Wonderful Women Interview With Filmmaker Rachel Judkins
Rachel is a filmmaker and mother of two who has lived on four continents but proudly calls Aotearoa, New Zealand home. She has been documenting the lives of everyday people and public figures alike in Auckland and Toronto for over ten years as a freelance film and television researcher. Her recent work on various social impact documentaries has fuelled her desire to tell stories that have the potential for effecting positive change. After years of helping bring other filmmakers’ visions to life, Rachel is now thrilled to be developing her own documentaries. About Bloody Time! is her directorial debut.
About the project:
About Bloody Time! is an 8-minute documentary commissioned as part of the Loading Docs 2020 collection ‘REVOLUTION’. The film is heartfelt, funny and a little off-beat. On the brink of her 40th birthday and fed up with her bloody period, filmmaker Rachel turns the camera on herself to challenge the shame that comes with her monthly visitor. Hellbent on breaking the code of silence, she drags her family and friends along for the ride. Will the hormones take over or can she find something in the mess to celebrate?
Below is an interview with the brilliant Rachel Judkins on her work and life. I found it especially inspiring as I used to be a filmmaker and TV Director pre-children myself and hope to one day combine my current career with filmmaking again.
Describe a typical day for you?
Every day is that endless juggle of family life and work, of never stopping or sitting still, and because I work from home, hardly ever getting out of my tracksuit pants or onesie!
After the hustle of getting my two little monsters to school (10 year old Molly and 7 year old Charlie) I go back to my tiny home office in Auckland, New Zealand and start my paid work – crammed in beside the piano and rack of laundry (oh, the glamour!) As a freelance film researcher I often work on multiple documentary projects at one time so the morning zips by in a happy blur of reading and writing about a wide range of topics and interviewing fascinating people over the phone.
At lunch, I hurriedly stuff some leftovers in my face and do some exercise like a bike-ride or some cheeky laps at the local pool because I have discovered that I become a nightmarish human without daily physical exertion of some kind!
I work some more in the afternoon until the kids arrive home where I try to spend some fun time monkeying around with them in amongst the flurry of activities, homework and dinner (often taking work calls in between).
After stories, songs and delicious chats snuggled under the blankets, the kids are off to bed and I either watch some Netflix on the couch with my husband or go back to work on my creative unpaid work. This is when I brainstorm story ideas on the phone with my producer, review footage of my current project or trawl through music libraries looking for suitable tracks. By 10.30pm, I am a walking zombie and incapable of coherent thought so have a quick canoodle with my husband, force myself to floss and collapse in bed, ready (sometimes) to do it all over again tomorrow. PHEW!
What do you feel are your greatest achievements?
The things in my life that I am the most proud of are probably not the kinds of ‘greatest hits’ I would put on my CV but are times when I haven’t given up despite things being tough or not going my way. Here are a few examples:
I dropped out of high school because of an RSI injury that stopped me from being able to write or type but I was able to do my communications degree at University by having people take notes for me in lectures, using a voice-activated programme on the computer to complete assignments (back when that technology was new and infuriating!) and dictating my answers and essays to a scribe during exams. It was hard. I didn’t do brilliantly, but I got my first taste of documentary-making and proudly graduated at the same time as everyone else in my class.
A few years back, I singlehandedly packed up my life and moved my family across the world from sub-tropical New Zealand to freezing cold Canada and am so proud of myself for surviving life in a foreign country with a toddler and a baby and a pilot husband who was away all the time.
Seriously, if you haven’t grown up in a cold climate, then wrestling two wriggling ratbags into snowsuits and trudging through a blizzard to the shops for milk is a major achievement!
While living in Canada I also taught myself how to ice-skate and joined a hockey league. It took me four years of weekly trips to the arena, getting back on the ice after a shoulder dislocation (ouch!) and accepting that I was always going to be tragically bad compared to all the other players who had been on skates since they were kids, but I finally did it and absolutely loved the thrill of zipping around on the ice, occasionally even hitting the puck!
The tenacity I learnt earlier in life really paid off for me this year when I directed my first film About Bloody Time!. I found it hugely challenging – not just making the film and being the main subject in it – but doing so with the escalating anxiety about the Covid-19 crisis simmering away in the background.
New Zealand was suddenly plunged into strict lockdown a few days before our final shooting day so I had to film the rest of the documentary myself despite having no professional experience at working a camera. Funnily enough, that actually ended up being super fun!
During the post production phase, my pilot husband lost his job (so devastating and stressful!) and later flew back to Canada to see his sick Mum. I found myself single parenting in lockdown while juggling homeschool and film editing sessions via Zoom. To this day, I have not met my wonderful editor who only lives a block away from me! It was diabolically difficult but with a lot of encouragement from my team and some inner resolve I didn’t know I had, it somehow all came together. I literally poured my blood, sweat and tears into making this film and I do have to admit that I am immensely proud of the finished product!
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
Always a tampon or two. My period is quite unpredictable and often arrives without warning (SURPRISE!) and I am terrified of being caught short so always make sure I have one on hand. It’s like that Girl Guide motto: ‘Be prepared’ (literally the only thing I learned from all those years in Brownies). The great thing about that is that I have been able to help out other women who find themselves madly scrambling when their period arrives out of the blue – such an important unspoken rule of the sisterhood!
I also always have a pen and scrap paper for scribbling down ideas on, that often come to me when I’m daydreaming on the bus or waiting for a friend. I always use downtime like that to just sit and think rather than hacking around on my phone so the thoughts that are usually whizzing around chaotically in the background often come into focus as soon as I’m not preoccupied with everyday demands and obligations.
What are your ambitions in life?
I have to admit that I’m not an overly ambitious person but I would love to be able to use storytelling to touch people’s lives and hopefully make some small change in the world for the better. I get a kick out of travelling and meeting people from all walks of life so shooting documentaries in far-flung corners of the world would be amazing.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
How relentless and challenging the freelance Film/TV world can be for a mother. When I started out in the industry, I was happy to work crazy hours and dedicate every last bit of time and energy to the job but now I really struggle with the constant deadlines and never-ending demands of production when I also want to be properly engaged with my children. I often feel like I’m failing at both – too distracted to be really present with my kids and too involved with family life to be the 100% dedicated worker I once was. At least once a year, I say, ‘That’s it, I’m done’ and vow to get a proper 9-5 job in a less chaotic industry but then the next contract comes along and I find myself swept along with the excitement and adrenaline of a new project.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
I honestly don’t know! Covid-bloody-19 has thrown such a spanner in the works for my family with my husband losing his flying job and the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the future of aviation so I don’t even know what continent we’ll be living on (anyone need a handsome pilot and documentary filmmaker combo in their neck of the woods?!…) Hopefully, wherever we end up, I’ll be doing something creative and meaningful. I’d like to do more writing, maybe make another film. My kids will be teenagers and I imagine they will be more self-sufficient than they are now so I would like to spend more quality time with my husband and go out dancing on a regular basis.
What advice would you give a budding filmmaker?
I have worked so hard my entire career on other people’s dream projects and while I always wanted to make my own film, I lacked the confidence to take the plunge and do it, mostly because I was scared of failure… That all changed a year ago when I finally threw all caution to the wind, applied for funding and found myself directing my first short documentary. Now, of course, I’m kicking myself for not trying it sooner. While it hasn’t been easy, I have learnt so much along the way on both a personal and professional level and have felt really fulfilled doing it. So to anyone thinking of making a film – just go ahead and give it a go, you don’t really have anything to lose. Nail down that cool idea you’ve been mulling over for years, find yourself a keen and energetic production partner, set yourself a timeframe and get filming. But don’t forget to trust your instincts and stay true to your own vision. It is super hard to do that when you lack confidence and experience but it’s incredibly important to maintain your own voice and style. You have to make the film that you see in YOUR head nd not try to create what you think other people want to see. Authenticity is everything.
What advice would you give to a new parent?
Don’t listen to any advice (the irony is not lost on me!) Every single person on the planet has a slightly different idea of what it means to be a good parent and most of the advice out there is so conflicting. You know yourself and your child better than any outsider ever could so even if the advice is well-meaning, it won’t take into account all the thousands of tiny variables that make up your unique life and circumstances. Please trust your instincts and do what feels right, not because you read it in a book or were told to do so by some random stranger at the supermarket who is looking disapprovingly at your feral children but because your gut is telling you!
Finally, happiness is…
A day at the beach with my family. Living in New Zealand we are blessed with the most incredible beaches on our doorstep. Nothing makes me happier than packing a picnic, jumping in the car and driving to the black sand beaches of Auckland’s West Coast. We will go for a walk through the bush, dig massive trenches, have handstand competitions and if the waves are any good, do some bodyboarding. Even in winter, I’ll often swim. (‘Embrace the tiger’, as my Dad used to say.) The water is freezing but it makes me feel so alive and free. Being surrounded by natural beauty and having adventures with my loud and silly little family makes my heart almost burst with joy.