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Mastering Leadership: Celebrating Women in Screen Business

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day. The theme for 2024 is Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate progress. 

“By investing in women, we can spark change and speed the transition towards a healthier, safer, and more equal world for all.” UN Women Australia  

This year, International Women’s Day coincides with the launch of our Master of Arts Screen: Business (MASB) mid-year application window – a course that champions innovation and acceleration for current and future screen leaders. So, what better way to dovetail these occasions than by showcasing some of the incredible women that make up our MASB alumni? 

Here is a snapshot of the insightful and powerful responses we received. Dive in and read more from each alumna.  

Tell us a little more about your current role or focus area. 

“I co-founded Equoia with Puven Pather to reduce the negative ecological impact of screen production. Equoia is a B2B rental company revolutionising mobile power by replacing inefficient, polluting, smelly, noisy diesel generators with a clean, silent mobile battery ecosystem transforming how screen productions are powered reducing cost, time, noise pollution and CO2e while increasing crew morale on set. We have successfully completed four pilot programs. These pilots validated the effectiveness of our technology but also provided valuable insights into its real-world applications.” – Jessica Gower. 

“I’m a casting director and producer based in Darwin, Northern Territory. I founded the NT’s only casting business – Castaway NT. My key area of focus is creating opportunities for emerging acting talent, especially First Nations talent, who not only have a deep and entrenched well of innate performance expertise but also face considerable barriers to careers in the screen sector – especially those in regional and remote communities. I’m currently working on (and have received funding for) a project inspired by the research I completed while completing my capstone project as part of the MASB course at AFTRS. This will not only create skilling and bespoke pathways into a screen career for First Nations actors, but will also enable a framework for screen producers to create culturally safe workplaces for those diverse talent.” – Sarah Price. 

“My name is Jill Kingston. I am a lawyer and producer. I worked as a lawyer in the finance industry for over 10 years. I completed my Master of Arts Screen: Business in 2022. Since then, I have worked on several films, including in 2023 as a producer’s assistant to Bunya Productions and independent producer Matt Reeder on the Rebel Wilson musical-comedy THE DEB. This year, I am producing a found footage horror feature with writer/director Jorrden Daley. Jorrden is also an AFTRS alumna and had her last film premiere at the Sydney Film Festival in 2022.” – Jill Kingston. 

How do you approach leadership in the screen industry, and what perspectives can you share about fostering inclusivity and gender equality within this sector? 

“My approach to leadership in the screen industry is one that fosters and supports growth with underrepresented voices and talent by offering opportunities such as targeted film initiatives or attachments through strategic partnerships. I also offer one-on-one mentoring to emerging practitioners to foster inclusivity.” – Marissa McDowell. 

“When I first started out in the industry, I started out as a grip (the only female grip in the team). Each day on set, I reaffirmed to myself that my presence was indispensable; they required my skills as much as I required their collaboration. I made a solemn vow to never tolerate mistreatment. This became my shield and I found that my passion for diversity and my confidence won the hearts of all the cast and crew. Leadership in the screen industry demands a blend of creativity, empathy, and vision. I believe in fostering an environment where every voice is valued and respected, regardless of gender or background. I prioritise honesty and creating inclusive spaces so that diverse talents can thrive and learn the things that I had the privilege of learning over the years. By actively seeking out and supporting women and diverse voices, I aim to challenge traditional norms and promote a more equitable industry landscape.” – Jessica (Khoury) Zeait. 

Inclusivity has always been a part of our crew when it comes to; gender, LGBTQI+ and cultural representation, as well as the age of our team members. That happened organically and our work is richer because of the various life experiences and perspectives that come together to collaborate. It’s been a part of the fabric of how we do what we do from the outset. (…) Over the years, we have had male and female lead creatives and we’ve worked hard to ensure the crew could include working parents with a business model that offered flexible employment terms and balance.” – April Howard. 

In honour of International Women’s Day, could you elaborate on what tools and mindset you draw on to challenge traditional gender norms and advocate for diverse voices and stories in the screen business? 

“At NITV I require fifty percent of on-screen and behind-screen talent to have gender parity where culturally appropriate I advocate for diverse voices and stories so that our Women can be seen and heard.” – Marissa McDowell. 

“My mindset is that ‘I am capable.’ I have mostly worked in male dominant environments, at many times being the only female on the team. It can be difficult as a minority employee to have much impact on the culture of a workplace. This is why it is important to have diverse leadership and voices in screen business to advocate for change. Storytelling and the sharing of diverse stories is such a powerful vehicle for change. It provides us with the opportunity to see things from a different perspective, to learn about and from each other. It gives us the opportunity to take a stroll in someone else’s shoes.” – Sallyanne Ryan. 

“For me, it’s about ongoing learning and taking action, rather than relying on specific tools or mindsets. Finding and participating in great female-led communities is crucial for me, providing new ideas, diverse thinking, learning and advocacy opportunities.” – Claire Evans. 

Over the years, we have had male and female lead creatives and we’ve worked hard to ensure the crew could include working parents with a business model that offered flexible employment terms and balance.” April Howard. 

Is there a female or female-identifying leader in the screen sector whose work you have found particularly inspiring? 

“Oh my gosh! This would be such a ridiculously long list. A sample only: Janet MacGowan, Sue Maslin, Jane Campion, Gillian Armstrong, Rachel Perkins, Jocelyn Moorehouse, Leah Purcell, Courtney Act, Tracey Spicer, Margaret Pomeranz, Caitlin Yeo, Shannon Murphy – all strong, smart, courageous, and trailblazing who continue to light the way.” – Sallyanne Ryan. 

“It’s challenging to single out just one inspiring female leader in the screen sector, given the abundance of talent. However, three remarkable women stand out: Leah Purcell, Rachel Ward, and Joanna Murray-Smith. Having had the privilege of collaborating with them, I’ve witnessed first-hand their extraordinary impact. Leah’s dedication to authentic, diverse storytelling and indigenous representation, Rachel’s resilience and passion for Australian cinema, and Joanna’s evocative storytelling prowess all embody a commitment to excellence and diversity. Working alongside them has been both an honour and an invaluable learning experience, reaffirming the transformative power of authentic storytelling in our industry. Their humility and genuine sincerity are particularly noteworthy to me.” – Jessica (Khoury) Zeait. 

“There are some peers of mine who I find particularly inspiring, and who are making significant contributions to the screen industry. Freya Berkhout is an extremely talented composer, sound designer and technologist – she stands out for her creative and technical skills, with a career that’s definitely worth watching. Kate Vinen, a documentary filmmaker, offers a unique perspective through her storytelling, capturing diverse narratives with a beautiful lens. Anna Dadic is another talent to watch, she’s a story and script editor and shares insights on all things related to development in her substack, The McGuffin. These women are not only challenging traditional norms but also paving the way for a more inclusive and dynamic industry.” – Claire Evans. 

Reflecting on your journey through the Master of Arts Screen: Business, how do see your leadership and the skills you developed advancing the screen industry? 

“The skills that I developed after completing my Master of Arts Screen Business, I have used within my Wiradjuri community and more broadly to help inform and shape my own style of leadership that is culturally and professionally appropriate to support others within the creative industry.” – Marissa McDowell.  

“Completing the MASB was a game changer for me professionally, personally and also for my business. It allowed me to clarify and consolidate my role and where I fit within both a local (Northern Territory) and national context. It illuminated my pathway in the industry as a leader and gave me the skills and confidence to forge ahead. I am now working on creating a suite of tools and services that will enhance and consolidate the role of diversity within the screen sector nationally.” – Sarah Price. 

“For me, taking the Master of Arts Screen: Business was one of, if not THE BEST adult decision/s I have made. The knowledge of the industry and skills provided by the formal education of the course have given me a confidence of voice that I didn’t previously have. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been fairly outspoken. Empowering women through education to have the courage to think for themselves, speak up for themselves and for others is vital. I believe that as a Leader, you are still a part of a team as much as any other member of that team. A leader must have the courage and strength to be accountable.” – Sallyanne Ryan. 

What leadership skills do you see as being essential for the next generation of screen leaders? 

“Integrity, Passion, Fearlessness, Empathy, an Intersectional mindset to name a few. Be vulnerable and authentic. When you live your truth, success follows.” – Gia Frino. 

“Strong values to stand for, a growth mindset, vulnerability, and courage to take responsibility for your actions and a willingness to re-set after failure.” – Jessica Gower. 

“Clear communication, really understanding what needs to be done on a project, finding the right people and resources to get it done efficiently and creating a fun and safe environment to work. The screen industry is hard – someone once said to me that most people working in film could be making a lot more money doing something else (and with a lot less stress) but we’re all here because we love it. So embracing that, that passion and love, and making people feel safe and valued.” – Jill Kingston. 

What advice would you give someone considering studying the Master of Arts Screen: Business? 

“If you are thinking about it, take the next step and do it. You have nothing to lose, and EVERYTHING to gain.” – Sallyanne Ryan. 

“Be prepared to engage deeply with the material, actively participate in discussions, and network with your peers and industry. It’s a great opportunity, make the most of it!” – Claire Evans. 

I’ve recommended the MASB to a lot of my industry colleagues because the study format is perfect for anyone who is already working and managing commitments. I’d say anyone who is wanting to evolve their professional trajectory, develop themselves and expand their network of collaborators should seriously consider the MASB.” April Howard. 

“My advice would be jump in, you won’t regret it!  The opportunity to learn from industry professionals and the network that you gain are invaluable.  What you learn can be applied to many aspects of your professional and personal life that can open doors that might not have been opened.” – Marissa McDowell. 

Thank you to these brilliant alumnae for their thoughtful responses. Be sure to click through and discover more about each one of them below.

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Meet April Howard: Celebrating Women in Screen Business

April Howard is a founding partner of Rollingball Productions, focusing in creating a work environment to express their creativity and talent enabling colleagues to expand their path and skillset.

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Meet Claire Evans: Celebrating Women in Screen Business

Claire Evans specialises in work with the cultural sector and public art projects, as Director of Junior Major.

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Meet Gia Frino: Celebrating Women in Screen Business

Gia Frino focuses on projects with a social impact, currently working in Factual TV as a producer and dedicating time to Screen Illawarra as Board Member – Treasurer.

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Meet Jessica Gower: Celebrating Women in Screen Business

Jessica Gower co-founded Equoia in a mission to re-think screen production practices and reduce CO2 emissions in screen productions and entertainment.

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Meet Jessica Zeait: Celebrating Women in Screen Business

Jessica (Khoury) Zeait focuses on programming, acquisition and distribution as the Founder and Co-Director of the Lebanese Film Festival Australia, she is the Head of Brand and Marketing for Propic, a startup delivering AI solutions.

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Meet Jill Kingston: Celebrating Women in Screen Business

Jill Kingston finds inspiration in films that help the audience expand their sense of the world and dedicates her time to feature film as a Producer at Pacific Shadow Pictures.

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Meet Marissa McDowell: Celebrating Women in Screen Business

Marissa McDowell focuses on growing emerging talent working in the film industry through her role as Head of Commissions at NITV.

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Meet Sallyanne Ryan: Celebrating Women in Screen Business

Sallyanne Ryan is continually expanding her skillset, with two feature films in different stages of development and working as producer for ARN and ATN.

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Meet Sarah Price: Celebrating Women in Screen Business

Sarah Price, founder of Castaway NT, creates opportunities for First Nations talent in regional communities,

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