Dylan Howitt writes about alternating as a shooting PD and full-time carer for his young child. Read about his work for broadcast, Macmillan Cancer Research and “the tyranny of wiping”. Dylan’s recent series World’s Scariest… a job he got through Media Parents, will transmit this Spring on Channel 5. For more info and to contact Dylan please see www.mediaparents.co.uk
I’ve finished a 12-hour day shooting for Macmillan Cancer Support and just made it home in time to see my 2 year old before her bath and bedtime routine. My head is full of the inspiring people I met and filmed with, the heartbreaking stories they told me, as well as multiple worries about did I get all the cutaways and was there too much background noise in that interview we did? I’ll back up the rushes later but right now Sylvie wants to play horsey, read Shoebaby and dress Pooh bear – all at the same time. I make a conscious effort to shift to her level but it takes a while. But then the cares of the day are gone in building tunnels and running baths.
Dadhood and TV…can they mix? I’ve often heard ‘TV is a young person’s world’ so when I knew I was having a child it seemed like it might be time to find something else to do, get a proper job maybe. I’ve loved reading the Media Parents blog to see how other people have been able to achieve that tricky balancing act of being a parent and working in TV. This is the only forum I’ve come across where these things are discussed and it’s been huge not feeling like I’m the only one trying to do both. From my point of view, it’s definitely still a work in progress.
Before my daughter was born I had about 12 fantastic years making films, first as an editor then as a shooting PD, all over the world. Working extremely long days or travelling for weeks at a time in remote locations was all part of the thrill and I often felt I had the best job in the world. Some highlights have included filming sculptors in Mozambique who work with cut up guns for BBC4, a week in Bolivia with Damian Lewis for BBC Daily Politics, and managing to get an exclusive interview with the 17th incarnation of the Tibetan Karmapa not long after he’d fled to India (for Five).
But as soon as we knew we were having a child my whole attitude changed. I was unsure about whether to take on riskier assignments, turning down, for example, the chance to make a bunch of short films in the Middle East, as well as a job in Afghanistan (still a bit gutted about the former). I actively looked for UK based work and started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to sustain the long hours and insecurity of freelance life and still be a good dad. I had moments when I thought about finding something else to do, at different points fantasizing about teaching, gardening, running a café, or going back to college and trying to make it as an artist – because obviously that would be so much easier than a life in TV. Of course I was too busy working and getting ready for the baby to put any of these ideas into action…
When Sylvie was born though I also experienced the upside of the flexible freelance life. I took off a Scandanavian-esque 6 months which was wonderful for the spirit (if not for the bank balance). I was able to spend loads of time getting to know my newborn and readjusting to our new life, which I strongly believe is something all parents – mums and dads – should be able to do. Also, my partner got a job as an academic researcher on a public health project, requiring us to travel to Ecuador for three different trips, sometimes for months at a time. So again I was able to take off chunks of time and be a full time dad while she worked.
Switching roles like this has been really challenging: it’s basically a constant negotiation about who is doing the childcare and has meant me turning down lots of job offers (which never feels good as a freelancer – will they suddenly stop asking?) But I think ultimately we’ve both benefitted. My partner has been able to sustain and move forward in her career. And I’ve found out what it is to look after a toddler full time, an experience both massively hilarious and utterly exhausting in equal measure. I’ll never be the one who asks “what have you been doing all day?”
I was able to take on a 3 weeks shoot in The States recently only because I knew it would be my turn to stay at home the next time. Having such a duel life isn’t always easy – switching between childcare and professional life is quite a mental switch. For me it takes a couple of days to properly get back into kit lists, shooting scripts, lenses, and colour temperature, after living in a world of potty training, Iggle Piggle, play dates and what someone called ‘the tyranny of wiping’.
Planning things is challenging too, especially when I don’t know if the next job is for 2 weeks or 6 months. But what has given me more options is having what is apparently called a ‘portfolio’ career, which is a posh way of saying I wear various hats. I’m just as happy making films for charities as for TV, and taking on whichever roles are needed while concentrating mainly on shooting and directing. So right now I’m directing, shooting and editing some films for Macmillan. Before that I did a great 2 month stint as a shooting PD for Mentorn on ‘World’s Scariest’ and ‘Superstorm USA’ (for Five and BBC3 respectively), work I got through Media Parents. I’ve made some shorts for BBC Learning, and also been teaching at the Documentary Filmmakers Group and the University of Westminster. All the while perfecting my story-reading and Lego building skills, and getting ready for another 6 weeks in South America in 2013. Like I say, a work in progress…