Balancing Trust & Fear: The True Story Behind The Gripping Short Film BAD MOTHER

Marnie Baxter and Nicola Stuart-Hill recently launched the IndieGogo campaign for their film Bad Mother— a short that explores whether or not we can rely on the kindness of strangers, what makes a mother good or bad and just how black and white can the answers to these questions even be. Moms-in-Film chatted with the two about their film, the concept of trust in modern society and the real life situation that inspired the gripping short film.

MIF: Before we get to Bad Mother, Tell us a little about your involvement in the film, yourselves and your history as filmmakers.

NSH: I’m the co-writer & director on Bad Mother. I’m also playing the character Jenny, the stranger, in the film. My parents were originally from the home counties surrounding London. I was born in the Westcountry down near Cornwall — where the surf championships take place — for those of you over the pond. I have been an actor in TV/Film & theater for 12 years; so I’m used to being in front of the camera. I did a creative writing/literature degree while still being an actor, to develop my writing skills and this film is part of my continued exploration into other avenues within this business.

MB: I grew up in the Shetland Islands in the very north of Scotland, and dreamt of being an actress from a very young age. I left just before I turned 17 to go to drama school and have been working in a variety of roles in theater, film and television ever since. I have two children, Maxwell who’s 11 and Ava who’s 8. They’re lunatics. This is my first time working behind the camera, and it’s a fantastic experience, it’s so fulfilling to be working on a project from the very beginning, to be able to shape every nuance. Terrifying, but rewarding.

MIF: The dichotomy of fear and trust at play in Bad Mother will, no doubt, feel palpable to any parent. Where did the idea for the story come from?

NSH: It’s based on an experience Marnie actually had a few years back.

MB: I went to the beach a few years ago with my children (when they were around 7 and 4). This woman, another mother with two children, came over and sat down next to me. It was a bit odd, the beach was empty and she chose to sit so close, but we got talking and the children all started playing together. She seemed quite lonely, her husband was in the army and was away a lot and she wasn’t from the area. After a while the children started complaining about being hungry so I offered to go and get us all lunch. I left my two in this stranger’s care and went off to get some chips for everyone. But as soon as I had left the beach I started to panic about what I had done, who this woman was, and whether my children would still be there when I got back.

MIF: Balancing the need for support while managing trust among people you may not know very well is such a common tightrope for parents. Is that at the heart of what’s being explored here?

NSH: The thought process that she experienced stayed with her and Marnie instinctively felt there was a story there. It got us thinking about how society is set up these days, how trust itself is finding its place in the world increasingly hard to find as we are constantly pumped with stories like the Madelaine McCann case, and the increasing , quick vilification of anyone, on social media. Even the trust between mother to mother, is at question in our film.

MB: The story has evolved out of my experience as a mum and I hope that makes it feel authentic. It’s an honest portrayal of how I felt in a moment, which I hope will resonate with other mums out there.

MIF: As the plot is based on a real event, what kind of reactions do you find the script gets?

MB: I was inspired to tell the story because it is true, and it has haunted me for years. It’s something that I did, for good or for bad. And when I talk about it with other mothers usually they have a counter story — something similar that happened to them, a moment when they let their guard down that has stayed with them. That’s what keeps spurring me on to make the film — the reaction I get from other mothers. It’s a story that they relate to, and one I’ve never seen told before.

NSH: Judgement, as title of the film states, is at the heart of this film. Society judges mothers so ruthlessly, there is no room for mistakes . What if we are all behind closed doors bad and good? What if that’s just normal? Who gets to decide? Both Grace & Jenny, the only adults in the film, will be seen as bad mothers to some, or good mothers doing the best they can to others. Even the act of a mother leaving her children with someone she has just met, causes conflicting judgments in people nowadays; to leave them, you’re damned if something happened, to not leave them, you’re damned for not trusting a fellow mother. In an era gone by it wouldn’t of been an issue.

MIF: What do you hope people come away from the film feeling or asking themselves?

MB: We are increasingly expected to be suspicious of strangers in society now, and the film is challenging that. Bad Mother is about trust, and it’s asking, are we encouraged to trust each other as mothers? Has society changed since we were children, since our parents were children? And do we think this is good or bad? In this culture, where isolation and loneliness in motherhood are such prevalent problems, it feels important to explore why we don’t fall back on community in the way we once did.

NSH: It’s a story that every parent will identify with; someone taking your children. Parents see relentless danger at every corner- irrational though it feels sometimes — its basic animalistic protection. But also telling a story to me is telling the truth of the human condition. Every human is interesting, but a character who happens to be a mother, has not been written too well in years gone by. I just wanted to write mothers I know, with all their contradictions, of love and hate. Including my own mum. I don’t know a mother who is not both ‘bad ‘ and ‘good’ — as society would term it.

MIF: Obviously this is a huge stepping stone towards doing more work on your own terms. Do either of you have a dream project that you would love to see made or work on?

MB: I currently am attached (as an actress) to a film called Between Weathers, which is being developed by B4 Films. It’s a beautiful script, written by Jonathan Wakeham about a little group of islanders who stand up against a corporate world that wants to destroy it’s community for money. The film is set in Shetland, where I grew up and it would be a real joy both artistically (it’s a fantastic role) and personally (it’s home!).

NSH: I would love to make the book The Loving Spirit by Daphne Du Maurier into a film. Also, a film about youth homelessness, a film about the care system, and a film that questions unconditional love in motherhood. I would also like to perform a one woman play – a lot of the most unforgettable nights at the theater, have been watching one person shows

MIF: Sounds like you each have a lot that you would like to tackle in your careers! After Bad Mother, what’s next up for each of you?

NSH: As an actor — I’m penciled to make a film playing the mum of a transgender teenage. As a film maker — we’ll see how this one goes!

MB: It’s difficult to see much beyond Bad Mother in the near future — it has been taking up a lot of our time. I worked on a web series called Unpacking last year, along with Bad Mother’s executive producer Linda Marlowe, which will begin it’s festival circuit soon so I will be helping to promote that. As I said, working behind the camera and on the production side of things is new to me and I have loved it, so when Bad Mother is up and running I will be looking for another project to get my teeth into.

We wish Marnie and Nicola the best of luck with Bad Mother. If you would like to support their film, head over to their IndieGogo page and drop them a few quid (aka dollars).

Here at Moms-in-Film, we love to support Mama Made Films. If you’re currently crowdfunding for a short or feature film and are looking to spread the word, let us know because we may be able to help!