Women in film and television: Interview with Kylie du Fresne
Screen NSW talks to producer Kylie du Fresne (Holding the Man, The Sapphires, Cleverman) about her career, the challenges, the highlights and her thoughts on gender issues within Australia’s screen industry.
Recent research indicates that there remains a significant gender imbalance in our industry. In your career, have you felt it more challenging to be a woman than a man?
It seems to me that producing in this country is populated by a number of very strong, talented and well-respected female producers. That said, the industry is still definitely male dominated with those sitting in positions of power within distribution, financing and television networks most likely to be men.
Certainly at times, it feels as if you have to work that little bit harder as a woman. I’ve turned up to events with my (male) business partner where he has been asked if I am his secretary. I’m sure that would never happen if I were a man.
Have you experienced sexism in your career and, if so, how have you overcome it?
I’ve never faced such overt sexism, but the more insidious kind can be just as frustrating. Even being called ‘darling’ or ‘sweetie’ can place you in the ‘little girl’ category, which undermines your position as a producer.
Do you think things are better in 2015 than, say, 20 years ago?
20 years ago I was just entering the industry as a production assistant, so I was already at the bottom of the ladder! It definitely feels better from where I now sit and I feel that there have been substantial gains made in certain areas such as producing or within sales agencies, where there seems to be an increasingly strong female presence.
It seems women writers and producers and other technicians are doing well, but there is a dearth of women directors and DOPs. Why do you think that is?
When I produced An Accidental Soldier with Rachel Ward directing, I was ashamed to realise she was the first women director I had directly produced for in drama. Why is that? I think there is a longstanding acceptance of female players in more “behind the scenes” positions that is very much ingrained in the industry. People are generally more receptive to women in writerly and producorial capacities because there is an inherent familiarity surrounding women as facilitators; however unconsciously, people are not yet ready to reframe their mentality away from creative leadership as being synonymous with the masculine. Sadly, many are not yet ready to be led by a female creative charge.
Has thinking around gender issues informed your work – in writing room, development etc?
I don’t consciously develop with gender-based talent in mind. But I do look at the balance of what a writer can bring to the gender issues that a project may demand. I’ve worked with male writers who have wonderful access to writing female characters, and women writers who are great at writing men. I think the biggest discussion we have about gender issues surrounds how women are portrayed on screen and I am acutely aware of that. As a rule, I am not interested in developing projects where women are vilified, belittled or are merely window dressing. There has to be substance to what we put on screen as women producers.
Who have been your female role models? Have you had female mentors or yourself mentored younger women coming through?
Most definitely and it is such an invaluable relationship to have. Rosemary Blight has always been my mentor, even though we are now business partners. We’ve been working together now for over 20 years. At Goalpost Pictures we continue to mentor young women producers, such as Lauren Edwards who has worked with us for the past three years.
Can you talk about your own career path – how did you start out, what were your ambitions?
I started right at the bottom, as a runner in TV commercials in the early 90s, but I didn’t really want to become a producer until a few years later when I started working with Rosemary as her assistant. I was freelance then so eventually I started producing short films, first one for Roland Gallois at AFTRS, and then onto music videos with Andrew Lancaster and then eventually to documentaries. I also managed the sound company Supersonic for about a year. Eventually I moved into working full time with Rosemary as an Associate Producer, then co-producer on her first two films, and became a partner in the company in 1997. The rest, as they say, is history!
What have been your career highlights and why.
That is like choosing which one of your kids you like best! Being part of a vibrant production company and not working alone is certainly a plus. In terms of projects; the success of The Sapphires, Lockie Leonard and more recently Holding the Man have all been high points. I love the combination of producing both film and TV drama.
What are you working on now?
The international roll out of Holding the Man, plus at Goalpost we are in development on several film and TV projects and are just about to complete the TV series Cleverman.
Want more? We've caught up with a number of women in a wide range of roles within the industry. Find out what these leading women have to say: