800 Words is 50/50

Bosses of TV drama 800 Words pledge an even split be­tween male and fe­male di­rec­tors, writes Brid­get Jones.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Grow­ing up, Caro­line Bel­lBooth was told she could do any­thing boys could do. She could run as fast as them, she could be as smart as them, she could try just as much as them. She says there was never the sug­ges­tion she needed to sit down and be quiet, never the im­pli­ca­tion she couldn’t have a go at what­ever the world threw at her. Life was one big equal-op­por­tu­ni­ties play­ground.

Now she’s a grown-up, that jun­gl­e­gym has be­come a lit­tle un­even. And as a grown-up, fe­male, tele­vi­sion di­rec­tor, it’s so wonky she and other women in her po­si­tion need a lit­tle help rewrit­ing the rules to give them a boost up to the same level as her male play­mates.

Bell-Booth is one of two fe­male di­rec­tors at the helm of the third sea­son of 800 Words, a joint pro­duc­tion be­tween South Pa­cific Pic­tures here in New Zealand, and Aus­tralia’s chan­nel Seven star­ing Erik Thom­son as an Aussie wi­d­ower who moves his fam­ily back to New Zealand to re­group.

‘‘Woman do­ing job’’ is usu­ally a bit like ‘‘dog bites man’’, but this sea­son, there was a res­o­lute push from SPP and Seven to have women make up 50 per cent of their di­rect­ing team – a big step con­sid­er­ing the in­dus­try-wide im­bal­ance be­tween women and men.

The for­mal, pub­lic pledge for equal gen­der rep­re­sen­ta­tion came af­ter SPP chief ex­ec­u­tive Kelly Martin re­alised that be­tween shows in­clud­ing Short­land Street, West­side and The Bro­ken­wood Mysteries, the num­ber of women be­ing em­ployed as di­rec­tors – or lack thereof – was fairly shock­ing. One statis­tic Martin shares lays it out in black and white: out of 42 hours of tele­vi­sion drama be­ing made by SPP, only two were di­rected by women.

‘‘I just hadn’t clocked it, but when we did run the num­bers, I did not feel good about that,’’ Martin says. ‘‘We weren’t do­ing a good enough job.’’

It wasn’t some­thing she could just trust to the uni­verse to fix.

‘‘This idea that things are get­ting bet­ter – it’s not go­ing to hap­pen un­less if we are con­tin­u­ously vig­i­lant. The older and more ex­pe­ri­enced I get, the more I see it, and if I’m in a unique po­si­tion where I can have an im­pact on a cer­tain area, then I should be­cause it’s some­thing I ac­tu­ally give a s... about.’’

She’s right to care. In­ter­na­tion­ally, Reed Mo­rano was the first woman in 22 years to win the Emmy for Best Di­rec­tor in a Drama Se­ries for her work on The Hand­maid’s Tale this year.

Here at home, the num­bers didn’t make for pleas­ant read­ing ei­ther. Ac­cord­ing to the 2017 NZ On Air Di­ver­sity Re­port, women made up just 10 per cent of tele­vi­sion drama di­rec­tors here in New Zealand – a per­cent­age point down from 2016.

NZOA chief ex­ec­u­tive Jane Wright­son says while a gen­der bal­ance is not re­quired for fund­ing, they are keenly watch­ing the way the in­dus­try ap­proaches the sit­u­a­tion.

Caro­line Bell-Booth says she never had fe­male di­rect­ing role mod­els to look up to, but she’s proud to in­spire young women start­ing out.

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