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Women below the line

Where does gender disparity in the Australian screen industry start?

In January 2019, Screen News published a story titled Cameras and Lenses of 9 Aussie Films From 2018 and many noted the lack of women within the list; none of the cinematographers were women, and only one director was female – Cargo co-director Yolanda Ramke.

In fact no major theatrically distributed Australian feature films in 2018 had female cinematographers, and of all the 37 feature drama* titles released that year, only two in total (or 5.4%) featured female cinematographers. Documentary had better results, with six of the 19 (or 32%) of Australian feature documentaries crediting a female cinematographer.

However, it’s worth noting that the same story for 2019 would include cinematographers Bonnie Elliott (Slam) and Ari Wegner (True History of the Kelly Gang), alongside directors Mirrah Foulkes (Judy & Punch), Rachel Griffiths (Ride Like a Girl), Jennifer Kent (The Nightingale), Rachel Ward (Palm Beach) and Sophie Hyde (Animals). This is not to discount the statistics of 2018 – one year of improvement is not a problem fixed. But four years after the announcement of Gender Matters, perhaps this is indicative change is happening. All four of the female directors above benefitted from Gender Matters in some form, whether it be Brilliant Stories (Ride Like a Girl and Judy & Punch), Brilliant Careers (The Nightingale and Animals) or Better Deals (The Nightingale).

Gender Matters focused on supporting women in the three key creative roles – producer, writer and director, with the hope that there would be a trickle-down effect. The initiative did not directly address below the line roles, which Screen Australia did not track at the time, but which this three part series will explore.

“Below the line” refers to the general industry-accepted definition of anything that falls outside of the “above the line” roles of writer, director, producer and marquee cast, as well as development costs. It instead includes all physical production costs to get the film made and completed, so thereby includes all on-set crew, other cast and post production roles.

“Below the line” is a term that some in the industry disagree with, however it is used in this context for its ability to encompass the wide variety of roles referred to across the course of these articles.

Since 2015/16 and the launch of The Screen Guide, Screen Australia has been more targeted in crediting roles on projects that go into production. As such, it has more information than ever before on the gender of roles such as composer, editor, production designer and cinematographer (although still not enough). In Part One this data will be highlighted alongside graduate data, broken down by gender, from four Australian film schools. Together it aims to give an idea of the state of the industry at the moment, and the kind of graduate numbers that will be entering the industry. We will also test the theory that gender disparity in the industry appears after graduation, rather than during the education phase of a creator’s career.

Part Two provides a case study on one of the more underrepresented areas for women both in the film schools and in the screen industry: cinematography. We speak to new and established cinematographers, the Australian Cinematographers Society, and drill down into the data set from the film schools and Screen Australia. This is in direct response to the Cameras and Lenses piece, however case studies could have also been created on areas such as sound editing, sound mixing and screen composing. APRA AMCOS even created a study into the latter in 2017, about ‘career barriers and pathways’ contributing to the imbalance within that part of the sector.

Finally, Part Three will look at the area of Animation, which fared much better in terms of the representation in film schools – but why? And does that have a flow-on impact for female participation in the industry? Representatives from Animal Logic, Flying Bark and UTS Animal Logic Academy help us understand more.

Huge thanks must go to the various people and companies who were willing to speak for this piece, to the film schools for their transparency, and to Screen Australia Data Analyst Anthony Johnsen for his expertise. This series does not provide concrete answers, but aims to further propel informed discussions about gender diversity in below the line roles.


If you’re short on time, here is a quick summary of some of the findings from this series:

  • Film school’s might have 50% female graduates across an entire year, but significant gender discrepancies arise when you drill down into specific courses, especially in areas of study outside the writer/producer/director streams. Film schools are aware of this disparity and are actively trying to make their courses more accessible. For the first time, all major film schools have supplied four years of graduate data broken down by gender (see appendix).
  • Data shows there is truth to the belief that less women are being employed in below the line roles such as cinematography and composing, and there is some correlation between employment and the volume of graduates from those fields.
  • Notwithstanding improvements, the gender balance on film sets is still poor. For instance, when looking at seven roles (cinematographer, composer, editor, production designer, writer, director, producer) on 95 Australian feature film titles that went into production between 1 July 2015 and 30 June 2018, only 32% had women in three or more roles.
  • The case study on cinematography finds that despite chronic low employment of women, the amount of female cinematographers gaining their Australian Cinematography Society (ACS) accreditation is rapidly increasingly. However, the amount of women working is still well below the amount of female cinematography graduates, and there is evidence that the volume of women working in the field drops off as their career progresses.
  • The case study on the animation industry finds that female graduates in the field are plentiful, however this isn’t reflected in the workforce. Nevertheless, women have noticed positive change within the industry.
  • Family and work balance still poses a significant challenge for women, particularly due to the cost of childcare, despite it being potentially a production cost.

The interviews given in this series are compelling, so we encourage you to read all three parts.

*In this context, ‘drama’ is the industry term that refers to narrative stories of any genre – comedy, action etc.

Image: Behind the scenes image of DOP Bonnie Elliott and director Rachel Ward on the set of Palm Beach.