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Moms-in-Film Finds Parenting Solutions for Industry Workers With Long Hours

This time last year, Moms-in-Film had its first-ever Wee Wagon up and running in the parking lot of the Zach Theater at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

The mobile childcare unit, which can be moved around on studio lots and taken to location shoots as well as film fests, is at the heart of MiF’s ambition to help create gender parity for people working in the film and television industry.

Film workers have long complained that the industry is anything but parent-friendly. Among the challenges: long hours, a freelance economy and shifting locations. MiF’s goal is to change this via initiatives that include lobbying for shorter hours, encouraging innovative solutions such as job sharing, and providing free childcare for people who work on set. The latter is Wee Wagon’s purpose.

In addition to the mobile Wee Wagon, MiF provides a Basecamp model — a more stationary childcare setup in a brick-and-mortar space. Basecamp was launch-
ed at the Park City Community Church during Sundance in January in partnership with Amazon Studios and Collab&Play. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison, Oscar-nominated for “Mudbound,” was among the filmmaker parents who used the program while she served on the festival jury.

“The Wee Wagon initiative was a tall order but also the most immediately beneficial solution to the childcare issues voiced in our meetings,” says MiF co-founder, board chair and filmmaker Christy Lamb. “Moms-in-Film has proved the model is a practical advocacy tool on the ground, and we’re excited to implement it in more iterations, including on set.” Wee Wagon sponsors have included Panavision, Luna Bar/Luna Fest and the Dudley T. Dougherty Foundation.

MiF was launched less than two ears ago as a bicoastal organization by co-founders Lamb in Los Angeles and actress-writer-director Mathilde Dratwa in New York.

“We were shocked to discover that nobody was addressing this issue in the U.S.,” Dratwa says. “We didn’t intend to start a nonprofit, but it grew out of a need as we were connecting with our communities and learning that childcare is at the top of their — and our — concerns.”

Moms in Film Illustration
CREDIT: Wenjia Tang for Variety

Dratwa and Lamb are particularly passionate about helping below-the-line workers. Crew members are often those most in need of affordable or free childcare. Well-known above-the-line talent is typically able to bring a nanny to set and is provided a private dressing room or can afford full-time in-home childcare. But for below-the-line crew, even if parents are able to afford day care, the hours they work on set make it nearly impossible for them to drop their kids off and pick them up.

Jennifer Dehghan, a production designer and art director (“The Mick,” “The Beguiled”), took her eldest son when he was 4 months old on location to San Juan, Puerto Rico. She needed to pump milk and transport it to her temporary apartment because a cooler in her car wasn’t able to keep it cold enough in the tropical heat. If Wee Wagon had been a possibility at that time, Dehghan insists it would have made a measurable difference for her and for the film.

“To be able to pop into a trailer and nurse or just say hi in between setups would have made me the happiest worker on set,” she says. “I love my job. I’m built for it and good at it. Now, with three children under 4, I can state definitively that being a mother has made me a better designer. I prioritize better, manage and multitask better, communicate more clearly, have more patience for crew. I see through the clutter to the heart of the narrative better, and that makes me a better designer. Having childcare for my kids nearby would only make me calmer and help me work longer.”

Morrison says that working moms have to take time off to tend to the needs of their children. And when networking or promoting a film, “you have to find local childcare or travel with a babysitter,” she says. “All of this can be prohibitively expensive, which is why Wee Wagon is one of many great solutions for so many of us mothers in the filmmaking field.”

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