Kingston Anderson on the ADG’s gender initiatives and ‘Picnic’ “subterfuge”

Kingston Anderson.

You’ve just launched an initiative designed to get more women working in the commercials space.

Our Gender Careers program has three elements. One is the commercial content mentorships which we launched in March. I think it surprised everyone because no-one’s really working in this space. We had a fantastic launch where we really brought together the commercials industry, Screen Australia, other funding bodies and a real mix of the industry to recognize how important it is for directors to have different strings to their bow. And we used the recent success of Garth Davis to promote that, because he was a commercials director. We just need to promote more, because obviously there are only 10 per cent women directing in that territory. It’s pretty woeful.

Any theories about why that is?

The symptoms are the same. The commercials industry has been dominated more by men than any other of the industries I would suggest. There are still plenty of women working in that industry, women are running companies, but when it comes to creatives, which is what the industry calls them, there’s a definite lack of women in that role. And the ad industry recognizes that too. That’s why they’re partnering with us on this scheme, because they can see it’s important that there be an attempt to redress this. The Communications Council, which represents a lot of the TV commercial production houses  the Goodoils and the Exit Films  has come onboard. And the companies have put their hands up to say we’ll take these [women] on, and that’s been fantastic. It’s been a good partnership between the commercials sector, us and Screen Australia.

How many filmmakers are participating in the scheme?

Eight young filmmakers across six companies, because a couple of the companies are taking two. We’ll expand that as we can with other companies. There are other companies that are interested in doing it. The women selected are not out of film school, they’ve all been working for some time. But they haven’t been able to break through that barrier to get those roles in the commercial sector. The companies selected their mentorees. So they interviewed them, looked at their work and selected them based on what they thought would work for their companies. We anticipate and we hope – and certainly the companies think – that at the end of this they’d give them a job. That will be the test. We need to do programs that give women jobs in the industry. Not another seminar, another talk, another attachment. We have to take the next step. All our programs are aimed that way. We’re going to come back in a year to see what’s happened, because if we haven’t got these women directing commercials we’ve probably failed.

How long do the placements last?

The length is determined by the mentors and the mentorees. For example, one of the companies has just gotten a big commercial with a bank. The bank is really keen to push the gender issue and so there’s an experienced woman director directing that commercial. The mentoree will get a major role in that team to produce that commercial, so she won’t be sitting on her arse watching. And the companies will, where appropriate, give them the opportunity to direct. So it’s very hands-on. And when there’s a project and they come in for a role, the company will pay them for that role. It’s not doing free work. The aim will be, by the end of that process, that the company will take them on as directors. We know that’s starting to happen.

You’ve also launched a shadow directing initiative for women in television drama.

That’s aimed again at getting women directing jobs. And the third prong is we’ve got three placements at 37°South with women who’ve got feature films who want to get them up. We’re very much aimed to get women working. We don’t want to run any more attachments that don’t get them jobs. So that’s something we’ve been focusing on this year and getting up, because it’s taken a while. It’s not something you can invent overnight.

How many participants in the shadow directing attachment?

We’ve got six a year, but it’s not an attachment – they actually direct an episode. With most one-hour TV dramas, they’ll do two episodes in a block, and a director will direct those two episodes. What happens here is that a woman selected by the production company will direct one of those episodes under a mentor, but the actual directing of one of those episodes will be by that woman and she’ll get the credit. It’s a real job, she gets paid, and she gets the credit. And because they’ve directed an episode it breaks down the problem we’ve had with networks, which tend to veto people if they haven’t had enough experience, in their view. So it breaks down the barriers to get more women into the system. And we know that number is 22 per cent in TV drama, so we’ve still got a long way to go.

You obviously played a key role in getting Amanda Brotchie a gig on Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Amanda’s terrific. She’s one of our members and she’s certainly absolutely qualified to go into that show. She’s a director on the rise. Obviously we put a lot of pressure on Fremantle as a result of the issue with Picnic, and they said they would take a director on. They’ve done that and chosen well, [we] have to commend them. And that will be a great credit for that director and set her on a path. It fulfils our brief, which is to get female directors jobs.

What was your objection there?

Well, under the system that we have, we get consulted if visas are applied for for overseas directors, so we heard about this through the visa application, but [that] was only several weeks before the director was due to start, which we thought was strange. Basically the majority of the [Picnic] money is Australian money, and the reason we were founded 30 years ago was exactly for this reason, because Australian directors were being overlooked for foreign directors. We don’t stop foreign directors coming in – Ridley Scott comes in and brings the money and there’s no objection from us at all. But if they’re Australian productions, we think Australian directors should be considered first. We didn’t understand why this director was chosen. Nothing against her, but from a television point of view what did she add that a Daina Reed or an Emma Freeman didn’t? These were the directors who were willing to do the show. Female directors here were absolutely insulted by the whole process. If it was a co-production we wouldn’t have this discussion. If it was a fully-funded American production we also wouldn’t have this discussion. But it’s a fully-funded Australian production. It was funded by Screen Australia and Film Victoria, and we know that when the committee which makes the decisions in Victoria was making their decision, they weren’t aware that this was going to be an American director. So there were a lot of people keeping information back. And we also know that the director was chosen in August. We saw the visa application in October, and we know that Australian directors were being talked to between August and October, so there was a lot of subterfuge. We had a meeting with Foxtel, who said: if we had this discussion back in July, none of this may have happened. I said that’s probably right. Because we’re open to discussing these things, not just being bloody-minded about it.

* This interview has been edited and condensed.