Skip to content

TOWHEADS – My Interview with Filmmaker Shannon Plumb

July 23, 2013

I absolutely LOVED the brilliant, wacky and poignant TOWHEADS when I saw it at New Director/ New Films in March and I was thrilled when director Shannon Plumb agreed to be interviewed.

A topic close to my heart, TOWHEADS portrays the juggle/struggle of a Brooklyn Mom as she navigates being a mother and artist.  The film also stars her two young sons and her husband, director Derek Cianfrance.

TOWHEADS is screening with Rooftop Films THIS THURSDAY JULY 25th at 9pm. Get tickets HERE. I’ll see you there!

shannon plumb

I relate a lot to Penelope in TOWHEADS and really appreciate motherhood being portrayed in a real way.  Kids are a lot of fun but there is also the mundane, exhausting side to being a mom and there are definitely times when I feel like I’ve lost a lot of freedom. I’d love to hear more about your journey/transition from artist to mom/artist.

My first boy was hungry and nursed all the time.  I was in a rocking chair for a year.   Getting a drink of water and going to the bathroom were no longer private journeys. I had someone in my arms all the time. Unraveling toilet paper was a whole new adventure.

I never realized how much of myself I would give up. That was the surprise.  You give yourself up. Willingly. The love makes you do it.

And you juggle between the old you and this new you. You desire to walk in your old shoes, but you want to be holding your kid’s hand when he takes his first step. You give up your wishes for your kids. You give them your coins to toss into fountains and break bones from chickens teaching them how to wish.

How do you navigate balancing work and family?  Is balance possible?

I don’t think there is a balance.  Instead you become like an avalanche. It’s like throwing up.  It’s like an atomic bomb. As a mother we run a marathon with our kids. It’s a 20-year run. When there’s a small break we explode in the studio, or at the computer or on the guitar or on a blank document. I think artists as moms have to adapt to a different sense of time. 

Have you had to create any new habits?

Yes. I’ve had to do a little at a time.  In surges; a little work while they’re in school, a little work while they sleep. It’s amazing how far a little everyday will get you.

How has being a parent changed your work as an artist?

I believe there is a world of experience in being and becoming a mother. I think everything and everyone can be understood through raising children. So much of my observation now comes from the interaction between my boys, their development, and my responses to their actions. By becoming a mother I’ve become more empathetic to the characters I portray in my work. Children teach you about being human and that is everything to my work.

What is your worst parenting moment?

I literally said, “I give up” while trying to give my son walker a nap. We were on vacation in Costa Rica at the time, staying in a hut high in a treetop. I walked out to the balcony that hovered above the trees. We were about 5 stories up. Nothing was childproof. I sat down huffing and puffing. Walker came out in his diaper being silly and wanting me to chase him. He ran around a table on the porch and then disappeared.  I ran around the table to see him hanging onto the floor, his body dangling from the balcony. He was holding himself from falling his little fingers hanging on. I dove for him. I swore I’d never say, “I give up” again.

What is your favorite part of being a mom?  Your least favorite?

Wine at five!

My favorite part of being a mom… is when one day I pick them up from school and I see that their pants are too short, that their face is different, that they look like the person they will become. And they are who they are with or without me. When my perspective is fresh and I can see they are becoming good people.

My mother told my husband, and me “now you will worry for the rest of your life.” It’s true and it’s awful. Worry is my least favorite part of being a mom.

What is the best parenting advice you ever received?

I think I’m still waiting for it.

I wonder if you have any thought on the gender roles post motherhood.  My husband and I definitely found things shifting both consciously and subconsciously post baby in ways we both liked and didn’t.  I realized I used the term baby-sit anytime I had plans and my husband would stay home with my son – as if he was simply my relief and merely watching the baby while I did the raising.  Did you have any gender role revelations?

I think the person who makes the most money gets to leave the house. That’s the way it is.  Derek and I stopped counting quarters from the floor and went out to see who could make the most. I was still working in a restaurant; he did a commercial for Nike. He won. So I played house for a while. The enemy is the house. Domestic hell.  The house breathes. It’s a beast. It needs cleaning and filling and unclogging. When my husband and I fell into those old roles that’s when I got nervous. I was home, he was outside.

I read a great quote from your mother who told you “Remember that you are the mother and it always comes down to the mother.”  What does that mean to you?

Hmmmm…..I don’t want to take anything away from dads. Cause they have their special role in all this. When you’re a dad there are things that come down to only the dad. But I think the mother is always attached. She and the child were together for 9 months.  Something happens – A curse and a gift – A bond that can’t be broken.  I remember thinking, “but what if I want to run away from this creature growing inside me.” I can’t. He’s a part of me. He’s inside me and always will be.


What inspired you to make TOWHEADS?

The radio had many reports of young mom’s who had no support raising their kids. They ended their own lives and sometimes the lives of their children too. I know this is a drastic example of “not being able to take it” but motherhood is serious stuff and a lot of woman have no way of knowing there are others like them. I wanted to show Mothers that we all go through it. I knew I couldn’t save anyone but I thought I could share some tough times with them. Maybe by seeing someone play out similar scenes to their own they could get a new perspective on their life.  Maybe they could get through the day because they were able to laugh at those moments that would normally elicit a scream. It’s all day-to-day. If this movie could help a mom get through one tough day then the show is a success.

You’ve have made a lot of short films.  What made you take the plunge to make a feature? I love the audition scene in TOWHEADS.  Can you tall about your transition from actor to an artist creating her own work/content?

I’ve always wanted to be in a real movie. A feature. I never could understand waiting for a director to pick me.  When I did try to play that game I never ever got picked.  I made short films to perform. When I turned 40 I tried to figure out what huge challenge I would take on. Would I go to South America and climb a giant mountain? Would I jump out of a plane? I was writing at the time of my 40th birthday.  I realized I wasn’t going to go anywhere. I was going to write a script so I could fulfill my dream of being in a real movie.

Your boys bring such innocence and purity to the film.  Can you talk about your choice to your use your own children in the film?

I didn’t intend to use them when I wrote the script. I thought of it but then thought against it. We had to work around school hours. So shooting could only be about 5 hours a day.  What child actors were going to do that for no money and for six months?  My boys would have to be a part of it.  So it became a collaboration with them, we were “making a movie like daddy does.”

Who was your best/first mentor?

I think I’ve always been hoping for a mentor. I haven’t really had one yet. Derek is the closest to being a mentor. He teaches me and inspires me.

What is next for you?  Do you have a dream project?  Will you work within the theme of motherhood again?

No. No more on the theme of motherhood.

I’m on page 39 of a new script. Totally new character. Can’t wait to show you.

Thanks so much Shannon for sharing you journey! TOWHEADS is screening with Roof Top films in Brooklyn this Thursday July 25th at 9pm!! There are also some exciting distribution plans for September so keep a look out…. In the meantime check out the trailer.

Talk soon,

The Mothering Actor Signature

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: