Screen Australia hits long-term Gender Matters target and sets new KPI


‘Ride Like A Girl’, which received development funding via Gender Matters: Brilliant Stories.  

Back 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.

At the same time, the agency rolled out a $5 million suite of initiatives under the umbrella ‘Gender Matters’. Each was designed to redress gender inequity more broadly: a female-led story development fund, Brilliant Stories; female-focused business support, Brilliant Careers; Better Deals, a matched distribution guarantee for the marketing of female-led films; and an attachment scheme for women.

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

Three years on, and Screen Australia has exceeded its target. Fifty-six (56) per cent of projects funded over the last three years were considered ‘female-led’; that is the writer, producer, director, and if applicable, protagonist, were at least 50 per cent female.

Projects funded through Brilliant Stories are starting to come to fruition, such as director Rachel Griffiths’ Ride Like A Girl, due in cinemas next month. Natalie Erika James’ Relic is in post and Daina Reid’s Run Rabbit Run in pre. Web series Sheilas, from Hannah and Eliza Reilly, was released back in 2018.

Brilliant Careers programs have propelled many women’s careers, such as the Australian Directors’ Guild’s shadowing directing scheme, which has given a leg-up to directors like Lucy Gaffy, Darlene Johnson and Lisa Matthews.

However, for Screen Australia head of development Nerida Moore, Gender Matters goes beyond single projects. It’s about cultural change, and she is rapt to have seen it energise conversations in the broader industry.

“We were really thinking about how you build a system underneath to support ongoing opportunities,” she tells IF.

“People have got a new normal. We notice now when women are absent.”

Further, Gender Matters has been a catalyst for systemic shifts within Screen Australia, particularly with regards to diversity and inclusivity.

At the time, Gender Matters: Brilliant Stories had a broader eligibility criteria than other sorts of Screen Australia development funding. Nearly 20 per cent of successful applicants had no prior professional credits. The agency was shocked by the new talent who came through the door, many of whom were of diverse background.

This influenced its decision to loosen story development guidelines in July 2018. Gender Matters had given Screen Australia a template as to how to deal with a large number of applications, and how to build an external team of assessors with a broader diversity of experience, Moore says.

In May 2018, Screen Austalia updated its guidelines for both children’s and adult television drama, stipulating that there must be at least one female director on an extended TV series where there is more than one filming block.

From July 2017, the Attachments for Women scheme was also evolved into the broader Inclusive Attachment Scheme, which considers all under-represented groups. It is for both above-the-line and below-the-line roles.

“Ongoing focus” 

However, there’s still plenty of ground to cover when comes to achieving gender parity across both projects funded by Screen Australia and in the industry as a whole.

For one, the strides Screen Australia has seen are not even across formats. While on average 78 per cent of television drama funded by Screen Australia had at least 50 per cent female creative teams over the three years from 2016-17 to 2018-19, the same was true of only 46 per cent of feature films funded.

Screen Australia is also yet to see parity across all key creative roles. For instance, while 59 per cent of successful production funding applications had female producers attached across three years, only 46 per cent of projects had female directors and 44 per cent female writers.

However there have been notable improvements within roles. For instance, 27 per cent of feature films to receive production funding in the 2018-19 financial year had a female director, when compared to just 10 per cent in 2016-17. In 2018-19 the number of female directors attached to feature documentaries exceeded parity for the first time (51 per cent).

In this regard, Screen Australia has launched a new KPI, one focused on headcount rather than projects.

By 2021-22, it hopes that 50 per cent of key creatives across all projects that receive development and production funding are women.

From August 2020 it will also publish headcount breakdowns of key creative roles by format, as to identify areas which might require targeted assistance.

“The original KPI was really about generating collaboration within teams and building networks, capacity and skills. The new KPI is now about creating volume,” Moore says.

“It’s being able to look more finely at each area and each of those key roles in each area.”

To help achieve this, Screen Australia will continue Gender Matters Taskforce, and will issue a callout for expressions of interest for those looking to join the advisory body later this year.

It is also likely to make announcements on further Gender Matters-related initiatives before year end. What these initiatives might look like is still under discussion. However Moore predicts, given that the development funding eligibility guidelines have been already broadened, the agency will put a greater impetus towards converting projects to production.

Unlike the original KPI, the new target does not include female protagonists, however Screen Australia has said it will continue to collect this data and report on it. In 2018-19, 58 per cent of projects to receive production funding had a female protagonist.

Industry-wide concern

Gender Matters has its roots in research data published by Screen Australia in May 2015 in AFTRS’ Lumina magazine, which showed that for all Australian 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.

This data sent a shockwave through the industry at the time. However, when it comes to industry-wide figures, little has yet to change.

In the five years from 2012-13 to 2017-18, only 36 per cent of feature film producers were female, 17 per cent of directors and 23 per cent of writers. This is despite significant initiatives Screen Australia, the state screen agencies, guilds and other industry organisations.

Realistically, these figures are unlikely to change overnight. As Moore points out, Screen Australia only has the capacity to shift the needle on projects it is involved in.

In this regard, she encourages the whole industry to get on board to make a difference. She argues when women make up just over 50 per cent of the population, there are a whole lot of people waiting to see themselves on screen.

“We know that women are bringing a very distinctive take and experiences to storytelling. It makes economic sense as well as cultural sense.”