Feature: Susan Thomson, documentary producer


Susan Thomson and I met on the first day of kindergarten for our sons, and I loved her warm smile immediately. She has two beautiful tow-headed children and a kind husband in the westlake area of Austin, and she and I share a love of something unusual: “hair band” music. You know, like Bon Jovi, Poison, and Skid Row. Assume the rock pose now.

Susan is creative and dynamic, and she was one of the producers of the documentary A SONG FOR YOU: The Austin City Limits Story. She invited me to see the premiere during the SXSW film festival, and I was blown away. If you’re a music fan, check it out.

LiveMom: How long have you lived in Austin, and what brought you here?

Susan Thomson: I’ve lived in Austin for 2 1/2 years, but I was born here and also went to undergrad at UT in the late 90’s. We have a lot of family here and were thrilled when my husband Brian got a great job opportunity that would move us back.

LiveMom: How many kids do you have, and what are their ages?

Susan: I have 2 kids, 6 and 4.

LiveMom: What is your idea of a perfect day with the family in Austin?

Susan: An ideal family day would involve a lazy morning – coffee on the back porch while we watch the kids swing, a little bit of family soccer and a friendly/competitive game of washers. I would cook brunch at home and then we would set out for a fun event like family day at Laguna Gloria. After some messy, funny craft making it would be time to head home and get ready for a Family Movie Night.  My husband Brian loves to grill so we would sit outside and have a long dinner before snuggling up with a movie. The day would end with plenty of time for an extended bedtime with extra stories and songs.

LiveMom: If you had 24 hours to yourself in Austin, how would you spend it?

Susan: I would start with an early Pure Barre class and then a long stretch at Mozarts to read and have a coffee.  After a long relaxing sit, I would head to Lady Bird Lake for a walk and then grab lunch outside at Whole Foods. I love shopping in the 6th and Lamar area so I would leisurely have a look at Anthropologie, Book People and my favorite boutique FOUND.  Now I’d be ready to sit by the pool at Hotel Van Zandt with my book and a glass of wine. I’d finish the day with a movie at the Violet Crown or a show at ACL Live.

LiveMom: What do you like best about Austin? What would you change, if you could?

Susan: I love the creative energy, the variety of experiences, and the small-town feel that continues to surprise me.  There are so many interesting people in Austin and whether you’re a successful tech entrepreneur in flip flops, a musician, an artist in some vein, or a stay-at-home mom, people seem approachable and eager to connect. The influx of people definitely presents challenges but I’ve found a real fluidity in creating friendships and expanding circles.  I would love to have public transportation here, though – that’s what we’re really missing. I’d like to be able to zip to Dallas or Houston on a train.

LiveMom: What’s one piece of unsolicited advice you’d give to a new mom?

Susan: Love yourself and give yourself grace every day.  This is not a new job – this is a new life. Joys and challenges will take on a whole different dimension so know that you are not alone and that you are enough.  I used to really measure myself by my productivity and I had a hard time adjusting to days where I felt like I was just surviving because I was so tired and overwhelmed.  I’m a lot happier now that I’ve adjusted my expectations and learned to say no to things that don’t really fill me up.

LiveMom: What is the best thing one mom can do for another?
AdvertisementSusan: Share the load – emotionally and physically. I’ve learned to lean on my mom friends in the last few years and when my kids were young I just kept the struggles to myself. I politely declined offers to help because I thought I should be able to handle it on my own. I cried in my room alone when I’d lost my temper with the kids and regretted my harsh words. Now I love to help my friends out with their kids, to carpool and to just be in it with other moms.  If I make mistakes, I call a friend to vent and process. Sharing in that way is so restorative! We have to connect with others in this season of life and now when I make a new mom friend and they ask for my help I feel like our friendship is growing.

LiveMom: What kind of music do you like? Any local musicians? Kids musicians?

Susan: I like so many different things. Pop, Alternative Country, Classic Rock… The Avett Brothers are one of my favorite bands right now. Austin has some incredible music – Gary Clark Jr. just blows me away and I love our Texan Singer/Songwriters like Kris Kristofferson, Willie, and Guy Clark. I don’t listen to too many kids’ musicians, but Colin Buchanan from Australia sings really fun, catchy songs about faith. I sing a lot of 80’s songs with my own kids and they like everything from the Bangles to the Eagles to television theme songs. We’re currently closing down bedtime with “Silver Spoons” and the “Facts of Life” and it’s so entertaining to me.

LiveMom: What’s the best way to keep up with what you are up to next?

Susan: Text me, stop me at morning drop off or become friends with my Dad on Facebook! I’m trying to get away from email because it can be so time consuming.

LiveMom: What might we be surprised to learn about you?

Susan: I was a really shy little girl. My best friend in elementary school was very brave and outgoing and she brought me out of my shell.  Many of my jobs have forced me to be chatty and social but I would much rather have intimate friendships and conversations than lots of “hi” friends.

LiveMom: What is your job, what is your title, and what do you love about your job?

Susan: I’m a Mom first, and with whatever space, time and energy I can carve out, I love to be involved in artistic projects. I just finished working on two documentaries, TOWER, and A SONG FOR YOU. TOWER focuses on the heroes and survivors of the sniper shooting at UT in the 60’s and it will play on National PBS.  A SONG FOR YOU: The Austin City Limits Story is a high energy, rock and roll film about 40 years of incredible music on the ACL set. They’re very different and making them was more challenging than I could have imagined, but I’m proud of how they turned out. I did both films with someone I’ve been friends with since high school, and he said my title should be “Idea Ambassador”. I love to talk about art, books, movies, and music and figure out how to share things that excite me with others. The thing I love most about the different projects I’ve had a hand in, is meeting passionate, talented people who create art that can can entertain us, challenge us, and remind us we aren’t alone.

LiveMom: Do you have any charitable organizations you like to work with/ donate to/ volunteer for locally?

Susan: We support several children from around the world through World Vision and other local charities in Africa and we really like learning about these specific children and seeing them grow up. I also work with a group called the White Ribbon Alliance that focuses on how to care for mothers around the world (lower birth mortality rates, better health education, etc.). Our church does Mobile Loaves and Fishes once a month and that’s a really wonderful charity in our own backyard. I walk away with a greater sense of gratitude every time our family volunteers there.

LiveMom: What is your secret talent?

Susan: While I’ve lost a lot of brain cells in pregnancy, I seem to have miraculously retained all of the lyrics to the Hair Band songs of my youth and this is a good party trick on Karaoke nights.  If anyone else dares to sign up for “Fallen Angel” I will give you the stink eye.

LiveMom: What are your social media links? What’s next?

Susan: You can find me on Facebook and then message me if you want to chat because I rarely surf. You can learn about our TOWER Documentary at www.towerdocumentary.com and we are just finishing a Kickstarter campaign for our other film –  A SONG FOR YOU that you can check out here.

Susan T group
Far left: Susan Thomson and the TOWER documentary team