Last week, our NYC Dads Group had the pleasure of being involved in a Tribeca Film Festival type experience (thanks to Matt S. for coordinating this one). We congregated at the 92nd Street Y Tribeca location, for an afternoon screening of the popular stay-at-home dad documentary, Happy SAHD. We were fortunate to have the director of the film on hand, Michael Ivan Schwartz, for a post-screening Q&A session. Many dads around NYC and around the country may not know too much about this film.
Here is the gist, as stated on the film’s website: “What happens when a family decides that Dad will stay at home with the kids while Mom works? SAHDs (Stay-At-Home Dads) are a growing trend in our culture. This new documentary by award winning Baltimore filmmaker Michael Ivan Schwartz, Happy SAHD follows a dozen Baltimore-area fathers who have chosen for a variety of reasons to be the daily caregiver for their children. This illuminating and humorous movie reveals the every day life trials, tribulations and triumphs of these unique men living outside the norm.”
After the screening of Happy SAHD, I had the opportunity of catching up with the Director, Michael Ivan Schwartz. Below is the Q&A from our conversation where I was able to ask him some in-depth questions about the making of this film as well as his plans for the future- used with his permission…
1) This is the first documentary about stay-at-home-dads (that I am aware of). How did you decide on this topic for your documentary?
I have a friend who was a stay-at-home dad and while we were hanging out one time he mentioned this dad’s group he was a part of. I immediately thought that would be an interesting story to tell. And since I had been looking for a documentary film idea for several years—I asked him if they’d be willing to let me follow them around with a camera.
2) How did the Baltimore dads group feel about how they were portrayed?
Everything I’ve heard from the Baltimore dads has been positive. They really appreciated having their stories told. I believe they felt validated in the midst of often having to prove themselves to folks observing them.
3) Any topics you wished you would have covered?
I wish I had more interviews with the moms to see their perspective as well. I would have loved to gotten some adults who were raised by stay-at-home dads to see what their relationships were like with their dads. And one topic that some have brought up was whether their sex lives were “better” since being at-home dads. I’m not sure I really wanted to ask that question—but it would be interesting to hear their answers.
4) Any plans to follow-up with the guys in the future?
I’ve got no immediate plans. However, I did just hear from one of the dads asking when the sequel was coming out. I think it would be very interesting to follow up with the dads in about 10 –15 years and see how they and their older kids view the impact of their experiences.
5) What did you take away from this experience of working with a group of at-home-dads?
First of all—I loved hanging out with these guys. They are very cool dads. I actually still connect with them from time to time just in a social manner. I think I’d do well as a stay-at-home dad. However, I also got a bit of a reality check in terms of all that’s involved with being an at-home dad. It’s not as easy or simple as I thought. The day-to-day grind of being a full-time caregiver is quite draining. I have a lot more respect for my mom who stayed home with all 6 of us kids.
6) Describe the most bizarre thing that took place during the filming?
The most bizarre response I witnessed was at a park with about a half-dozen dads and their kids. My buddy Jeff who was the original dad I knew from the group was letting his twin girls play on the playground equipment while the guys hung out in the pavilion nearby watching their kids and chatting. We are about 30 yards from the girls who are very curious and adventurous. This random woman who was at the park with a child came up to the girls and asked them if they were alright. She seemed very concerned that the girls were either alone or perhaps attached to this group of guys who apparently were too far away to be doing a good job of watching their kids.
7) How long did it take to shoot this film?
I spent about 2 days a month on average with the guys, shooting for a year. I had several interns from the local universities helping me out with the interviews and with editing pieces of the story together. It took another year of editing on and off in between paying projects. Since this was done with my own money the time was much longer than if I had financing in place. It was still about one more year before I made some changes, got the music licenses and had some new tunes written for the final version. So, even though it was roughly a 3-year process, it was actually more like 6 months of full-time work.
8) What is your vision for the future of this film?
I learned a lot from this, my first, full-length documentary. My goal originally was just to finish it. So, all of the screenings have been a bonus for me. I’m hoping to get in the Maryland Film Festival in the spring. After that I will most likely put the DVD on sale through Amazon—it’s currently available on my website, http://www.happysahd.com/. Beyond that, I don’t know that there’s much more for me to do. A few months back, Oprah’s people contacted me about the movie—but I think they were looking primarily for one dad who had an over-the-top story. Hopefully I’ve learned quite a bit about the whole documentary film process to have bigger plans for the next project.
9) What is the next project for you?
My next project is something I’ve been chewing on for a couple of years. It’s going to be called My Beautiful Baltimore. I’m working with several friends on a series of short video documentaries about interesting characters, places and events in Baltimore. It’s a city of neighborhoods with a lot of unique histories and charm. So, my goal is to do a documentary on each community within the city. The plan is to create a website community that will include these documentary stories as well as reviews of lesser known and interesting things happening in the city—kind of a local’s guide to Baltimore.