An unorthodox pregnancy announcement from Liz Manashil.
I am 33 years old. I am 5’0” and 155 pounds. I’m also three months pregnant. These aren’t major statements in the grand scheme of things, but apparently the reluctance to share personal data struck a chord with a few people in a piece I wrote (re-published in MovieMaker) back in 2016.
In general, I talk a lot about my own work and how I’ve made my two features, Bread and Butter and Speed of Life. I run a newsletter and share a lot of personal details on social media. So much so that my parents knew I’d go pretty public with a pregnancy announcement. Once I told them, they made me promise I would tell family members firstly and privately before announcing to the world. They know me too well. So here I am, a few weeks after sending a “down low” email to my brothers and sisters, telling the world … I’m pregnant and I’m pretty scared. But it’s time to get honest.
The farther I get down this maternity pathway, the more I see parallels between filmmaking and babymaking. We say it all the time, making a film is like birthing a baby. It’s painful, it takes so much out of you, and after it’s finished, you get amnesia about how difficult it was. Perhaps the most significant parallel is that when you are done you have this beautiful work of art to share with the world. Both filmmaking and baby making involve extreme exhaustion, radically different diets, disruptions to sleep , and body aches. Also, both a baby and a film require an incredible amount of producing. And like a film, you can’t produce a baby alone. Though I’m a control freak, I’ll concede that my partner had quite a bit to do with this as well.
In producing this second feature film, Speed of Life, I looked at my resources. I make microbudget content. I wrote a script to one location. I worked on casting the project for over a year (as we could not afford a casting director). I did not take one vacation day for the two years of working at Sundance until I took 12 vacation days to shoot my second feature in April 2018. I planned it all out.
In producing this child, I had to look at things similarly. We actually conceived a child during the production of Speed of Life. I created three separate conception playlists and read everything I could find about aiding fertilization. I lifted my legs and tilted my pelvis. I bulk ordered urine tests and ovulation strips. I planned. But, like how the movie you make is never exactly the one you have in your head… you can plan your life but ultimately we have to bow to science.
I miscarried the day after production wrapped. A few hours after coming home from set. I came to work and bled through meetings with trailer producers and Sundance staffers. I told very few people. I told very few people because… it didn’t seem like it was public information that should be shared. I didn’t feel it was my place and I didn’t realize that the information could benefit anyone in any way. Spoiler: I was wrong.
We don’t realize how much data can impact others’ experiences. Had I been more public about my miscarriage, I might have had a small part in reducing the taboo about them. The minute I connected with others who had experienced something similar (usually over confidential emails), I felt better, less alone. At the very least, there is an emotional benefit to sharing information.
In post production of the film, my partner and I conceived again. So, there I was in my last week of picture editing, at the end of my first trimester, lying on the floor, burping at my lovely editor. Thank you, Josie, for lending me a very soft pillow chair and allowing me to advise on the cut while lying on the floor with a bag of saltines, Tums, and b6 supplements. My crew and I birthed a film together while every day this creature inside of me grew and caused a lot of acid reflux. I miss tomatoes.
I work in a department at Sundance where we encourage and support filmmakers who want to get more involved in the marketing and distribution of their work — Sundance Institute’s Creative Distribution Initiative. One of this department’s key goals is data transparency. We work hard to find, encourage and publish data on distribution. We even run a fellowship that gives money to filmmakers who self release, in exchange for full data reporting that we then publish. But even though we know without a doubt the importance of data sharing in this landscape, we still bump up against filmmakers who are afraid to share information publicly, and the thing they’re most reticent to publish is what they’ve netted. There’s shame and fear for a plethora of reasons. I spoke with a filmmaker (who will remain anonymous) about the release of her microbudget film and she confided that she feared sharing profitable numbers because of everything her community donated to get the film made. She didn’t want to appear selfish. I’ve talked to other filmmakers and it was quite the opposite. Some aren’t proud of the revenue made on their films and don’t want to look unsuccessful.
As I mentioned in my last piece — the definition of success is not a clear and tangible thing when it comes to filmmaking. There is no strict definition and so all information helps us see what is possible. It’s possible that filmmakers are making absolutely no money whatsoever, but we would never know because the fear of sharing personal numbers and being construed as “unsuccessful” keeps people silent.
Hollywood is a world that used to celebrate the walls between artist and audience. Let’s remember how rare it was to get behind the scenes only ten years ago. Things are changing. With social media, we’re allowing more access between audience and artist. It’s time to break down those walls even further.
Filmmakers are constantly told not to go public with their budgets because those interested in acquiring their content may low ball them with smaller offers if they know it’s a low budget film. Filmmakers are told they will be branded by the numbers that they share. But, the less we share, the less emerging filmmakers will know about what it takes to make a movie. This is not healthy. It contributes to an industry where filmmakers blindly make content, knowing nothing about what will stick. So, I’m just encouraging you to share information that you feel comfortable sharing — knowing that it will impact your community when you do.
I’ve been afraid to announce my pregnancy because of the superstitions around miscarriage, but also because I’m afraid I will lose opportunities. I exchanged a few stealthy messages with other colleagues in the industry who are secretly pregnant — and they’ve expressed the exact same concerns. Will I lose any upward mobility at work because of the assumption and perception that I will be distracted and thus less adept at my job? Will I be able to support a child? How much do these creatures cost? Will people stop seeing me as a “fresh face” (to be honest, I don’t think anyone EVER saw me as a fresh face…) or a new voice or anything buzz worthy because now I’m just another breeder? I think the biggest fear I’ve been facing lately is the fear of being forgotten. Will I fall into babyland and disappear? What will happen to my identity — both public and private?
I think it’s important to pause here and recognize that I’m talking about incredibly privileged concepts — raising a family and making a movie. I work in the microbudget world where a lot of people donate their time and resources to get our projects off the ground. I want to recognize that I’m pretty lucky to even have a job, lucky to be able to start a family if I want to, and lucky to be making movies.
I want to be open about my upcoming baby, everything it has taken to produce these features, my work at Sundance, and how to make microbudget content because I truly believe that this openness breaks down walls. I want to be loud with my pregnancy announcement because I don’t want to hide from this, in spite of all the fears and anxieties.
Next up is releasing this baby and this film into the world and taking care of both. I plan on putting my all into my second feature — which I recently picture locked and ironically is titled Speed of Life. If I can, I also want to be a part of representing working parents in this industry. The more we talk about it, the more we can help other people become aware of the circumstances to make them better for everyone. I didn’t even know that some film festivals did not let in breastfeeding parents until I read that article about Cannes. Now that I know, I plan on bringing my baby and my breasts with me to any festival that invites us. I hope you’ll join me (and if you are not breastfeeding, or have no breasts, then I hope you’ll be in attendance with whatever part of you puritans are getting upset about).
So please, remember that data/information has more of an impact than just a stale, technical one. When it’s personal, usually someone else is battling the same thing or could benefit from what you are sharing. And when it comes down to it, all data is personal. Share the data on your films with your community, in whatever way you feel safest. Share what you are going through emotionally, outside of film, because I promise you’ll feel less alone.
P.S.: I saw this posting the other day and it made me feel like my piece was pretty in the mud. However, it also made me feel inspired. Thank you Rachel Morrison. Read the whole text here.