Since writing this blog Sammy Todd has found flexible work through www.mediaparents.co.uk Please read on for her experience as a single media parent.
Being a single parent is challenging at the best of times but if there’s one thing that a Production career equips one for, it’s dealing with the challenges that come with being a single parent. Sadly though, for all the cross-pollinating skills, they don’t make particularly compatible bed partners.
My leaving lunch at CNN was the day before my baby was born. I was massively pregnant, had the best job in the world, and was convinced that as soon as the babe arrived I’d trundle back into work and pop her under the desk like a little cat. Being a Freelancer, maternity leave wasn’t an option and naturally, my position was filled pronto – and as it transpired, neither cats nor babies were permitted under desks.
As soon as Mahala arrived work was the furthest thing from my mind, it was such a beautiful time. I was grateful that I didn’t have to rush back – I had my project and my own production to attend to – my little girl and my new life.
Fast forward four and a half years, and this January Mahala is starting school. Suddenly, there is a window and the potential of resuming a career. Life has changed radically for me since she was born – my Mother passed away when Mahala was one, and during her illness I separated from my now ex-husband. Needless to say with grief, responsibility, and chartering unchartered waters, it would have been impossible to juggle any more of a load – let alone realise a wage needed to cover childcare and living costs. Staying home wasn’t a hard decision to make, as there really wasn’t much of an option.
I have been extremely lucky though, in that we still live in our home – just about. I’m a resourceful type and I realise I have a lot of personal strength. I also realised it wasn’t just a case of ill-affording childcare as, even if I could, it seemed a false economy. The past four years have been the best investment I’ve ever made – all my time, money and love being poured into this little being – and I am pleased to say, my daughter is confident, bright, creative, strong, healthy and happy. And I feel quite secure, when I wave her away at the school gates, that she’s going to be okay.
So, where will I be rushing off to, once the drop off, the kiss goodbye and “be a good girl” is out of the way? CNN would have been great – but they closed down the Creative Services department a couple of years ago. Not unlike so many of the great production companies I’ve worked for – here today, gone tomorrow.
I’ve worked on incredible programmes: Millennium (a history of the last thousand years for Jeremy Isaacs Productions/BBC/CNN) and The Face (the story of the image of Christ/PBS) to name a couple of highlights. But as the last letter to contributors was dispatched, the lights of the office would be turned off and with a final “thanks – you were great”, there ended another chapter, turfed out, looking for the next gig – and as we know, one is ‘only as good as one’s last project’. Months between jobs was never a good look.
In terms of taking out my little black book and heralding a rallying cry to all my ex-colleagues – to be honest, there are only a handful who are still in the game. I look towards all the incredible AP/Producers on Millennium and sad to say, less than a quarter of them still work in Production. Which is criminal, as this team was the crème de la crème – handpicked by Sir Jeremy Isaacs to bring their collective talent to a legendary series. And I can only surmise that gradually, the job insecurity, the disproportionate demands on the workforce as budgets squeezed, the nature of the projects changing with the nature of times, all contributed to the burn out. Big budget documentary fast became a dinosaur, in favour of the ever more lucrative world of ‘format reality shows’ – the colossal docs too expensive to make, particularly as most of the budget nowadays goes to the commissioners requirement of a ‘Celebrity’ presenter in favour of the “scintillating academic”.
For my time in production, the glory days are over. How can I compete with a Media Graduate (of which there are 35,000 such disillusioned youngsters flooding the marketplace each year) in an Industry where there are only 32,000 jobs available? The Media Graduate who is available days, nights and weekends with all the passion that goes with landing an illusive ‘media’ job – and who is willing to do the work for little or no money – and doesn’t need to leave the office to cook supper and help with homework. I have years of experience, have skills that have taken decades to acquire and yet, daily rates have remained unchanged since I was running at 15 – and with inflation, for the hours that I would be putting in – my earnings, now, are less than I would receive as an immigrant cleaner.
As for job security, well, if I was looking for that, I wouldn’t have been a Freelancer, but the costs have been high. I naively thought that I would be able to break out of my support roles and move into Producing /Directing – not only do I have the talent and capacity for it but I reckon I would have been good. But who had the time or money to nurture or mentor that young blade?
I eventually sold my PD-150, as I never managed to afford the ‘final cut pro’ master-class – and thought I might better my chances of existence on a paradise island in Brazil. It was a bold and rather daring move – and it changed my life in the way I had hoped – but not in the way, I imagined. It was there, that however tough things seem here, you realise quite how finely balanced things are. One didn’t need to worry about heating bills but god forbid your child is sick, as the boat only goes to the mainland once a day. And you realise that the location you are born in the world determines absolutely and utterly everything about your potential and possibilities.
I know now, that I can bring so much more to the table, in terms of talent & experience than ever before. I am in my creative element as I progress through life with the confidence, self-belief and ability that maturity brings. I have focus and ambition, but the motivations are different from my twenties – my needs are those of having to create stability and long-term security for my child, rather than accolades and BAFTAs. But I need a job that doesn’t mind if I leave by 5. That understands, that parent meetings are just as important as production ones. And school holidays – where will Mahala go, now that Granny isn’t here?
As for solutions, the whole culture of the Industry needs to change. Perhaps there are solutions – a case of enough ‘old-timers’ and impassioned folk coming together, creating forums where the issues can be tackled, solutions realised and an Industry ‘formula’ suggested – and with enough clout behind it, implemented. Media Parents is a prime example of such a force – we’ve been called to arms but now the troops need to be rallied, create strategy and effect change.
Perhaps new roles need to be created – Production Mummies – who support all areas, make the tea, pick up the slack, plug in creatively and are the epicentre for all the whines and traumas of the job, before leaving in time to make most of the school runs.
IT Managers (my god, what luxury) – but with that investment, remote working wouldn’t just become possible, but the norm. Not only that, they would offer brush ups on the skills, show the shortcuts, examine how to file things uniformly so that anyone can find and access the work, the odd course in Excel formulas and social media techniques – bringing Production up to the Century and as a result, making it a far more efficient and well-oiled machine.
Wages becoming public and salaries being forced to be Industry standard – that would surely level the playing field. And then, maybe, just perhaps, people would think differently when they demanded unreasonable requests, or an intern wouldn’t need to feel guilty leaving the office at 6pm. And perhaps the Commissioners would be forced to offer healthier budgets, exposed as the perpetrators of an exploited workforce – resulting in a drained talent pool, diminished programme quality – and surely, lower back-end sales?
I would love to work on a project now, and would relish the thought of being part of a world I so know, love and understand, with knowledge that my contribution genuinely makes a positive difference. But, who is going to take on a coordinator or AP/researcher that needs to leave the office at 5? Why choose me, over the 1000’s of wonderfully, talented folk out there who can leave at 7 and are expected to?
If anything prepares one for being a single mother, it’s a career in Production. One knows intrinsically, there is always a way – there really are no problems, just solutions. Being a single parent or working in Production require one to live expecting the unexpected, to roll with the punches and ride the waves, to be challenged so physically, emotionally and mentally, that one becomes as strong as an ox. Creativity, positivity and a broad life experience, are all essential to the role. A dash of intelligence is helpful, and being flexible is key.
It has always been a privilege to work in the Industry but now, more than ever, one has to be privileged to be able to afford to. It’s a depressing day, when, at an Industry forum on career and parenting, a talented series producer (and parent), in all seriousness offers this solution to the issues and problems raised: “I would suggest, marrying an Investment Banker.” If that’s not a statement to lose heart over, I’m not quite sure what is.
Since writing this Sammy has worked flexibly through Media Parents, and has accepted a project with regular hours. Sammy can be found in the TALENT section of www.mediaparents.co.uk and on the watercooler within the site.