Kween Krush alert!! This is where we celebrate everyday women for being complete badass Wonder Women.
Yolanda, we have a crush on you because you’re living out your dreams and passions daily, all while doing it in a pretty tough, male-dominated industry. Despite all of that, you’re seriously crushing it and leaving your mark the film world.
How does it feel to call yourself a female filmmaker?
To be honest, I never really thought to consciously define myself that way in the beginning. I think that probably stems from being a bit of a tomboy growing up and not being especially interested in things that were typically associated with the feminine. I always resisted and resented it when I was pressured into emulating those qualities, because they didn’t really come naturally to me. By the time film school came around, I just wanted to be a filmmaker full-stop, I didn’t really think about the fact that I was a woman while doing it. But in the past few years that has shifted for me; the more engaged I’ve become in the conversation surrounding the representation of women both behind and in front of the camera, the more I’ve realised that I’ve had my blinkers on and that being a female filmmaker actually is an important point of difference because we’re one of many minorities in this industry.
We have had to fight harder to have our stories told and our voices heard and our proficiencies go unquestioned. So, as a female writer and director, if the work I do can in some way contribute positively to the dialogue around this, I would be very proud of that – particularly in terms of the perception of women in genre filmmaking. I think we are often seen through a fairly narrow prism in terms of what projects might appeal to us (both as practitioners, and as audience members), and it’s a narrative that doesn’t sync up at all with what often excites me – or any of the female filmmakers I know – as a storyteller and viewer. I’d love to see that misconception blown out of the water.
So it means even more to you considering the current climate?
The most recent study by Screen Australia determined that from 1970 – 2014 only 16% of feature film directors, 21% of feature film writers, and 30% of feature film producers were women. The figures for women of colour, LGBTQI and women with disabilities was, of course, even lower. That is objectively an insane imbalance. Four years later and we’ve still got a long way to go. Especially when you consider the fact that men and women are graduating from film schools around the country in equal numbers. So the maths is against us. But, what’s changing is the conversation – and it’s no longer just talking, it’s active, it’s becoming incentivised, women and men in all tiers of the system are starting to make tangible efforts to correct this. It’s an ongoing global discussion point, and the fear that it would just be the flavour of the month is thankfully proving to be quite the opposite. It’s a genuine movement. So I feel quite optimistic about where we’re headed, even if we’ve still got quite a bit of work to do to get there.
As you just stated, in Australia only 16% of films are directed by women. What can be done to change it?
I think things are gradually changing to try and shift that statistic. Visibility is of course a huge part of this, and just consciously ensuring that – especially for young girls who have an interest in this field – we are sharing images of women on sets directing or working as cinematographers so that it doesn’t even become a question of whether that’s possible, because the evidence is there everywhere they turn. I think #FemaleFilmmakerFriday has been an awesome grassroots approach to supporting that concept. And the more we all see women like Patty Jenkins directing the shit out of a big-budget comic book film like Wonder Woman or Rachel Morrison shooting the hell out of Black Panther, I mean, these women are blazing trails and it’s incredibly inspiring – for female filmmakers, of course, but I would hope also for aspiring male filmmakers too.
When did you first realise that you loved film and wanted to direct?
I caught the bug early. I was five-years-old when my Dad brought home our first camcorder, and I felt an instant, obsessive need to understand how it worked and to be trusted to wield its power. I grew up in rural mining towns, so the cinema was a very rare treat. Instead I used to raid the local video store, compulsively tape off free-to-air and orchestrate neighbourhood ‘reboots’ with my friends. If I had to pick a single, formative movie experience that probably cemented my path, it would have to be Jurassic Park. That film is essentially my generation’s Star Wars, the seminal blockbuster of my childhood. It had a physiological effect on me, and everyone in that theatre. It was electric. Jaw-dropping. I think that’s when it dawned on me that somebody was behind that screen pulling the strings, and I wanted in.
What did you do to advance this passion? Was it encouraged by your family and friends?
I did the film school thing and that was a helpful introduction. And then I basically spent about seven years working behind the scenes in the industry on other people’s projects (films and local TV dramas, reality TV, you know name it) just to learn how all the pieces fit together. Throughout that period I was developing my own material on the side and voraciously devouring films and TV shows, reading books about filmmaking and screenwriting and basically just educating myself as much as possible. My family were supportive pretty much from the get-go. Like most parents they had reservations, they were anxious for me because nobody in my extended family had ever really embarked upon a creative career before, so it was essentially fear of the unknown. I think there’s definitely also that perception of the industry being cutthroat and fickle, so that probably played into their thinking as well. But overall, I’ve felt extremely supported, and that feeling is only growing.
One of your partners-in-film-crime is a man (Ben Howling). What type of a working dynamic do you both have and would it surprise the normal stereotype of how a woman and man work together?
It’s interesting, because I’ve directed solo as well, and I’ve also directed with a female co-director (Danielle Baynes, who was also my co-writer and co-star on the 2016 short film Cold Hearts), so for me it’s kind of a fluid thing. I understand that that’s a little unconventional, directors usually work exclusively as an individual or in a set partnership, but I haven’t ever really felt the need for professional monogamy so to speak. That said, I love collaborating with Ben, he’s a very good friend of mine, so our working relationship is founded on that, and also the fact that when it comes to genre projects we share a very similar taste and sensibility. Our working dynamic probably isn’t that surprising, no. Given that I wrote the screenplay for Cargo and have studied acting, I’m typically a bit more across matters of story and performance, whereas Ben comes from a shooting/editing background, so he’s a bit more savvy with the some of the more technical aspects of the job, but we don’t formally delineate between those things, there’s a huge amount of crossover.
Were you at all shocked by the Weinstein bombshell that hit late last year? Did this reflect any of your own experiences?
I wasn’t shocked at all, which is probably very disturbing in itself. As the #MeToo movement took off, yes, it absolutely caused me to reflect on my experiences as a woman in general, not just as a woman working in the entertainment industry. It was horrifying to see how prevalent that hashtag was in the social sphere, hearing people you care about confiding about how they had been hurt (often in ways which mirrored encounters I’d had myself), but at the same time the feeling of unity and community and the global galvanisation that resulted was remarkable. These conversations had come and gone before, but there was something different about it this time. You could feel the collective rage that has been building up for women their whole lives, their mothers’ lives, their grandmothers’ lives, and it finally felt like there was a healthy place to put that anger and defiance – it was justified, and shared, and essential. May it only gather steam, and push society forward.
You’ve done some amazing work so far; in 2017 you completed your debut feature film Cargo which has made the list of “10 Australian Films To Watch In 2018“. Though it may feel like a lifetime ago now, could you give us some insight as to how this got started and how it went from a short film to this Australian movie juggernaut?
We shot the short back in December 2012, and it was Tropfest finalist come February. It was then posted online, and we were fortunate enough that it was curated on a handful of influential pop culture sites (BuzzFeed, Upworthy, Short Of The Week, Vimeo, i09). Within about a month it had landed about 1.5 million views on YouTube (it’s now almost 14 million). At that point, it was being passed around agencies in LA, which is how my co-director Ben and I wound up signing with CAA. By April we were in LA armed with a treatment for the Cargo feature, and were meeting with potential producers. Two weeks later, we came back to Australia with US producers attached to developing the project with us. I spent the rest of that year writing the first draft of the script, and from there our Australian producers came on board, and then we were off and running. From the time we shopped that first treatment through to multiple drafts of the script, financing, casting, shooting, post-production etc. to the time we release in mid-May this year, it’ll have been 5 years. So it’s been this very strange combination of a whirlwind ride and a slow climb, just constantly oscillating between the two.
What types of film would you like to make in the future?
I’ve always just been such a fan of so many different genres of stories, so I’d really like to try my hand at all sorts of things. I’ve been lucky so far that each project I have worked on has felt like a departure from the one that came before. As a writer, I’ve recently been commissioned to adapt a WWII book into a feature, followed by a crime/thriller novel into a TV pilot, and that variety of genres and formats has just been so much fun to play with. I do love genre films, though, so that’s certainly territory I’m sure I’ll drift back toward – projects that have some kind of subtle supernatural thread.
As a white female filmmaker, I’m conscious of the fact that I have privilege of my own to keep in check, and that’s something I need to continually interrogate within myself. Whatever challenges I have encountered go twofold for minority female filmmakers. Other than the roles written for and stories told about women and films in general being made by women, I really look forward to a time when the very language and vocabulary we use to describe female characters evolves too. As Shonda Rhimes said recently, we need to stop using phrases like “Smart, Strong Women” and “Strong Female Leads” because there are no “Dumb Weak Women”, there are just women. She also points out that ‘women’ aren’t simply the latest trend, and actually we make up half of the planet, so yeah… what Shonda said.
Carmela has only met Yolanda once, but of course it was in the most unforgettable way: a friend’s Birthday party, followed by a late-night karaoke session. Little did Yolanda know that Carmela had actually been dying to meet her for months and she was definitely not disappointed. Carmela can now revel in the fact that sometimes it’s ok to meet your heroes.