New initiative for female TV directors

Leah Purcell says initiatives like #SheDirects were pivotal for her career given she never formally trained.

A new initiative has been launched in New South Wales for female TV directors.

The $100,000 #SheDirects early development fund will support up to four one hour TV drama projects. Applicants must have a female director and at least one other female as part of the NSW-based key creative team.

Yesterday Leah Purcell and Rachel Griffiths joined Minister for the Arts Don Harwin and Create NSW for the announcement.

Triple-threat Purcell told TV Tonight initiatives like #SheDirects were instrumental in her own career.

“I’d never really trained in film, writing or acting but I came through initiatives in regards to my direction with Screen Australia and the Indigenous unit. So I’m part of the process that shows they do work. And not just the financial support but what you get through mentors helping you to get the skills for directing,” she said.

“I had experienced filmmakers and directors who came through to tell me what lenses worked when you were setting up shots. But I am one of those people who works better with on the job experience.

“You can’t put a value on working with amazing scriptwriters and directors giving you their experiences. So I am a success story -from where I started I’m leading up to my debut feature film which will hopefully start shooting in 2019.”

Purcell recalls directors such as Ray Lawrence (Lantana) and Cate Shortland (Somersault) were amongst those who fashioned her career.

“I was influenced by Cate Shortland who was my first female director. I was in awe of her and how she held herself in a male-dominant industry.

“But I have taken a little bit from everyone who has ever crossed my path.”

Back row: Anna Broinowski, Lynn-Marie Danzey, Jane Eakin, Jennifer Peedom, Debbie Lee (Director of Scripted Development – Matchbox Pictures)
Front row: Catriona McKenzie, Leah Purcell, Rachel Griffiths, Samantha Lang and Lucy Gaffy

Purcell has since directed such titles as Cleverman, Redfern Now and The Secret Daughter where she was the first Indigenous woman to be a set-up TV director.

“That was massive. To be on a commercial network with a lead Aboriginal female,” she recalls.

“TV teaches you to work fast and hard. If you can get through TV you can get through anything!”

Currently acting as Rita Connors in Foxtel’s Wentworth, she hopes to next direct her first feature, The Drover’s Wife in 2019.

While she has also been invited to direct Wentworth, finding the focus to direct as well as acting could be a stretch even for her.

“I’d probably have to go to the slot for 3 months! But absolutely. They’ve asked but I don’t want to give up my role.

“They’ve said they would love me to write or direct. The emotional energy that you need to put into your character…. I might be clever but I don’t think I’m that clever to take on the role of acting & directing in something!

“But those girls are amazing and now that I know the lay of the land I’d love to.”

Applications for #SheDirects are open until Sunday 5 August 2018. Full guidelines can be found here.

Photos: Fiora Sacco

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