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Guest Post: Backwards: Can Women Have It All? A Filmmaker's Perspective

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by Sarah Megan Thomas
November 16, 2012 10:30 AM
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Anne-Marie Slaughter’s controversial article, “Why Women Can’t Have it All,” discusses the challenges facing working women and moms. While I do not yet have children, having just worked seven days a week for years writing, producing and starring in the feature Backwards, Ms. Slaughter’s article struck a chord. What is a healthy work-life balance for women working in film? Do we too often confuse “having it all” with “doing it all”?

Abi, the lead character in Backwards, struggles to find this personal/professional life balance. She has spent years trying to win an Olympic rowing medal, sacrificing a “normal life” along the way. But when the Olympic boat is announced, Abi isn’t in it. With Backwards, I wanted to explore how much someone is willing to sacrifice to reach a possibly elusive goal.

What I didn’t realize while making Backwards was how similar my struggles were to Abi’s. Abi trained obsessively. I worked obsessively writing the script. Days, nights, weekends, Christmas. I was one of those women Ms. Slaughter refers to as those who believe “it’s possible if you are just committed enough.” I spoke of nothing but the script with my (very patient) husband at the dinner table. Take-out became standard.

When the script was finished, I looked forward to having more free time, seeing friends. Because someone would buy the script and make the movie. Right? Then came the responses: 99% of the time “we cannot read unsolicited material.” For the rest: “I am not sure how relatable women’s rowing is to the general public.”

But I was committed to getting Backwards made, because it is a film people can relate to - what happens in life when “the big dream” doesn’t work out; how are goals modified as life intervenes?

So I put together a business plan and started fundraising. I was lucky enough to find a group of investors who shared my dream. We were going to shoot the film! I worked non-stop hiring crew, securing locations, and obtaining tax-credits.

In Backwards, Abi has progressed little since college. At 29, she lives in a dorm room with no furniture. She has no social life because she spends all her time training.

I live in the same small Manhattan apartment my husband and I moved into when we were young(er). Dark, with no real kitchen. A Target dishwasher takes up all our counter space. My office is our dining room table (seriously). We were looking to move, but no time – “the film.” We had also been talking about starting a family. But I reasoned, “I can’t be pregnant and star in a film as an Olympic athlete.” My best friend from college was getting married in California. I was supposed to do her make-up for the big day. I had to cancel – “the film.”

The workload didn’t stop after principal photography wrapped. We didn’t have enough money for post (no one ever tells you how expensive color correction is), so I had to fundraise again. I developed tendonitis in both feet, but had no time for medical treatment – “the film.”

Then my sister ended up in the hospital for several days. I was not able to make it to Boston to see her, because I was sound mixing. The studio had been paid for and could not be rescheduled. This is when it hit me (finally) that my life-work balance was out of whack. Is a life that revolves around career worth it? What if having kids in my 30’s isn’t as easy as it looks in People Magazine? What does it really mean to “have it all?”

In the end, seeing Backwards on the big screen being enjoyed by audiences was one of the highlights of my life. I still have not started a family and still live in the same dark apartment. But I do have an inspirational, family friendly film. A film I can show my children - when I have them.

And what I learned from Abi is that "having it all" shouldn't mean "having absolutely everything.” You have to define for yourself what “all” means; don’t let others define it for you! For me, one film done, onto the next adventure!

Backwards stars Sarah Megan Thomas and James Van Der Beek, and is now available On Demand, iTunes and on DVD on December 11. More information: backwardsthemovie.com

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Born and raised in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, Sarah has always been active in the arts. Sarah is a graduate of Williams College, where she majored in Theatre. Sarah then went on to graduate school and received an acting degree at Drama Studio London. Since then, Sarah has performed on stage internationally and has been seen in various films and commercials.  Sarah has produced several Off-Broadway plays (she was supported by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust), including such critically acclaimed works as: the world premiere of the gender reversed Love’s Labour’s Lost and the New York premiere of Summit Conference. You can find more information on Sarah here.

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