Screen agencies challenged on shortage of women directors

28 May, 2015 by Don Groves

All Australian screen agencies are failing to develop female feature directors, according to Megan Simpson Huberman.

The agencies “cannot continue doing the same things and expecting a different result. And the current result – 15% of Australian dramatic features directed by women – is unacceptable,” she writes in the latest issue of AFTRS’ Lumina magazine, which is devoted to gender equality in the screen industry.


Among the other factors which contribute to the under-representation of female directors, she says, are Australian film distribution companies which are run by blokes; and international film festival directors who are mostly male.

A former director of development and production investment at Screen NSW and development executive at Screen Australia, Simpson Huberman is attached to direct Salvation Creek, a drama about a high-flying magazine editor whose husband and brother die within three days of each other, with producer Heather Ogilvie.

In the Lumina article she advocates four measures to increase the representation of female feature directors:

– Boards of the screen agencies should set increasing KPIs for the percentage of female directors and female protagonists in supported projects;
– Given the strong female audience for Australian features, analyse national development to ensure that sufficient films delivering to this audience are being developed and supported for development;
– Design professional development sessions aimed at female directors including pitching to gain the confidence of male decision makers and directing with digital visual effects;
– Design programs to help female directors refocus their career after parental leave, “especially if we want mature female storytellers to speak to our mature female audiences.”

Simpson Huberman asserts women who start out directing shorts are disadvantaged because the majority of the main international film festival directors are men, who may respond more strongly to shorts from male directors.

“This means more male short filmmakers may be selected for festivals and start to accrue heat. Female directors are starting to fall behind before they’re even out of the gate,” she says.

The majority of those in executive decision making roles in the studios and in the distribution, sales, and exhibition sectors are men, she says. In Australia, while there are some key female executives at eOne and Icon, those and the other larger distributors are run by men.

“Female distribution executives, like female audiences, are used to 'translating' themselves into the point of view and experience of a protagonist of the opposite sex. Male executives are less used to this. If a script aimed at women and dealing with women’s experience is read by a male decision maker, it may not resonate with him – as it is not aimed at him,” she writes.

”So this is the conundrum. Even if female directors have attached themselves to projects that are well targeted to an attainable and receptive female skewed audience, they may find marketplace support for the projects, and therefore finance, harder to secure.”

Furthermore, Simpson Huberman contends it’s often harder for women who’ve directed one feature to get backing for their second.

“Women may also often receive fewer offers of subsequent projects, even when they have a success,” she says. “Yet there are male directors who have made a string of low grossing films and still were offered numerous subsequent projects.”

She points to Kate Woods, whose debut feature Looking for Alibrandi grossed $8.3 million in 2000, an astounding figure at the time, and Cherie Nowlan’s second feature Clubland, whích Warner Independent Pictures bought for the US for $US4.1 million after debuting at Sundance in 2007.

Neither has since made another feature although both have pursued highly successful careers directing TV shows in the US.