Women in film and television: We hear from Dollhouse Pictures
A group of Australia’s talented female creative forces joined together this year to create Dollhouse Pictures, an all-female production company that aims to tell female stories through its productions, continuing the charge for a greater representation of females across the industry both behind and in front of the camera. Screen NSW talks to the Dollhouse Pictures team about their company, its upcoming projects and their thoughts on gender issues within Australia’s screen industry.
Recent research indicates that there remains a significant gender imbalance in our industry. As a female lead production company do you find it more challenging it challenging in a male dominated industry?
The screen industry in not alone when it comes to gender imbalance. Recent statistics show we still have a long way to go with gender parity, however the discussion around how to remedy this is exciting and also challenging. Discrimination is systematic and unconscious at times, we all need to push for changing attitudes on gender neutral hiring, pay equality, female lead projects and more women in leadership roles. Each one of these initiatives directly affects the other.
The formation of the Dollhouse was driven by awareness that as a collective we can create our own opportunities and have a unified voice. We launched with Vogue Australia as they spoke to our audience and offered a platform for us to be heard. It was really exciting to have such a positive response and so much encouragement. The conversation is becoming increasingly louder and shifts towards parity, small as they may be, are already becoming apparent. We want to work with men who are supportive and share this ethos. Organisations like WIFT and Geena Davis and her Gender in Media Institute amongst many others are already making headway in this space, we want to follow the lead and lead on.
We want to grow a brand that represents our values and reaches a global audience.
In the experience of working in the screen industry have any of the Dollhouse team experienced sexism in your careers (i.e. been passed over for a job which was given to a less experienced/talented man? And if so, how did you deal with this?
At various times we have all experienced some form of discrimination. Through our Dollhouse network, we have also heard many stories from women of all ages who have encountered bias. It’s disappointing to hear how widespread this is across all aspects of our industry. Its not a level playing field and it can be difficult territory to navigate which is why many women have traditionally shied away from discussing it for fear of the repercussions in and with their work. The upside is there is vast room for improvement and it’s empowering to take control together. As women we naturally want to please but we are choosing to be proactive - with talk comes change. The clear message needs to be that women leading the charge in front of or behind the camera is not 'high risk’ it makes economic sense. Women make up 52% of movie audiences, more than 57% of Netflix and Hulu users (US) and have proven success with female driven action (Lucy, Hunger Games) and female driven comedies (Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect). Locally the adaptation of The Dressmaker has realised massive box office. A film written by, directed by, produced by and led by women.
Do you think things are better in 2015 than, say, 20 years ago?
The future is bright for the next generation. The ADG has recently proposed a positive discrimination policy for Screen Australia funding to be distributed equally to male and female directed projects. In the early 1980s pioneering Australian feminists instituted a Women & Theatre Project and Women & Arts Festival, with these same objectives. Thirty-five years on there is still a lot of work to be done…. Men are an equally important part of the equation for equality. Internationally actor Bradley Cooper recently indicated he would support equal pay for his co-stars and Mark Ruffalo expressed his support of feminism. It’s also encouraging to hear that Sandra Bullock reads scripts with male protagonists with the view that these protagonists could and should be females. Flying the flag locally Gillian Armstrong and Cate Blanchett have been strong advocates of the topic.
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?
This is disheartening to hear and no doubt the deficit is influenced by multiple factors. Perhaps there is not enough support and creative nourishment in these fields for women and a lack of male and female mentors for skills transference. Decision makers also see juggling career and family as an impediment in some situations. Also networking opportunities seem to be more limited for women and they are less likely to ‘sell’; themselves the way their male counterparts do. In particular though, parity will only come through sharing power on and off set.
Has thinking around gender issues informed the productions in development at Dollhouse – in writing room, development etc?
It informs all our decisions and is exactly why we started the company. We are drawn to material that resonate with a female voice and pass the Bechdel Test. Jill Soloway said, “I feel like it’s my responsibility as a feminist filmmaker to take the opportunity to place the camera in terms of how it feels to be a woman instead of how a woman looks”, this quote continues to underpin our values and choices.
Who are Dollhouse’s role models? Have you had female mentors or yourself mentored younger women coming through?
Gracie: I have known Gill Armstrong all my life and she has been hugely supportive of my work since I graduated from film school. She’s a pioneering champion for young female directors.
Shannon: Imogen Banks has taught me how to be both feminine and a leader at the same time. She mentored me throughout 2014 and I continue to call on her for guidance. Jess Hobbs has taught me to trust my instincts and embrace that as a female director I work differently from male directors.
Jess: Great women in the PR and theatrical agency sectors of the industry have surrounded me. I’ve been very fortunate to have a strong support network. I also know and admire many female producers like Jan Chapman, Nicole O’Donohue and Robyn Kershaw. Robyn in particular has been very instrumental in working with me to move into the producing space and her mentorship and guidance is invaluable. Not only is she incredibly dexterous and visionary, but great fun! I love working with her and it’s important to enjoy the process. I hope to be able to offer the same to someone in the future.
Krew: Kate Woods has been a great guiding light for me as a writer. Having someone as clever as Kate totally believing in you and your voice, which nourishes, enriches and empowers you, brings out your best work. I recognised early on how invaluable it is to help and share with the younger generation, so I have mentored two female actresses for quite a few years. They have their own flourishing careers and merits now, which I am so proud of. It’s important to me to give back.
Rose: Nash Edgerton (Blue Tongue Films) has been a great source of help and support to me as we started Dollhouse Pictures. Nash is a longtime friend and also I have always been a fan of his work and ethic. The Blue Tongue brand was an inspiration to us. They have consistently produced a great range of fantastic, intriguing and international work at their company that I greatly admire.
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: