Guest post: Anxiety and filmmaking in 2020 – how lockdown affected my production and personal life

By JJ Barnes

JJ Barnes is an author and filmmaker, and co-runs Siren Stories with her writing partner Jonathan McKinney. Her first book, Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit, came out in 2016. Since then she has written several novels, and releases creative writing advice resources to support other aspiring writers.

Lockdown came at an incredibly inconvenient time for me. Together with the team at our small business, Siren Stories, we had invested everything we had in acquiring kit, locations and a cast to make an independent feature film. In January 2020 we went into production on Hollowhood, and lockdown was enforced before we could finish filming.

Originally, we were hoping to air for the first time at a Halloween film festival in North Carolina. We kept hoping lockdown would be lifted in time, but the longer it went on the more we realised it wouldn’t happen. However, with about 90% of the film in the can we intended to edit it to the point where perhaps we could make do with the footage we had and still get our 2020 release.

The closure of the schools meant that our three small children, the oldest just 7 at the time, were at home with us full time. The combination of home schooling and supervising stir crazy and stressed children in a small house, whilst attempting to edit and score a film, proved too much of a challenge. We had to accept that we wouldn’t make the Halloween release we had so hoped for.

As the end of lockdown approaches, I’m filled with optimism that, finally, we can complete our film. It’s small, it’s low budget, but it’s ours and we are proud of it. Not only do we hope to get our investment back and build up to bigger and better things, but we want to be able to share all our hard work with the world. Once lockdown is lifted, our little band of actors can reunite and film those final scenes that we’ve been planning for more than a year now!

This should mean that lockdown ending brings me nothing but feelings of positivity. However, I am fighting internal demons threatening to ruin that excitement and hope for me.

I struggle with anxiety. I have learned over the years to handle the social anxiety I feel about large gatherings, parties, going to unfamiliar places, and generally doing that “peopling” thing that we are all supposed to be adept at. I’m not brilliant at it, but, with support, I got myself to a point where I was able to do it.

Lockdown took those anxieties away. I didn’t have to psych myself up to “peopling” anymore, because there were no places to go and no people to see. The antisocial life of lockdown suited my natural hermit ways. My children, my work and my relationship kept me busy and satisfied. Social media kept me connected at a comfortable distance with the outside world. Yes, it was frustrating at times, I’d love to go for a drink in the pub or out for a meal, and we all missed our families, but it was fine.

The lifting of lockdown brings those anxieties straight back to the foreground. And I’m out of practice for how to cope with them.

I’m not used to getting myself in the frame of mind to cope, and I’m not used to processing the post-event obsessing. I’m out of practice with pushing the nerves down so I can go out, and with getting myself to sleep instead of replaying everything I said that might have offended someone. My social anxiety has left dormant, but ready to flourish. And time is ticking.

Ultimately, the lifting of lockdown will bring nothing but positivity. Aside from the fact it means fewer people are dying and fewer jobs will be lost, for me personally it will improve life. We can finish the film that we are so desperate and hopeful for the release of. My children will be able to go for sleepovers with their beloved grandparents again. I’ll get a much needed date night with my partner. The lifting of lockdown is a huge relief, and it is needed by society at large for so many reasons.

And I will learn to process my own anxiety again. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. I will visit with friends, go to weddings, travel for work. I will because I have to, and because it’s a privilege to do every last thing. And, any time I find myself pining for the days of lockdown life, I’ll remind myself just how lucky we are to have made it through to the other side.

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