Interview: Stav Adameitis: Flying Bark Productions three-pronged approach to gender equality in the workplace
Stav Adameitis has been working in the Australian animation industry over the past 5 years on children's feature films & TV series and is Marketing Manager & Business Development Associate at Flying Bark Productions. She talks to us about the production company's unique approach to creating a gender friendly workplace.
Can you talk about your own career path – how did you start out, what were your ambitions?
I’ve always been an inherently ‘portfolio career’ person and found it challenging to carve a nice, neat career path out of my sometimes conflicting (and often competing) passions for film, design, fashion and storytelling. I studied a broad media degree and majored in film production, directing short films in my early 20s and working as a costume designer and stylist. After a stint working in New York under Sex and the City costume designer Patricia Field, I was offered an opportunity to work at Flying Bark and began assisting the previous Managing Director, moving through production and marketing coordination to my current position. Currently, I’m overseeing the service arm of Flying Bark’s business and managing our new slate of development projects, working closely with my mentor and managing director, Barbara Stephen. When I’m not brainstorming ideas and production strategies with the team, I keep my passion for fashion burning via my design label Frida Las Vegas. My personal ambition has always been to create and positively impact the world through colour, style and flair – animation turned out to be logical career pathway that combined all three into one powerhouse package.
The visible lack of notable female animation professionals only reinforces the assumption that animation is a ‘boys club’. What steps did Flying Bark take to ensure an equitable gender mix?
Flying Bark has implemented a three-pronged approach to gender equality in the workplace, in three distinct areas: business, content and creative. Our entire managerial team – Managing Director, Financial Controller, Head of Legal and Head of Production – are all female executives, both leading and mentoring younger women in their teams. Many of our past projects pass the Bechdel test with flying colours, notably Heidi and Maya the Bee Movie, which both feature curious, strong-willed and well-rounded female protagonists. We pride ourselves on encouraging a living, breathing ‘family feel’ to our studio. We feel that providing a studio environment that fosters a work/life balance is really important, and have proved this by implementing role-sharing and time-sharing for working Mums: something we hope will de-stigmatise ‘the after school pick-up’ once and for all. For several of our current projects currently in development, we are teaming up young female creatives with established directors to directly address the shortage of female directors in the industry - something I’m personally excited about, given my experience in live-action working predominantly with older male directors.
What, if any effect, has having a more diverse gender mix had on the studio?
With more female voices in creative roles, our all-female development team are incredibly conscious of projects that feature either one-dimensional female characters - or most worryingly, no female characters at all. We aim to ensure that our content spotlights a wider scope of female characters outside the usual ‘princess paradigm’, which is so common in kids' content. Any glaring gender oversights with regards to both story and character are quickly spotted and workshopped to reflect inclusion and diversity.
The studio has also taken steps to include positive strong female characters in its animations. Can you talk on that?
I recently attended KidScreen and was lucky enough to hear Geena Davis, of Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, give a keynote speech on gender bias. It was interesting to witness the audible gasps coming from the audience of both male and female producers regarding the findings. In family films, males outnumber females 3 to 1, although females comprise just over 50% of the population of the United States. Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in ‘sexy’ attire in G rated films. Female characters made up just 17% of crowd scenes. The list went on! We’re incredibly proud of our projects Maya the Bee Movie and Heidi because they have proved that shows with multi-dimensional female characters can be both entertaining and commercially successful. Indeed, Maya the Bee Movie was sold into over 120 territories worldwide and was a box office success internationally. We’re excited about continuing this tradition of content creation with our current slate of projects in development.
In the film, Maya the Bee, you included a young female protagonist and all the critical characters were female. Can you tell us how you made those decisions in the script development and why?
We were certainly conscious of our characters’ gender in Maya. In the natural world, bee hives are ruled by a female Queen Bee, so it made sense to extend this through to our story world. By virtue of past Maya the Bee television series and books, Maya’s gender was set in stone from the beginning of production - and most importantly, was never questioned. Maya’s positive role model, The Queen Bee (voiced by Miriam Margolyes) and her antagonist, the Royal Advisor Buzzlina (voiced by Jackie Weaver) were both consciously written as multi-dimensional female characters. They are polar opposites and demonstrate two conflicting styles of leadership that Maya must choose between in order to achieve her goal of finding her place in the community. Maya earns her esteemed role of Hive Ambassador – a position of great leadership and respect amongst bee society – as a direct consequence of her actions, encouraged by the matriarchal Queen bee, rather than becoming a Princess. This was a very deliberate choice as we wanted to show little girls that it’s absolutely possible to become a leader in society without a crown. The Geena Davis Institute concluded that from 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in a G-rated family film in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law or in politics. In her role as Hive Ambassador, we’re very pleased that Maya’s character - and Maya the Bee Movie as a whole - actively changes these statistics for the better.
What was the reaction from audiences?
The feedback has been nothing short of incredible. Both the Maya Movie and TV series have been hugely successful and resonated with audiences around the world. Our social media channels were flooded with positive feedback from parents who loved Maya’s character. She has become an example of a positive role model for both boys and girls.
Flying Bark has taken a lot of positive steps with its representation of woman in front of and behind the camera – what are you doing to promote other diverse groups both professionally and on screen?
Our focus has always been on creating an inclusive, safe and accepting work environment where everyone’s life experiences are valued. We have a variety of people of different genders, cultural backgrounds and sexual orientations working together and contributing to our shows as a whole. We also host regular social functions for the team and invite guest speakers across industries to share their insights in the spirit of collaboration and disruption.
What advice do you have for women who want to get into animation?
Develop a body of work, publish it online and build your portfolio – it doesn’t matter whether you’re interested in production or creative, get used to showing your work and talking others through the why’s and how’s you went through to create it. Attend animation industry talks like the Sydney Animation Production Group (https://www.facebook.com/animationsydney) and approach guest speakers after the show. These events are a fantastic opportunity to network with people.
Follow Stav on Instagram @fridalasvegas or reach out via firstname.lastname@example.org