Minna Dufton and crew on set of BIG vs SMALL in Ericeira, Portugal.

If your child or partner had a chance to say what their life really is like with you as an independent filmmaker, what would they say? Would they be thrilled to live with someone with such an interesting and varied job or would they rather you had a “normal” 9 to 5 job on board a safe mothership?

As an independent filmmaker, my lifestyle is often of someone trying to reach outer space on a rocket I’ve built myself, supplied the fuel and navigated the cosmos whilst trying to be present for those I love. If I’m not careful, I very quickly lose where I am on the map I am making. In this post, I look at how I’ve been doing as an indie filmmaker, mother and lover and whether it’s possible to successfully combine all three.

I’m a mother of one and godmother to seven children – and a “mother” to many tv projects, documentaries and series. I hate to say I’m a mother to a project but every time, mother describes my role the best. My daughter, now thirteen, has always been my inspiration. Her ability to observe, create and work hard for her dreams are qualities I draw from daily. If she learns a back flick in gymnastics, I ask myself what new could I learn today? I’ve taught her to believe that nothing is impossible if you’re focused and disciplined enough.

Still, a big part of me is afraid of what my daughter will say about me when she grows up. How did I really do as a mother? Will she resent me for the lifestyle I pulled her into as an independent filmmaker? Because mine is a job where making the impossible possible is not just an annual event but a daily routine.

Going Solo

Just over two years ago I did the scariest thing in my career to date and left a full-time job in a big corporation to set up my own production company, Raggari Films. I haven’t smelled of home-baked cinnamon buns – or any benefits of a monthly salary – since and I’m a single Mum. Some may say I’m crazy to have attempted something like this in my situation. Add to it having to independently fund my debut feature film BIG vs SMALL as one of the first things I did as an entrepreneur and you’re getting close to my level of commitment.

Due to the risky nature of my business, my work days have often ended up being “open-ended”. Often my closest have had to wait for their turn for my attention, yet all I’ve wanted to do every day is to be with them. I’ve tried to explain to my family that making documentaries is like a long haul flight that can last 2-3 years, sometimes more, but I know it’s a difficult one to understand unless you’re a documentary filmmaker.

If there’s one thing I’ve wanted to do well in life, it is to be present in my daughter’s life. This is one reason why I have taken her with me on longer shoots, so that we can at least be near each other and have our evenings and meals together. As an entrepreneur I’m lucky to now be in a position to make this happen and bring my family with me on location. Being able to go for walks on the beach to collect shells and stones together after a long day on set has kept me grounded. The people who really fight for your film are much closer to home than we think.

Photos: Elina Manninen

I’ve tried and failed at being the perfect working Mum, wife and partner and I’m not ashamed by that. I know I’ve tried my best. I also know that you can become really weary trying your best in all areas all of the time.

– Minna Dufton, Director, Producer

A Hard Nut to Crack

The best and the worst thing as a film director is that you have a big group of people to “mother” during a production. When there’s a shoot planned, you have to be there – no matter what because nothing works without you. There are the constant changes to plans to deal with and the questions that follow. I’ve been on shoots when I’ve been ill with fever, when a friend has just passed away of cancer, when my daughter has had an important day at gymnastics. Every time I’ve felt torn. Every night I’ve forgiven myself.

I’m twice married and divorced so far. I’ve tried and failed at being the perfect Mum, wife and partner and I’m not ashamed by that. I know I’ve tried my best. I also know that you can become really weary trying your best in all areas all of the time.

I recently watched a reality tv series about Canadian tv personality and interior designer Jillian Harris and her husband Justin and saw Jillian battle with the same balancing act: How to stop taking on too much when you love what you do AND the people you want to share your life with. Being curious and passionate about what I do has been my challenge, too. I decided to write this post – my first in three years – to pass the baton on to more women in film and tv. I’d love to hear how you manage to balance your career and home life.

Failing Upwards

Since setting up Raggari Films and leaving behind everything that felt comfortable, I’ve been faced with some of the roughest times of my career. Not getting the financial support I needed for BIG vs SMALL left me to surf some pretty big mama waves alone. I’ve run out of fuel in my rocket – and money in my pocket – many times.

I’ve also been at a crossroads about whether I’d be doing the right thing for the people I love if I continued as an entrepreneur. Covid-19 hit just as Raggari Films was over a year old and the past year has required some super extra turbo efforts to keep the company going. (We are still going.)

During the past year, I’ve also been incredibly lucky to find someone very special in my life. I want to make sure I can give them the most valuable thing I have, and that’s my time. I’ve learned that there is no way round that. One thing that I take huge comfort from in my life is that I’ve taken my failings as tuition. Because when you fail and learn from it, you fail upwards and nothing is ever a waste of time.

To be successful as a filmmaker, mother and to have romantic love in your life is not possible without some serious compromises and ruthless time management. Every week, I fill in a school timetable for myself with the aim of creating more space in my schedule for everyone, including myself. Not easy, but looking back each week, I’m managing most things on my list. The things that are left over, are the real mission impossible.

The official trailer for BIG vs SMALL, by Raggari Films.

Making Better Choices

In the future, I want to still be able to spend time in my own creative space, to do what I love professionally and to write and direct more films and tv series. BUT – and it’s a big but – I don’t want it to come at the cost of my personal life, health or happiness. My 22-year journey history as a woman in the industry will be my guide.

It is our choices that show what we truly are. Far more than our abilities.  

– J. K. Rowling

Since becoming an independent filmmaker and the owner of my production company, I’ve noticed my choices having a positive effect around me: My daughter recently got into a sports secondary school after working really hard on her “thing” and is well on the road to becoming a successful young gymnast. Research shows that girls become more confident in life if they have a Mum who has a job or a thing of her own.

So, don’t be afraid of doing your thing but don’t forget to go home either. To help me make better choices both privately and professionally, I ask myself these three questions daily: 

  • Will this take me closer to or further away from my goal?
  • If I don’t do today what I need to do today, where will I be in a year’s time?
  • Is it morally right and fair to all of those within my sphere of influence and concern?

I’d like to thank my performance coach Cliff Kimber for getting me to pin these on my fridge door – and for asking me that one all-important question: of how I am. The most powerful three words to help us all locate ourselves on the map before re-calculating the flight path of that rocket.

A motto from BIG vs SMALL. For news and release dates of the film, go to www.bigvssmalldocumentary.com