Talent Camp – an initiative designed to forge career pathways for emerging creatives from diverse backgrounds – has united the industry on a national level.

In late May, AFTRS, together with Screen Australia and the state agencies, made a call for practitioners from communities under-represented in screen culture to put up their hand to participate in the skills development program, which will run in each capital city in coming months.

Community arts organisations and diversity networks from around Australia are also involved in getting the word out at the grassroots level.

AFTRS engagement manager Christina Alverez told IF that Talent Camp’s partners came together out of a shared desire to see more diverse stories on Australian screens.

Last year, Screen Australia, as outlined in the research paper Seeing Ourselves, analysed 199 television dramas broadcast between 2011 and 2015 and found that the characters depicted did not accurately reflect the make-up of the Australian population.

For example, it found that only 18 per cent of main characters were from non-Anglo Celtic background, compared to 32 per cent of Australians. Similarly, only 4 per cent of main characters had an identified disability compared to 18 per cent of Australians, and only 5 per cent identified as LGBTIQ, a group estimated to be up to 11 per cent of the population.

Talent Camp’s long-term aim is to shift those numbers, said Alverez.

“We believe that works for everybody. It will speak to new audiences, [and] that in turn builds business. On a more cultural level, it opens up conversations that we haven’t opened up previously.”

The first two days of Talent Camp’s five-day program will focus on story development. The next two will then address the practical considerations of production – platform, audience, outreach, financing, etc. The last will then hone in on career pathways, with a focus on mentoring, networking, education, and production experience.

The hope is that participants will walk away with a clearer idea of what it takes to build a career in screen and what opportunities are out there.

“It’s just getting a bit of reality check of what it takes to navigate this space, because – this where the diversity aspect comes in – for some people it’s a lot easier to access information about how our screen industry works, how it all fits together, and the who’s who. For some other people it can be quite tricky getting that information,” said Alverez.

While Talent Camp was developed by AFTRS in consultation with industry partners, Alverez said that it is not a recruitment tool for the school. Rather, it fits into a broader commitment to make sure that the stories that we see represent the full diversity of Australian society.

“It’s the bigger picture,” she said.

“We need to reach out to new audiences so that the industry will thrive. It’s in AFTRS’ interest to make sure that there’s a strong industry, and in ensuring there’s a strong industry it’s important that diverse stories keep on being told.”

A commitment to diversity permeates AFTRS’ corporate plan, said Alverez. The school recently changed its application process to make it more accessible to people from different backgrounds, and has established scholarships to foster diverse talent. It has worked with Create NSW on Screenability, and partnered with Bus Stop Films to run screen film studies courses for people with intellectual disabilities. Last year, the school also set up She Shoots, an initiative to address gender imbalance in sound and camera departments.

“[AFTRS is] just trying to build up a whole range of different activities that broadcast our message that the screen industry is open. We’re not elite, we’re not too scary as an industry. And as an educational organisation, we’re really opening our doors for creatives from a variety of backgrounds to come share their stories,” said Alverez.

Alverez is hopeful that Talent Camp has arrived at a time when there is momentum and an appetite in the industry to make sure that the stories we see reflect who we are.

“You’ve got to be optimistic what we’re doing will push through and make a difference. This project in and of itself won’t do it, but in the mix with a whole lot of other projects that are happening, hopefully it’ll be enough critical mass in design to make a real difference.”

Talent Camp will run between September and November across Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth, and Darwin, with 12-15 participants to be selected for each workshop.

While WA and NSW/ACT applications have closed, Victoria and Tasmania are now open for applications. Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory will open for applications in the coming weeks.