Untitled Post-Baby Project
Short film by Lorna Street Dopson
‘Untitled Post-Baby Project’ is a Transparently Raw Glimpse into Postpartum Motherhood
Sex, grief, farting in bed next to your partner. These are a few things our society may deem worthy of the title “intimate”. But childbirth?
It happens thousands of times a day and the cousin or aunt greets the newborn with adoring comments and comparisons to dad and mom. Then what happens after–that relationship between mother and child–is often overlooked by the rest of us, and it’s one of the most primal, challenging human experiences of intimacy.
Imagine sharing the most vulnerable moments of that experience with the world.
This is the basis of Lorna Street Dopson’s fifteen-minute short film Untitled Post-Baby Project, which was created and directed by Lorna Street Dopson during the pandemic and won the prestigious 2020 Louisiana Film Prize. Lorna is a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, and a prolific presence in the Louisiana film scene. She is also a producer, script supervisor and actress in dozens of productions, including the recently released social media mockumentary Phony.
Untitled Post-Baby Project is an open, realistic depiction of a mother’s postpartum experience depicting the most vulnerable struggles in the months after birth. Where a casual observer might see a cute baby, the film shows a woman’s private battle with self-image, with domestic life, and with maintaining her self-worth through it all.
Untitled Post-Baby Project was the first film to ever win the Lousiana Film Prize that was authored by a woman director. It also screened at the Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival and the New Orleans Film Festival. We spoke to Lorna about shooting the film, her creative process, and what it was like to share such an intimate journey with the world.
Untitled Post-Baby Project had a very realistic, transparent tone of, “Here I am, here’s my experience – there’s nothing hidden here.” How much of the film did you methodically plot out as story, and how much of it is, “this is just me – this is basically a visual diary”?
“It was all plotted out as story, but I pulled very much from personal experiences, and I wanted it to feel like you were watching someone’s life unfold, like you were seeing inside their private space and they didn’t know it (a bit of voyeurism, I guess). So while the story is very much my own, with a few tweaks here and there, I still needed and wanted a trajectory, I didn’t necessarily want it to feel like there wasn’t an ending. And my journey certainly didn’t stop once we had a jogging stroller (laughing)”
At what point did you realize that you wanted this experience to be a film. Was it pre-pregnancy, during the postpartum months?
“Postpartum, for sure lol! That is my actual child in the film. Um, you know I didn’t really realize it was something I wanted to talk about until my partner and I decided we’d go ahead and shoot something for Film Prize that year. The more I thought about it, the more I realized maybe WHY some of my postpartum struggles had felt so heavy, and that was that no one really shines a light on how hard things can be. Yes, you hear that it’s gonna be hard, but until you live it there’s really no way to understand what that means. And at least for me, no one was talking about how you were expected to bounce back, or that the Zoloft wasn’t gonna cure everything, or that you’d sneeze and pee your pants FOR MONTHS (even years) after you give birth. It became this way for me to get things off my chest and also let all my mom friends know that if I was suffering, they probably were too, and if they wanted to talk, well so did I. I feel very much like we only see one side of the postpartum struggle, and it usually involves a mom with a messy bun and cute nails talking about how she adds protein to her breakfast shake in order to get through the day, but that’s not what the struggle looks like! It looks like unwashed hair, piles of dirty laundry, and maybe not doing everything “the perfect mom” would do (because we’re tired, y’all).”
What’s your relationship with the cast? Is that your real family or did you simply kidnap a dad and child for the film?
“Yes to kidnapping the dad; No, as I said before, the baby was mine (still is mine). Hunter McCugh helped me with casting and found Jeremy Sande and he was such a great fit. He was great with Orion (my son) who was almost 8 months old at the time. Jeremy has turned out to be a wonderful friend, and we try to get together when time allows.”
There are several moments in the film that could be considered “vulnerable” or “bold” to put out there for the world, whether that be the confessions about the pressure to be super mom or peeing during a run or any of the other scenes. What were your feelings about presenting those moments? Apprehension? Excitement? Catharsis?
“I honestly thought that most people would think I was being dramatic. I was wrong, but I really worried that people would think I was vain, selfish, and … dramatic. The closet in particular gave me a lot of anxiety. I’m not a huge person, and I worried that some people would think I was being petty, but the sensation of not being able to fit in my clothes, clothes that were, at times, such a reflection of who I was, was a real blow to my self-esteem. I think ultimately that’s what resonated.
So much catharsis! The whole process was cathartic, and also therapeutic. I was really able to sort of look at all the things I’d been talking to my own therapist about and really sort of wrap my brain around how unkind I had been to myself. As women I feel like we’re just expected to know what to do, and we’re expected to make all these sacrifices in the name of “family” and I think many of us don’t fully grasp what that’s going to be like, and many of us reject that implied responsibility. I’m 2.5 years into motherhood and I’m STILL tired. Moms and women deserve a lot more grace.”
When the film starts in, an ambient score kind of simmers to the surface and reminds me of Alex Ebert in All is Lost or Jon Brion in Eternal Sunshine. Did you score the film yourself, and when approaching the score, did you have a specific vision of what you wanted to support what was going on in the film? Is there anyone I can shout out for the understated but beautiful score?
“You can thank Jacob McSharma for the wonderful music! So, this is gonna sound weird but I actually told him I wanted it to feel like you were watching an episode of The Office. I dunno if that’s what he went with while composing, but he nailed it. He actually threw out what’s in the film and gave me something totally different and I told him he got it the first time around! I’m especially in love with the piece he composed for the closet sequence.”
You have an extensive list of film credits as an actress as well as behind-the-scenes work. I also saw you a few weeks ago in Phony, which was super confusing but made me laugh out loud. Do you feel like your career has been building up to directing over time, or was this something created uniquely in the moment, like “I’m experiencing this significant journey right now – I should document this.“?
“I think my career has been building up to this moment. “Phony” actually led to my first script sup job, and my subsequent move to New Orleans.
Though Post-Baby isn’t my first short to direct, it certainly carries more weight and meaning than the others. It feels more special, and maybe that’s because I literally made it with my family, and maybe it’s because we shot during quarantine and our friends really came together for us, or maybe it’s simply because the planets aligned. As much as I want to be an amazing actress with this awesome career, I think directing is where I was always meant to land… at least for now (laughs)”
You had such success with being the first female director to win at the Louisiana Film Festival. What were the emotions like finding out you just won this great award against fierce competition, along with that nice paycheck? Were you surprised, exhilarated, expecting it?
“Well it’s funny. I was sitting on my couch, watching the Livestream of the announcement like everybody else, and I sat there for a good 20 seconds after they said Post-Baby. The baby was asleep upstairs, Jimi was still at work, I’m just alone… on my couch, with my dogs, and I was like, “huh, how ‘bout that.”
I was SUPER surprised. Maybe it’s because I won during quarantine and we couldn’t have the in-person celebrating, but for a while it didn’t feel like I’d won, I didn’t feel like I was “in the club” if that makes sense. But I have to remind myself that something like 40k people saw my film, more people than have ever attended Film Prize in person. That’s pretty incredible.”
Where can viewers watch ‘Untitled Post-Baby Project’?
“Well, I guess I should make it viewable on YouTube. It’s still set to private but I don’t think I’ll be submitting it to too many more festivals. There are also two versions: the 15-minute Film Prize cut, and then my 20-minute Director’s cut. But yeah, at the moment they won’t be able to find it, but I’ll make sure to make it public (laughs)”
What’s next for you? Anything you want to talk about coming up?
“We are shooting our next project in 2 weeks! I’m super stressed, but thanks to that Film Prize money, it hurts a lot less (insert laugh-cry emoji haha). It’s a monster movie, I wrote it about 5 years ago and I’ve been “prepping” ever since, trying to get it on its feet. Here we go!”
“Thank you! I just want all the new moms out there to know it’s okay to feel sad, or broken, or like you’re doing everything on your own. I know they hear it all the time, but it really is hard and can feel so isolating at times. Y’all are doing such amazing jobs, and your babies are so lucky y’all are their moms!”
WATCH UNTITLED POST-BABY PROJECT
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