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Our Austin Adventure - A cancelled SXSW, filming interviews and a small global pandemic

Read about our trip to Austin where we filmed the last two interviews and closed the filming part of The Choice production. It took us a while to write this article, as we are fairly certain we caught COVID-19 and only now are slowly recovering from it. We have tried multiple times to get tested only to be turned away. It was pretty awful to have it, but glad that we are on our way to recovery finally, and that we were able to finish such an important step and filmed all the interviews for the project.

In March we went to Austin. The goal of this trip was to take part in the SXSW festival. We were invited to present The Choice as a part of the Canadian House organized by Telefilm Canada. After being invited, we decided to make our trip a bit longer and combine it with filming some interviews for The Choice. We have always known that American interviews would be crucial to telling women’s stories of reproductive health and finally we had an opportunity to hear from American women.

Here you can watch a short video from our trip: us filming in the studio, our interviewees, as well as some traveling in the pandemic time.

As we are self-funded, we organized a crowdfunding campaign to help us finance the trip. A huge thank you to everyone who helped to make this trip possible and especially big thank you to the Abortion Conversation Projects for creating and sharing a fundraiser campaign for us!

And then… the pandemic exploded… Ok, not yet.

We started our preparations and announced a call for storytellers on our social media channels. We wanted to capture as many diverse stories as possible. Six people agreed to share their stories with us - all very different and each touching on various aspects of making this decision.

We luckily found a film studio in Austin that would allow us to shoot there -- at no cost! Yes, a professional film studio. This helped us tremendously as we didn’t have to lug with us a bunch of equipment internationally. We can’t thank Originator Studios enough for all their help with lighting equipment and a safe space to shoot these very personal interviews. We could not have done it without them.

Filming at Originator Studios

But there was one little issue… Very little… That was worrying us for a while already. Yes. The corona-pandemic…

We truly had a lot of considerations about whether we should go or not. A lot. However, after analyzing the data - we were under the impression that it would be at least a couple of weeks more before the virus would reach North America. Our prime minister gave Canadians a green light to travel on the very day before our flight, so we decided to keep moving forward. This was Friday.

Saturday. The day of our flight arrived. And just like that, we landed in Austin, Texas!

Sunday. We woke up in Austin to read that the flights are being canceled and the border will likely be closed within a week. The Canadian government called for all Canadians to come back asap. Our flight back was booked for almost 2 weeks later!

So yes, this made us extremely stressed, as we now both needed to find transport back home, but also figure how to make this trip worthwhile. With so much involved - effort, resources, people’s work, and us hoping to capture really important interviews for the full story to be told. We had also scheduled several meetings with film and VR industry folks who were in town like us. Yeah, some real headaches ;)

What now? We started with rebooking our flights. A couple of hours later - nope, no way to rebook them. Our airline was not answering our calls, Expedia was not unresponsive.. And Google told us that there is no way to book a flight to Canada. What about a car? Why not?, But then we thought what if on our way home the states between Texas and Canada start closing their borders? I also forgot to mention I didn’t have my international driving license on me. So. A car was a no-go.

Our producer, W. Jay Moore who recently started working with us and who helped tremendously with organizing the trip to Austin was on the phone with us all day, keeping us sane and finding solutions. And then he found one: a domestic flight - as close to Canada as possible, and then we would cross the border on foot. From there we hoped to catch a bus to Toronto. Crossing the border in Detroit is another story - you actually can’t do it on foot, as there is an underwater tunnel where only cars are allowed. We weren’t sure if the special bus would even be running - but this was something to worry about come Tuesday. For now, we at least had the means to leave Austin and be almost in Canada.

Next thing: the studio and the interviews. All were scheduled for at least a week later - after the now non-happening SXSW. People taking time off work, traveling from surrounding cities. And here I am, Sunday evening, asking if we can do it Monday morning now!

And how to select from those 6 very different interviews - to have only 2, as in one-day filming this is the maximum we could fit now? Don’t ask me about making those decisions, I am still a bit stressed whenever I think about it...

We also asked the studio if they would be able to have us on the next day. They agreed not only to have us but even rescheduled a paying client for us! Huge thanks to both the studio and to that client! HUGE THANKS!

Preparing to film

Monday Morning. We arrived at the studio, welcomed by Derek who was there to help us with anything we might need. Tom, my partner responsible for making everything that I ask for ;), set up the cameras and lights, and I went to welcome our first interviewee, Makayla.

She came accompanied by her boyfriend, and they drove from another city. Thank you so much, I truly appreciate it! I also loved their reactions to our demo footage we showed them in VR - with our previous interviewees. I always love seeing people’s reactions, but there is something truly special to be able to connect my interviewees through this technology - someone who already shared the story, and now the person who is just getting ready to share her own.

Makayla has had two abortions. She described both of them in our interview, sharing the circumstances, the challenges she faced (the second one was self-managed at home).

Makayla waiting to be interviewed

We also talked deeper about how those two experiences can be compared and how she reacted when she realized it’s happening the second time. I asked some very hard questions, having in mind our potential audience that might question her choices. She gave me some truly vulnerable and personal answers! Thank you so much for your courage.

Here is also where I want to thank Karen who runs a website about people who had more than one abortion ( as she helped me to prepare for this interview. I have my own set of questions for everyone and then I tailor it for each interviewee to be able to go deeper about their specific circumstances and situations. As I’ve never talked to anyone who had more than one abortion until then, I asked Karen to help me identify some questions that I might ask. I also wanted to be sure that I am mindful and respectful. Thank you for your great input, Karen!

The second interview was with Kristen. You might know her already, as her story is published on our blog: Texas: my ob/gyn said everything was fine.

Kristen watching a previously recorded interview for our project

Kristen’s story is about pregnancy that she was very much wanted, and couldn’t wait to welcome her daughter. That’s when she started learning about several severe abnormalities that the fetus has developed. She was faced with an incredibly difficult decision. To add to this tragedy was that the doctors didn’t tell her any of it, as they decided that it’s more important for pregnancy to be delivered than Kristen’s life. So they lied that everything was all right - as this is apparently allowed in Texan law. I was and am still speechless…

Then Kristen learned that her own life was also endangered, she had only a couple of days to decide what to do.

Her story is very emotional, we both cried when she was sharing with me. I hope it helped her a little to talk it through, and I also very much hope it will help with opening some eyes - especially those who have no idea what late-term abortion is, as there is so much judgment and very hurtful stereotypes surrounding it.

Kristen and Tom (Tom is the second half of our team)

These two interviews are truly powerful, and I feel that they will help us share the message of The Choice. And that they will move some hearts.

I can’t thank these women enough for sharing their stories with us.

Before we left we were still able to meet some industry folks from VR and volumetric fields, as well as with reproductive rights activists. How did we manage, I have no idea today, truly ;) This involved someone meeting us at the airport on our way out - crazy, but definitely worth it!

This trip has allowed us to finish the filming part of the production, and now we are moving to the next step: post-production, starting with creating the interactivity of the dialogue scenes, then creating the sound environment and finally the spatial art that will help the audience to emotionally connect with each story.

There is still a lot of work to do ahead, but taking this trip and getting these interviews were so worth it and important to finishing this project!


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