Based in South Australia, Waters Productions started by Heather Waters, creates films which stir the soul and provoke the senses. Primarily they focus on adoption issues including the short film, The Lost Souls, set in the 1960s about the closed adoption era that was released in 2013. Current projects include a developing feature film, Primal Wound and the first of a series of books, The Blind Spot – What you don’t see in Adoption. I spoke with Heather recently about her first film and to talk about adoption generally.
What was your motivation for creating The Lost Souls and was it difficult to write?
After reading the Australian Senate Inquiry into Past Forced Adoptions in 2012 and doing a little research it became apparent to me that there was very little visual material which reflected the authentic experience of adoption practices in the 1960s. Surprised by this, I decided to start writing The Lost Souls.
Being new to making films I jumped straight into writing the script, unbeknown this was not the “normal” way a film script is written. Usually the “treatment” comes first; this is like the outline of the story, then the script is created from that.
Once I began the story simply flowed through me. As I progressed, I realised that I needed characters, structure, scenes and more, so I developed these along the way. The result was a short drama about Sarah, who is 16, unwed and pregnant. In an era where this is frowned upon, closed adoption seems the only answer. Sarah is forced into the system of barbaric and inhumane treatment, only to receive a formal apology nearing the end of her life.
I also needed to educate myself on film related topics including how I was going to commission the script. Originally, I had no intention of making, let alone directing the film as I had no professional experience in the craft. Being unemployed at the time, I simply created the script in the hope that someone would pick it up and pay me for it.
Your wishes were realised as the film did come to pass. How did this happen and what was your role, outside of writing the script, in its final creation?
In May 2012, I completed a Director’s course making connections with other film making enthusiasts. This course was the beginning of my journey into filmmaking.
It was an intense experience making The Lost Souls, especially given that it was a period film, meaning everything needed to be authentic. As the crew began to form, I not only needed to look closer at film content but also to research the period to obtain authentic wardrobe, props etc and to get an understanding of the way people behaved in that time. The production designer, Pia, hugely assisted with that task.
There’s so much to mention in making a film but putting it in a nutshell, auditions were next on the list and we found the lead character, Sarah Burgess, in Laura Tilley, along with a few other characters. The pre-production included lots of planning, location scouting, photoshoots, legalities, permissions, filming equipment, more crew and cast, extras, catering, advertising, website and social pages construction, fundraising and rehearsals.
Shortly before we commenced production, I was fortunate to gain an Executive Producer, Garry Humphries, which really saved the film as up until that point, I was largely funding it.
Once we hit production, we filmed a total of six days, four of them back-to-back with very long hours. Filming occurred in locations around Adelaide including, The Old Adelaide Gaol, Memorial Hospital, Rigonis Bistro and Adelaide Educational Institution.
After filming we entered the stage of post-production which included editing, marketing, promotion which entailed the premiere screening and DVD launch.
My main roles throughout this process were Writer, Director and Editor. However, I was heavily involved in most areas of the film and process.
The Lost Souls had its premiere in Adelaide, how was it received?
The film was very well received. The reason I say that is because the content wasn’t glossed over or glorified, as so often happens in films or TV shows. I believe many of those who were affected by the adoption practice could resonate and relate to the film.
Even those who had no exposure to adoption, in watching the film, received a realistic perspective of what happened and the effect adoption had on those involved. I think people appreciated this authenticity.
The aim was to reflect not just the era, but actual accounts, through words and actions, endured by those when faced with the uncomfortable and threatening situation of having to walk the road of adoption.
You have begun writing the script for a new film with an adoption theme, titled Primal Wound. At what stage are you with the development of this project?
Primal Wound is a feature film with the main characters being adoptees. There is a significant book available, which I’m certain many in the adoption community are aware of called, The Primal Wound, written by Nancy Verrier. I wish to point out my film is not a depiction of her book. I do recommend reading it if you haven’t done so already.
My proposed film intends to reflect what it’s like to be adopted, showing many of the obstacles, issues, difficulties and experiences. There is also an underlying story of how the characters came to be adopted. I think that part is necessary to understand not only their journey but adoption as a whole.
After the initial treatment was completed, we conducted a workshop where we called in a bunch of actors to play out the scenes. I found the workshop really helpful as I was able to visually ‘see’ the scenes and get a sense of how they flowed.
The sample actors were given their scenes and asked to bring their acting skills and improvisation to the table which was a challenge for them. At the end of the day, I was really happy with the results and felt the workshop was of great benefit for me because I was able to see how certain scenes played out. I was able to cast a couple of actors and view potential actors and it gave me further ideas for improving the dialogue. The feedback I received was also very positive. The actors enjoyed the whole experience. They liked that they had the opportunity to test their skills and many wanted to be part of the film project.
The script is now underway. Once that is complete, I will hold another workshop to gain more insight into the flow of the film, depth in the scenes and ensure that the film is on the right track. Again, this presents another opportunity for possible casting.
Image: Heathers Waters
Is it difficult being so close to subject matter that might mirror your own adoption story?
I don’t feel that my particular story and the work that I do has all that much connection. The effect that adoption has had on me and the work that I do definitely has a connection. The way I create anything is by channelling my passion into what I do. My knowledge enables me to tell the story, my passion or the effect that adoption has had on me, is what drives it. Because the films I’ve made and are making, are based on actual accounts of other people’s experiences and not directly my own, that does enable me to have a level of detachment from the subject matter. It makes the process easier I think, than if it were directly my own personal story.
Working on your films, have you found your understanding about adoption, and the impacts it has on people, have changed?
I wouldn’t say that my understanding about adoption has changed, nor the impact on those affected. The bottom line is adoption causes trauma for all concerned. For fathers it can cause feelings of loss from the event, along with trust and future relationship issues. Often the mothers also are left with the devastation of the loss of their baby, trust issues, along with the continual yearning for their baby. Adoptees face issues of not belonging, difficulty in trusting (themselves and others), attachment issues and so much more.
In every adoption, there is trauma involved. That trauma and any subsequent traumas are carried for the entirety of the adopted person’s life. For those adopted at birth, there is no pre-trauma memory which means they live their lives in a constant state of vigilance as they have no experience of living any other way. I believe that the more children that are affected by the practices of adoption, the more unstable our future as a society will become.
There are many more issues which affect those involved, even those adoptees who have had the “best possible experience” of adoption; there is always lasting trauma and the feeling of needing to belong, often manifesting in relationship issues. There is no escaping the effect that adoption has on everyone involved.
Over the years, I’ve been approached by those who have been affected by adoption that have shared their stories with me. Listening to them has given me a broader perspective of other experiences and how these might differ from my own.
I would imagine funding a film provides some challenges. How do you intend to fund the Primal Wound?
There are several ways in which I hope to cover all the costs of pre-production, production and post production. It’s not a simple, modern day film which means we’ll need to seek period items, locations and wardrobe etc., and of course there’s everything else that goes in between.
Crowdfunding is certainly one option that I’m looking at. I’m also fortunate enough to have an Executive Producer who is largely supporting the project which is a massive help. We may also look at product placement and fundraisers.
Has your life experience led you to be an advocate for adoption or for family preservation?
I’m a bit of both, depending on the circumstance. I believe adoption in extreme circumstances is necessary, for example, a child might be absent of parents through long term incarceration or their parents deceased. However, I believe family preservation is of the utmost importance.
It’s really about neither. Looking at it this way, if you remove the baby/child from the equation, there is no need for adoption. In other words, adoption only exists because there is a baby.
Where adoption is presented as an option I believe that it’s paramount the focus be on the child and its best interests. That is, in the best interests of the child over the long term. I think that this has been lost in translation over the decades. That people who adopt have been led to believe that it is the kindest thing to do, the most loving thing to do, without taking into account the longer term consequences which the children have to live with, including having to feel grateful for having been accepted by their adopters.
I believe that each case for an adoption should be assessed on its own merits. Where possible, I believe that every effort be made to keep child and biological family together, whether by providing additional services, support or funding.
If that is not possible, the next best option would be for the child to be raised by a family member. If that is not possible, then close friends. If the child must be removed away, perhaps foster care to begin with, and every effort needs to be made to at least keep the child within its birth country if an inter-country adoption is being considered. Sometimes that may also not be possible, in which case I would suggest that all medical records and history of the child, accompany them.
We also know that adoption is not immune to being drawn into the child trafficking industry.
The final point I’d like to make is that adoption is absolute. Adoption removes history, ancestry, medical information, name, and in some cases, a person’s birthdate. In other words, their biological information – their identity. Adoption is very severing and destructive so unless there is a damn good reason for it, I suggest that every single alternative solution be thoroughly examined and executed before anyone even considers going down the adoption road.
Tell us a bit about your proposed book?
The title is, The Blind Spot – What you don’t see in adoption. It is hopefully the first of a series of books covering different perspectives of adoption. Each book intends to focus on the experiences and implications of the biological parents, the adopted child and adoptive parents.
Could your adopted colleagues assist you in any way?
Certainly. As the film Primal Wound progresses I will be advertising for various positions, both paid and voluntary. Those will be found on my website on the Primal Wound – Film, page. Some of the positions would include: Catering, Research, Wardrobe, Advertising, Marketing, Locations and Social Media.
For assistance with the The Blind Spot series, if anyone can help with editing or proof reading, that would be greatly appreciated.
I would also like to interview a small number of people, perhaps three or four, for the forthcoming book series.
How can you be contacted?
The primary contact would be via my website
I can be found on Facebook
Heather Waters (Public Figure FB Page)
Primal Wound (Film FB Page)
The Lost Souls (Film FB Page)
Waters Productions (FB Page)
Or you can follow me on Twitter
Waters Productions Twitter
The Lost Souls Trailer