Gender Matters: Screen Australia reports a ‘promising start’

'Sheilas' is the first project funded under Screen Australia's Gender Matter: Better Stories to enter production.

The screen industry still has work to do to address gender imbalance, but Screen Australia chief operating officer Fiona Cameron says it is off to a “promising start”.

In December 2015, Screen Australia set itself a three year target: by the end of the 2018-19 financial year, at least 50 per cent of projects to receive production funding should be from female-led creative teams. A creative team is considered to be female-led when the writer, producer, director, and if applicable, protagonist are at least 50 per cent female.

This announcement of this goal was accompanied by the rollout of $5 million worth of initiatives to more broadly tackle gender inequity, including Gender Matters: Brilliant Stories, Brilliant Careers, Better Deals and Attachments for Women.

Screen Australia also adjusted its assessment criteria, expressly noting that the gender of a project’s team may influence its funding decisions.

On Sunday at MIFF 37°South, COO Fiona Cameron revealed that Screen Australia was on the way to achieving its initial 50 per cent target. Across the past two years, 47 per cent of projects to receive production investment were female-led.

When broken down across the type of production, however, the results are somewhat uneven. Over the past two years, on average 67 per cent of TV dramas, 53 per cent of multiplatform projects, 42 per cent of documentaries and 32 per cent of features that received production investment from Screen Australia were female-led.

Cameron told IF that while she was confident Screen Australia would reach the overall target, the feature production figure was an ongoing issue and would continue to be a focus for the agency.

However, she said inroads are being made. In 2015-16 only 22 per cent of features to receive production investment were female-led. In the 2016-17 financial year the figure was up to 39 per cent.

Cameron said since the introduction of Gender Matters, Screen Australia has analysed every project and every creative attached to those projects through a gender lens, and that this would continue.

“If projects come through that don’t have any female creatives you do have to ask the question,” she said. “We’ve certainly funded all male creative teams, and I’m sure we will again, but only if there is a very good reason.”

However, Cameron doesn’t solely attribute the 22 to 39 per cent jump in number of female-led feature films funded to Screen Australia. Rather, she said it’s also due to a growing awareness around the issue of gender equity in the industry and an increasingly willingness to take a punt on female creative talent.

In terms of development, on average 61 per cent of features that received development funding from Screen Australia over the past two years were from female-led teams. That this figure is higher than production suggests that there should be a pipeline of projects coming through in the future, including those that were funded via Brilliant Stories. Web series Sheilas was recently first of the 45 projects funded via Better Stories to enter production.

Cameron said production was the “the proof in the pudding”.

“That’s why I don’t know that we’d be doing another Brilliant Stories next year, because we’ve got things in the development pipeline,” said Cameron.

“Now we have to think about: well if they don’t picked up in the right numbers is it because the stories aren’t good enough? Or is it because of some of these creatives don’t have the runs on the board, and some people in positions of power aren’t prepared to take that risk? And if that’s the case, what’s our role and what’s the industry role?”

Cameron emphasised Screen Australia’s 50 per cent KPI was target rather than a hard quota, but said: “We are working toward, over a period of time, having much more equality in the sector. And I don’t know how that can be argued against, when you’re talking about ensuring greater collaboration and that greater stories get a market which is made up of 50 per cent females, 50 per cent males.”

Key creative roles

Arguably what kicked off the groundswell around gender equity and female representation in the screen industry back in 2015 was Screen Australia’s release of industry-wide female participation data for feature film. That data showed that for titles released between 1970-71 and 2013-14, only 16 per cent of directors, 21 per cent of writers and 30 per cent of producers were female.

Screen Australia has since updated those figures to include the last three financial years, and there hasn’t been any change.

Cameron said this result is somewhat unsurprising given the time it takes for feature films to release, but was also indicative of a need for continued “attention and action.”

Going forward, Cameron said Screen Australia would need to consider if production or distribution incentives are required to ‘move the needle’, and in addition, there also needs to be a employer focus to make sure women get more job opportunities.

Screen Australia also announced on Sunday that it had reinstated and expanded the Gender Matters Taskforce, who Cameron said would be important in deciding the next steps forward.

“We need to talk to our stakeholders in the industry. It can’t just be Screen Australia… realistically everybody has got to change to make a significant difference.”

The new taskforce will be chaired by Dance Academy producer Joanna Werner. She is joined by ABC MD Michelle Guthrie, actor Deborah Mailman (The Secret Life of Us, Redfern Now, Cleverman), Seven’s head of drama Julie McGauran, and Fulcrum Media Finance MD Sharon Menzies.

Other new members include Skit Box’s Sarah Bishop, Wallis Cinemas programming manager Sasha Close, RMIT’s Dean Media & Communications Lisa French, Pearly Productions’ Pearl Tan and composer Caitlin Yeo.

They join original members of the taskforce: Foxtel’s MD content aggregation and wholesale Deanne Weir, producer Imogen Banks (Sisters, The Beautiful Lie, Offspring, Puberty Blues), producer Sue Maslin (The Dressmaker), director Corrie Chen (Mustangs FC, Sisters), Closer Productions’ Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays), screenwriter Emma Jensen (Mary Shelley) and director and president of the Australian Directors Guild, Samantha Lang.

For a further look at Screen Australia’s new stats around gender, click here.

A more in-depth look at the industry’s ongoing journey to gender equity will be included in the upcoming IF Magazine, #178 August – September. Subscribe here.