• The new CEO seeks gender parity as she embarks on the challenge of keeping the agency relevant
By Dan Barrett
Courtney Gibson is just weeks into her new role as chief executive of Screen NSW.
Gibson has joined Screen NSW at an interesting time, as the industry and viewers alike grapple with rapid changes to the way content is created and consumed.
“We definitely want to do more TV drama in NSW,” she proclaimed. “There is so much great work and great writing going on and the audiences are there for it. In an ideal world, you’d be agnostic about the platform and just support the best work. We need to spread our investment, support, and enthusiasm across traditional as well as evolving platforms. We need to go where the audiences are.”
Facilitating the production of content that is attractive to both local and international audiences is a priority, with Gibson citing the overseas success of Australian comedies in recent years. “A show like Please Like Me – you know those people. Summer Heights High was the school at the end of your street. Yet it still had global impact. Please Like Me is the flagship show for an American cable channel – they think of it as their own. It is an uncompromised piece of Australian program making.” Gibson holds similar hopes for upcoming series, including Nine’s Here Come The Habibs.
“Overall, the most important point to make is Australia as a location and a production hub is of key import. We would like to play host to as much international and local production as we can,” Gibson said.
Looking to the just-announced Ridley Scott film Alien: Covenant, Gibson talks up the value of international productions beyond just the employment they offer local professionals, “It’s jobs. It’s also locations. [Alien: Covenant] is going to be a beautiful green planet. The Australian locations that they’re using for that are going to be utterly spectacular. It provides a showcase for that. There is an extent to which the work we do is about job creation, but there are also significant cultural imperatives in play.
“The more production we can get here, the more of a continuum of employment opportunities we’re able to host for the independent sector.”
Gibson is excited by the potential that delivering content across a wide array of distribution platforms provides, citing the rise of SVOD services as a good opportunity to increase volume.
“The big story of 2015 has been Netflix and Stan, which we could all see was going to be the story. It’s interesting the foray into lifestyle programming now will probably prove to be the story of the first half of 2016,” she said.
After starting in mid-November, Gibson has been engaging the industry on the subject of its gender disparity, ahead of the recent SPA conference.
A recent report in AFTRS Lumina publication found that between 2009 and 2014, 15% of Australian feature films were directed by women, 23% written by women, and 32% produced by women. “It’s fair to say everybody knew that the numbers were going to be not great, but reading those numbers, they were more shocking than any of us imagined,” she said.
The report has since spurred considerable conversation in the industry, dominating Gibson’s thoughts as she began considering what kind of agenda she wanted at Screen NSW.
Announcing a gender parity target, Screen NSW is seeking 50/50 female participation as writers, producers, directors and so on by 2020.
“I was having these conversations with colleagues and friends. At the same time, I knew Jungleboys wanted to increase the number of women it has working with it and was grappling with the fact it was perceived as being a bunch of all boys,” Gibson said.
The Sydney-based production house soon rebranded the company name from Jungleboys to Jungle and announced the promotion of Chloe Rickard to partner/head of production – film and television.
“Jungleboys wanted to make change. I came in and gave them a deadline and said, ‘Two weeks from now we’re going to announce this target.’ They then had to get a lot of things sorted, workshopped and planned to work out what they wanted to do, and get it ready to announce prior to SPA. We wanted it to be a talking point and for producers to do something about it themselves.”
The effort to address the gender imbalance in the industry is just a part of Gibson’s overall agenda at Screen NSW: “We’re a minority investor at Screen NSW. The challenge for us is that we might only have a limited amount of skin in the game, but we hope to make ourselves useful and have a big voice at the table. That’s about showing leadership and advocacy for the industry. Sometimes that doesn’t actually cost anything. Sometimes it means going out on a limb and encouraging others to come with us.”
Looking beyond 2016, Gibson is interested in emerging platforms. “Virtual reality is an exciting, fascinating area that we are very interested in. It’s really about access to the equipment to make the content and for audiences to view the content. Over the next three years, that’s going to be an exciting area. As an agency, we would be interested to explore, whether it be documentary or narrative material that might reach audiences.”