Welcome to Me: Parenting with Shira Piven
Shira Piven’s second feature film, “Welcome to Me,” starring Kristen Wiig, is an intimate and darkly funny story about a woman with borderline personality disorder who wins the lottery and finances her own daytime talk show. Despite this larger than life premise, Piven’s characters evoke empathy in their outrageousness.
Her first film “Fully Loaded” won audience favorite at the Palm Beach International film festival, and best narrative feature at The Carmel Art and Film festival. Shira began as a theatre director and has directed over 20 plays in New York, Chicago, LA, and DC and was the director and founding member of Water Theatre Company and Burn Manhattan Spontaneous Theatre. She has taught acting for stage and film, and currently works with the Actor’s Gang prison project, teaching acting and spontaneous writing to inmates in California prisons.
Check out of Shira’s fantastic recommendations on Momstamp!
Growing up in the Theater
My parents both ran a theater company together. They both were acting, teaching, and directing. It didn’t even occur to me that I couldn’t be a director, but there are challenges. When my first child, LilI, was born around the time that I was forming a theater company in New York, I felt like I wanted to pretend like it wasn’t going to slow me down or divide my attention.
Get the help you need
I had a hard time coming to terms with the idea that I needed help when I was a new mother. When LilI was born, we were in New York, I felt like I had to do it all myself. Adam was working a lot, writing for Saturday Night Live. He kept saying, “It’s okay to get help.” The more demanding my work has become, and the more I grow up, the more I know it’s okay to get help. The question then becomes balancing getting the help you need, with spending good time with your kids.
Challenges along the way
My second child, Pearl, was a tough baby to get to sleep. After ten months, I just was too sleep deprived to function, we got some help with a person who taught sleep training. That was one of the harder times, having a second kid who was not a good sleeper. During this time, I embraced the idea of not working for a while. My kids were my focus. I was really happy to be a mom, but that was probably the only period where I was not working much.
One thing my parents really did right was giving us a “normal” childhood. They didn’t have out of control cast parties at our house or bring us to the theater and leave us to our own devices all day. They really tried to have a structured family life for us, and so, for the most part, we didn’t even notice what their profession was for a long time.
Adam and I definitely use that as a model. For Adam there’s even a bigger separation between work and family life. Our family is our family and then we have our life in film and theatre. But, since our kids are creative, we are also happy to get them involved in projects we are doing when it feels right, when it works for the project and is also fun for them.
I have the luxury of having a husband whose career was able to support us in that period. I don’t know if I would be able to do what I do otherwise. If you have a relationship where you’re able to find partnership and you can each find a way to let the other person follow their passion, you’re very lucky. But even when you love what you do, here’s still the near impossible task of finding enough time for your kids and finding enough time for your work. It’s a daily battle.
Phased Back Into Work
I was in denial until I started making this movie of how much I worked. I think I had this false idea that I was a three quarter time mom and a three quarter time director, it all sort of equaled 150% instead of 100%. It just didn’t add up, I was just doing too much all the time. I finally had to face that. The good thing was I was able to phase into it, I wasn’t working that many hours when the kids were younger, even during my first film. It just progressed over time.
Letting go of your expectations about what you’re supposed to be doing in order to free up more time with your kids is important. I think we all get brainwashed by our childhoods and think, “Oh, I’m supposed to be cleaning now or I’m supposed to be cooking now or I’m supposed to be organizing a parent potluck,” and we can get so caught up in this idea of what it is to be a parent, that we’re not really spending time with our kids.
One of the big things I let go of was cooking. That was a big one for me. Funnily, I still can’t totally wrap my head around it. It seems like I’m cheating in some way, but if I’m really trying to live this life, I need to look it square in the eye. I’m working as a filmmaker and I’m trying to be there for my kids. It’s okay to get help at dinnertime. I think because a lot of people don’t have this option, I don’t want to be casual about it.
Connection Time Every Day
I think even when you’re working, you have to find built in time every day to have some moment of connection or hours of connection. We have a nanny from after school through dinner, so I always drive the kids to school. I do some picking up either after school or from their after school activities. We eat dinner as a family almost every day and we spend time in the evening and at bedtime.
Sometimes, all bets are off
Pre-production and shooting were really a crunch time. They were the hardest. During pre-production, at least I could come home and have dinner with everyone and drive them in the morning, but when you’re shooting, all schedules are off. I’ve never done a studio movie, which are much longer shoots. I was only shooting for twenty-five days. Adam and our nanny and I just locked all the schedules down and I was freed up to totally focus on shooting because there’s no leeway.
I would spend lots of time on the weekend, but for that period of time, we all knew that they weren’t going to being seeing me that much. Sometimes they would come to set. Pearl had a scene in the movie, Lili had a song in the movie, so they felt involved on even a small level.
It helps that we’re both filmmakers and know what the other is going through, but there will always be problems that come up. When I was shooting, Adam was really respectful that I was juggling a lot and took up the slack. When he’s doing a movie, I’m the same way, so on that level it really works. I think it’s more difficult when he’s away; luckily, most of the time he’s been away I’ve been working on screenplays which are not as externally structured, and my time has been more flexible.
One thing I do when Adam is away on shoots that helps is having my youngest sleep in my bed. For us, it’s a really good thing. It almost goes back to attachment parenting. Even if I don’t have a lot of quality time with her during the day, I know that we’re going to go to sleep together and that is a time when we can be close and I can read her book and we can talk or she can practice violin.
Pearl does the Suzuki violin method, and the parents have to be the violin coach. That also gives us built in time. It bonds us in music. In the future we’ll have a foundation of having music in common, which I also have with Lili. She and I both play guitar.
I don’t think I’m great at throwing the most interesting parties or making artistic party favors or cookies in crazy shapes. I think my creativity seems to want to come out in my work But he way that I feel creative as a parent, or the way art and life cross over for me, is perhaps in a psychological way. I think it takes creativity to understand your kids. It’s the same muscle you might use to understand a script or analyze a movie or listen to a piece of music. The creative part comes in relating to them.
Trust Your Instincts
I feel like I have good instincts about what my family needs and good instincts on a film set or in the edit room, and probably bad instincts about everything else. Creatively my life was taking a path that it needed to take. I fell in love with film directing when I did my first feature, and even though it was a crazy uphill battle to get the movie made. I knew I had to keep doing it, and I knew I didn’t want to compromise my kids’ lives. I was fortunate enough that this directing opportunity came along when my kids were old enough to handle me working more. If they had been little kids when this came up, I think it would have been a much harder juggle. It’s a hard juggle as it is, but I felt like my family was ready to do it and I was ready to do it.
Welcome to Me
I was blown away by the script, it’s funnier than I thought it would be for audiences, which is kind of a delightful surprise, because I barely think of it as a comedy. I think of it as a human story that has an absurdity and a humor to it, but audiences are laughing a lot, and that’s been fun, but they’re also not shocked by the turns that the movie takes, because it goes to dark places too.
When I’ve done comedy in theater it always comes out of the reality of the situation, and with this script, it demanded that the characters are real and human and the world is a recognizable one.
I had a friend say to me,”There’s not one joke in it,” and I felt like that was so good to hear, because as funny as it is, it’s a movie about a real woman that’s just slightly heightened. Kristen actually didn’t think of it as a comedy to begin with. The humor comes out of her character’s guilelessness. Here she is making hand gestures in front of a camera on a live infomercial telling everyone about her mental illness, and it’s hilarious because she has no idea that she should not be doing that. We’re not laughing at her, we’re just like, “Oh my god, this is the craziest combination of elements in this moment.”