playing locally within the hour. Mostly, I realize, I miss the hectic nature of my life, and if I'm truthful, I miss my kids. While I'm with them, I'm dreaming of time to myself. Now that I've got it, and no responsibilities other than to maybe be back in time for dinner, I find that I'm at a loss. It's as if I'm missing a limb and haven't quite figured out how to manage without it. I'm thinking about what they're doing in school, whether or not they'll be able to concentrate or finish homework or sleep when I'm not there. So far, it hasn't been a problem for either of them. Perhaps I should take a cue from them - their life goes on when I'm not there, as it should. Maybe I will go see "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" and pretend for a while that I'm carefree and a teenager. And enjoy this time I have, since it's unlikely to happen again soon.