Meg writes in:
I’m about to finish the first year of an engineering degree (if nothing else, it taught me I will never be an engineer) and my neighbor has offered me a job as a runner on a show in my area, my question is, down the track, is a career in the film industry going to make it impossible to have a family?
I know this is way in the future, but in considering career moves and such I was wondering if you knew anything about women in the industry, is it sort of expected that having children will end your film career, or are there specific departments or positions that may allow you to keep working?
I’m not going to tell anyone how they should parent, since I’m not one myself. There are some things we can all agree you should or shouldn’t do to kids (feed them and beat them, respectively), but beyond that, I’m not super qualified to tell you how to balance your career with your familial responsibilities.
I can tell you I know plenty of people in every area of filmmaking that have kids, both men and women. Some are single parents, some have a stay-at-home spouse, some have partners that are also working. I know people who have multiple nannies do all of the hard work of raising a child, and just spend a couple of fun hours with the kid per week.1
It certainly is possible to be a mother and continue your career. How much it affects your career can vary greatly.
One of the few nice things about working freelance is that you can just decide to not look for work. You’re not going to be paid maternity leave (again, freelance), but you can take as much time as you want.
If you work in television, your stretches of work will be longer than in commercials or features, so you may end up leaving in the middle of the season. But it would take some kind of asshole to hold that against you.2
Precisely when you’d have to take off probably depends on just how physical your job is. Being a female electrician comes with a lot of challenges anyway, but carrying 100lb runs of 4/0 cable while six months pregnant is probably one you shouldn’t even try to overcome. On the other hand, a writer/producer could probably work up until her water breaks.3
The higher up the ladder you are in any given department, the less physical work you do, too. Camera operators can spend entire shooting days sitting on the dolly, while the dolly grip and camera assistants move everything, including her. The best boys4 spend most of their time on the truck doing paperwork and making phone calls.
I’d be curious to hear from any readers who’ve worked while pregnant in the various departments. I have no idea how long you could do hair and make-up (standing on your feet all day) or costumes (moving around the cast dexterously and lightly).
Another thing to keep in mind is, you’re young. You don’t really know what you want out of life, yet, which is totally fine. Set life may turn out to be just as bad a fit for you as engineering. You may find you want to leave your career behind to be with your kids; you may find you don’t actually want kids, after all.
If you do want kids and you do take some time off, re-entering the work force can be tricky. If you spend a season away to be with your child, the show you were on will have to hire somebody else to do your job. They can’t just fire that person because you found a good day care and want to get back to work.
You’re going to have a big hole in your resume, but that isn’t too unusual. Shows get cancelled mid-season all the time, and anyone can wind up with a nine months gap without even a baby to show for it. This is why TAPA recommends not showing dates on your resume, anyway.
Once you do get back on the job, we’re back in the I-have-no-idea-how-people-do-that territory. You’ll spend twelve to eighteen hours a day on set. That’s a long time to be away from your children, which I imagine is a blessing and a curse. You’ll have to pay for daycare, baby sitters, or a stay-at-home spouse, none of which are cheap. But as I said, I’ve seen it done.
There is a lot of sexism and unfairness in this business. Biology itself is conspiring against you to some degree– nine months is a long time to be pregnant, and our offspring don’t come out able to run around like other mammals. Baby humans are basically helpless for at least a decade.
But like many areas of life, modernity helps. You can control the timing of your pregnancy. You live in a civilized society where maternal death is extremely rare. We have a capitalist system, where people exchange specialized skills for currency that can be saved, rather than hunting and gathering or subsistence farming.
Don’t feel held back by your desire to have children and a career. It’s not easy, but it is possible.