NZCS – a Working Strategy

A snapshot on the NZCS Gender Diversity Programme by NZCS committee members Marc Swadel and Nina Wells

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Kelly Chen and Denson Baker NZCS ACS

Tucked away in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand’s film industry has not been an exception to the notable absence of women working in the role of cinematographer. 

The New Zealand Cinematographers Society recognises this, as a complex and systemic issue, that it is our collective responsibility, as an industry, to initiate change.

In March 2019 the NZCS launched the Gender Diversity Programme.
Our aim: To build change. Injecting a new level of diversity into camera departments, by creating opportunities to support women, both in the early stages of their careers, and up-skilling those already working in the industry.

The programme was formed with the help of a 15 strong round table of existing women in New Zealand’s camera departments. These women ranged from trainees, to the few female existing DOPs at the top of their careers, enabling a robust real world dialogue on the difficulties faced by females in camera. These round table discussions distilled what the most career supporting strategy was, for their needs. The programme developed further with government support, via the New Zealand Film Commission.

We found creating visibility was key to profiling a career path. Women in key positions are more likely to engage or influence other women.
So by supporting more women to work in the camera department at a higher level, we hope to saturate the industry camera departments with a more skilled female presence to grow from.

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Cinematographer Tammy Williams



How it works: the NZCS and NZFC collaborate with a working production to offer a placement, splitting the funding between them (the ratio of which depends on the production). This funding covers a modest flat weekly rate to support women to take the opportunity, and to earn while they learn and up-skill.
The NZCS manage the process, identifying a opportunity within a live project, creating the placement brief, putting the call out to applicants, selecting the applicant for the attachment, monitoring and supporting them on the placement, then making a report and summary for the NZFC.
These attachment opportunities are found and created by an NZCS sub-committee.
They are created for all levels of women growing through the camera department.
From semi established emerging DOPs to aspiring camera women in greener positions of camera.

The origin of our attachment plans were to have substantial 6 weeks blocks of learning time associated with a production and its DOP.
We also recognise the value and perhaps, wider opportunity in assigning women for shorter, intense attachments too – reflecting the varied genres of production, and differing disciplines of cinematography we find in New Zealand.
Already there have been three placements - Kelly Chen with Denson Baker NZCS ACS on ‘The Luminaries’, Ainsley Calderwood with Drew Sturge on 'The Educator’, and Tammy Williams with Aaron Morton NZCS on 'Sweet Tooth'.

Kelly Chen: ‘It was really helpful couple of days to understand the processes of why Denson made some of his choices, especially the second day it was bit challenging with the sun being front lit on the hillside where we were shooting. Denson and the producers were very inclusive and made this more of a practical experience’.
Tammy Williams: ‘I’ve spent two days shadowing Aaron so far. One on the initial camera test day at Panavision and another yesterday in the office where they presented a show and tell to Hulu, the streaming network. We’re off to a great start and I can see what a great learning opportunity this will be’.

In the short time we have had the initiative up and running, we have had a stunning 130% increase in female membership of the NZCS – from 9 to 21 members – which is almost 10% of the total NZCS membership.
We look forward to this continuing collaboration between the NZFC and New Zealand productions implementing change and creating gender diversity in camera together.