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Part 1: School to work

Comparing film school and employment data.

Interviewees:

Nell Greenwood – Director of Curriculum & Student Registrar, Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS)

Sandra Sciberras – Head of Film and Television, Victorian College of the Arts (VCA)

Herman Van Eyken - Head of Griffith Film School (GFS), Griffith University

Zoe Diamond – Former Head of UTS Animal Logic Academy (UTS ALA)

Where does gender inequity in the screen industry start? Does having female key creatives increase the amount of women working below the line on a project? We speak to the heads of three major Australian film schools and take a closer look at new data from Screen Australia.

In FilmInk magazine (September 2015), AFTRS reported that between 1973 and 2015, the overall gender breakdown of their graduates in screenwriting, production and directing was 52% for men and 48% for women. In the same story, titled Film Schools Bridging the Gap (which FilmInk have kindly made available online), it was noted that this fairly even graduate data was reflected across every film school they contacted. As such, there was a presumption that gender disparity began after graduation.

But drilling down into the graduate data does paint a different picture. While a yearly cohort might average 50/50, there can be significant gender discrepancies in certain courses - especially those outside writer/director/producer streams.

The film schools are under no misapprehension about this. For instance, the FilmInk piece said a number of film schools identified cinematography in particular seemed to attract mostly men. In speaking to the schools, it is clear gender balance is top of mind, and they have each provided graduate data alongside interviews in an effort to further propel the discussion forward. 

Although we can’t make direct connections between the graduate data and the employment data below, the comparison is useful to get a sense of the transition from film school to the workforce.

GRADUATE VS EMPLOYMENT DATA

There are four main data sets being utilised.

Three are from AFTRS, VCA, Griffith Film School and UTS Animal Logic Academy, showing the graduates as broken down by gender for the years 2015-2018 (where available). This data is available in the Appendix , but is not being compared against each other. The course offerings, intakes and curriculum structures vary between schools, which can impact the percentages, and some courses are generalist while others are specialist. UTS ALA also opened in 2017, so only has graduate data available since then.

Top level notes include:

  • AFTRS: The frequent changes in course titles and structure mean that a four year analysis of AFTRS data proves challenging. However, some broad observations can be made. AFTRS frequently recorded more female graduates in courses around producing, production management, screenwriting, and design. The Diploma in Design for the Screen consistently had more women in the course, with the highest at 100% in 2015 (nine students) and the lowest recorded year was 2018 with 60% (or six students). Comparatively, there tended to be more male graduates in areas including directing, cinematography, composing, radio, editing and in the new Bachelor of Arts (Screen).
  • GFS: There were frequently more female graduates than male graduates in the Bachelor of Animation except in 2017, when it was still close to parity (46%). But the Bachelor of Games Design was the opposite, with female graduate numbers ranging from 17-35% over the four years. The gender balance across the four years was mixed for the Bachelor of Film and Screen Media Production, ranging from 36% female in 2017 to 53% in 2015. It was exactly 50% in 2018.
  • VCA: More women than men consistently graduate from the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Animation). The Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film and Television) varied, with a high of 60% female graduates in 2016 and a low of 31% in 2018, and an average of 45% across the four years. On a top-line look the Master of Film and Television is balanced (an average of 49% female across four years), with a high in 2015 (67%) evening out the low in 2017 (39%). In 2015, 100% or 14 of the Master of Producing students were women.
  • UTS ALA: The recently started University of Technology Sydney, Animal Logic Academy runs an intensive year-long Masters of Animation and Visualisation designed to mimic the pace and structure of working at a professional digital studio. It had female graduates making up 42% of graduates in 2017 and 51% in 2018.

The graduate data does show how the year-to-year numbers across degrees can vary greatly, and there can be discrepancies when you drill down into specific courses. The generalist degrees such as a Bachelor of Arts had an average of 39%-46% of women in courses depending on the school. In specialist courses there are areas that frequently record higher female graduates: documentary, producing, design, screenwriting and animation all have strong female representation. On the reverse, courses that specialise in composing, directing and cinematography have frequently more male graduates.

Zoë White ACSZoë White ACS completed an AFTRS Master of Arts (Film and Television Cinematography) and has since gone on to shoot episodes of Season 2 and 3 of The Handmaid's Tale

The fourth and final data set has been collected by Screen Australia and is based on an analysis of 136* feature films (excluding feature documentary) that went into production between 1 July 2015 and 30 June 2018. At first, five roles are considered:

  1. Director
  2. Composer
  3. Editor
  4. Production designer and
  5. Cinematographer

* The number of titles analysed by role varied depending on the availability of data.

Directing is an above the line role and historically has seen poor female participation. As such, it is included here to give context to the below the line role data. Directors also tend to have a significant say in hiring Heads of Department.

The data set reveals:

  • 28 features (21%) had one or more female directors
  • Only one film, Undertow, had women in each of the five roles (notably, it had a female producer and female writers, as well as men and women in some roles)
  • One feature, Zelos, had four women in the five selected roles
  • Twelve features (9%) employed three women in the five selected roles. Of these, two were directed by women
  • More than forty films (35%) had only men in the five selected roles.

When looking at an expanded data set to include writer and producer, we start to see a greater use of female talent:

Number of films where credit is verified Films with at least one female in the role % verified titles with at least one female in the role
Cinematographer 132 10 8%
Composer 109 19 17%
Editor 129 31 24%
Production designer 117 53 45%
Director 136 28 21%
Writer 136 41 30%
Producer 136 80 59%

Bold: denotes 'above the line' roles of director/writer/producer

Meanwhile the following analysis is based on a subset of 95 titles where all seven of the above tabled roles could be verified:

  • 28% employed women in 1 of the roles
  • 24% employed women in 2 of the roles 
  • 12% employed women in 3 of the roles
  • 14% employed women in 4 of the roles
  • 5% employed women in 5 of the roles
  • 1% employed women in 6 or 7 of the roles
  • No titles employed women exclusively in the analysed roles
  • But 15% of titles employed exclusively men in the analysed roles

From the data we can say there is truth to the belief that in feature film less women are being employed in below the line roles such as cinematography, composing and editing. This mirrors the lack of female representation in cinematography and composing degrees at AFTRS, although editing can vary year-to-year (the Diploma in Editing ranged from 38-54% female representation while the Graduate Certificate ranged between 27-75%). Production design was close to parity, which is in line with AFTRS data, where women consistently made up more of the student body in the Diploma in Design for the Screen (between 60-100% over the four years).

Cinematographer Katie MilwrightCinematographer Katie Milwright (left) is a graduate of VCA and has worked on projects such as the upcoming Foxtel series Upright with director Matthew Saville

WHERE DOES GENDER DISPARITY START?

The industry – both in Australia and globally – is under no misapprehension that gender disparity is an issue.

Sandra Sciberras, Head of Film and Television at VCA Sandra Sciberras, Head of Film and Television at VCA

Screen Australia’s Gender Matters report (2015), which focused on key creative roles, identified major barriers for women included gender bias from key decision makers, male dominance in related industries, time out of the workforce/childcare, lack of self-belief, and pay equity.

It also stated: “The cause of the imbalance does not appear to lie in education or training; rather, it lies in what happens after education ends.” This was based on the evidence that film schools had a 50/50 overall intake.

But as shown, the drill-down into individual course shows there are imbalances in specific areas.

Sandra Sciberras – Head of Film and Television at VCA – says gender disparity in the screen industry starts even earlier than tertiary education.

“There are definite reasons why we have diversity as an issue in our industry and half of that's got to do with just getting people to apply to film schools in the first place, or to just pick up cameras, or to write a story, or to be encouraged as young women that this is a viable industry of choice,” she says.

“What's happening before they get to us? This is a university. The problem doesn't start here. It started at high school. It started at primary school. These are the kind of discussions we need to be having with ATOM [Australian Teachers of Media] as well, who represent the media department at schools and I know they're proactive.”

Nell Greenwood, Director of Curriculum & Student Registrar at AFTRS Nell Greenwood, Director of Curriculum & Student Registrar at AFTRS

Nell Greenwood – the Director of Curriculum & Student Registrar at AFTRS – agrees.

“What we’re identifying as a bottleneck is people's choice to actually come here - whether it's coming from high school or people's choice to study. So for us it's thinking about if we’re doing the best we can in encouraging people to come here and actually seeing that there is a clear path [for their career],” she says.

Greenwood says prospective students – and particularly women – need to know there are viable career paths for them in the industry.

She thinks there’s no coincidence that AFTRS have parity, or even sometimes more, female producers in the BA and MA courses, when within the industry women made up 34% of producers in feature film, 49% in documentary, and 52% in television (refer data). And of the 136 Australian films that went into production over those three financial years, 80 (or 59%) had one or more female producers.

“For younger female screen practitioners it is really important to see that they're going to be in a space with females supporting their trajectory, and also to understand what that pathway for a woman in the film industry is like,” she says.

Similarly, it’s why Greenwood says it’s not surprising the 2017 AFTRS Graduate Certificate Screen: Documentary course was 89% women, when you look at how much better the statistics for women are overall in the documentary space compared to feature film or television (in documentary 49% of producers are women, 38% are directors, and 41% are writers).

“I think it's one of the great things about the Australian industry is we have a really strong female voice in our documentaries,” she says.

Zoe Diamond, Former Head of UTS Animal Logic Academy Zoe Diamond, Former Head of UTS Animal Logic Academy

“From Anna Broinowski to Catherine Scott to Jen Peedom, we've just got some really brilliant and high profile female documentary makers…

“These wonderfully diverse, interesting careers provide a beacon to emerging filmmakers to think, ‘I can do this. I've got a real shot here of entering an industry where I'll have my people. Where I won't have to be some frontier pioneer having to blaze my own trail. Where there's an existing, really exciting dynamic industry out there for me.”

OUTREACH AND APPLICATIONS

Zoe Diamond, the former Head of UTS Animal Logic Academy, was also previously Head of Human Resources at Animal Logic. She says outreach initiatives such as work experience can play a big role, but results don’t happen quickly.

“It takes time to plant the seed in the minds of the school children - that's where you reach them first, to make them aware of animation and film making as a career path,” she says.

“At Animal Logic, they set up a fantastic work experience program because they wanted to target the junior level students who were starting to think about their career ahead.”

Diamond says that the work experience program has had great success in helping teenagers – especially young women – realise that animation and VFX is even an option in their future. Some have even stuck with it after high school and begun working in the industry.

“[But] it does take time and I think in the next five years we are going to see a big shift.”

Herman Van Eyken, Head of Griffith Film School Herman Van Eyken, Head of Griffith Film School

Professor Herman Van Eyken, the head of GFS, is also the chair for the Asia Pacific region of CILECT, and says together the film schools have made practical changes, such as ensuring female crew are in their marketing material.

“We deliberately do that. I think when it comes to marketing you need to do that,” he says. “When it comes to your external image, you have to be very careful [about what you’re saying to prospective students], and that goes for the entire diversity agenda not just gender.”

This taps into the ‘see it, be it’ idea spoken about by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which refers to the unconscious bias built around gender roles in society based on the repetition of images. In following this line of thinking, a women might subconsciously not even consider working in the camera department if the images and role models are only men. It also would address other barriers in the Gender Matters report such as unconscious bias from decision makers.

Sciberras says they try to remove unconscious bias from the assessment process for their yearly intake by adopting a methodical, talent-based approach.

Their Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film and Television) is extremely competitive. From 2015-2018 there were between 13 and 16 students in a single graduating year group – a number Sciberras says is whittled down from 200 applicants who each provide one short story, two ideas and a series of photographs.

 “Three assessors mark them and we don't know gender, we don't know race, we don't know class, we don't know anything other than just a surname [which] is purely there for administration,” she says.

“So in order to get to the interview [stage], it's anonymous as much as it can be. At the interview, two or three people individually write their own mark. We try not to discuss the applicants, other than to help them speak freely and honestly at the interview, so the panel can get to the heart of what that filmmaker is about.

“And out of that we get an A list, a B list and a C list and the offers are made.”

UTS ALA offers a one-year Masters of Animation and Visualisation, but Diamond says the application process is very open – applicants don’t even need a prior degree.

“We wanted to create opportunities for people of all walks of life whether you have been in industry for a really long time and just want that Masters qualification,” she says, adding that they’ve had some amazing applications from people straight out of high school. One student from the 2018 graduating class was 19 and doing the Masters level.

“We assess applicant's portfolios and also conduct interviews for short listed applicants to ensure they have the right attitude,” she says. “We want them to succeed and do well, and given the intensity of the course, make sure it's the right fit for them."

“It is very talent and attitude driven, which is more in line with the industry as well because people can get jobs without any degree or qualification.”

She says at UTS ALA they have naturally seen numbers that are around parity (female graduates making up 42% and 51% of graduates in 2017 and 2018 respectively). However she also thinks these numbers are because of the discussions around gender equality in recent years.

“I think five years ago it wouldn't have been the case,” she says. “We are seeing a slow change in the animation and VFX industry and the numbers here are a good reflection that it's working or that women are seeing this sector as an opportunity, whereas before they might not have thought it was possible or it perhaps wasn’t on their radar.” (Read more about the animation industry in-depth in Part 3)

Corrie ChenCorrie Chen graduated from VCA with a Master of Film & TV (Narrative). She’s since directed on Mustangs FC, Sisters and upcoming Five Bedrooms

Once the students actually start at somewhere like VCA, Sciberras says it’s about being more mindful about the content you show.

VCA’s previous head of school – Nicolette Freeman – is a cinematographer, and it was a priority during her tenure to change this way of thinking.

“Nicolette really wanted us to look at all our materials,” Sciberras says, and that included pamphlets, but also films they screen and screenplays students read. It’s not just about women being represented, but diversity across the board.

“And we don't make a statement about it, we don't talk about it. We don't make it an issue. We just normalise it. And I feel like that's really had an impact,” she says.

Additionally, it could be argued that because film schools prepare students to enter the industry, there’s an opportunity for the schools to establish what is and isn’t acceptable early in someone’s career.

“We use industry as a way to help formulate a way of working,” Sciberras says. “So we're conscious now of putting crews together with a balance of men and women on-set. We normalise it.”

Greenwood says AFTRS similarly try to, for an area like cinematography, have female lecturers like Justine Kerrigan, Carolyn Constantine ACS (who speaks in Part 2), and Jackie Farkas.

“Certainly some of our female students take on the role of a cinematographer, but not as many as men, so it’s about being careful and vigilant in ensuring that we have female tutors, female lecturers and that we are really on the front foot in encouraging as many female students as possible to take on those roles,” she says.

CHALLENGING STEREOTYPES

But there are preconceived ideas based on gender that they’re up against.

Greenwood says something they’ve identified at AFTRS is some of the student’s perceptions – whether male or female – of who should be doing what. In the Bachelor of Arts Screen: Production course, a generalist course in screen production, students elect to take on different roles over a series of productions.

“We really encourage each project to have at least one key female creative, and ideally two female key creatives to mirror the gender equity guidelines established by Screen Australia and the state screen agencies so the students are well prepared to participate in and contribute to a vibrant, inclusive screen industry,” she says.

“We have observed that in male-dominated teams, if there is a single female creative often they will take on the role of producer. And that's great, and we then support the team to make sure that they are a genuine producer contributing to the equal dynamic of that production, and not taking on more of a production management role.”

In cinematography and directing, an oft-cited reason for there not being enough female is because women are naturally not interested in technical areas. As acknowledged in the employment data set, cinematography was the worst represented out of the five roles of director, editor, production designer, composer and cinematographer. And as previously noted, just 8% of those 132 features had female cinematographers. This lack of female cinematographers working in the industry and studying at film schools is looked at as evidence for the argument women just tend to be less interested in a cinematography career (and this will be explored further in Part 2).

But Greenwood says: “I am not convinced by that.”

“There is still quite a lot of anecdotal information that the camera department particularly has been quite a blokey environment on-set. And if you talk to female cinematographers with a range of experiences [they say] it’s traditionally perceived as a male area and it comes down to ‘are you strong enough to carry kit’ and ‘female cinematographers can’t do steadicam’ and those old worn clichés about female versus male strength.

“I think there is a perceptual issue that we need to deal with before we start writing off young women's interest in [areas such as] cinematography.”

Yolanda RamkeYolanda Ramke (right), the co-director and writer of Cargo, is a Griffith Film School alumnus

Van Eyken says finding a balance can be difficult, because as much as they want parity in every course, “we can't push a student to go and do something that they don't want to do.”

“That would go against the spirit of the course layout,” he says.

For instance, he says Erika Addis (who is interviewed in Part 2) is the Head of Cinematography at GFS, and is passionate about there being better representation of women in cinematography.

“But she cannot do that at a level where she will have the wrong people there, because then you go beyond your duties.

“But we can do a number of things and I think awareness is very important here. Every [women] needs to be aware that it needs to be possible [to be a cinematographer]. And we will proactively use marketing material and other materials to make sure there is no hesitation that we promote this.”

For Sciberras, it can be as straightforward as bringing more cameras to classes.

She noticed in one particular post-graduate class years ago, that when she entered the room, the male students were gathered around the camera, but the female students stayed back.

“And so I learned very quickly, just have two or three cameras out. It's a really simple strategy. And through that, again it just helps. It's a proactive way in which film schools can contribute,” she says.

For the same reasons, Greenwood says AFTRS has been considering trialling an all-female camera class.

“Where they can find their way of working, they're not worried about how that might look, they can be talking to female lecturers about how they work, how they want to work, what's it's like to be on a crew where the support roles like grips and gaffers and assistant cameras traditionally has been quite male and how they can navigate that and assert a leadership position as a Head of Department in those roles,” she says.

“Just to have those conversations, just to try and fail, and that be ok.”

LOOKING AHEAD

All three of the film schools are optimistic for the future.

Van Eyken says at GFS they are keen to help all students with the hurdle that faces them once they graduate – actually breaking into the industry.

“It’s that incubator area. So we're seeing what we can do there and where we can work with the industry more closely. We're very happy that the Australian Director’s Guild for instance has been proactive there,” he says, referring to the ADG’s Gender Matters-funded programs.

“We have an incubator program (the Asia Pacific Screen Lab) that we've launched together with the Asia Pacific Screen Academy a couple of years ago… that is basically to help them breakthrough with their first or second feature film.”

But Van Eyken says more needs to be done in terms of collecting data, so people can focus their efforts for the future. “If you don't do any data gathering it's very difficult to have an opinion or to make up your mind.”

Sciberras says change is definitely happening.

“I feel very optimistic because serious discussions are being had over the last five or six years and that has to evoke change,” she says.

She also acknowledged that there have been concrete movements.

“What Screen Australia did with Gender Matters, the reality is as much as there was criticism, we know perfectly well it mattered and we know perfectly well it had an impact. You take that away, what would have happened? We'd have just been going round and round the round,” she says.

Greenwood says the industry feels like a far more open place for these conversations to happen than it was even five years ago.

“I think we are getting more confident about saying, ‘are there female ways of working?’ And for me, thinking about a film industry where the voices are evenly balanced and able to have a fair dialogue, it might lead to some really exciting possibilities and different ways of working… whether it's a different approach to collaboration, creative preparation, making it less hierarchical, or different ways of generating content. I think until we get that balance right, we are really missing a trick, because we are missing a whole other approach that might exist.”

She says both male and female students seem to be galvanised by the prospect that armed with practical advice, such as the gender balance of their teams, they can make a difference going forward. And AFTRS are also considering options such as targeted scholarships, as well as initiatives, like the She Shoots program they co-ran in 2016 for women in camera and sound departments for unscripted television.

“I think we are still really keen to get something like that back on the agenda. She Shoots had some really amazing results, which shows some of those targeted initiatives can be really effective,” she says.

“So yes these statistics are troubling, but there is a really positive story here, which is it's changing. And at the film school, I think that we can see we have a unique place in trying to bring in as many talented young female cinematographers, sound designers, sound recordists, and composers as possible and give them that training, that confidence and those connections with key networks, role models and mentors like the Justin Kerrigan’s, the Erika Addis', the Bonnie Elliott's, just to really allow these young female filmmakers to have long sustainable careers.”

Title image (L-R): Miranda Nation (Writer/Director), Olivia DeJonge (Angie), Laura Gordon (Claire), Kitty Allwood (1st AC), Bonnie Elliott (DOP) and Lisa Cushing (2nd AC) on Undertow.

Note: At the time of interviewing, Zoe Diamond was still the Head of UTS ALA, but has since moved on from the role.

*Data Note: Since 2015 and the introduction of The Screen Guide, Screen Australia has been more targeted in the collection of credits and roles in addition to the three key creatives (writer, director and producer). However, the agency is reliant on producers providing this information and acknowledging their Heads of Department to have a complete data set to work from. In the case of this story, Screen Australia data was supplemented by data from IMDb and other Screen News interviews, but there were still gaps in the data set. Because of this, note that the phrase ‘at least’ suggests that these figures could in fact be better (or worse), as a several features have been excluded due to incomplete data sets.