Director Hannah McOwan: directing a TV series with a baby on board

Posted Tuesday 24 Oct 2023

Director Hannah McOwan: directing a TV series with a baby on board

Produced by Nadia Maxwell this new TV series Shepherdess screens at 7.30pm Sundays on free-to-air Sky Open NZ. Hannah who directed three of the six episodes, was a new mum while shooting the series and she talks to WIFT NZ about the experience of working as a director with a baby on board.

WIFT NZ: What made you decide to take on this job? And what made you confident / happy it could be done with a 7-month old baby?  

HM: The Shepherdess series was a dream directing job for me so I was very keen to try to make it work. I signed onto the project when I was pregnant and had no idea yet what it was like to be a mother; the need to be close to my son, the responsibility and the practicalities! I thoroughly enjoyed switching back into work brain in pre-production, and Joey would join us in Zoom catch ups with the team. But as shooting approached, I definitely felt some trepidation and nerves around whether I would be capable - of leaving my son (at that stage, I was yet to leave him with anyone more than an hour), balancing my two roles on the road and also in my capacity as a director, having taken a break from work to have Joey. It was really the unwavering support of Producer Nadia Maxwell that gave me the confidence, she made it really clear that she believed in me.  Also, the fact that I was surrounded by mothers on the production made me feel deeply understood and supported, whatever challenges might arise on the road.

WIFT NZ: Give us a brief rundown of the plan that allowed you to work on set with a baby.

HM: I am lucky enough to have the incredible support of my family, which I acknowledge is a privilege. In this case, my mother-in-law and then my mum, travelled with us on location and looked after my son while I worked. I was supported by the production to wrap on set by Joey's bedtime, so that I could get back to the accommodation to put him to sleep. Finally, as I was breastfeeding, everyone made me feel totally comfortable and at ease when I had to pump on set or in the crew car!

WIFT NZ: What particular things made it work?

HM: I think what made it work was just the support and willingness of the production to accommodate my new found motherhood. I was able to take care of the practicalities of having Joey on the road when I knew they had confidence in me and were willing to navigate the unpredictability that sometimes comes with babies! I would say also in my case, I wouldn't have been able to do it without the support of his amazing grandmas.

WIFTNZ:  Can you give us any anecdotes about when it all went amazingly well?
I think it all went amazingly well considering! I have some gorgeous memories of Joey joining us on set in breaks - being cuddled by the kids and our leading ladies - and popping in for crew lunches. I think Joey had a great time!

WIFTNZ: …and perhaps when it didn’t?  

HM: When I forgot six days' worth of frozen breastmilk in a hotel in Kaikoura. Mum, Joey and I were making the multi-night drive to Kurow from Wellington perfectly timed to arrive the night before shooting began. Unfortunately I didn't realise until we were driving away from Christchurch that I had forgotten it! I had to drop Mum and Joey off and boost back to get it, before returning later that night. Not my finest hour.

WIFTNZ: What three pieces of advice do you have for women who find themselves in the same situation?

HM: I don't know if my advice would apply to everyone in a similar situation, so this is what I would say to myself before embarking on the production with Joey:

- Believe in yourself. You know how to do this and are capable of more than you realise. You are still a skilled professional, having a baby doesn't change that!

- Find your support network - I was lucky to have an incredibly supportive producer on set in Nadia, as well as the support of the editor of Shepherdess, Kristy. 

- Your baby will be totally A-OK! 

Shepherdess celebrates women on the land in Aotearoa. In each of the six episodes, we lean into the lives of three women connected by a sense of place, as they share stories of courage, commitment and community.

Image: Director Hannah McOwan and son Joey on the set of Shepherdess

Watch the Shepherdess trailer