800 Words is 50/50
Bosses of TV drama 800 Words pledge an even split between male and female directors, writes Bridget Jones.
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.