“Raising Funds for a Film ‘About Abortion’ Is Never Easy” | Tracy Droz Tragos, PLAN C
Opening today in 20 markets across the United States is Tracy Droz Tragos’s Plan C, a documentary about social scientist Francine Coeytaux and her team’s work on expanding access to abortion pills online. With Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul opening today, and New York’s IFC Center run beginning October 13, we are reposting the director’s answer to our annual Sundance Question about the various challenges she faced while making the film. — Editor
Every production faces unexpected obstructions that require creative solutions and conceptual rethinking. What was an unforeseen obstacle, crisis, or simply unpredictable event you had to respond to, and how did this event impact or cause you to rethink your film?
I met Francine in 2018. Right away, I knew that I wanted to make a film about her. But there was the matter of funding. Raising funds for a film “about abortion” is never easy. While I felt an urgency to the endeavor, it was slow going in the support department. Everyone passed (funders, distributors). I put my own money in—filmed in 2019 and kept trying to raise funds. And then COVID hit. And while Francine’s work took off, I still had no funding. Eventually, with so much happening around abortion access during the pandemic, I knew I couldn’t not film. And so, like so many indie filmmakers, I went deeper into debt. I wish I could say this is a thing I’ve figured out—when/how/why you put your own money in. I think there are films—and there are times when things are happening—[where] it feels like they take on a life of their own. Once I took the plunge financially and went for broke, there were more challenges.
It was a challenge to follow the work of brave individuals who were trying to follow the letter of the law when the law kept changing, and to earn their trust over many months, sometimes years. I had to choose my team wisely and to keep our footprint small, which allowed us to move quickly and be accommodating and humble when plans changed (even if the changes were expensive and hurt the budget). Big picture: this is a story about a growing network of people who are working to make medication abortion available to all who need it. Our main character, woven throughout the film, is a cis-white woman in her sixties from Los Angeles. Francine is by nature a bossy rabble-rouser. She is impatient for change. She grapples with rejection, judgment and controversy. I think this was one of the trickiest challenges: how to stay focused on the big picture of the important work of an entire network, but also not to ignore some of the tougher parts of the work, including criticism from others within the movement.
And let’s face it, filming during COVID was all about overcoming unforeseen challenges: traveling with PPE, COVID-testing the team, participants testing positive for COVID, flights getting canceled. There were days when we were ready to film, wanted to film, but couldn’t. I flew to locations with my team only to have our scheduled meeting canceled when we were already on the ground. My mantra on those days was: there are things I can control and things that are out of my control. As long as we are healthy and safe—that’s what matters.
In post-production, there was the new challenge of not working in the same room with my editor, Meredith Perry, and having such a hard film to shape! Spanning nearly four years—three hundred hours of footage—a cast of characters, a network spread across the country in fourteen different states most of whom only knew each other through Zoom. (We had enough material for a 10-part series). Creatively, I’d never approached such a sprawling endeavor. I longed for containment; a film about one-person filmed over a weekend. There was no formula to how we should distill this—no clear structure.
Meredith Perry (Assistant Editor), Beth Kearsley (Associate Producer), and I used many tools to collaborate from afar—Miro, Frame.io, Teamviewer, Zoom—and we shipped many drives back and forth, but the process was much slower than if we had been in person. Thankfully, even though we were going on fumes financially, we agreed to meet in a marathon session—over two weeks together—in person, leading up to our festival submission. We booked an edit suite with our fiscal sponsor, The Utah Film Center, in Salt Lake City. Meredith and I stayed in a hotel two blocks away and ate every meal together. Beth, who lives in Salt Lake City, joined on many days. We accomplished more in those two weeks than in the many months before. While it was certainly an additional expense, there was great value to our meeting in person, collaborating, feeling each other’s energies, watching cuts in the same room, snacking together, hearing each other laugh—and the silence of moments that hit hard—and then sharing our notes over coffee and wine. We could not have finished the film without this time together.
Despite all these challenges, I am strengthened by the incredible support of executive producers who ultimately believed in the film being made and finished, by participants who also believed in the value of the film being made, and by collaborators who shared a commitment to working late nights, to trying “one more” opening or one more version of this or that. We are now in a post-Roe America. There is a “why” baked into what we were doing together in the making of the film, and there is an appreciation of the mutual and societal benefit.
Ultimately, I hope PLAN C will inspire and move people to action. I hope we have done justice to the story, which is so much bigger than us and urgent in ways I never anticipated when I began. PLAN C turned out to be a political film that pushed me out of my comfort zone in many, many ways. We cover a dark time in our nation’s history, when people navigated personal risk, conviction and commitment, who did the hard, courageous, innovative and controversial work, and who found ways to provide direct, meaningful, and essential support.