It Got Me In November opens with Em’s voice playing outside of herself. Messages she has sent to her sister hover above her like a memory as the camera films her deep inside a stale duvet, the lens turned on its side and evoking a sense of collapse. As she tells her sister, “it got me again”.
There’s a slight, exhausted humour in her voice which I have been privy to: the kind of practised lilt offered by someone sad to a loved one to say that I’m still me, please don’t get scared, it’s not so terrible. Except it is, and there’s a creature that seems to be living on top of Em’s index finger, a foreign object that’s growing out of her own skin; a part of herself that she doesn’t recognise.
This new short film by Cumbria and Manchester-based writer and director, Sophie Broadgate, is about mental health at its worst. This is an issue that Broadgate wants to move into the spotlight, and she isn’t just depicting these experiences through the end result of the film itself – she is actively working to prevent deterioration and care for mental health on set, too.
When I spoke to Broadgate about the persistent burnout she’d felt when working in commercial production, it was a familiar story. There’s an environment fostered by the film industry that seems to consider gruelling experience as necessary for success. Long hours, the hectic pace and a focus on monetary gain all combine to create days, weeks, or months of stress that tend to favour those who are able to ‘handle it’. This means that those who can’t, who love everything about film and are just as desperate to stay in the industry, will push themselves to breaking point.
Before Broadgate left mainstream production to start her company, Pikaia Films, she watched her seniors skip meals and, learning by example, began to do the same. She felt like she had no life outside of the unsustainable working hours. This sense of defeat and isolation is common to many people starting out in the industry. A friend who used to freelance between commercial on-set roles tells me there is always some kind of pressure coming from somewhere – she struggled with people on set getting physically close, expecting a sense of intimacy, and overstepping personal boundaries. This kind of behaviour was often passed off as camaraderie, but my friend felt like she was constantly walking on eggshells.
Going against the grain
For Broadgate, working against the traditional pressures of sets means prioritising calm and vulnerability throughout the whole crew. She collaborated with Margot Douglas, the lead producer at Old Hall Films, to create the kind of atmosphere they wanted. They worked with the crew to move the set and equipment around in a way that minimised stress transference, frequently checked in with the lead actress Eve Gordon – who had the huge task of multiple takes of the film’s intense panic attack scene and communicating her character’s own suicidal thoughts – and made sure that everyone on set was taking breaks, eating and staying hydrated.
Though they’re vital for our wellbeing, these basic acts of human care are often missing from the mainstream film industry. They’re also demonstrated effectively by the relationship between the two sisters in It Got Me In November. When Em’s sister phones to say she’s coming to visit, she ends by saying she’ll bring some orange biscuits, a snack we can only assume that Em loves; sustenance as well as joy. Once there, seeing how much her sister is suffering, Jade offers to cut her hair, an act akin to cooking big meals for a friend who is grieving. These small things are about noticing what people might be dropping, and helping to pick them up.
The symptoms Emma exhibits in this film overlap with what someone with depression might go through but, fascinatingly, during development Broadgate received feedback notes that the symptoms she was describing in her script weren’t typical of someone only suffering with depression. Later, when she received her autism diagnosis, she began to realise that the symptoms depicted in It Got Me In November might be more closely aligned with autistic burnout.
Broadgate wants to start influencing production companies and other arts organisations to put neurodivergent perspectives at the forefront and, by doing so, avoid burnout for everyone who works in the industry. She is urging those in positions of power to invite neurodivergent people to talk to them and to pay people for this consultation. In her own words: “A lot of the changes we need in order to create better accessibility don’t cost the earth, it just requires a bit of planning and thought. The best thing we can all do is ask questions of those around us who have different experiences of life so we can gain new perspectives and move forwards.”
By Zoe Turner
Main image by Sophie Broadgate
You can find more of Sophie Broadgate’s films here: https://pikaiafilms.co.uk/