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Online Heroines

Last last year Louise Hutt conducted interviews with female filmmakers working in online spaces as part of her masters thesis. She’s recently released some of those interviews as webseries Online Heroines.

SCREENZ interrupted Hutt’s birthday celebrations for an interview.
The series contributes to your Master’s thesis. Can you give a bit of an overview of that?
I started working on my thesis from December 2014, however getting ethics approval for a creative project took a long time, so I only started interviewing from September 2015. I did 12 interviews, with the shortest taking only forty minutes, and the longest taking two and half hours. All the interviews were transcribed, and from there I started editing them down into the ten minute episodes you can now watch.

Are you seeing trends from the body of interviews you’ve done?
After editing all nine episodes myself, I’ve got a solid overview of the experiences. It’s hard with a small sample set to say that these anecdotes are representative of the whole industry, but we also have a small industry with people working in diverse ways – so I wanted to examine all the various ways women are working online, as well as seeing what trends might develop from that.

Although the stats regarding producing are fairly equal for women [and men], every producer I interviewed shared examples disrespect, harassment, and sexism from male crew members. So it’s not just discrimination in terms of funding and hiring that women have to deal with, but also unsafe work spaces even when they’re in a key production role. Morgan Leigh Stewart’s quote is one of my favourites – “it’s like kindergarten, often”.

Were you able to find more established female creators/role models for your project, or is it the nature of the online beast that it’s not yet been around long enough for there to be many senior level creators?
That’s a really interesting question – I approached 30+ women to be involved in the project, some of whom are absolutely leading the online industry, but due to the scheduling and workload, we weren’t able to make it work.

One of those I was most stoked to be able to include were the Candle Wasters who are, in my opinion, absolutely the future of filmmaking in this country. All of the participants have developed significant audiences around their work, but the nature of online is to have fragmented audiences. While you might not have heard of some of the participants, it doesn’t mean they’re not established in their own niche.

I hope to do a second round of interviews next year (after completiing the written component of my thesis), to include people I wasn’t able to the first time.

I managed to squeeze in the 12 interviews I originally recorded in three months. I took demographic data from all of the participants. While they’re all female, interviewees were 92% pākēha, 92% able-bodied, 69% heterosexual, and 100% cis gender, so a big part of me wanting to do a second series is in making those statistics more balanced. I’ve got a shortlist of participants which is really exciting, but I’m also interested to see the response to the first series and see how that impact future participation.

The demographic info on whose projects are getting funded changes very quickly, especially in a country with such a small number of projects supported. Have you noticed any shifts during the time you’ve been working on your thesis?
It’s been both really frustrating, and really exciting to see the changes in the past two years. When I designed this research, the conversations were really scant in terms of gender discrimination. Now the NZFC is publishing statistics (which previously had to be determined through data mining).

I’m still disappointed in New Zealand On Air; when their shake up was announced, I asked if they’ll be putting any policies or schemes in place to help combat funding discrimination and their stance was that it was the responsibility of WIFT and the guilds to ensure that women’s participation improved.

However, I do think their stance on online platforms has been a long time coming – so that was awesome to see.

I have had a few participants state that their views have developed since the original interviews, which is another issue – not only is participation changing, but also the technology and platforms too. Needless to say, I have loads to talk about in my write up! I’m optimistic though, I think it’s on an upward shift, but we just have to keep working to ensure it keeps improving.

Who else has contributed to the series and thesis?
Rachel Lynch, who does social media for the Wellington City Libraries, has been amazing at turning her library-brain into a web series-brain and being my unintentional producer, assistant, and social media manager.

Chelsea Towers, who not only fed and housed me while I was doing my interviews in Auckland, but also finished all the boring tasks I left to the last minute (like writing Youtube descriptions).

Marian Evans from Wellywood Woman, Gareth Schott & Craig Hight who are my supervisors, Deborah Jones from Victoria, Geoff Lealand from Waikato, Bridget Conor from King’s College London, have provided amazing and moral academic support.

As well as my participants, without whom I would have no research in the first place.

You’ve released Online Heroines in one hit. There’s quite a lot of discussion around the binge vs staggered release strategies. Were there specific reasons you chose binge?
For a bunch of reasons. Online Heroines doesn’t have an episode structure – it’s documentary where you could jump in anywhere – as well as the fact I have a big variety in the ways the participants work, what platforms they use, so I wanted to allow viewers to find who they found most relevant to their work and interests. Rather than me telling them who they need to watch first. It was also because I got really excited editing them, and it was hard enough to hold them all back to release at once, let alone if I had to stagger them too.

Despite the fact I run my own blog, and use Twitter a lot, marketing and online support for Online Heroines has been something I’ve had to force myself to remember to do and delegate because I’ve been so busy with the editing, and creative direction. Don’t try and do everything yourself, kids! Luckily, I have friends who work in social media, who I’ve bounced ideas off and they’ve been kind enough to queue it on Twitter with pull quotes and hashtags, make sure all my closed captioning is correct, and help me write press releases. Probably the biggest thing I’ve learnt about myself from this project is that I love directing, and kinda hate producing.

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Online Heroines is available to views via the website and YouTube channel.

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