Gerard O’Dwyer on the set of Bus Stop Films’ ‘See Me’. 

Bus Stop Films and Taste Creative have launched a free online resource for the screen industry that outlines best practice principles for providing support and meaningful inclusion of people living with disability on both sides of the camera.

Funded with the support of Screen NSW, The Inclusive Filmmaking Kit was developed by the co-founder of both Bus Stop Films and Taste Creative, director Genevieve Clay-Smith, together with a team of 15 creatives, nine of whom live with a disability.

The guide features case studies, information and advice on how to ensure projects are more inclusive, and consider the lived experience, contribution and employment opportunities of people living with disability.

It covers off issues such as on cast and crew communication, set protocols and inclusive production quotas, support workers, authentic and colour blind casting, barriers to inclusion and workplace adjustments, and inclusive storytelling.

A not-for-profit organisation, Bus Stop Films runs an accessible film studies program and provides filmmaking opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities, and has helped to produce more than 20 films. Taste Creative is partner company that works in the commercial space.

Around 1 in 5 Australians live with a disability. Yet the 2016 Screen Australia diversity report ‘Seeing Ourselves‘ found that only 4 per cent of main characters in local TV drama were identifiably characters with a disability, suggesting this cohort of the population is highly underrepresented on screen.

Clay-Smith said: “Inclusive filmmaking is a method I have applied to every film I have made throughout my career, and gained many personal and creative rewards from it. Creative collaboration is mutually beneficial and I hope by sharing our methods through the toolkit, more opportunities for people with disability will open up, and our films and our community will be better for it.”

Bus Stop Films CEO Tracey Corbin-Matchett tells IF the hope is toolkit will help answer the many queries the organisation receives from industry at all levels – from student films up to bigger productions – about employing people with disability.

“Our experience is that why filmmakers may be reluctant to employ people with disability is more often about a lack of confidence or fear, of not being sure of how to support someone living with disability in their productions, that it might slow the project down or cost more. Bus Stop Films and Taste show through our projects that this is not the case and with the toolkit as a resource the industry might now feel more empowered to offer opportunities and pathways to a more diverse pool of people,” she says.

“It is also for us a disability-led organisation about supporting the sector to be better skilled in authentically engaging with people with disability in a safe and respectful way.

“For example, last year I was contacted by a parent of a young adult with Down syndrome. The parent was thrilled that their daughter had been cast in a role but felt that the director was not able to fully support them on set, as they didn’t have any experience in working with people with disabilities. The positive intent was there but the production team lacked understanding of how to best support people with disability on their set. Good intentions are a great start, but having the understanding of what’s required is taking that good intent to the next level. Inclusive filmmaking is more than good casting.”

Moving forward, Corbin-Matchett would like to see more broad funding programs and policy positions include people with disability, especially intellectual disability.

“Inclusion and equity is intersectional and the industry has made positive gains around supporting other underrepresented groups including those from Indigenous backgrounds, around gender equity or connecting to the LGBTIQ+ and CALD communities, which is brilliant. But these groups shouldn’t have to line up behind each other in a hierarchy to be heard or included in the decision making process or accessing creative pathways,” she says.

“Targeted programs are brilliant and can really showcase the great talent of filmmakers living with disabilities and creative collaborations can seed stunning results, however I would like to see stronger inclusive strategies supporting people with disability similar to the gains we have had through strategies like Gender Matters.”

The toolkit launches as Bus Stop Films shoots its first post COVID-19 production, an inclusively made short film See Me (working title) that will premiere in 2021. The project is based on a story written by Audrey O’Connor, a filmmaker who lives with Down syndrome and was produced by O’Connor and her classmates through Bus Stop’s Accessible Film Studies Program at AFTRS. The project includes a diverse cast and crew, with over 60 per cent of those on screen identifying as living with disability.