Ticked Off: ‘Gender Matters’ but only if you can meet the ‘3 tick test’

BY AMIE BATALIBASI

A few weeks ago, I exited my local post office clutching a cardboard cylinder addressed to me, from a prominent Australian university. When I got home I flung the cylinder on the table and considered not opening it. I knew what was inside.

Last year I completed a Master of Film and Television. After almost a decade of making documentary films working in the community arts sector, I had decided to go back to uni to develop my fiction filmmaking skills and produce a short film. Thousands of dollars (and many struggles and tears) later, I completed a short film that I’m really proud of.

Three months out, I’m experiencing what some have called ‘film school hangover’ (this really should be a medical term related to a state of depression that most art school graduates go through, directly after completing a course). And after a recent meeting with my state film agency, I’m aware that the powers that be know about this struggle – it was mentioned, the disconnect between film schools churning out big numbers of graduates and the small number of opportunities available to actually work in the industry. No need to tell me… I’m feeling it.

So, here I am. I think I’m a writer/director? I’ve been making and producing short documentaries for 8 years – surely I am one already? According to industry speak, though, I am nowhere near ‘established’. I’m what the industry deems an ‘emerging filmmaker’. And, like many emerging filmmakers, I’m paying hundreds of dollars to enter my film into festivals (then crossing my fingers that it might be selected for one), whilst desperately searching for opportunities to practice the skills I’ve learned.

For example, in January, I volunteered as a 1st/2nd Assistant Director on a feature film. I was beyond excited to work 12 hour days and do paperwork on weekends for free. I really was… is that wrong? Well if you look at the industry, it isn’t wrong, it’s expected. Now, the first few months of 2016 have flown by. I managed to fit in a short holiday, which I spent Iistening to excellent podcasts that encouraged me to think about Start Up business ideas to get rich – so I can fund my film career. No ideas have come thus far.

Which leaves me where I am now: with a narrative feature film idea based on my graduating film school short, and a need to find a way to fund the making of this film. This is my mission. Before embarking upon it, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy – a trusted industry friend had told me it takes about 7 years to get a feature film made (what the!?). And from previous experience with documentary making, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to secure funding.

National and state government film funding bodies have strict criteria about just being able to apply for funding. Generally you have to be ‘established’ – with a minimum 3 professional film and TV credits – just to be considered for funding. For example, a film credit could be having your work broadcast on primetime TV or having your film released at cinemas. Despite 8 years documentary filmmaking experience, I don’t have these kinds of credits (bummer – but I’m working on it).

Here I feel like it’s appropriate to explain what it means to be below the ranks of ‘established’ as an ‘emerging filmmaker’. After graduating last year, I came across a report by Metro Screen (a screen resource organisation which supports emerging filmmakers) called Emerging Visions: Career Pathways in the Australian Screen Production Industry. It highlights how the Australian industry works:

“The screen industry is now built on established and mid-career practitioners who have had the benefit of substantial investment in both the industry and in them over the past 40 years… Over the past six to eight years, changes in policy settings such as greater investment in companies and in teams with proven track records suggest that those who have benefitted most from past programs continue to benefit. But this has been at the expense of new talent.”   

Emerging Visions (LINK: http://metroscreen.org.au/EmergingVisions_Metro_Screen.pdf)

See the mention of ‘new talent’? That’s us – the emerging filmmakers! I was so happy to find this report, not because of how depressing it is, but because it was like sitting down with a sympathiser who says: “I feel you”.  The report provides an interesting insight into the industry, with statistics and survey studies with Australian filmmakers concluding that “opportunities are increasingly sparse” (Emerging Visions, p.75) for emerging filmmakers in Australia. The industry is set up to support established teams of filmmakers whilst funding for the emerging sector is rapidly dwindling.

Moreover, even if I do get one narrative feature film under my belt, the stats show that I’m by no means ‘established’ – I might pass as a ‘mid-career’ filmmaker but the likelihood of directing a second feature sits at 19% (Emerging Visions, p.49).  A further note: after release the Emerging Visions report, Screen Metro was defunded and had to close it’s doors after over 30 years of operation and supporting emerging filmmakers.

Cut to:

18 March 2016, the first deadline for Screen Australia’s first round of ‘Brilliant Stories’ funding as part of their new initiative ‘Gender Matters’ to address the gender inequality within the industry. Screen Australia announced this new program in December 2015, just as I had completed my graduate short film, stepped away from the confines of an edit suite and back into the big wide world of the Australian film industry.

This Gender Matters funding was the opportunity that I was waiting for. I exhaled with relief, because in addition to the grim stats around the emerging sector, I’d just learned that same month these harsh truths: Between July 2009 and June 2014 only 16% of Australian feature films were directed by women (Screen Australia). I saw the opportunity for this new initiative to increase representation of women on screen and behind the camera.

Our industry is crying out for this. And selfishly, I saw the opportunity for my own aforementioned feature film project to potentially get off the ground. Here’s what the Brilliant Stories page states: “The Brilliant Stories Fund is a targeted initiative to recognise, celebrate and support storytelling by women”. My thoughts: “OMG! That’s me! I’m a woman!”.

In terms of the credit system for ‘established’ filmmakers, this initiative is the most lenient of all the funding: “The fund is open and flexible.” In other words, you DO NOT need to be established with 3 credits to apply for this funding. Again: “OMG! That’s totes me – I’m NOT ESTABLISHED, I’m Emergiiiiiiiiiiiing!!!”.

But on closer look… yes there is a “but…”.

Whilst the Gender Matters Brilliant Stories states, “the fund is open to everyone”, there’s this thing called the ‘3 tick test’:

Your project must satisfy three items below:

  • Female producer
  • Female director
  • Female writer
  • Female writer/director (counts for 2 ticks)
  • Female protagonist

And for me, this is where the “but…” comes in. Although the Brilliant Stories funding targets female filmmakers with a strong lean towards emerging filmmakers, my film project does not meet the ‘3 tick test’. I am a female writer/ director (2 ticks) BUT my project has a male protagonist (big cross) and the producer I’m interested in working with is male (big cross).

So basically, this means that I cannot apply for the ‘Brilliant Stories’ funding. My emoji’s for this moment would be: Sad Face next to a Determined Shark holding a glass of Wine next to another Sad Face.

When I realised that I couldn’t apply for this funding I was gutted, because at first I thought it would be perfect – or a least I would be allowed the opportunity to write an application and see how I did. I had been in communication with Screen Australia and my state film body, and they both had recommended this funding to me.

I seriously considered changing my story idea so that the sister is the main character (rather than the brother). I’ve also thought of scrambling to find a female producer in the short time leading up to the deadline (rather than the male producer that I’ve been talking to about this project). But if I were to make these changes just to meet the ‘3 tick test’, I know that it would severely harm the integrity of the project and the story.

I also know that other female filmmakers out there are scrambling to meet the ‘3 tick test’ in order to meet the strict criteria. I’ve seen Facebook posts with directors looking to attach female producers just days before the deadline. Don’t get me wrong, ​I am an avid supporter of female teams, but I do wonder if the ‘3 tick test’ considers the way that people are being forced to throw themselves together merely for the purpose of eligibility.

And I wonder: where does that leave my own project if I don’t fit the criteria? I am a female filmmaker with a story to tell that’s never been told in Australian cinema, but because I’ve got a male protagonist and a potential male producer, I am ineligible for funding support. Apparently ‘Gender Matters’ – but only if you meet the ‘3 tick test’.

Here I need to mention another factor of importance. As I read on from the ‘3 tick test’ section of the Screen Australian page, below at the very bottom, right before the Terms of Funding section, I found this listed under Assessment Criteria:

“Women of diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply to foster diversity of ethnic and cultural background in the selection process of the successful applicants.”

I was surprised on so many levels when I read this: 1. because I’m a woman of colour; and 2. because I’ve never seen this language presented for film industry funding before (arts funding yes, film funding no). Furthermore, I don’t remember the last time (if ever) I went to the cinema to see a feature film directed by an Australian woman of colour – the possibility of this changing is beyond exciting to me.

In light of the recent discussions around diversity in the US and with the current lack of diversity on screen and behind the scenes in our own industry, why aren’t these words encouraging culturally diverse women to apply, front and centre in the funding outline? Or may I suggest, part of the ‘3 tick test’? I think the Gender Matters funding, generally, is going to provide opportunities for a number of eligible female filmmakers – and this is going to have positive benefits throughout the industry.

But, I do wonder: Is Screen Australia’s ‘3 Tick Test’ for the Gender Matters funding really as brilliant, “open and flexible” as this funding states it is? Should female filmmakers only be given opportunity if they work in a predominantly female writer/ director/ producer team? And exactly how is Screen Australia encouraging women of diverse backgrounds to apply?

I’m a culturally diverse Australian female writer/ director who wants to develop a feature film, and in this instance, I certainly don’t feel encouraged to apply because I’m simply not eligible for the privilege. If there was more funding for emerging filmmakers, then perhaps the ‘Gender Matters’ funding wouldn’t matter so much to me.  Anyways, when the 18 March 2016 deadline rolls by, I’m going to be launching my new Start Up App idea (just kidding).

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So what was inside that cylinder at the beginning of this rant? It was my Master of Film and Television certificate. I can tell you, the feeling of receiving it was nothing like the jubilation I felt that time in grade 2 when I got a second prize certificate for neat handwriting at my local show. I promptly rolled it up, put it back in the cylinder, then shoved it in my cupboard with my undergraduate and my graduate diploma certificates – like any arts graduate would do.

Because I’m going to keep going like I always have. I’m going to keep working with emerging diverse communities, black communities and creating platforms for them to have a voice in film (check out some of my work here).

And how am I going to fund my feature film? Well, I’m not going to give up, that’s for sure.

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If you want to follow the journey of getting a feature film funded as an emerging filmmaker, sign up to my newsletter here & follow my blog here. I’m on Twitter: @AmieBatalibasi

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