Arcadia revs up with remit to produce films by and about women

(l-r) Lisa Shaunessy and Leonie Mansfield (photo credit: Nick Prokop) 

Experienced producers Lisa Shaunessy ('Killing Ground') and Leonie Mansfield ('Kick-Ass 2')] recently formed a new venture, Arcadia. The company was created with the aim to produce projects with 80 per cent female writers, directors and protagonists.

They work alongside former international sales agent Alexandra Burke, who runs Arcadia’s distribution arm. Shaunessy and Mansfield talk to Jackie Keast about their decision to come together.   

Lisa Shaunessy: 

The start of Arcadia was so organic, it took us all by surprise. A casual dinner, some red wine, a desire to tell women’s stories, work with great filmmakers, reach international audiences. You know, the usual.

I feel like I was looking for my tribe for such a long time and these two incredibly talented, smart, internationally experienced, similarly-thinking women just walked into my life at the right time.  

We definitely want to work with more women and to create opportunity for more female-led stories and female talent. We’re women ourselves and we know the challenges that other women face trying to land those leadership roles. And we like stories about women. It’s pretty simple.  

We really want to focus on stories that will work in the international marketplace. Working with Alex, who has been working in international sales for years [Burke previously worked for Danish outfit LevelK], brings such a great rigour to our conversations and decisions about projects.  

As a collective, the influences on your slate are different than when you’re a solo producer and that has been both tough and refreshing. We did very sadly have to part with projects we’d loved and nurtured. We’re really happy with our slate at the moment though. It feels diverse, international, fresh, exciting and like it defines Arcadia, not just ourselves as individuals.

Because mine and Leonie’s skills are similar, it allows us to see easily where we can support each other, run with something, or take over in each other’s absence from projects. And I just love how kind and honest Leonie is. I recently met an ex-colleague of Leonie’s in LA and I saw the remorse of not working with her anymore in his eyes, and I felt so lucky.

All three of us have a great ability to laugh in the middle of a potentially stressful situation. Our ability and desire to not take ourselves too seriously is something I really cherish.

Leonie is a great teacher of being present and in the moment. She’s always conscious of what is going on around her; people’s feelings, impending problems. It’s such a great quality and I’ve learnt to try and dig my head out of the information super highway and enjoy the moments in front of us.

[This year] we plan to move our projects into production, release our Sundance Film Festival co-production Killing Ground, and launch our distribution arm with our Sundance Film Festival purchase, First Girl I Loved.

Leonie Mansfield: 

Lisa and I met through a mutual friend, who kept saying we would really get on. And she was right. 

We formed Arcadia in April last year. Lisa and Alex met at Rome Film Festival a few years back, and Alex and I actually went to school together. None of us had worked together before so it was a bit of a risk, but we had all admired each other’s careers from afar. When we started talking about the company seriously, it felt really right.

Initially, in amongst all the usual paperwork, we were combining our slates into one, defining the brand of the company and unifying our voice. We all share the same taste, but it was still a process to consolidate the overall talent on the slate plus finish the projects we all had underway before Arcadia.  

We formed in the midst of Gender Matters mania. I have been working for women in the industry for a while now through the producers collective I founded called Screen Vixens, and as part of the 2016 executive for WIFT NSW. It made sense for us as a company to value and prioritise women on our slate and in our crews. 

It’s vitally important to have diverse voices on screen  not just for the women in the industry but for our audiences and our cultural identity.

I love working with Lisa. She knows everyone in the business and she’s business savvy, smart and funny. We share the same working style in that we are both creative producers, and we’ve had very similar backgrounds working on big studio pictures with high profile bosses. Lisa worked at Seed for Hugh Jackman and also ran South Sydney Media for Russell Crowe, and I spent five years in the UK working with Matthew Vaughn at his company MARV.

In terms of working styles we are totally aligned. We love to debrief and talk things through, we are both super organised and treasure a calendar. 

Most of our slate we are producing together which is so nice; to be part of a team. We plan to be in production for most of the second half of this year so that’s when we will probably be forced to take the lead on certain projects in order to keep all the balls in the air. 

We’ve just completed our first shoot together – Outbreak Generation by Brooke Goldfinch – and the image of Lisa in a public park in Kurnell at 4:45am, resplendent in her head-torch, will stay with me forever. 

I’ve learnt so much about the local industry from Lisa, having been away in London and then returning to Sydney and being on maternity leave. She’s taught me patience and the benefits of not being too quick to judge a situation.