Tara O’Callaghan talks Call Me Mommy

Director Tara O’Callaghan speaks with Izzy Ashton about her Special Jury Prize winning film Call Me Mommy, which also took the Gold in the Documentary category.

Did you always want to direct? What do you get the most satisfaction from when directing? 

Growing up with a cinephile mother, I always craved adventure. I explored storytelling through painting, comics, and photography, but filmmaking always felt out of reach. However, everything changed for me in secondary school when my script got selected in a filmmaking course. It was during that electric experience that I discovered how filmmaking seamlessly combined all my artistic passions, where I could fuel my need for adventure through the power of storytelling.

Where do I begin? There are many aspects of the filmmaking process that satisfy me in different ways, so it’s hard to single out just one. One area that I am particularly passionate about is research. Immersing myself in a whole new world of ideas and characters as I jump into a new project can be incredibly eye-opening to new perspectives. On set, the most exciting moments come from tackling challenges alongside my team. Collaborating in these high-pressure moments can uncover remarkable solutions that are often far better than your initial plan, when you feel like you’ve cracked an idea together and created something magical. And finally, the cherry on the cake lies in the grading process. Bringing a film to life through colour is like the last step in a Frankenstein creation, where you finally see your film come alive. So, I guess each stage excites me in a different way!

Where did the idea for Call Me Mommy come from?

It all started for me at the beginning of the lockdown. Many people were losing their jobs and as a result, there was a massive surge towards online sex work. I became fascinated by this new-found openness, as it was usually confined to the dark corners of the internet, like with cam girls and escorts. However throughout the pandemic, something seemed to shift and online sex work transformed into a thriving and highly competitive industry. I had a strong urge to meet the women my age who were flocking to this platform and gain a better understanding of the pull to this brand-new industry.

How did you meet Sinead, the lead figure in your film? 

I then set out around Ireland to meet as many sex workers as I could and we ended up shooting with various women over the course of a year. We basically had a whole other film shot!  Motherland were supportive of the exploration of the project and the direction we decided to take because the more women I met, the more my fascination with the OnlyFans platform transformed into an exploration of their lives. I realised that the real story was in the women and the platform fell to the background. After shooting with three other women, one of my contacts introduced me to Sinead Connell, whose story was so unique it was impossible to ignore and Call Me Mommy was born.

How did the shoot go? Were there any standout or memorable moments? What was the most challenging aspect of the film’s creation? 

The shoot was a bit of a rollercoaster. One of the most challenging aspects was the unexpected backlash we faced during the filming process. It wasn’t something I had anticipated when we first started this project, but as we launched into the shoot, I was able to see firsthand the struggles faced by sex workers. Several locations backed out when they heard about the film’s subject matter. We also faced harassment from community members while shooting and even had the police called on us at one point. Luckily I had the support from producers at Motherland when days got tricky and we were able to find solutions quickly. Despite the obstacles we faced, working with Sinead was the easy part. She was incredibly open and had an infectious enthusiasm for the project. It was her eagerness to challenge perspectives that allowed us to tune out the noise and focus on our end goal. 

With a subject matter such as this, it must’ve been vital to cultivate a safe space on set. How did you ensure this for all your cast and crew? 

During the summer of the shoot, I spent a lot of time with Sinead and we became quite close around that time. It was crucial for me to build that trust and get to know the real Sinead because, if she didn’t know me, how could I expect her to be vulnerable in any way? Creating a safe space was paramount on set for both cast and crew, especially considering the challenging topics we tackled. With our small crew of usually only four or five people, we maintained constant conversation throughout the process, prioritising clear communication throughout the entire shoot. 

What do you feel you’ve learned from making this film? Is this a subject matter you’d like to explore again in the future?  

This line of work carries huge prejudices, and initially, I believed that these women were living the high life, making 100k a month. However, I quickly realised that this couldn’t be further from the truth once I started meeting them. The pandemic led to an over-saturation of the market, making everything hyper-competitive. To maintain their revenue streams, women had to resort to more extreme measures and push their comfort boundaries. This doesn’t even consider the backlash they face from their communities, both online and offline. 

It’s a high-risk, high-reward profession that attracts vulnerable women, with the average online sex worker only lasting a couple of months. It involves hard work and long hours. Sinead is up in the middle of the night answering messages and it’s the first thing she does when she wakes up. I realised that being an online sex worker is more like being a small business owner with only yourself to count on.

We’re right in the middle of an anti-sex backlash. Sex workers are currently being targeted with censorship, harassment, and violence. The space for celebrating sex work has significantly shrunk in recent years. Anti-sex and anti-porn advocates have made great efforts to falsely link sex work and sex trafficking, which has resulted in sex workers being unable to advertise online. With Call Me Mommy, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. I’m currently digging deeper into this marginalised community to continue showing the realities of sex work in often whitewashed cinematic portrayals. 

Huge congratulations on winning a Special Jury Prize. What does it mean to you to win a YDA? 

Winning a YDA is absolutely massive for me, Sinead, and the whole team at Motherland. It’s incredibly inspiring to see our film being recognised by such a prestigious organisation! It would be a dream come true to be in the running for a Cannes Lion in the future. This being my debut film. It was a true labour of love for every single person involved and I am thrilled to be able to share this with our amazingly talented and hard working team. 

The fact that the YDA is celebrating our film is truly motivating and strengthens my belief in the immense impact that genuine storytelling can have, sparking important conversations to drive meaningful change.

What are you working on at the moment? And what’s coming next?  

I’m currently working with the Motherland development team on a feature around Call Me Mommy, alongside other exciting commercial projects. I’m really looking forward to expanding my commercial portfolio because the advertising industry is such an exciting space to grow as an artist and create innovative work, while pushing the boundaries of cutting-edge technology and teaming up with daring brands! I’d love opportunities to work internationally and expand in the commercial space as I continue to evolve as an artist. My goal is to bring all these experiences together and channel them into a full-length feature film, eventually!

Interview by Izzy Ashton shots


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